13 March 2000 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]By Eleanor Van Savage
Responding to growing demand for UV-curable fiber optic materials in Japan, Japan Fine Coatings Company, a 50-50 joint venture between DSM Desotech, Elgin, Ill., and JSR Corporation, Tokyo, held groundbreaking ceremonies last month for a second $35 million plant in Tsukuba.
"In 1983, we opened a plant in Yokkaichi. Production capacity grew to 1,500 tons, and that plant has been expanded twice. Concerns over earthquakes and also the opportunity to service the northeastern part of Japan led to building a second plant," says Ken Lawson, director of planning and development at DSM Coating Resins Business Group, the Dutch parent company of DSM Desotech, which Mr. Lawson founded and formerly headed.
The plant in Tsukuba will have twice the capacity of the first plant, at 3,000 tons. It is scheduled to begin operating in the first quarter of 2001.
"Japan is the world's second largest consumer of optical fiber materials, just after the US, and China is number three," Mr. Lawson notes.
"The global market for radiation-cured coatings, inks and adhesives was about 150,000 metric tons in 1999, and the market for radiation-cured coatings in Japan was 25,000 metric tons," according to a recent report by SRI Consulting.
Although the consumption of radiation cured coatings is growing by 8 to 10 percent per year on a global basis, the market is still small compared to solvent-borne, waterborne and powder coatings.
"To put things into perspective on Japan, total consumption of coatings in that country is around 2 million metric tons per year, so the radiation-cure coatings business represents about 1 or 2 percent of the total coatings market. Japan is indeed the second largest market, after the US, and DSM is the largest global supplier to the optical fiber cable market," says an analyst at SRI Consulting.
DSM first targeted the Japanese market for optical fiber coatings 20 years ago, when the company was initially ready to expand globally, Mr. Lawson says.
"Discussions began in 1980, when we started to develop materials commercially for a global market, and Japan was one of those markets. We also realized we needed some help and service there." The JSR Corporation "wanted to license our technology. Instead, we decided to form a joint venture with them."
In 1983, operations began in Yokkaichi and a 15-year contract was signed. A second contract for the same length of time was signed in 1998. Investments in the joint venture are split equally by both parent companies.
DSM manufactures protective coatings for glass optical fibers. The coatings are either elastomeric and flexible like rubber bands, or hard and tough like nylon. The company also offers inks and fiber coatings for identification in the field. These are available in up to 15 colors.
Manufacturing with high-performance UV-curable materials "is not only highly productive because the materials are cured rapidly at low temperatures, but it's also environmentally friendly because materials are liquid and emit low or no emissions during the curing process," says Mr. Lawson.
The coatings are marketed globally for almost all optical fiber applications, including video and telecommunications. UV-curable adhesives and hard protective UV-cured coatings are also used for digital video discs, optical disks and CD's.
The raw materials for the coatings are petroleum-based--either from acrylates derived from acrylic acid, or from urethanes, which are more complex and stem from a range of petroleum derivatives, such as isocyanates. These materials "are purchased from all over the world, from the US, Japan and Europe," Mr. Lawson says.
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