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Celebrating 25 Years of Santoprene TPEs
Tuesday June 27, 3:05 pm ET

ExxonMobil Chemical's Elastic Plastic Serves Thousands of Customers

HOUSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 27, 2006--Research to create a new material for an injection-molded tire resulted in the commercialization of Santoprene(TM) thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) 25 years ago. Today, the Santoprene product portfolio has over 300 grades that are used by thousands of customers across the globe in the automotive, food and beverage, consumer electronics, electrical, and appliance markets. This resourceful, innovative and committed pioneer continues to be recognized today as the global leader in engineered TPEs.

This article celebrating 25 years of Santoprene brand TPEs charts the development of the brand from the obstacles it faced to the successes it enjoys with an outlook toward continued growth.

Overcoming early hurdles

The unique material that became Santoprene TPE exhibited the performance characteristics of rubber and the processing ease of a plastic, with complementary benefits. But it was not an overnight success.

"Initially we targeted the processors that manufactured finished parts from rubber," said Bob Liskiewicz, global sales manager for ExxonMobil Chemical's Specialty Elastomers Business. "The new material got a luke-warm reception from the rubber industry. Target customers weren't prepared to work with a material that was fully compounded or invest in the new equipment they needed to process it. We were excited about the opportunities of the material, but the rubber industry was reluctant to invest in a new business."

A revised business strategy focused on the customers of the rubber processors. Approaching automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and appliance manufacturers proved successful. "We convinced them that we had an interesting new material. Now we had to encourage the creation of a supply chain that could manufacture the parts," explained Liskiewicz.

The clear message that got the interest of the OEMs was cost savings. Santoprene TPEs' faster part-production cycle times, lower weight and ease of production all contributed to lower part costs. "We established Rubber Conversion Economics, which compared every aspect of producing a part in a traditional rubber material with Santoprene TPE. We demonstrated that an OEM could save a significant percentage on the cost of the final part if they converted to our TPE," said Liskiewicz.

In addition to cost savings, the establishment of unrivalled technical support capabilities and the manufacturing capabilities to provide materials of consistent quality across the world led to a successful global business.

Early successes

The brand achieved an important early application success in the automotive sector. While the rack-and-pinion boot only costs a small percentage of the steering system to manufacture, it plays a critical role in protecting the system. The ability of Santoprene TPE to improve flex life, fluid resistance and sealability of the boot is key to the success of this application. The reduction in manufacturing costs is an added bonus. "The application has been so successful that it can probably be found in four out of five cars on the road today," explained Liskiewicz.

In the appliance sector, the business worked with OEMs to manufacture components -- often seals -- for household appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. A dishwasher sump boot made with Santoprene TPE was an early success as it was installed in many major brands and models. Again the functional benefits of Santoprene TPE -- good sealing and resistance to heat and fluids -- were important.

The elastomer's sealing capabilities also led to early successes in the domestic and high-rise construction sectors in applications such as window seals, caster wheels, tubing and small hose parts, electrical connectors and coatings for wire & cables.

Santoprene TPE also found success in the highly demanding medical industry where it is used as a gasket on syringe plungers.

Sound strategies

At the outset, the business implemented an astute intellectual property strategy that extended Santoprene products' commercial longevity as competitive products entered the market. As these products became available, the strong brand values that were established and built from the earliest days demonstrated that it takes more than products to help make customers successful in rubber replacement and other TPE applications.

Combining performance improvements and cost reductions with the best global support in the industry -- logistics, inventory in-hand, 24-48 hour delivery, consistent quality and extensive technical support -- have all become key components in the success of the business. It established a 98 percent on-time delivery rate for customers from Boston to Barcelona to Beijing. "We serve thousands of customers with an extra special level of service day after day," added Liskiewicz.

As the business worked with OEMs, it started to bring work to processors, creating a strong loyalty among them. "We collaborate and dedicate resources to companies often before they are customers. Whether it's market knowledge, design assistance or supply chain expertise, we bring all our experience to bear to help companies design, develop and introduce new products to market. We offer the immediate technical and design support of our engineering specialists through web conferencing, online collaboration, our AnswerPerson(TM) service and face-to-face," said Liskiewicz. "As a result, we have achieved double-digit growth in volume and sales for most of the past 25 years."

As another demonstration of its commitment to the industries it serves, the Santoprene specialty products business is certified to the same standards as some of its customers and their customers. For example, it recently achieved certification to the globally accepted automotive industry quality standard ISO/TS 16949:2002.

Continued growth

The business expanded in the mid 1990s when it began to promote the use of Santoprene TPE to enhance the way products look or how they feel to the touch. This "soft-touch" concept enabled the business to develop extensive use of Santoprene elastomers in grips for consumer products such as ski poles, gardening and power tools, razors, toothbrushes and pens. The business worked with product designers who began to use Santoprene TPE for the aesthetic effects it produces -- soft touch, color, texture and special effects. "This extra dimension opened up the consumer market for us," said Liskiewicz.

In the late 1990s, the business developed new opportunities in the automotive industry by proving to automotive OEMs that TPEs were a viable alternative to thermoset rubber for sealing systems.

Today, automotive OEMs fully recognize and embrace the opportunities for improved performance, weight reductions that boost fuel efficiency, and parts cost savings that are achieved using Santoprene TPE. The use of Santoprene TPE also enables soft/hard material combinations, depending on the performance requirements of each part of the seal. Other automotive OEMs have come to appreciate the benefits of changing to TPEs.

An exciting future

"Looking forward we see potential for growth in developing countries, new applications, product development and modular systems," said Liskiewicz.

China and other countries in Asia, Central Europe and Latin America represent growth markets. The Santoprene brand is established in Japan through commercial links with major OEMs in the automotive sector. Establishing a presence in China and helping a customer there create a first commercial success with Santoprene TPE 20 years ago, the business is ideally positioned to benefit from this rapidly evolving market.

New applications will continue to drive growth. Many of the consumer markets are only just starting to truly appreciate the benefits of Santoprene products and there are still excellent growth opportunities in the automotive sector.

New products are in development as the business researches compounds or hybrids of TPEs and TPVs to match target performance requirements. New Santoprene TPE bonding grades maximize the potential of overmolding technology to eliminate the need for adhesives and mechanical interlocks to combine different materials.

As part of ExxonMobil Chemical's Specialty Elastomers Business, there is also a broad portfolio of elastomer products on which to draw. This has recently led to the adoption of a modular approach where the performance requirements of a whole system, such as a car door system, are being considered and solutions proposed.

"Without doubt, the underlying success of the business has been a singular focus on the customer, delivered by exceptional people with an inquiring and responsive attitude. Adding value to a customer's product helps them bring value to their customers. This is, and always will be, at the core of the development and growth of the Santoprene brand," concluded Liskiewicz.

About ExxonMobil Chemical

ExxonMobil Chemical is a global leader in technology, product quality and customer service with petrochemical manufacturing and/or marketing operations in more than 150 countries around the world. Its products include olefins, aromatics, fluids, synthetic rubber, polyethylene, polypropylene, oriented polypropylene packaging films, plasticizers and synthetic lubricant basestocks.

Source: ExxonMobil Chemical

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