By Liz White, UT staffHeidelberg, Germany–The polyurethanes sector has lost ground to injection moulded thermoplastics and must start fighting to get the material used where it is the best alternative–at least according to one expert in the sector. “Injection moulding took away some products from us–even though we had all the advantages,” said Rolf Niederhagen, currently working with Thompson Technik, part of Thompson Group in the UK. “We didn’t make the most of our tooling advantages,” Niederhagen stressed. The PU technology consultant was speaking in a presentation at the fifth meeting of the FSK (the German plastics foamers’ association) in Heidelberg, 23 Nov, attended by over 170 delegates, most of them from the large German PU processing and supply sector.Niederhagen recommended that processors take a considered look at the PU sector’s past. He pointed out that PU’s strength is in niche products, and he feels it has not capitalised on this enough, particularly in automotive supply. With the same number of cars produced now–40 million–as perhaps 30 or 40 years ago, Niederhagen pointed out that while back then only three sizes of model were made, now some 90 are produced. By using resin tooling to keep costs down, these shorter runs are where the PU sector can make parts very competitively, he indicated. Niederhagen also made a plea for what he called co-petition–cooperation with competitors–to be considered a valuable option for the PU sector. This would be a way of dealing with business contracts sliding away from the SMEs (small to medium sized companies) in PU process technology because customers decide to move the component to another region of the world, he added. Niederhagen was speaking from personal experience, with Caterpillar in the UK having decided to move production of a particular machine to the US, taking production away from Thompson. With a co-petition partner in the US, Thompson could have used its tools for the US production perhaps, and kept a long-term interest in the Caterpillar product, Niederhagen indicated. “
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