At Clariant Masterbatches we believe in a colourful world! Few people outside the plastics industry know what masterbatches are. We are one of those obscure industries that are everywhere and in everything, yet no one knows of us,” says Chris Hansen, Head of BU Masterbatches Asia Pacific.
“Our business develops and produces color and additive concentrates, which are used by producers of various plastic articles with the purpose of getting the right colour and functionality,” Hansen continues. Perhaps what most characterises the company is the complexity of its operations, serving over 20,000 customers across a range of industries, with products tailored to each customer’s specific requirements. Clariant Masterbatches at any point in time maintains more than 70,000 active products which are continually changing as customer’s update their products - from shampoo bottles to fabrics, smart phones and cars, they consequently request new colours and functionalities from Clariant. Clariant Masterbatches is very much revered for the breadth of its product portfolio and capabilities, the quality consistency, product stewardship and sustainability. However, the business has traditionally struggled to be as fast as the many small local competitors. “This need to increase our speed and make it faster and easier for customers to do business with us was the main inspiration to start our digital journey”, reflects Hansen.
Alongside the focus on technology, sustainability is a very central topic for Clariant and has been so for the last seven years at least, with many specific efforts and recognitions as a result. That’s due not only to a sense of moral responsibility, but because it is good for the business. “2019 was the year where sustainability became a real topic for our customers,” says Hansen. “In the years before, it was often a final, courtesy agenda point at customer meetings. Now, it is more often than not the first and primary agenda point.” There is huge pressure on the plastics industry from governments, consumers and NGOs. “Topics like the circular economy, recycled polymers and the whole issue of ocean plastic waste are very high on everybody's agenda,” Hansen explains. “This is our opportunity. We have the capabilities and solutions to help our customers.”
Clariant backs up these words with actions. Specific projects undertaken in the sustainability space include looking into achieving more consistent colours with recycled polymers, as well as building sustainability options such as recyclability and compostability into its InstaColr app to help customers make informed decisions. Clariant is also piloting a recycling plant in Italy known as CycleWorks, as Hansen explains: “That plant is, for example, doing extensive testing on how colourants and additives impact the recyclability of plastics. This again allows us to help our customers very specifically on how to improve the sustainability of their products.
Developing and implementing digital solutions in a traditional manufacturing company is not an easy journey. Clariant Masterbatches spent considerable effort in building up its in-house Digital Innovation Center team. “Initially, candidates are skeptical, as our environment is very different from that of, for example, an IT company. What in the end attracts and continues to excite people, though, is that we remain a small team where everyone plays a central role in trailblazing game-changing new ways of working in our business. People realize that they are having a real impact”, explains Hansen.