The purchasing director of one of our biggest customers talks with a key account manager about innovations and sustainable products
Suraj Krishnan studied chemical engineering and has been Global Procurement Director, Direct Materials & Packaging at Axalta since 2014. In this capacity, he is responsible for all materials needed for coatings and their packaging.
Detlev Lindner is head of Key Account Management at ALTANA, an area he has helped build himself since 2009. He has been with ALTANA since 2002. In the first eight years, he headed the Coating Additives business line at BYK.
Mr. Krishnan, how important is ALTANA’s innovative potential for you as a customer?
Suraj Krishnan: ALTANA’s potential to innovate is very important. Innovation, with an eye to sustainability, is of the utmost importance for the long-term success of our two companies. Highquality products and impeccable service are no longer unique selling points today. But what distinguishes us from others is the combination of our products’ quality, technology, and sustainability. ALTANA and Axalta entered into a promising collaborative venture, and we at Axalta are particularly benefiting from ALTANA’s innovative strength.
What is your appraisal of the pressure to innovate in the industry in general? Have you noticed any changes in the last 10 to 15 years?
Suraj Krishnan: In my view, the pressure to innovate has ramped up over the last five to ten years. Just look at China and India; it used to be enough to sell products originally developed in the West into Asia. Today, consumers and customers in emerging countries are no longer satisfied with this and are calling for innovative solutions that are tailored to their needs, but that also consider environmental and sustainability aspects. In this context, innovation does not mean having the newest and most expensive product on the market, but the product that best fulfills customers’ requirements.
Detlev Lindner: I agree completely. The market has changed considerably in recent years. Today, sustainability and pricing aspects play a much bigger role than they used to. Regulatory requirements for protecting the environment have become more stringent. In the end, though, these requirements help us remain successful because they compel us to be innovative in this area. For instance, when the authorities in China decide from one day to another to switch from solvent-based to water-based systems. In such situations innovation is extremely important.
You addressed the topic of sustainability. What role do environmental aspects play in the choice of suppliers? Are there criteria or a standardized process for this?
Suraj Krishnan: We at Axalta want to ensure that environmental and sustainability standards are assured across the entire supply chain. We are committed to this aim and expect the same from our suppliers. We have written down our requirements transparently in our code of conduct and in our corporate values. Also, we developed a catalog of requirements for existing and potential suppliers, the Axalta Supplier Code of Conduct. In it, alongside sustainability aspects, we explicitly address human rights issues, compliance rules, and safety standards. In this context, sustainability means more than environmental compatibility for us. We are also concerned with social and governance aspects.
When we talk about sustainability aspects, they go hand in hand with regulatory requirements, either ones we have set ourselves or ones initiated from the outside. What concrete effects do these requirements have on development and manufacturing? Can you give us an example?
Detlev Lindner: Take paints for the automotive industry, for example. The paint shop consumes about a third of the energy in an assembly plant. At the request of customers, we are working on solutions that help reduce the layers of paint and eliminate energy demanding curing steps needed to paint a car. Another example is the reduction of transport distances. For this reason, we are manufacturing locally in our most important core markets to an ever-greater extent, for example at BYK.
Let’s stick with the automotive industry: We talked about sustainability in manufacturing. But how can you ensure that your paints will contribute to the sustainability of automobiles in the long run?
Suraj Krishnan: Coatings are all about sustainability. Their primary function is to protect the vehicle parts being coated, enabling them to last longer and perform better. Next, to protect those substrates from corrosion, climate, road conditions, and more year after year, our coatings must themselves be durable and sustainable. Some of our latest coatings support fuel efficiency by being formulated for lightweight vehicle parts which help fuel efficiency. And I’d be remiss not to add that in most cases our coatings also need to be beautiful. But sustainability goes yet further for us at Axalta. Our technologies enable us to reduce waste in vehicle repair business. In the old days, body shops first had to mix different paint samples and then compare the color with the paint on the car to get the correct color match. The original paint can fade over time. This required a lot of re-work and wasted paint. With the help of BYK-Gardner’s handheld spectrophotometers body shops now match the exact color shade without trial and error and speed up the repair process.
Axalta and ALTANA are working well together in many areas. What are your wishes for the future?
Suraj Krishnan: ALTANA, and especially BYK and ECKART, are part of our initiative to improve collaboration with suppliers. We meet quarterly to discuss current issues – operative, technological, or commercial ones. The topic of sustainability always plays a role, even when it is not addressed firsthand. It hovers over everything. For the future, I would like us to be able to learn more from one another in terms of how to help our customers reduce their environmental footprint, and to optimize our own as well.
Detlev Lindner: I agree with Suraj. In my view, the cooperation between Axalta and ALTANA is excellent. But of course there is always room for improvement. For the future, I envision stronger cooperation between ALTANA’s research and development and Axalta, in order to better understand what the market needs.
The successful collaboration between Axalta and ALTANA has opened up new perspectives. Currently, the two companies are thinking about intensifying their cooperation in research and development.
KEY ACCOUNT AXALTA
Axalta awarded ALTANA companies Supplier of the Year in 2016, the first year of the program, and in 2017. The partners engage in regular exchange regarding innovation.
2017 – AWARD “SUPPLIER OF THE YEAR”