Which countries/ regions have good demand for performance apparel at present? Do you foresee the demand for performance apparel to rise in other parts of the world?
The demand is specially growing in the ASEAN countries although the decision making process is in many cases in the US and Europe. We are expecting an acceleration of the demand for performance apparel given the advantages.
Globally, there seems to be less competition for the manufacturing of the life protection materials. Do you see this as an advantage or a disadvantage? Why?
The demand has been specifically high in the early part of 2000 given the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan especially in the vehicle protection area. The last few years that demand has been disappearing also because of the cuts in the defense budgets everywhere in the world. We are focusing much more on the personal protection where the advantages of UHMwPE in vests, inserts and helmets have been developed together with leading players in this field into state of the art products. Specifically the need for lighter and stronger armour by the army and police forces around the world has supported the successes in this area. Competition has not decreased, the same players are active, the demand certainly has decreased compared to early 2000 and the need for premium material increased a lot.
Your company produces world’s strongest fibers which are said to be up to 15 times stronger than steel yet light in weight. What are the chances of these fibers replacing the use of steel in various industries, including the aviation and the maritime industries?
It can take a long time before markets and customers accept that the innovation really works. In many of these areas, the advantages are quite clear for the customer but there are in many of these areas many other aspects to change from the original material. Testing procedures and certification processes for example are in many cases a requirement and can take a long time. In many respects you can compare this with the development times involved for a new medicine. The use of our fibers with the Dyneema Max Technology for deep sea mooring ropes took 7 years while the development of the technology itself was done within 3 years. When we introduced Dyneema Diamond Technology in cut resistance gloves, it took some years before customers started to be convinced.
For a company like DSM Dyneema, what is more challenging - finding appropriate raw materials or finding new uses of high-performance fibers? How do you meet this challenge?
I am a life science guy but what really excites me in this “materials world” is the simplicity of the molecule which gives such huge strength, the opportunity the company still has to use this strength and weight in applications and to see real proof that ideas can come to fruition.
If you talk about this product with somebody who knows nothing about the product itself, everybody gets excited; because the beautiful thing is, the product triggers all kinds of new application thoughts, ideas and people get excited about that. The issue is more how to focus within this huge domain of applications.
From a raw material perspective, we do not see a big challenge. We are the only company in the UHMwPE field which is backward integrated in the production of UHMwPE. We make our own special grades which allow us also to develop a purity of special fiber grades and also transform these special fibers again in different UniDirectional (UD) form factors. We are absolutely unique in that respect.
Talking about sustainability, is it possible to recycle products made of high-performance fibers? If so, do you foresee a competition between high-performance fibers and the recycled ones in times to come?
I am emotional about sustainability. For me, sustainability is more than the footprint effect on the environment; it is also about the organization and the people; it’s about taking ownership for the products made by the company, and about working with customers to think about innovative product end of life solutions. Against a background of a growing population, concerns about the environment and resource and energy pressures, sustainable development has become and will remain a global trend for the foreseeable future. The sustainability of materials, and the products made from them, is also important to the economic viability of businesses. Disaster protection is of particular interest to me.
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