Crack The Case: A Challenge for Compound Developers
Let’s look into two actual cases where some wire and cable manufacturers were looking for alternative compounds for two specific application areas. The process started some six months ago.
Case 1: Compound for IRM 902/ASTM #2 oil resistance cables for applications at elevated temperatures.
Case 2:Compound for 90C cables, applied in dry and wet conditions for 600 V power and control cables.
The compound had to meet following specifications:
IEEE-383, UL 1685, UL-854, UL-44 XHHW, RHH, RHW, SIS and CSA Std C22.2 No 3.
UL, RHH, RHW, RHW-2, SIS, USE, USE-2, XHHW and XHHW-2.
Why Did Customers Look for Alternatives?
In these two cases, the quality of the available compounds was not a reason for concern. However, some customers did have worries about the long term availability of the compounds, but most of all steep price increases forced them to look ahead and find competitive alternative compounds. They like to see their concerns eased and simply get more value for money to regain or improve their margins.
After a few months, sufficient information had been gathered to determine the base for the development of two alternative cross-linkable compounds based on a CV-curable and E-beam cross-linkable system.
What Action Was Required?
“How do you want your compound, Sir?” The developer had started off to find out what the potential customers needed.
“Is this what you want?” Next he had to make a list of priorities based on feedback from the focus groups and to check the list with each individual customer. Then he started the compound development. He had to keep in mind that a product developer generally has an overflow of thoughts and ideas. He had to check continuously what had been de-scoped earlier and verify in the market place, if he was still on the right track.
“How about this, Sir?” Finally he made some trial batches of compound and he sent samples to customers for tests and evaluations. He needed to be sure that the compound would meet their requirements.
At the moment, the development of the two types of compounds are at the final stage, both in a CV-curable and an E-beam cross-linkable version. Trial runs and final acceptance procedures are on the way. Feedback from the test market is being collected and taken into consideration during the final stage of the development process.
The time frame to determine the market demand and to develop the first batches of test compounds did not exceed six months. That means that the compound is almost ready for the market now, however the introduction is depending on final test results and acceptance by the customers, followed by procedures to obtain the required approvals for the cable systems.
We all know market-driven product development can be a key factor for the competitiveness of the wire and cable industry. Also the developer of compounds should keep in mind that product development always starts with the customer. He will start to check first, if the general requirements fit into his core competence. Then he should prioritize the customer wishes. Market driven development will make the wire and cable market more lively and competitive. It will offer new business opportunities for both the cable manufacturer and the compound supplier. Acting as an alternative source, the compounder can in certain cases support the wire and cable industry to fill orders at the best delivery and price conditions, whenever possible.
Why CV-Curable & E-Beam Cross-Linkable?
Inhol BV is traditionally an electron-beam-oriented company. This time, our development included CV-curable compounds, which are popular in the USA and Europe for the simple reason that E-beam facilities are not as widely spread in the wire and cable industry as in the Far East. The estimated number of E-beams in the USA does not exceed 30. In Europe (excluding Russia), the number of E-beams is about the same as in the USA. Fortunately, not each wire and cable manufacturer has to install an E-beam facility. There are also contract E-beam services available in the USA and Europe to crosslink and modify polymers for the industry.
In the Far East, the situation is completely different nowadays. Due to the fast economical development, particularly in China, the number of E-beams will certainly exceed 225 units at the end of 2011. Many new E-beams are under construction at the moment with Chinese companies as the final destination. For the entire Far East region, it is estimated that the total number of E-beams already exceeds some 300 units or will exceed this number soon. Also, in this region many contract E-beam service centers are available, and the total number will be expanding rapidly in the forthcoming years.
Summary and Conclusion
Market-driven compound development can be successful if applied in close cooperation with the customer and by following the path leading to the development of the required product by defining the focus, knowing the customer’s need, creating a compound, asking feedback on a regular basis, testing the compound (with the customer), checking and evaluating test results and measuring acceptance rate.
Surely, the final result will be known as soon as the customer accepts the compound, which will meet the required technical, commercial and strategic requirements of the customer.