Sipol invests in logistics to ensure resilience

The Lombardy based company is expanding and boosting its warehouse and process efficiency to absorb the effects on an increasingly nervous and volatile market

After a complicated two years in terms of availability of raw materials, with shortages of monomers and a substantial increase in costs, though the economy situation has been favourable in terms of demand, Sipol has managed to stay firmly on course and at the end of the year launched a series of strategic investments at its Mortara (near Pavia, Italy) site. «The goal of our corporate plan is to consolidate the supply chain through a series of interventions to implement this year, which on the whole will commit the company to spending about three million euro», Massimo Cattaneo, the company’s CEO, told Plastix.

Hot-melt and engineering polymers

Sipol’s core business is the polymerization of co-polyesters and co-polyamides for high performance engineering polymers and hot-melt adhesives. The company is present on the engineering polymers market with the Sipolprene family of thermoplastic polyester elastomers (TPC-ET), which in fifteen years have established their position internationally, though being a niche market. Their macromolecular structure, which combines rigid polyester blocks and long-chain polyether blocks, gives the polymer properties that lie between a thermoplastic and an elastomer. In the hot-melt adhesive segment, where it operates on a global level through its Technipol and Sipoltex brands, Sipol offers co-polyamide and co-polyester based products mainly to the footwear, leathergoods, car filter and fabric coupling industries.

Investment in the supply chain

In the first instance, the company plan entails the construction of a new 2,400 square metre warehouse to store powder raw materials and finished products, alongside six new tanks for liquid monomers. To facilitate the handling of products and increase their life, significant improvements will also be introduced to the packing format and functional features. Lastly, in the context of logistical efficiency, new software will be installed for stock management and production planning, the first step toward digitalization according to the Industry 4.0 principles.

Flexibility as a goal

The improvement of logistics upstream and downstream from the polymerization stage is crucial for a company like Sipol, which has in its DNA not the supply of commodities, but the formulation of specialities tailored to client specifications for specific technical and application requirements. «Our strengths lie in experience and the ability to produce tailor-made polymers», Cattaneo points out. «Elevated production flexibility and close collaboration with users enables us to operate more quickly and efficiently. Though the driving force of our company likes in expertise and the efficiency of the R&D department, which responds quickly to client needs, our current growth, doubling revenues over the past five years, is based on what we believe are the foundation for success: high quality standards, flexibility in order management, search for price consistency as far as possible, and rapid and timely deliveries». Raising the levels of raw material and finished product storage, at the cost of a hefty financial burden, therefore becomes a mandatory step towards creating resilience in a raw material market increasingly subject to fluctuations, that alternates overcapacity with shortages. «By strengthening logistics, we want to ensure stability in our supplies to clients, making sure our plants remain in constant operation and creating added value for employees and shareholders». Cattaneo concludes: «Companies with long-term strategies need to know how to upgrade, and to do it they must rely on innovation, creativity and investment».

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Sipolprene® are thermoplastic ether ester elastomers, made through the macromolecular arrangement of rigid polyester blocks (crystalline segments) and flexible long-chain polyether blocks (amorphous segments). This combination grants the polymer a unique behavior, as the rigid part of the molecule provides the dimensional stability and the mechanical properties of a semicrystalline polymer, while the flexible part imparts elastomeric properties to the material. Sipol’s polymerization know-how in regard to hot melt adhesives and its familiarity with the modification of a polymer chain using different co-monomers like in toy blocks, enabled the company to develop several Sipolprene grades through the variation of the macromolecular structure. The Sipolprene standard portfolio covers a range in hardness levels going from ShD 25 up to ShD 72 with melting temperatures between 170 °C and 220 °C, where all grades share a common “polyester” backbone which provides superior chemical and thermal resistance. These materials have also a remarkable resilience and flexibility with high impact strength even at low temperatures; electrical properties are good and resistance to chemicals, in particular greases and oils, is high. Sipolprene range provides a combination of sharp melting points typical of every single product with an excellent melt stability; this combination allows easy and reliable product processing in various injection molding techniques, pipe extrusion, film extrusion, monofilament extrusion and rotomolding (powder). Moreover, the chemical structure of these polymers make it commonly used in 2K molding solutions for soft touch applications, where other thermoplastic elastomers do not provide sufficient adhesion. This family of products is used in several market fields for industrial applications as well as for consumer goods. Considering its excellent mechanical properties, together with its good thermal and chemical resistance, the automotive segment represents the largest end use for Sipolprene, which is used to make auto interiors, gaskets, door latch covers, special connectors, airducts, vibration absorbers, trim rods, monofilaments for seats support and many other types of products. Concerning the industrial segment, Sipolprene is used for extruded hose and tubing applications, especially for hydraulic and pneumatic hoses, and wire and cable applications. Its suitability for food contact and the absence of any plasticizer make it an excellent polymer for making kitchen tools, toy components, valves for packaging, body-care equipment and in many other specialized applications where it is required more design freedom.
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