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Global Manufacturing: Growth in Asia & Our Connection

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Global manufacturing is moving at such an unprecedented speed that businesses need to take proactive steps to remain competitive; one way is through investment in R&D and emerging technologies that are reshaping how they work with their customers and end users.  As one of these global businesses, we have seen a tremendous growth in various regions such as Asia where our sealing and polymer solutions are critical in supporting many OEMs in the industrial, oil and gas and aerospace and automotive industries.  

According to Progress in Electromagnetics Research Journal, U.S. trade with Asia doubled in the first quarter of 2018, and trans-Pacific trade is expected to increase 5.2% in 2018 as predicted by global information provider IHS Markit.  Within Asia, China remains the biggest U.S. trading partner, which is not surprising as a result of their government’s Made in China 2025 directive to accelerate innovation, improve quality products, increase environmentally sustainable production and invest in human capital. As such, our manufacturing site in Shanghai has pushed to enhance customer experience by providing pre-validation, more efficient supply chain process and innovative new products and services through R&D and design engineering expertise.   

Although China is still the leader in manufacturing output, the Mighty 5 (MITI-V)—Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam—are expected to emerge as some of the most competitive countries in the world by 2020. Some are even calling them the “new China” for their potential to offer labor, agile manufacturing and economic growth, according to the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index report from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness. 

How is Saint-Gobain Seals using R&D, decades of design engineering experience and customer focus to help enable innovation and manufacturing growth within the vast applications we support across China and other Asian countries? We share our commitment to ensuring our seals and polymer components are making the difference and delivering precise fit and lifetime confidence in various industries.  

Industrial/Manufacturing 

China is one of the highest industrial producers. Almost 80% of the world’s air conditioners, 70% of mobile phones, and 60% of shoes are manufactured here. The country is also one of the world’s biggest producers of robotics used in manufacturing assembly lines, producing about 27% of the global supply since 2015. 

Within this vast industrial industry, Saint-Gobain Seals is a major supplier to air compressor OEMs, who use our OmniSeal® spring-energized and lip seals, Rulon® polymer components and Meldin® thermoset and thermoplastic materials.  Rotary air screw compressor applications remain our largest demand in which our customers are challenged to be more energy-efficient and cost-effective.  We developed lip seals that solved these issues.  We also support OEMs in scroll compressor, vacuum pump, refrigeration compressor, and fuel dispenser applications 

Parts in these applications must be able to operate efficiently in environments requiring large amounts of compressed air constantly flowing.  We supply critical parts such as flip rings, piston rings, cup seals, cylinder sleeves and scroll tip seals that require every part to be high functioning given the dependent, integrated nature of components in this industrial equipment. If the compressor or pump fails, the entire system is likely to break down, making reliability of these parts all the more important to avoid downtime and inefficient workflow. 

Our Rulon® product is used for compressors and pumps because it is a self-lubricating PTFE plastic that offers high wear, low friction and the ability to withstand harsh conditions in parts that are dry running, exposed to aggressive chemicals or abrasive. This material also operates in extreme temperature and pressure ranges. 

Our Meldin® polyimide and engineered thermoplastic materials are widely used in the above equipment as it can be used at tremendous pressure and extreme speeds.  It has a low coefficient of friction and can withstand friction and wear to ensure long life of parts requiring continuous uptime. 

Oil & Gas 

China is the leading crude oil importer in the world, according to Export.gov. It consumed about 11.5 million barrels in 2016, over a half a million more than the year before. Over seven million barrels were imported per day. The country recently invested $250 million U.S. to boost Venezuela’s oil sector. 

As oil exploration and production is increasingly being pushed to more complex reserves, issues such as extreme cryogenic temperatures, harsh chemicals and pressures need to be addressed in these environments. OmniSeal® spring-energized seals are used in couplings, ball, gate and choke valves in subsea valves and in cryogenic valves in loading arms with low leakage challenge requirements driven by strict industry standards. Our Kontich, Belgium, site increased its R&D laboratory space to strengthen customer testing capabilities and time-to-market process. The site also offers a state-of-the-art production facility for high-quality, large-diameter, OmniSeal® seals, with NORSOK, M-710 and API 6A certifications to address vast sizing and other unique needs of this industry.  Our Shanghai and Kontich teams are working closely together to share their best practices for manufacturing oil and gas sealing solutions such as a pre-validation, finite element analysis (FEA) and specialized test rigs. 

Automotive 

China surpassed the U.S. as the largest automotive market in 2009, and was the biggest Neighborhood Electric Vehicle market in 2015. Thailand is simultaneously growing. Called the “Detroit of Asia”, it is the 12th most industrious automotive manufacturer in the world, with Toyota, Mitsubishi, GM, Ford, Mercedes annd BMW having manufacturing facilities in the country, due to its convenient ports and airports and cost-effective labor. While exports account for the majority of automobiles produced in Thailand, its middle class is growing, leading to greater domestic demand. Similarly, China’s middle class is expected to represent 65% of households in the coming decade to also drive demand within that country. Korea and Japan are also areas that our automotive team is working to grow. 

Our Meldin® high-performance thermoplastics increasingly offer a lighter weight alternative to metal and other materials to help reduce fuel consumption and emissions in automotive applications. They also are able to withstand high temperature and chemical resistance, and offer low levels of friction and wear in dry environments to increase part lifetime. For these reasons, it is often used in shock absorbers, braking system components, fuel systems, fluid handling systems and other high-temperature and high-demand applications.  As the electric vehicle market increases globally, our OmniSeal® parts support OEMs in battery cooling systems. 

Life Sciences 

Demand for quality health care and medical products is increasing in countries throughout Asia with the growing middle-class and urban progress. Simultaneously, the “graying of China,” with about 22% of the population estimated to be over age 60 by 2027, is expected to increase demand for supplements, treatments and care. 

One use of Saint-Gobain Seals’ OmniSeal® spring-energized seal in life sciences is in in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) equipment, where we support key analytical instrumentation manufacturers in Japan.  The IVD equipment is instrumental in patient care as it is used to test blood, tissue and other samples in order to detect medical conditions, monitor health and capitalize on precision medicine. With IVD systems growing in use and running faster and longer today, they require low friction materials that are chemically inert and heat resistant. 

Additionally, our Rulon® material has been successfully used for years in piston cup seals in stationary and portable oxygen concentrators. Rulon® parts offer a smaller footprint, low friction and low wear and can also run dry and be chemically inert in these wearable and portable healthcare devices. An FDA-compliant material that is also chemically inert, Rulon® 641 bearing material is used in pumps, mixers and agitators in food processing and pharmaceutical equipment where wear and disintegration of material could otherwise cause contamination. 

Space/Aerospace 

China has set aggressive goals for its country in the space industry, targeting the end of this year to land on the moon and 2020 to be on Mars.  India has also pushed to grow in this industry with launch vehicle and satellite programs—a region where Saint-Gobain Seals is pushing our footprint, drawing on our 60 years of success in space exploration, e.g., OmniSeal® seals have been used on every shuttle since the first human U.S. spaceflight—132 missions over 500 million miles—in 25 critical applications, including main engine, life support and tanks with hypergolic fuels. 

In the aerospace realm, China continues to develop their C919 airplane and CJ 1000 jet engine projects, in which we are working to support with our OmniSeal® and Meldin® products. We have been supplying critical parts to the commercial aerospace market for over 50 years and understand the growing needs of this industry, such as using lighter weight materials to optimize fuel burn and increase payload capability. In addition, jet engines are being designed to operate at higher temperatures to increase thrust capabilities and operating efficiencies. 

OmniSeal® spring-energized and lip seals have been selected for use in jet engines, turbo fans and auxiliary power units as they operate under high temperatures.  These applications often have complex design and hardware that necessitate custom, integrated, precise fits, for which we are known for. 

At Saint-Gobain Seals, we are excited about moving forward with designing and manufacturing critical parts within the fast paced, growing manufacturing sector in Asia as well as around the world.  We have committed to supporting our customers and partners so we all can make the difference to enhance daily life.  Please contact us so we can help you!

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