Wacker in expansion mode to meet growing demand for silicone rubber

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At Fakuma 2017, Wacker presented new Elastosil LR 5040 product line. The LSR is “extremely robust” after curing and can be used in sensitive areas even without thermal post-curing.

Munich-based specialty chemicals company Wacker Chemie AG has signalled major growth plans with a number of expansion projects in Europe, the US and Asia.

According to Christian Gimber, head of the Engineering Silicones unit at Wacker Silicones, demand for silicone rubber materials is growing globally, and capacity expansions are in the pipeline for the materials in the coming years.

As the head of engineering silicones unit put it, a large part of his business unit is driven by growth in the automotive and medical industries.

As part of its growth strategy, Wacker expects to start production at a new silicone elastomer production plant in Jincheon, South Korea, with focus on electronics.

The German company started construction work on the €16-million facility in July 2016 and expects to start production at the site in the first quarter of 2018.

Wacker operations in Jincheon began in 2010 with the production of silicone sealants for construction applications and a variety of specialty silicone products for the electronics industry.

But as further capacity expansion at the old site is not possible due to space constraints, Wacker intends to dismantle the facility and transfer it to the new site in Jincheon.

In addition to that, Gimber said, Wacker is also working on further capacity expansions in Asia, at the site of an existing plant.

For next year, the company is also considering further investments in silicone rubber production in Germany and the US.

With €2bn of sales last year, Wacker's silicones division is the world’s number 2 silicones supplier after Dow Corning.

As the head of engineering silicones unit put it, a large part of his business unit is driven by growth in the automotive and medical industries.

In fact, as PN was interviewing Gimber he received a call and was told that Wacker had won the TOP suppliers award from one of its key customers Resmed, which manufactures silicone-based sleeping masks for those who suffer from apnoea.

Wacker offers two systems for its silicone elastomers, high temperature curing silicone rubber and elastomers that cure by room temperature (room-temperature vulcanized – RTV).

The processing of these two are very different, according to Gimber.

High temperature curing silicones include liquid silicone rubber (LSR) and high-consistency rubber or HCR. In both areas, said Gimber “Wacker has a leading global position.”

According to Gimber, a trending technology is liquid silicone rubber (LSR) which is showing a “very strong growth rate” at the moment.

LSR, which is injection-molded, is favoured because of its high efficiency and precision.

Gimber explained that production of parts made of LSR can be automated and high number of machines can be run in parallel.

In end markets, the mechanical properties offered by LSR, including heat and tear resistance make it a suitable material for automotive and many other applications, e.g. medical, health, baby care and the household industry.

Launched at Fakuma this year, Elastosil R plus 4350/55 can for instance tolerate heats of up to 300 degrees, making it ideal for oven sealants or heat resistant hoses and profiles (fire-proof cables).

Other features offered by LSR include UV-resistance and life-long durability.

With both LSR and HCR, heat resistance makes them suitable for automotive applications, Gimber added, saying turbo-charger hoses and sensor protectors seals are all made of silicones.

One interesting area, Gimber pointed out, is the role of silicones in thermal-interface-materials.

“In battery systems or contained environments where heat builds up, silicone based TIM materials channel the heat to dedicated heat sinks,” Gimber explained.

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