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How Henkel drives innovation in surface technologies

Lightweight construction, costs and sustainability continue to challenge the metals processing industry. Helping customers to keep the lead in this dynamic market, Henkel offers a comprehensive package of surface treatment process, product and service solutions for virtually all needs of single-alloy or multi-metal substrates.

Dr. Sebastian Sinnwell and Dr. Peter Kuhm from Henkel’s Adhesive Technologies business unit in Düsseldorf, Germany, commented on key developments and the company’s positioning in the global metal surface treatment market.

When we speak of metal surface treatment, which are the major industries and growth segments that Henkel is targeting?

Sinnwell: Our clear number one target is the global transportation industry or more specifically automotive OEMs, Tier 1 and 2 suppliers. Once new solutions have been adopted in this rather conservative market, they will fast also enter into other industries. Major growth segments in automotive include lightweighting and low-alloy steel replacement, with applications such as body or structural parts and alloy wheels

Kuhm: Another quickly emerging segment is lightweight thermal management components and battery boxes, particularly for electrical and hybrid electrical vehicles.

Which global or individual trends and challenges are impacting your customers in these fields?

Kuhm: Apart from lightweighting, downsizing, cost control and greater sustainability, the Internet of Things is rapidly changing the ways of process control, automation and data exchange also in the metals processing industry. Most companies are faced with a rapidly growing trend towards digitized and networked processes. Thanks to our global reach and market experience, we can offer our customers e.g. Big Data analysis for process optimization.

Sinnwell: And of course, the continuous drive for enhance sustainability requires the market to get rid of harmful substances, such as nickel or solvents.

While you are addressing these needs and changes, your own business has seen quite some consolidation in the market. How is Henkel positioning itself in this changing environment worldwide and in the regions? What are some of your unique selling propositions and future targets?

Sinnwell: Henkel is present wherever cars are manufactured, with a global network and close local ties based on true market experts and qualified process engineers serving every significant manufacturer, worldwide. We have huge market knowledge, the required technical expertise and a broad knowledge base to help customers design their pretreatment lines for specific applications and provide comprehensive consulting even before we deliver the first drop of chemistry.

Are you planning any capacity expansions, and where?

Kuhm: In China Henkel has only recently opened what is called the Dragon Plant in the Shanghai area, which adds significant capacity to our process fluids manufacturing in East and Southeast Asia. A brand new plant and R&D facility have been opened in Pune, India, and another new manufacturing plant has gone onstream near Istanbul in Turkey. These investments reflect our increased focus on the Middle East and Asia as major regions of ongoing growth.

As the materials technology is increasingly going lightweight and multi-metal, what are some of your key solutions and their particular benefits over more traditional surface treatment processes?

Sinnwell: In automotive body pretreatment, for instance, Henkel is at the forefront of driving the technology from conventional zinc phosphating to next generation thin-film processes, with bridge solutions for high-aluminum car bodies as well as nickel-free zinc phosphating and iron deposition.

But let me point out that there is not one single mainstream solution, no “one size fits all” in this diversified market. From region to region and customer to customer, we frequently encounter big differences in terms of risk mitigation, environmental and corporate standards, energy efficiency and water footprint targets and hazardous substance control. Our strength is to listen to our customers, understand their needs and expectations, and translate their requirements into tailor-made solutions based on our broad portfolio.

Are there any recent examples you can share with us?

Kuhm: With Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, we worked for almost three years to develop and tailor materials and systems for the latest version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, including our breakthrough Bonderite two-step process for combinations of steel and aluminum. SAIC-GM in China has upgraded its car coating line for premium models such as the Buick Regal, Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac ATS-L to a customized zirconium film treatment process which went into mass production only one week after commissioning. And we partnered with the BENSELER-Group to optimize the pretreatment of various different automotive body parts and structural components at their new cathode dip coating plant near Regensburg, Germany.

How are your metal surface treatment products and processes embedded in Henkel’s commitment to sustainability?

Kuhm: Sustainability is embedded in our values and corporate culture. We have a corporate sustainability strategy in place, to which each and every new product must conform. All new developments must indicate valid environmental benefits over existing technology before they are commercialized.

Metal surface treatment, means avoiding or eliminating heavy metals, reducing energy and water consumption, and minimizing the generation of process waste.

What do you expect the future of metal surface treatment to look like? Can you indicate some of the more advanced new developments in your pipeline?

Kuhm: New technology approvals take time in this industry. There is a high sensitivity among customers for changes that may impact quality, such as effective corrosion protection and long-term paint appearance.

Our nickel-free pretreatment process for example, being commercialized as we speak, offers a two-step version for lines with high aluminum content, and a standard version for lines with no aluminum content. Substructures of multiple steel parts are beginning to be replaced by single aluminum castings that offer significant weight savings and enhanced process efficiency. Our nickel-free zinc phosphating process has a perfect market fit in this trend.

Sinnwell: At the same time we expect further diversification in materials, designs and manufacturing. Materials follow the needs of a more differentiated car design with greater complexity of components, and treatment technology must adapt. This is where Henkel’s expertise and experience in supplying custom-tailored solutions will make a competitive difference to our customers.

Source: Henkel

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