Plastics seek out extremes
The Quadrant group's history is quite complex. Could you sum it up in a few words ?
Quadrant was created in 1996 as the result of a merger between various companies, most of which specialised in processing high performance plastics. Some of our companies were incorporated all the way back in the 1930s. At the time, a pioneering and visionary spirit was required to make a start in the nascent plastics industry. Over time, and with each successive merger and acquisition, this spirit remained and was even strengthened in 2013 when Quadrant AG became a fully-fledged subsidiary of the Japanese Mitsubishi Plastics group. However, our headquarters remained in Zurich, in Switzerland. We currently have a presence throughout the world and we employ close to 2,000 individuals. We are organised around four operational units, including a division specialising in technical plastics which represents 80% of the group's activity.
We are a world leader and particularly recognised in this field for our high performance plastics able to withstand incredible stress, such as those caused by heat.
Which high performance polymers can be found in your catalogue ?
Simply put, I would say that we have all types of polymers that can withstand sustained temperatures of up to 310 °C (500 °C peak). However, quite frankly, this is not the most interesting fact, as we are not the only ones selling such thermoplastics. This being said, I would mention high molecular weight polyethylene (HMWPE), polyamide (PA), polyacetal (POM), polysulfone (PSU), polyphenylene sulfone (PPSU), polyetherimide (PEI), PEEK, and, of course, all families of polyamide-imides (PAI) and polyimides (PI). We are a converter, and we have to provide our customers with the highest quality finished and semi-finished products. We therefore attach as much importance to our conversion processes as to selecting the converted resins.
What is so special about your processes ?
First of all, I would like to stay on the topic of our resins. We are not a producer; we are a converter and we therefore work with suppliers that we choose on the basis of very stringent criteria. However, the selection process does not end there. We also carry out a battery of tests to measure the quality of the resins. Doing so is very important as our products are used to manufacture parts that are crucial to the proper functioning of machines. Then the conversion processes come into play. I can confidently say that we have exceptional experience in the field and, therefore, a high quality of know-how to go with it. Without revealing any industrial secrets, I can evoke our extruders that have been calibrated, and sometimes modified, to "push" the resin at the ideal speed. Because there are no standards governing the speed of extrusion, we could speed up our machines to increase productivity.
Generally, we do the opposite, as we want to avoid the stresses caused by impact to the material. All of our parts are then placed in the oven for several days in a row in order to ensure a high level of quality. This was the best solution we came up with to stabilise the material and thus guarantee a perfect product once it is put on the market.
That has to be expensive. How do you make up for it ?
It is, but we aim to deliver the high performance product that our customers are looking for. They are aware of the fact that out plastics have different properties to ordinary plastics. This being said, we make sure to explain that the fact that they are called high performance polymers does not mean that they are suitable for all applications. We also help them draw up their specifications. Why use a polymer that can withstand temperatures of 300 °C in a context where the maximum temperature will only reach 150 °C? It makes no sense. However, heat is often understood to mean ambient temperature. This is a mistake, as friction is also a source of heat, for instance. Of course, the temperatures are not unbearable, but they can degrade a polymer. One portion of our work therefore involves advising our clients to ensure that they make the right choice.
We sometimes guide them towards metal solutions. Polymers are not yet suited to all possible tasks and, in some cases, metal can easily fulfil a function at a lower cost than a high-end plastic.
Are you making any efforts to improve the performance of your polymers?
Of course! On a daily basis, in fact! Not only to best meet the needs of our customers' specifications, but also to make the best proposals, as we always try to predict tomorrow's market. We work very closely with our suppliers and collaborate with them on testing new polymers. Sometimes, they only need to be loaded differently in order for new properties to be revealed. We also work with the suppliers of production machines from whom we request improvements in order to better meet our often very particular needs. We work in a very dynamic industry that is constantly innovating, and it without a doubt this that makes plastics so successful.
Finally, what is your environmental policy?
We fly under the flag of Japan, the country that invented the concept of continuous improvement. We are thus fully committed to a policy that works towards a better environment. This requires much work to save energy and avoid wasting raw materials. The waste generated by the manufacturing processes or by the suppliers is actively re-used, processed or eliminated by reliable sources. As for the waste generated by customers, it can also be used to feed our procurement chain. There are no bad ideas, and we never hesitate to ask for ideas from our suppliers, our customers, and our employees. This is also one of the major features of Japanese culture.