All eyes on innovation

All eyes on innovation

In today’s marketplace, polyurethane customers have high expectations when it comes to supplier innovation.

Apart from seeking improvements and developments in chemistry and products that can offer a competitive edge, customers told us during our Shaping our Future global market study research that they also rely on their suppliers to help solve industry and regulatory obstacles.

Customers are seeking support from suppliers to: meet stricter energy regulations; take the complexity out of the buying process; make production processes more efficient and cost-effective; and to offer deeper and more satisfying user experiences through digitalization.

Did you know?

In NAFTA and Europe, 1 in 5 businesses associate innovation with proactive application development and improvement by suppliers to resolve industry issues.

Meanwhile, in China, while more than 50% of customers defined innovation as chemistry innovation, 1 in 4 said technology and process innovation was important to them and 1 in 10 said innovation lies in the upgrading of existing products and developing new ones.

Covestro still leading the way

As the inventor of polyurethanes, innovation has been the central pillar on which we have built our success, but we wanted to find out whether our customers still regarded us as a market leader in the industry. So we asked them to evaluate our performance in technology innovation.

This is what they said:

As evidence of our continued commitment to innovation, customers pointed to our global set-up, technical expertise and robust research and development capability – we have about 1,000 employees working in innovation centres around the world from Leverkusen in Germany, to Shanghai in China to Pittsburgh in the USA.

We also have an international network of partnerships with leading universities, institutes and other companies to help transform exciting, but futuristic ideas, into realistic solutions.

Covestro’s Ulrich Liman, Global Head of Research and Development Polyurethanes, said: “We are very happy with the feedback from our customers. It’s very satisfying to be recognised by the market as a leader in our field, but we also know there is scope for improvement, particularly in more mature markets.”

“Maintaining our position as market leader, we are pursuing innovation in its broadest form by continuously pushing for new developments and solutions,” said Irene Li, Head of Research and Development Poluyrethanes APAC

Hot innovation trends

Every industry and region has its own specific innovation trends in response to the mega-challenges of a growing world population, rising mobility, climate change, increasing urbanisation and increasing demand for consumer goods. These products don’t just do what they’re meant to do – they do them better, as well as being stylish and cool.

Yet although every industry is unique, we can see some hot topics emerging across the board.

These include a cross-industry demand for bio-based products, greater sustainability in recycling to minimize waste and emissions, and improved product performance combined with greater energy efficiency throughout the value chain.

In the automotive industry, this translates into demand for lightweight fixtures and fittings to reduce fuel consumption, and polyurethane foam to improve noise insulation and ergonomic support in car seats. Meanwhile in apparel, the trend is toward creating more durable, functional and lightweight clothing and footwear without compromising on design.

How are we responding?

Innovation goes hand in hand with digitalization. That’s why we’re paving the way for a new era of digitalization in the appliance industry, with the creation of a joint digital laboratory with global manufacturer and major customer Haier. Based in Qingdao, China and supported by the Haier Institute of Industrial Intelligence, the laboratory will develop digital solutions for using polyurethanes in appliance production.

Across the world, polyurethane rigid foam is used for efficient refrigerator insulation, with fully-automated smart production relying on a precise characterization of polyurethane components – a complex task. By developing digital solutions, we aim to help household appliance manufacturers overcome these challenges.

Together with Haier, we want to develop innovative solutions for data collection and analysis, monitoring foam quality and process workflows, and thereby improving the manufacturing process and foam quality, while cutting manufacturing costs.

According to Dr Ulrich Liman: “With this collaboration, Covestro benefits from its comprehensive experience with polyurethane and foam technologies, while Haier brings in its expertise in industrial automation and the analysis of large volumes of data. This combination is bringing forth a new era of digital transformation in the chemical industry.”

It’s collaborations like these that will drive forward innovation in years to come, both here at Covestro and for our customers. After all, innovation should be something we all profit from, enriching the entire value chain and offering new solutions to those global mega-challenges that are shaping the industry and beyond.

Find out more about Covestro’s commitment to innovation

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