How a company’s transformation drives innovation

Look around. You might not know it, but DuPont is all around you – in the chair that you’re sitting on, in the clothes that you’re wearing and in the food that you’re eating. It’s everywhere, and yet we don’t know it because those everyday items are not called DuPont, they are called Aeron, Uniqlo and Century Tuna. 

Founded in 1802, DuPont is commonly identified as one of the world’s leading chemical companies. “For the first 100 years, we were a gunpowder manufacturer supplying the wars everywhere [during the 19th century],” recalls DuPont Asia-Pacific president Tony Su. 

But it was only in the beginning of the 20th century that the company got into the chemical business. The business transformation led to the development of various kinds of polymers. In 1935, DuPont came out with Nylon, “probably one of the most famous DuPont products, although it no longer belongs to us,” says Su. In 1938, the company invented Teflon, while in 1962, the elastic fiber Lycra was introduced.

DuPont Pioneer Lamphun Plant in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Responsible for body armors, bulletproof vests, helmets and industrial gloves is another DuPont high-strength raw material, Kevlar, invented in 1965. Come 1967, the company introduced Nomex, as an effective racing and firefighting suit for its excellent thermal, chemical and radiation resistance; Corian, a solid surface material used primarily to create sinks and countertops; and Tyvek, a high-density waterproof fiber often used as house wrap in the US but is also utilized as a protective one-piece garment worn by mechanics, laboratory workers and hazmat personnel who don’t need the protection of a full hazmat suit.

“You can see that in the last 80 years, we’re shaping people’s lives,” enthuses Su.

In the late ‘90s, the company went into “a very different route” which was focusing on agriculture and nutrition, industrial bioscience and advanced materials. The switch is primarily due to the challenges the world faces today, which are the continuous swell of population, rapid depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation.

DuPont raw materials, including soy protein, sweeteners, emulsifiers, enzymes, probiotics and fiber extracts, among others are used in manufacturing many food products sold and consumed worldwide.
“If the population increases, we’re going to continue facing shortage of food supply and pressure for more energy when there is only too much fossil fuel we can depend upon,” laments Su. 

Drawing upon the company’s 200-year-old core values that focuses on safety and health, environmental stewardship, respect for people and highest ethical behavior, DuPont shifts the steering wheel to address these global concerns. 

“We chose [the three sectors] where we think we can do the best solutions to contribute to the customers and to the society,” says Su.

And in part, “these sectors will support our company’s growth.”

The last 16 years saw the creation of DuPont’s seeds and agricultural chemicals, food and nutrition products, industrial enzymes and bio based materials, performance materials, consumer electronics, printing and packaging, and safety and protection solutions for construction, military, transportation and industrial sectors. 

Apeel lidding sealant resins are used in packaged food and non-food items
In a bid to achieve food security, in 1999, DuPont purchased Pioneer Hi-Bred, a large producer of hybrid seed for agriculture in the US. Through hybrid seeds of different crops, DuPont Pioneer ensures profitability and productivity of farmers even when availability of land for farming decreases. 

Here in the Philippines, hybrid rice and biotech (bt) corn are already planted and harvested. DuPont Philippines managing director Ramon Abadilla informs that as of 2014, there are about 350,000 Filipino farmers planting bt corn in 5,000 hectares of land. 

According to Abadilla, total harvest of farmers planting bt corn doubles to 7-8 metric tons per hectare compared to four metric tons/hectare from traditional seeds. 

Courtesy of bt corn and its commitment to constant innovation, DuPont was able to invent Sorona in 2001, a renewably sourced soft and stain-resistant fiber used in apparel, residential and automotive carpet, makeup brush, and more.  

 Industrial gloves made with DuPont Kevlar
In 2008, they came out with Rynaxpyr, an environment-friendly insecticide. Helping farmers cope with hot and dry weather condition is Aquamax, a drought-resistant corn seed which was introduced in 2011. In 2012, they launched Plenish, a high-quality soybean oil without transfat. And in 2013, DuPont invented Howaru a probiotic used in food and beverage products and dietary supplements. 

In the country, a few of the many DuPont raw materials can be found in a can of Century Tuna (soy protein), in ice cream, cheese and bread (emulsifiers, sweeteners, and fiber extracts, among others), and in Pringles, noodle cups and other packaged food (peelable lidding resin).

“We are a raw product supplier, an upstream business, not an end-user. But if you eat ice cream anywhere in the world, know that there’s a DuPont ingredient in there,” says DuPont Thailand Innovation Center manager Suntaree Taratikun.

From gunpowder to probiotics and other food products, one can see how DuPont, with its science-based solutions, transformed itself and the world. Its agricultural and nutrition products account for 43 percent or majority of its total sales in 2014 amounting to US$35 billion.

DuPont Asia-Pacific president Tony Su 
To further drive growth, the company shifts its sights to ASEAN, which is one of the three largest sub-regions in Asia Pacific, as it recently announced the opening of its R&D and business hub in Singapore. 

Expected to be fully operational in the second quarter of 2016, the research and business facility will focus on expanding the company’s food business portfolio and developing products that will address customer needs. It’s also expected to support its two other segments: bio-based industrials and advanced materials, according to DuPont ASEAN group managing director Hsing Ho.

“For over 200 years, DuPont carried the name as one of the greatest chemical companies in the world. But we don’t call ourselves chemical company anymore. We call ourselves one of the greatest science companies in the world,” ends Su.

Topics: DuPont , Aeron , Uniqlo , Century Tuna. 
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