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February 2010
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Lead Feature

Hoffmann beefs up its Asian sales operation

 

The Asian continent will be the growth driver of many sectors in the plastics industry, especially with processors turning to more cost-effective and higher value products.

This has not gone unnoticed by European suppliers that are beefing up their operations in the region. One such company, functional filler supplier Hoffmann Mineral has reinforced its sales team with the addition of Nicole Knör as the Area Sales Manager for Asia Pacific. Nicole is no stranger to the mineral industry having drawn experience from her doctoral research undertaken in nanoparticle-reinforced thermoplastics.

Although essentially a mining company, with a history dating back a hundred years, Hoffmann undertakes development work to improve processes. In fact its latest product is Aktisil Q, which shows improved properties in silicone rubber, according to Nicole in this interview.

PRA: As the Area Sales Manager for Hoffmann Mineral in Asia Pacific, what will your responsibilities be?

Nicole: First of all as Sales Manager for Hoffmann Mineral I am, of course, taking on the responsibility for turnover and performance for our Neuburg Siliceous Earth and I am trying to push growth of our Asian business. Here I am coaching, consulting and managing our 11 sales representatives in this region. This includes the sales orientated development of existing structures, refinement of sales reporting and continuous market and competitor-monitoring as well as development of market potentials and technical advice regarding our products. Support of key customers is also of high importance.

Next to these economical issues, it is also very meaningful to me to transfer the spirit of our company to our agencies and customers. As a family-owned business with a history of more than 100 years selling siliceous earth we are very unique and not at all commercial. High quality of products, extraordinary customer service, continuous improvement of our processes, economic justification as well as environmental friendliness is our mission.

PRA: We know it’s a man’s world in the plastics sector, especially in sales! How do you intend to overcome the prejudices and challenges posed to women in this sector?

Nicole: I have studied and worked in this sector for more than 12 years now and I have learned that knowledge, friendliness and sovereignty are the key issues. Intuition, the ability to cooperate and respect regarding different cultures help me to be successful. Working and travelling in Asia showed me that in many countries more and more women are in comparable positions and are fully respected. For me to accomplish good work and to be accepted is not a matter of gender, but a matter of personality.

PRA: Previously, you also worked as a trainee/research associate at Bridgestone/Firestone Research in the US and at the National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology in China. Can you briefly explain the exposure you had in these two research organisations?

Nicole: Both stays had been of high importance for my development. Coping with different people, new topics and environments had been really challenging. At Bridgestone I dealt the first time with nanoparticle reinforced elastomers to enhance the performance of tyres, whereas in Beijing coping with the new environment was very informative. Because of both stays, I recognised that working together with people of diverse cultures is absolutely fascinating and desirable.

PRA: In your internship with the Institute of Composite Materials you focused on the topic of nanoparticle-reinforced thermoplastics, can you explain the scope of the research you did at the Institute?

Nicole: Actually it was no internship but an employment. I worked at the Institute of Composite Materials in Kaiserslautern (Germany) as a project engineer dealing with reinforcement of thermoplastic materials to improve their performance. Here, I was leader of several research projects implied by industries. Next to this work I was able to finish a PhD thesis to earn my doctoral degree in mechanical engineering. The topic of the thesis was: “Nanoparticles reinforced thermoplastics with enhanced mechanical properties gained by economically designed extrusion processing”.

PRA: Nanotechnology is a growing and interesting topic in Asia. Can you explain how this research that you did will be applied in your current job with Hoffmann?

Nicole: The products based on Neuburg siliceous earth have a range of particle size between several 100 nm up to 20 microns. Therefore they are not comparable with nanoparticles, which have an average particle size smaller than 100 nm. Because of my studies concerning nanoparticle reinforcements and the knowledge of effectiveness of them on polymers, I know exactly what their advantages or disadvantages are and therefore it is easier for me to point out the benefits of our Neuburg Siliceous Earth regarding differing properties and applications.

The incorporation of nanoparticles during a commercial process like extrusion needs great know-how and the equipment needed is very cost intensive. Still, even today, this knowledge or the financial situation is not given in many companies and the value of resulting performance often does not justify expensive research work or machinery. Neuburg Siliceous Earth has a very high cost-performance ratio and is therefore suitable for many applications.

PRA:  How do you view Hoffmann’s business in Asia?

Nicole: Asia is one of the fastest expanding markets, also for Hoffmann Mineral. Many companies in Asia are switching their product portfolios from low cost to high quality. These companies are also setting a higher value on the quality of their raw materials and are willing to spend a higher amount of money. Neuburg Siliceous Earth, more specific Sillitin and Aktisil are high quality functional fillers and additives and brands already well known in Asia. We are confident of expanding our brand names across the region.

PRA: What are the expectations this year for the company in entry into new markets?

Nicole: Right at the moment we are pushing our latest launched product – Aktisil Q – which shows great properties in silicone rubber. One of the main advantages is reduced blooming and collapse resistance of uncured extruded materials.

This year, we are additionally testing a totally new product, which we have developed over the last few years at our customer’s facility and this product will open new markets regarding thermoplastic materials. Although we are a mining company, which sells a natural product, we are always working on new developments and more efficient processes to create growth and entry into new markets.    

 

 

 
 
 
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