ASC: Sticking together brings benefits

02 May 2014 10:07 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

Global adhesives manufacturer H.B. Fuller is seeking collaborations on key strategic raw materials to drive innovative solutions for customers

Collaborate to foster upstream innovation. That’s the message from Hassan Rmaile, chief technology and innovation officer at global 
adhesives company H.B. Fuller.

Collaboration is more than a trendy buzz word for the company – it has several existing partnerships that range from sourcing technology to working with Tier 1 strategic suppliers.

Rmaile says H.B. Fuller has a three-pronged strategy centred on differentiating raw materials upstream to drive innovation downstream. The three prongs are:

  • Collaborating with strategic Tier 1 suppliers, universities, think tanks and future suppliers among the many sources of external innovation;
  • Pursuing alternative feedstocks; and
  • Developing new technologies to expand in-house capabilities.

The company is looking at technical innovations in the area of adhesive formulations, particularly with regard to polymers, tackifiers and reactives components.

Rmaile says innovation can be done at all stages of development – in raw material manufacturing, compounding, processing engineering and end applications. “If you innovate at multiple levels, you make the formulation very unique adding great value to customers,” he says. The company is also looking at commercial innovations such as streamlining the supply chain.

H.B. Fuller is keen to form strategic alliances for key raw materials used in adhesives and is expanding its collaborative efforts upstream. Rmaile explains that the company has no intention to compete with suppliers but wants to boost its collaboration with them, creating win-win relationships and creating value in the supply chain that motivates other parties to collaborate with H.B. Fuller.

Raw materials suppliers – for example, polymer producers – have the advantage of knowing their chemistry and process engineering very well, and have the capacity to produce large volumes. On the other hand, H.B. Fuller has an intimate knowledge of downstream customer requirements and 
applications, Rmaile points out. “We can identify what the market needs are and have the ability to translate them into upstream feedstock requirements,” he says.

“For some companies engaging in upstream innovation, the focus is on pure technology. At H.B. Fuller, we are focusing on market- and platform-driven innovation. We are collecting all business intelligence and market trends and developing chemistries to solve customers’ problems. “We are solution providers that collaborate upstream to solve downstream unmet market needs,” he explains.

Rmaile reports that H.B. Fuller has received very positive responses from suppliers to upstream collaboration. “They are very open to collaboration in general,” he says. Rmaile maintains collaboration will work at all levels by looking at it differently, in a creative, open and sometimes exclusive way, with volume commitment in exchange.

According to Rmaile, adhesives are a strategic segment for many of H.B. Fuller’s suppliers. He adds that the company is seeing an increasing number of suppliers starting to realise that the adhesives industry is a vast sector – valued at $40bn worldwide - and they want more market share.

Undoubtedly, the winners in this huge market will be those that continually innovate to discover best and highest performing products which will bring significant value to their customers’ operations and deliver the best end-users’ experience.

Development projects are designed around three primary areas: formulation or compounding; engineering/delivery mechanisms and/or raw material innovations. H.B. Fuller funds projects that fit into any of these three categories and then decides whether to proceed internally or in collaboration externally.

Rmaile says several business segments have been identified as offering significant opportunities for growth-driven innovation. H.B. Fuller’s targeted focus segments are hygiene, packaging and durable assembly.

“We have a very balanced portfolio that constitutes short-term projects of one to two years that will generate adequate cash to invest in the longer term, over three to five years,” he says.

H.B. Fuller’s strategy for external innovation partnerships is to find minimum viable scale to accelerate business growth. Its solutions are part of nearly every type of finished goods in the marketplace today.

The company says it is committed to innovation and bringing together people, processes and products to solve some of the world’s biggest adhesion challenges. Through co-innovation and co-development, it is connecting what matters for customers.

By Elaine Burridge