Dr Karl Hewson has been with Zotefoams plc for 23 years; he has had numerous technical and commercial roles within the company but for the past 10 years he has held the role of Director of Technology & Development. Prior to Zotefoams, Karl attended the University of Manchester, England, where he graduated with a degree in Polymer Science before progressing to achieve a PhD in Composite materials. Karl also holds an MBA from Durham University, England. He has extensive knowledge of the development, manufacture, performance and applications of polyolefin and other speciality thermoplastic foams.
Which customer or market demands were the biggest drivers of your company's growth during the past three years?
Zotefoams produces a wide range of innovative products that are a critical component in a world of everyday applications. We have created advanced solutions for our customers, enabling them to become more profitable and sustainable. While sports footwear has been our biggest driver in recent years, resulting in significant capacity expansion, we have seen all markets grow within the business. As Zotefoams’ products are frequently part of the sustainability agenda of our customers and/or end users, such as the automotive and aviation industries, where manufacturers seek weight reduction to deliver fuel savings, sustainability has been at forefront of our business objectives and will continue to be one of the main drivers of growth for us.
Do you anticipate that those demands will continue to be your biggest growth drivers for the next three years, or are you anticipating new trends?
Yes, Zotefoams is making advances in both the type of foams that we offer and new applications for existing materials. The global trends of using fewer materials and less fuel through weight reduction and increased use of better insulation all offer opportunities to use foam. As a major supplier to industries including automotive and aviation, we have risen to the challenge of evolving technologies through lightweight and consistent foam ranges. Our leading flame-retardant (FR) grade foam LD24FR, from the AZOTE® range, has been successfully applied to the electric vehicle (EV) movement. It is in demand for the transportation of EV car batteries due to its UL94 HF1 flammability rating. We will also be introducing ZOTEK® F XR to the aviation industry this year; this is an extra-rigid foam which will significantly extend our scope of applications for aircrafts interiors as it reduces weight by as much as 70% on a like-for-like basis when compared with thermoplastics. Our materials boast incomparable lightweight properties, so we are collectively seeing more potential against traditional materials, with our foams offering real cost and weight savings in applications previously unsuitable for foam materials.
What are your areas of R&D focus, and what timeline do you anticipate for bringing your next new products to market? Can you tell us anything about those products?
We have recently unveiled ZOTEK® T, the latest addition to our high-performance product (HPP) foam range. ZOTEK T is a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) material displaying light weight, outstanding energy return, excellent high and low temperature resistance, high impact strength at low temperature resistance, ease of thermoforming and superior protection against noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Its physical and chemical properties create the potential to replace current foamed rubber, silicon and solid TPE solutions in the automotive sector, significantly reducing weight and contributing to fuel savings.
What new trends do you anticipate and what market demands do you see evolving/changing over the next 5 years?
We anticipate more emphasis on life cycle analysis (LCA), whereby the environmental impact of a product is evaluated end-to-end. We continuously strive for efficiency improvements in our production processes and are proud that our products and technologies already offer many environmental benefits, however we will keep building on this to address global needs in a sustainable manner. With urgent calls for the reduction of energy usage, we see more clear opportunities for our foams, which; are typically 15-20% lower weight than other competing foam for comparable applications.
What products will you be featuring at the show this year and what response are you expecting?
At Foam Expo North America Zotefoams will present its full line-up of closed cell foams from the AZOTE® polyolefin range plus High-Performance Products (HPP) from ZOTEK®, including ZOTEK N and latest innovation ZOTEK T. AZOTE foams have long been used in automotive components manufacture due to their ease of fabrication and purity, and their low VOC content thanks to Zotefoams’ unique production methods. The ZOTEK range consist of foams produced from engineering polymers holding excellent physical and chemical properties that offers a lightweight replacement to traditional materials currently used in the automotive sector as well as protective clothing, sportswear and other areas.
We hope to demonstrate to our customers, both new and existing, how to rise to the challenge of evolving technologies, higher safety standards and efficiency considerations through the light weight, consistency and compliance with the standards of our AZOTE and ZOTEK ranges. We believe we have an extensive range of foams to help manufacturers meet their objectives in these demanding times.
Karl will be speaking in Foam Expo Conference 2020 at "How to Boost Public Perception", 3:30pm, Tuesday March 24, Stage 2