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At the last China Composites Expo, which took place on September 1-3 in Guangzhou, China, the atmosphere was dynamic. JEC Composites Magazine had the pleasure of interviewing Steven R. Zirkel, Managing Director of Owens Corning CSB Asia-Pacific, and Karl Jin, General Manager for Owens Corning’s China composites business. Mr. Zirkel and Mr. Jin shared their views on the Asian markets – particularly the Chinese market – and told us about their approach to them.
(Published on December 2005 – JEC Magazine #21)
AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN R. ZIRKEL, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF OWENS CORNING, CSB ASIA-PACIFIC AND KARL JIN, GENERAL MANAGER FOR OWENS CORNING’S CHINA COMPOSITES BUSINESS
JEC Composites Magazine: Does your approach to the Asian market as a whole differ from your usual procedures?
Steven R. Zirkel: Permit me to give you an overview of Owens Corning Asia-Pacific which we define as Japan and China down to Australia, New Zealand and over to India. Our focus, not only in Asia, but wherever we are in the world, is our customers. We concentrate on working with them in a very intimate way and really understanding their needs and what the market needs, so we can truly work together on innovation, applications and development.
In Asia, our commitment is deep. In recent months, to further support innovation, development and growth, we opened a Science and Technology Center in Shanghai. Its primary focus is to develop innovative applications and solutions to support our core and growth businesses in building materials and composites markets in Asia, especially China, and is headed up by Mr Y.M. Lee.
Customers all over Asia are seeking application development and are eager to become more knowledgeable and informed about composite applications. I believe the drive toward composites is a little stronger here than in other parts of the world and our customers look to companies like us to help them convert to using composites to replace traditional materials such as steel, aluminium and wood. Two successful examples are Silentex™, automotive muffler systems for acoustic control, a growing application in Asia, and TruPave® a paving mat for road systems which helps prevent cracking.
Owens Corning also focuses heavily on talent acquisition and talent retention, which is absolutely crucial to support and drive success. Here at the China Composites Show we announced the appointment of Karl Jin as General Manager for China and Taiwan. My philosophy for each of the countries in Asia is to have leaders from that country run our business there, and Karl is a Chinese national very much focused on running and leading the Chinese business, as is Y.M.Lee, the head of our S&T Center.
From a growth and market standpoint, China’s GDP is around 9-10% and composites growth is around 15%. GDP in Asia is roughly 5-6% and composites growth 7-9%. Owens Corning has been growing two times the growth rate of GDP in Asia and we’ve been growing almost five times the growth of GDP in China, which is incredibly exciting for us as a company. It’s a clear signal that we’re continuing to find new and better ways of not only meeting our customers’ needs and helping them be successful, we are also helping to drive the industry forward in the region.
J.C.M.: If we think about China, which segment rules the market today?
S. R. Z.: We focus on four key market segments in China that have growth rates significantly larger than China’s GDP.
Firstly automotive, which continues to be a strong trend in China as the number of manufactured cars is increasing every year. Automakers here in China are really conscious of the need to be more energy-efficient and the use of composites makes cars lighter and consequently more fuel efficient. A mere ten percent reduction in vehicle weight can provide a six to eight percent improvement in fuel consumption for example.
Building and construction is the second segment. Everywhere you look in China, there’s a sky-crane helping erect new buildings, so, we’ve focused heavily to increase the comfort of homes and offices by providing thermal and acoustical solutions in construction and design.
Another important sector is infrastructure such as wind energy, large-diameter pipes and roads. You need petrol stations, which require composites for large storage tanks and pipes. And you need to ensure the integrity of the road surface against cracking and Owens Corning’s TruPave®, which I mentioned earlier, helps provide such protection.
The fourth segment is electrical and appliance. Many electronics companies, even from Europe are moving into Asia, especially China, so we need to make sure that we're listening to what our customers need in this market place and ensure we have the solution.
J.C.M.: Could you explain what your position is in the market today, because there is a lot of fierce competition. What is your target?
S. R. Z.: Our position is very simple: create customer intimacy and build collaborative partnerships through our local presence in the key markets we serve and help build those markets together. We prosper only when our customers prosper.
J.C.M.: What are your objectives and your present standing?
S. R. Z.: Owens Corning is committed to continue driving innovation and application development in this region. We have the leading market share in Asia, from a glass fibre standpoint and we will continue to grow faster than GDP. I’m sure you understand for competitive reasons I cannot disclose specific regional numbers, but I will tell you that our compounded annual growth rate over the last five years and our projection for the next five years will be 2-3 times the GDP.
J.C.M.: What exactly is the rule here in China, because until this year, you had another approach to this market? What was your main reason for deciding to invest in China today?
S. R. Z.: Several investments have been made in Asia since I came here in 1999 and that trend will continue. The Shanghaibased Science and Technology Center is a significant example and again highlights our commitment to be close to and gain a better understanding of the markets. Owens Corning makes sure investments are focused on providing a more rapid fulfilment of growing customer needs to better identify new opportunities and application solutions. The Science and Technology Center is the first step, and our organizational structure with local leaders is another – both of which help us promote success.
J.C.M.: What about specific new applications, something new, something we don't see outside the Asian market?
S. R. Z.: Infrastructure is an exciting focus for Owens Corning and TruPave® is a new product we have launched in China which helps prevent road-cracking under certain conditions and has been received very positively. China is constructing thousands of kilometres of roads every year and equally they’re getting thousands of more cars running on those roads every year, so we we’re excited to be able to bring a great solution to help maintain these new roads in good condition.
Karl JIN: If you recall, Owens Corning launched a new product - Type 30® SE 8400 LS – a low seed glass for high-voltage insulation applications at the JEC Show earlier this year, and this has since been successfully introduced in China. We’re also working with many companies not only in China but in Japan, India and Korea with our SilentexTM muffler system, which is relatively new in Asia. SilentexTM, an automotive muffler acoustics product is finding increased acceptance at OEMs to replace basalt-filled systems, and new legislation here in China will see an increased conversion trend. And SE 1 200, a key wind energy product, is set to become a key to the Asian market in view of the recent wind energy power generation announcements in China.
J.C.M.: We have discussed the Chinese market, a market which is increasing. With the increasing number of thermoplastics and their evolution, you must adapt your products to the market. The products you sell are not exactly the same. What do you do to be close to the market? How do you produce exactly what the market wants?
S. R. Z.: What we do is we focus on our customers. It sounds fundamental, but it’s very important, because as we build customer intimacy we will better understand what their demands are in the market place. We’ll understand the manufacturing and market trends they are targeting, and marketing strategies and requirements of their R&D department. Once we have this relationship in place and a good knowledge of the overall needs of our customers, we ensure our products are aligned for mutual growth. When our customers are successful, we’re successful.
In 1994, Owens Corning established its regional headquarters in Hong Kong to launch the development of its business in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2004, Owens Corning Asia-Pacific Building Materials relocated to Shanghai to reflect the need to be closer to the growing markets in China, key customers and its largest core of employees in the region, while the Composite Solutions Business set up its headquarters in Tokyo. Today in Asia there are more than 1,800 employees in building materials and composites manufacturing, sales and research operations and the company has sales and/or distribution channels in most every country in Asia.
To deliver more effective solutions, Owens Corning announced earlier this year in March the establishment of a new Asia-Pacific Science and Technology Center to support development and growth of rapidly expanding regional markets. Based in Shanghai, the centre will focus on developing new applications and solutions to support the company’s core and growth businesses in residential and commercial construction, energy, automotive/ transportation, electronics, marine and infrastructure markets.
This includes expanding use for glass fibre materials – invented by Owens Corning more than sixty-five years ago – as well as creating new applications in conjunction with advanced materials specifically for local markets throughout Asia.
J.C.M.: Maybe you have a word for JEC Composites Magazine readers?
S. R. Z.: The composites industry continues to be an exciting business not only for new, emerging companies but also for individuals who want to be part of this industry. When you look at composites globally, there’s still a lot of opportunity for us to get our message out to the market place.
Composites are energy-efficient, composites can and do reduce the use of precious natural resources. We have to convey this message to the market place in a stronger way, so that people who use steel, and people who use aluminium really recognize the benefits of composites. And the faster we do that as an industry, the more prosperous we’re going to be as an industry. We’ve come a long way over the last 20 years, and I believe, especially with all the excitement in China and in the Asia- Pacific region, as we continue to get that message out to market, this industry will continue to be a growing industry, for existing companies and also future companies.