“We want to drive forward the world of acrylic glass”
The development of PLEXIGLAS® has always involved close cooperation with customers in search of special solutions. But what is driving this evolution?
Small aquarium panels have become enormous panoramic glass tunnels, thick plates have shrunk to ultra-thin films for mobile devices – Martin Krämer, Head of the Acrylic Products division at Evonik, explains in this interview why evolution is part of the DNA of PLEXIGLAS®, why passion is so important in new projects, and how Evonik’s expertise will advance the development of this material in years to come.
Mr. Krämer, inspiration is at the heart of the PLEXIGLAS® brand. But how does inspiration translate into new PLEXIGLAS® applications?
Krämer: By having many people, including outside of our company, think about what to next with our material. Many designers, architects, developers and other users are familiar with PLEXIGLAS® from previous projects – which is why they opt for our material to implement new ideas. Or they experiment with its wide range of properties because they are looking for a solution for their project and come up with something completely new. We see ourselves as innovative partners to our customers, supporting them worldwide with our market knowledge and our more than 80 years of expertise with PLEXIGLAS®.
Could you give us an example?
Krämer: The panoramic PLEXIGLAS® domes that are now available for submersible are the result of a joint development effort with our customers. In this field, everything started with small viewing windows. But our customers kept asking for larger panels. Developing these panoramic glass domes required a great deal of experimenting together since it is extremely complicated to shape a PLEXIGLAS® block into a dome that will be free of visual distortions. I always find that my employees are most passionate at work when they are required to find a solution for a specific application – no matter in which field.
…has been Head of Evonik’s Acrylic Products division since 2015. The company’s portfolio of semi-finished PLEXIGLAS® products makes it one of the leading manufacturers of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) worldwide. According to Krämer, the most fascinating aspects about his work include the wide range of possible applications and the production process from the raw material to the finished plate. “The production of each plate is a chemical reaction involving a multitude of different parameters. It is not like feeding something into a machine on one side and always getting the same output on the other side. The quality of our products is largely based on our employees’ expertise.”
How important is this constant development for the PLEXIGLAS® brand?
Krämer: It is extremely important. Evolution is what drives us. It is not in our nature to let our brand image do the work. PLEXIGLAS® is the original. We have invented it, and it is safe to say that we are the market players with the most experience. Therefore, we want to be the leading trendsetter and driving force of our industry, and we see ourselves as the partner of choice for customers who want to develop something new. This means that whenever a project involves the use of PMMA, Evonik as the leading manufacturer of polymer materials and intermediates should be the first stop for the project team.
So what makes PLEXIGLAS® so different from its competitors?
Krämer: The consistent quality, the scope of our product range, our technical expertise in material processing – and the passion for driving our customers’ projects forwards. After all, you have to be passionate about what you do in order to go the extra mile to find not just any solution, but an extremely good solution. Perhaps even a solution that hasn’t been seen before. We want to develop and promote the world of acrylic glass, so as to live up to our vision: “Evolution in acrylics is our passion.”
What do you mean specifically?
Evolution in Acrylics is our Passion
Vision of Evonik’s Acrylic Products division
Krämer: Our business is generally about driving evolution, not proclaiming a revolution. We are not in the business of making groundbreaking inventions week after week. Instead, we aim at constantly developing PLEXIGLAS® in close contact with our customers. Our new stretching and polishing plant, for example, which will start up in 2018, will enable us to offer larger formats of aircraft window glazing than was possible before. Aircraft manufacturers can thus increase their production efficiency and develop new designs with larger windows. Another example is our new film plant, which will also start production in 2018. The plant is truly unique from a technical perspective, for instance in terms of width of the films produced and the number of layers. These are two innovations in the world of acrylic glass that show what Evonik means by smart concepts in chemical business.
Users from around the world have found solutions for their projects with PLEXIGLAS®, such as the panoramic glass dome of this submersible, ...
© Triton Submarines LLC
… this façade in Shanghai, …
… this large aquarium in Copenhagen, …
© Advanced Aquarium Technologies
…this lamp and so many other things.
© Boos & Schulz Designagentur
So 2018 will bring major developments for PLEXIGLAS®. Why does Evonik invest in precisely these fields?
Krämer: Because we see huge potential for growth in these two fields in the coming years, which will be strongly driven by major trends. One of these trends is mobility. In the next 20 years, many tens of thousands of airplanes will be brought into service because middle classes in countries such as China and India are growing rapidly, thus resulting in a soaring demand for air transportation. Of course, we also want to share in this trend, but we thought that our expertise makes us a perfect partner for customers in driving the development of this application further.
And what about films?
PLEXIGLAS® is the original
The family of PLEXIGLAS® products has grown substantially since Otto Röhm invented the material more than 80 years ago. The basic molecule at its heart, polymethyl methacrylate, is still the same as it was in Röhm’s days. But the way the material is processed has changed. Casting and extrusion technologies have been further developed, and PLEXIGLAS® is now produced with a much broader range of additives. In addition, environmental specifications have changed considerably over the years.
Krämer: When it comes to films, urbanization is a very important topic. More and more people are living in large cities, resulting in an increasing need for housing space. PVC window profiles are protected against wind and weather by a PLEXIGLAS® film. A large portion of our material is used for this purpose. But this trend gives rise to other developments, too, such as the use of films for façade protection. Wherever façades need to be protected against heavy UV radiation, PMMA is the material of choice. This is why we are investing into a new film plant.
But sometimes trends do not develop the way we want them to ...
Krämer: That is true. It has happened a few times in the past that we had to discontinue a new PLEXIGLAS® variant. But you simply need courage for development. If you don’t have that courage but sit on the fence waiting to be 100% certain of something, you will never make a decision. You have to be willing to take a well-calculated risk. It the basis of development.