Specialty chemicals are used throughout many industries, including coatings. PCI recently asked Jonathan Craig, Vice President Specialty Chemicals at Ascend Performance Materials, to discuss these performance products and the current state of the market.
PCI: How do specialty chemicals differ from commodity chemicals, both in use and in manufacturing?
Craig: Specialty chemicals offer additional benefit or functionality to an application or formulation. For example, our Hexatran™ trifunctional amine provides increased flexibility and chemical resistance.
Specialty chemicals also typically require more reaction or processing to produce in order to meet a customer’s or market’s unique specification. Because of this added complexity to manufacturing, a particular specialty chemical may only be produced by one or two companies.
PCI: What is the current market atmosphere for specialty chemicals?
Craig: The market for specialty chemicals is growing quite well. Consumers are looking for better, more functional products in almost every industry to help differentiate themselves in the market. We’re seeing increased demand for sustainable, low-VOC solutions that perform as well as or better than the incumbent products. These demands are forcing positive changes throughout the value chain, and we’re happy to be able to support our customers in finding solutions that are both sustainable and successful in the market.
PCI: What are challenges that specialty chemical manufacturers face?
Craig: The development of new chemistries is an exciting challenge in and of itself. There are a lot of considerations at play, such as identifying possible applications, understanding the value proposition of that application, developing the chemistry on a lab, pilot plant and commercial scale, and, of course, lots of testing.
At any stage, a potential product can fall through. It’s important to keep an open mind, innovate quickly and be agile enough to pivot resources where necessary.
PCI: How have you been able to overcome these challenges?
Craig: The key to overcoming these challenges is to be committed to pursuing and growing a specialty chemicals business across the company. We invest in our people and give them the tools they need to make the business successful. We also focus on serving industries we understand well, like the paint and coatings industry. When you understand the challenges your customers are trying to solve, it helps sharpen your focus and make decisions quickly.