MFN was able to get an interview with Robert Bauer, Area Portfolio Manager Technical Ceramics.
(?) MFN: Sounds like 2022 will be a year of anniversaries for 3M Technical Ceramics in Kempten, Germany. Can you share a few details and also give us some information about your position within the company?
(!) R. B.: In 2022, we are celebrating 100 years of Technical Ceramics. On January 23, 1922 Elektroschmelzwerk Kempten was founded and has since then developed into what we are today: 3M Technical Ceramics (3M TC) in Kempten, Germany, one of the leading producers of high-performance technical ceramics and the 3M Global Center of Excellence for Ceramics within 3M. In addition, this year, we will celebrate 70 years of 3M Boron Carbide Blasting Nozzles. These nozzles are among the first ceramic components we developed and manufactured in our plant, and they are still part of our portfolio – a real ceramic success story.
3M Technical Ceramics is known for its claim to always aim for the best performing solution to provide solutions that perfectly fit its customers’ needs and hence make them successful. This resulted in various products at the leading edge of innovation and quality.
From the Kempten plant, we serve our customers across the world in a wide range of industries with ceramic powders and ceramic components. These industries include Automotive, Electronics, Oil & Gas, the Pump industry, or General Machinery with all different customer profiles from big OEMs to small industrial companies. All of them rely either on our standard portfolio where our nozzles are an example, or customer-specific solutions based on global application engineering support, which is one of our big assets. On the one hand, we dispose of a broad range of products with a historical footprint that we continuously renew and improve. One example could be our recently launched Evaporation Boats generation 4.0. And on the other hand, we include new offerings to our portfolio where possible. Examples are our Boron Nitride Cooling Fillers for advanced thermal conductivity in polymers, our Friction solutions that foster critical joints in automotive applications or our Ceramic Sand Screens, an innovative solution for sand control in Oil and Gas. A nice side effect of this is that we continuously get interesting insights from quite different industries that also prevents us from a too-narrow market view.
Briefly on my background: I have been with 3M Technical Ceramics for 10 years, holding various positions in Sales and Key Account Management and I am currently responsible as Portfolio Manager for the Portfolio Strategy of Technical Ceramics in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia.
(?) MFN: Thank you for this summary. Let´s talk more specifically about Nozzles. What differentiates 3M from other companies when it comes to Boron Carbide Blasting Nozzles?
(!) R. B.: Some people may not be aware of this, but 3M TC runs the only Boron Carbide melting operation in the western hemisphere. Boron Carbide is the second hardest material after Diamond. Due to its hardness, it is used as powder in lapping and polishing operations and as nozzles in blasting operations. Boron Carbide tiles stop bullets in ballistic protection systems and Boron Carbide Powder captures neutrons in nuclear-shielding applications.
Being fully vertically integrated is a big plus for all our boron carbide products all the way from our B4C powders to our Boron Carbide components, including our nozzles. In the last two years with increasing material shortages across the world and transportation constraints especially for products out of China, we have been a reliable source of high-quality boron carbide nozzle products. And short lead times not only within Europe but also to other regions have been and are highly appreciated by our customers. Apart from product performance and supply chain stability, we also offer global sales coverage with 3M sales forces working in local languages to create a special customer proximity.
And these factors have also further strengthened our relationships with the OEMs globally and make our 3M Boron Carbide Nozzles a benchmark for demanding applications including those requiring uniform blast performance.
(?) MFN: We heard about your historical footprint in the development and production of blasting nozzles over the last decades. How would you characterize your current portfolio offering?
(!) R. B.: Talking about our portfolio, we have two main pillars that serve as framework for us. The first one is a broad offering within the high-end market segment:
Considering the very broad range of blasting nozzle applications, we have never been nor will be a mass producer. This comes naturally with our offering of non-oxide ceramic nozzles, mainly Boron Carbide, with which we target applications at the high end, where you have very demanding operating conditions. Nevertheless, within this smaller high-end range, we are proud to offer one of the broadest portfolios for both standard and special nozzles, and we just renewed and optimized our nozzle catalogue at the end of last year. We are always therefore in a position to find the adequate solution for our customers within the complexity of their requirements.
The second pillar, when talking about our portfolio, is quality leadership:
In our opinion, quality means to consistently deliver a stable product performance, even under the harshest conditions, and we consider ourselves the quality leader in the described market segment and beyond. This is what we get in customer feedback to us and it is a result of several factors like our long-term history and experience, both in Technical Ceramics and in the nozzle business, as well as our ability to control and manage our raw materials and processes based on our deep vertical integration and having a very close relationship with our customers.
This market positioning has proven to be the right one for us, as it generates the most valuable portfolio possible for our customers, based on our strengths as a global player with a deep vertical integration in 3M Technical Ceramics.
(?) MFN: Thanks a lot for this overview. Having talked about your current portfolio, are there also developments around your offerings that you can share?
(!) R. B.: Even though we have a defined standard catalogue, we are always looking for improvements and adjustments as answers to customer needs. While our Boron Carbide Nozzles are especially targeting applications with demand for high resistance against wear and abrasion, we want to push our Sintered Silicon Carbide (SSiC) nozzles more and more for special applications with need for corrosion resistance. And lately, we are seeing growth with our nozzles made of Sintered Silicon Nitride (SSN) in applications where our customers seek advanced thermal shock resistance. One example here is nozzles for atomization processes in the production of metal powders. As you can see, these materials will allow us to find nozzle applications that go beyond classic blasting applications.
Both materials are also being produced in our Kempten plant and this offering reflects the already-mentioned fact that 3M Technical Ceramics is the Global Center of Expertise for Ceramics within 3M. SSN has started to be produced in our Kempten plant recently due to consolidation of ceramic production and development expertise on this site.
Apart from our portfolio, we are also working on further improving our sustainability profile. Much has already been done in the past; for example, 3M implemented its 3P Program (Pollution Prevention Pays) in the 1970s and therefore was one of the first companies to integrate sustainability and environment protection officially in its company values. And in the meantime, 3M became a member of various global sustainability networks and counsels, like the UN FCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
Especially for us in 3M Technical Ceramics where we work with energy-intense processes, a clear and non-disputable way to sustainable energy consumption is key.
(?) MFN: Can you give us some specific examples around this topic?
(!) R. B.: Sure. One major step on this has been achieved in 2021. Since then, all our 3M Technical Ceramics products are produced with 100% energy out of regional renewable sources, which is one condition for being part of the RE100 initiative. Furthermore, we are currently planning to install a field of solar panels next to our plant, which increases our energy self-sufficiency and improves our CO2 footprint in the future even more. These actions not only help us as a company and position us for the future, but support our customers in reaching their sustainability goals as well.
MFN would like to thank Robert Bauer for this interview!
3M Technical Ceramics
Zweigniederlassung der 3M