Peter Hayes, the Senior Research Associate at BASF’s Dispersions and Resins unit, is a regular source of experience — and he has lots more to share before his retirement at the end of September. Here are some of Hayes’ top insights, tips and takeaways from 30 years researching paper coatings and packaging.
1) Strong working relationships are key
Hayes says a big part of his job involves coordinating with his customers’ manufacturing sites, ensuring they receive fast answers to questions about scaling up new products, technical issues and anything else they might need.
“It’s important to have very, very strong working relationships with customers,” says Hayes. “Particularly when you’re co-developing products — we wouldn’t develop them in isolation. We work with major partners to develop products that meet their objectives.”
As someone whose job touches on manufacturing, business, quality control and, of course, chemistry, it’s important for Hayes to have good relationships with his teammates in the paper coatings and packaging division.
2) Be proactive about compliance
Because Hayes’ team has contacts with colleagues and customers around the world, he keeps his finger on the pulse of global environmental regulations, with a particular focus on Europe.
“In Europe, in some ways they’re trendsetters when it comes to toxicology — particularly if you’re looking at something like a biocide, for example,” Hayes explains. “They’re becoming much stricter in Europe compared to North America.”
Hayes notes that these regulatory changes eventually take root and spread out on a global scale.
“You have to be aware and anticipate what may become restricted or even eliminated at some point,” he says. “It’s all about staying proactive.”
3) More monomer restrictions on the horizon
When it comes to tightening regulations, Hayes foresees some big, long-term changes involving restrictions on monomers.
“As researchers do more work on toxicity, especially carcinogenic materials, monomers will become more regulated and restricted,” Hayes says.
Styrene is one example of a material that could potentially be restricted or eliminated, according to Hayes. He says manufacturers can get ahead of those changes by embracing lower VOC (volatile organic compound) technology.
“In many cases, you can mitigate [the effects of regulatory change] by updating your process to eliminate harmful residual materials.”
He adds that the paper coatings and packaging industry must also keep a handle on food contact regulations and the FDA.
4) The future of paper and packaging
What’s next in the paper and packaging industry? Thanks to the steady uptick in online ordering, Hayes believes “smart packaging” will become much more important.
“Packages with sensors on them, sophisticated tracking devices… I think the packaging of the future will be quite different. Whether that means having your packages dropped off by drones, I don’t know,” he jokes.
Although the need for graphical paper products, like magazines, has dropped over the past few years, Hayes believes there will still be a steady demand for those types of products.
“I see it plateauing in the next three or four years. The demand will be less than it was 20 years ago, sure, but it will be constant.”
5) Surviving in a competitive market
In his time at BASF, Hayes has seen the industry consolidate to face the digital age. The companies that remained, BASF among them, have had to become even more competitive.
For Hayes, the best way to compete is to offer an excellent value proposition for your products, plain and simple.
“Paper is a commodity area, so there’s a big trend to have effective materials at lower costs,” he explains. “Because paper coating is such a competitive area, the supplies that give you a very strong value proposition are the ones that will survive.”
To that end, BASF was one of the first to develop cost-effective binders with money- and time-saving properties.
What’s in their secret sauce? Hayes can’t speak to that specifically, but he stresses “the right combination of raw material and efficient processing in our plants.”
“Designing cost-effective combinations and still getting the right properties — that can be a tough balance to achieve. It has to be effective in performance and in cost,” he adds. “Sometimes if you try to make things cost-effective, the properties can degrade or decrease quite a bit. We were successful in making that concept work.”