Lanxess in Antwerp

Against the Tide: What Has Lanxess Planned with its State-of-the-Art Production in Belgium?

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Executive Decision

The decision to invest hundreds of millions on such a grand scale, especially in Europe, left many in the industry shaking their heads. The market for polymers and plastic precursors is a difficult one, especially after the development of enormous production capacities in China.

To understand the situation, it is necessary to look back: The years after the turn of the century represented a golden age for caprolactam - the constantly growing demand for high-performance plastics, particularly in Asia, drove profits and fired the imagination of investors.

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The Up- and Down-Story of Polymers

The decline came soon: Around 2010, a number of large polymer megaplants went onstream in China. At the same time, the market for high-performance plastics virtually collapsed in the wake of the economic crisis. The result: Massive overcapacity and falling margins. Did people in Cologne plan and ignore the market?

After all, the previous years had not been easy for the former Bayer subsidiary. When CEO Matthias Zachert 2014 spoke of his famous “valley of tears”, the company faced high debt and low profits. The struggling synthetic rubber business particularly dampened the perspectives of the Cologne company. This concern is now a thing of the past - together with the Saudi oil giants Aramco, the division was brought into the joint venture Arlanxeo.

With the latest Chemtura acquisition, the signs are now pointing to growth. “We have done our homework and have gone through difficult times”, says Dr. Michael Zobel, Head of High Performance Plastics Materials. “Now, we are back in business!”

Growth in sight

The company has done their homework - this should also be the case with regard to caprolactam production in Antwerp. But what is the role of polymers in the plans of the chemicals specialists? Engineering materials have a key function in the new structure of the company.

After all, Lanxess is one of the five largest producers of high-performance plastics (Number 2 worldwide for polyamide). Zobel estimates that his business unit contributes to 15-20% of total turnover. The outlook is also good again: Up to the end of the decade, engineering plastics is due to grow by 5% per year and more in almost all key markets, analysts believe.

But where does the Antwerp site fit into these plans? See for yourself on page 3!