A safe touch
Safety of plasticizer, an important adjuvant of plastic products, is drawing the public attention. In order to push forward the application of its trusted non-phthalate plasticizer – Hexamoll® DINCH®, BASF has established the Hexamoll DINCH Trusted Partners program in Asia Pacific with a third party accreditation.
Two years ago, William Kang, General Manager of Vinyl Tech Enterprise Co., Ltd., a Taiwan-based manufacturer of luxury vinyl flooring, discovered that his baby was most fascinated by playing games on the floor. This prompted Kang to pay attention to the safety of vinyl flooring. “Children’s exploration of the world starts with touch, and young children spend most of their time playing right at the floor,” said Kang.
The key ingredient of vinyl flooring, apart from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is plasticizer. “Plasticizer only accounts for 10% of vinyl flooring, but is one of the important factors that determine the safety performance,” explains Kirin Cheng, Supervisor Sales, Petrochemicals, Asia Pacific, BASF, and in charge of Vinyl Tech. In Taiwan, the food contamination scandals in recent years where phthalate plasticizer was found in food and beverages triggered people’s common fear even at the mention of plasticizer.
Vinyl Tech was founded by Kang’s father in the 1980s. In its early days of setup, it provided foundry services as an original equipment manufacturer to well-known vinyl flooring brands. Although the demand of global flooring industry experienced a decline in the past several years, vinyl floor, a product with relatively high efficiency of resource utilization, grew 20% annually.
Over a decade ago, Vinyl Tech started to develop its own brand. In a highly competitive market of the flooring business, Kang strived to find “blue ocean” opportunities by providing unique products. The safety challenges of plasticizer inspired him with an opportunity for product differentiation – finding a safe plasticizer for the vinyl flooring. It was then when he learned about Hexamoll DINCH, the trusted non-phthalate plasticizer by BASF, and since started their business cooperation.
In 2012, Vinyl Tech introduced flooring solutions containing Hexamoll DINCH to the market. “We are one of the first companies to introduce non-phthalate vinyl flooring in Europe, which is also the world’s biggest vinyl flooring market. Now, our European brand ‘ProjectFloors’ ranks among the top three bands there,” Kang revealed.
Plasticizer is extensively used in daily life, particularly in products made from the versatile plastic PVC. Without plasticizer, PVC is brittle and snaps like a dry noodle. Like the boiling water that softens the pasta, plasticizers act like a lubricant between the molecule chains of the polymer and make the plastic as soft and flexible as is required for the intended application.
Plasticizers go into a wide area of applications, ranging from electrical underground cables to medical devices. Hence, the requirements of plasticizers are as diverse as the possible applications and there are specific plasticizers to fulfill them. “BASF offers the right plasticizers for the different requirements,” explains Mathias Haase, Senior Manager, Marketing Plasticizers and Alcohols, Asia Pacific, BASF.
There has been growing concern over a specific group of plasticizers called phthalate plasticizers for their potential health risks. As a result, the demand for specialty plasticizers in sensitive applications, such as toys, medical devices, food contacts applications along with indoor applications like flooring and wall covering has increased. To meet this growing demand, BASF launched the alternative non-phthalate plasticizer, Hexamoll DINCH in 2002 for applications with close human contact. It is probably one of the most thoroughly tested plasticizer in today’s market, and on account of its excellent toxicological performance, Hexamoll DINCH has been approved and certified by many authorities and institutions worldwide. “BASF has invested more than €7 million in toxicological research for Hexamoll DINCH,” states Haase. “This helps customers meet the demanding requirements for plasticizers in food contact applications, toys, medical and drinking water applications in Europe, US, as well as in Asia.”
Safety is of top priority, especially for applications with close human contact. For example, when young children discover something new, one of the first things they do is – put it in their mouth. It is so common to see children chewing around on animal figures and suck away at rubber ducks. As far as their parents are concerned, the safety of these PVC toys is of great importance. Hence, many of the established toy manufacturers have been using BASF’s trusted non-phthalate plasticizer.
Another field with vast demand for high- safety plasticizer that Haase finds very promising is medical care. “China Food & Drug Administration (CFDA) has just approved the application of Hexamoll DINCH in extra corporeal tubing, mainly used for artificial heart and lung machines, which is a good beginning for the use of alternative plasticizers in medical products,” said Haase. Furthermore, some brands promoting healthy lifestyles also are starting to switch to these alternative plasticizers, for instance, yoga mats, gloves and food packaging products.
Asia, in particular China, being the growth engine is no doubt also applicable to the plasticizer industry. The global consumption of plasticizer is around 8 million tons annually, in which about half is by the China market. Higher awareness among the general public of phthalates used in sensitive applications, as well as stricter standards set by legislative entities have made the Asian manufacturers switching their production to alternative plasticizers, like Hexamoll DINCH. “To acknowledge companies in Asia Pacific who share the same uncompromising commitment to product safety, we launched the exclusive Hexamoll DINCH Trusted Partners program,” states Wayne Musselmann, Senior Manager Plasticizers, Asia Pacific, BASF and responsible for the program. “Since we launched the program in 2012, we have welcomed a growing number of companies in the region who put product safety as their highest priority.” The program is for compounders, producers, retailers and brand owners with a presence and business establishments in Asia Pacific who use Hexamoll DINCH in soft PVC applications.
To join the program, applicant companies have to complete a qualification process, conducted by an independent certification body, TÜV Rheinland, the well-established accreditation institution from Germany. “We will accredit the applicants in areas of human rights, occupational safety, production process etc., and will spot-check products in the factories in order to confirm that the raw material used by the manufacturer conforms to BASF safety requirements,” said Chen Weijun, Project Lead in TÜV Shanghai Inspection Center. “In the past, we usually provide service to customers’ suppliers, but this time we provide service to our customer’s customers——this is a new service model, which fully reflects BASF’s emphasis on social responsibility.”
After passing TÜV accreditation, Vinyl Tech joined Hexamoll DINCH Trusted Partners program. Once a company becomes a Hexamoll DINCH Trusted Partner, they can take advantage of various benefits that BASF offers: technical and marketing advice, exclusive market and product information, industry networking opportunities, and among them joint promotional opportunities. Over the past several years, their cooperation with BASF has played a significant role in improving Vinyl Tech’s brand image and sales. Kang is now constructing new plants and he wants to apply Hexamoll DINCH into all of their products. “Giving top priority to product safety is the cornerstone of our effective cooperation with BASF,” said Kang. He expects the sales income for Vinyl Tech to increase by around 50% in 2015.
The steadily growing market demand has made BASF double the annual production capacity of Hexamoll DINCH to 200,000 tons in Ludwigshafen, Germany in 2014. “We are very confident about the market prospect for alternative plasticizers, especially in sensitive applications. We are ready to support and grow together with our customers by remaining a reliable and trusted partner,” said Haase.
Wide application of Hexamoll® DINCH®
- Sport and leisure products
- Medical devices
- Food contact applications
- Wall covering