The market of polyurethane raw chemicals is global and very competitive, so no surprise that big global players target those markets where volumes are important. In this scenario, however, some smaller raw chemical suppliers thrive by bringing very innovative solutions to niche sectors.
In Japan, we met one of them: Nitto Chemical.
Nitto Chemical, established in 2006, provides coatings, thinners and resins. Combining their cutting-edge know-how in anti-corrosion materials with their long experience in tar chemistry, they provide products that can withstand to harsh environmental conditions and, at the same time, are eco-friendly.
Some months ago, we told you about one of the most special projects Cannon Afros has ever undertaken: a polyurethane foaming machine to fill the steel pipe beams of Tepco’s (the biggest Japanese electric utility company) power line towers.
The aim of this project was to fix the problem of corrosion which is affecting some towers of high voltage power lines in Japan and to reinforce their whole structure with polyurethane foam (if you missed the article or if you want to know more about this project, read it here:).
To deal with this corrosion problem, Tepco collaborated with several companies: among these, Nitto Chemical, which set up and supplied the polyurethane formulation to be injected into the pipe beams.
We interviewed Mr. Tadashi Kimura, Deputy General Manager of Nitto Chemicals Technical Department, and Mr. Shoji Nobuoka, Director of Sales Department, about the Tepco project and Nitto Chemical’s business.
First of all, thank you for this interview. We would like to start from the project that made us meet few years ago: the project with TEPCO. How did you approach this sort of “cavity filling” project?
“We in Nitto Chemical produce dedicated coatings and paintings, which have epoxy resin or fluorite as base (respectively for undercoating and topcoating).
We met Tepco long before the project you are talking about: we have been supplying them special coating and paintings for 25 years. Then, about 10 years ago, Tepco started to face some troubles with rusty in the inner parts of the piping of the iron towers. At the beginning, in partnership with us, they tried to maintain these towers by using the existing coating and painting materials. But considering the costs (especially of manpower) and the time for maintenance, they resolved to find another solution.
Kimura san, who, due to his previous working experience, is an expert of polyurethane foams, embodied the idea of Tepco. Tepco had the potential of urethane foam but, had no idea how to build a maintain process.
It takes us more than 3 years to develop this dedicated chemical formulation”.
So, we guess, the solution developed for Tepco has been a very dedicated one to address the problem of rusty inside the tower pipes. Do you see other possible application in this moment or in the next future?
“In this moment, we have already evaluated that this PUR foam can withstand the harsh conditions for at least 50 years. But, of course, we are still making trials in our lab in order to improve the performance of the current formulation, exasperating the conditions of the steel beams, and the results are so promising that other utility companies have shown interest. But, of course, this is still the same application”.
Is this activity an important part of your business? Which other industries are you focus on?
“Yes, the internal and external coating of iron towers is our main business, flanked by the internal and external coating of water pipes, that we insulated using a spray dosing machine supplied by Nippon Cannon”.
What does this spray-painting project of the water pipes consist of?
“Well, this project is quite similar to that of the power line towers, but the limit, in this case, was that pipes, as you can imagine, are underground, so their replacement costs a lot. This issue with water infrastructure concerns many cities and prefectures and the budget was limited. So the infrastructure company developed another solution, named pipe-in-pipe: it consists in inserting smaller pipes into the existing ones, and then expand them.
It is an increasing business for which we supply the painting coating chemical to the manufacturer”.
Could you tell us something more about this “pipe-in-pipe”?
“It is quite simple: the manufacturer prepares the pipe coated, inserts it into an existing pipe and expands it so to fit the size. This can shorten the construction period and reduce costs.
Other companies are experiencing this solution with great success. We supply more than 90% of this market, and we contribute to water safety by supplying in-house developed environmental (human body) friendly chemical to the market.
In your brochure we saw that you make also some solutions for coating of ships or vessels…
“Yes and, to be more specific, we supply our own chemical to coat the inside and outside of balance tanks: these big recipients contain sea water, whose salt can chemically attack the tank. With a correct coating, this aggression can be avoided”.
So, especially for what concerns polyurethane, you are involved in several very innovative projects. How do you protect the intellectual property and the investments that you do in these projects?
“Let me make a statement: generally, our working field is a niche market and also when we approach to new businesses, there are few or no competitors. So we cooperate with our customers and the end users not only to develop new products which respond to the market needs, but also to set the new regulations (which, of course, can vary region by region) and the industrial standards of the field we are involved in. Then a patent follows.
With both regulations and patents, our projects are protected against possible competitors”.
Let’s focus now on the relationship between Nitto Chemical and Cannon, also in the view of the project with Tepco: how do you judge Cannon approach to this project?
“When the solution of injecting PUR foam into the beams of towers had been considered, the main suppliers of polyurethane equipment had been contacted. Cannon has been the only company which replied to the project requests, which were very challenging, with a proactive attitude. This translated, during the development of the project, in a sort of consultancy: Cannon has shown great competence not only in its own machines, but above all, in the overall process, which has required great flexibility.
And we are really satisfied by your ability to provide dedicated solutions”.