“Let’s go together, so that we can grow together”
Duke Cho, president of Wacker Chemicals Korea, talks about the value of R&D, why safety takes priority and staying agile to meet future challenges
In 1996, the first local subsidiary of Wacker Chemicals Korea Inc. was established for turnkey operations within the country. Today, WCK is an integrated presence in Korea that includes all important parts of a full-fledged chemical company, ranging from local R&D and production to comprehensive customer service. High-tech materials are in growing demand in both Korea and its neighbors, such as China and Japan. WACKER provides technology-driven solutions tailored to the customers’ specific requirements.
Duke Cho has been the president of Wacker Chemicals Korea since December 2014. He is also in charge of the Industrial Solutions business unit and Silicones Asia.
What are the corner stones of WACKER’s success in Korea?
WACKER may have its roots in Germany, but it is a global company in its core. German and Korean business attitudes are quite similar. Both are prudent and precise, technology-driven and committed to hard work. These are great premises for innovation. Over the last few decades of economic development, Korean companies have been among the world leaders in terms of market share and innovation power in several key industries. Semiconductors, information and communication technology and automotive are just a few examples. The construction industry, the most important market for our polymers division, is following in the wake of these booming markets, providing the necessary space for new homes, offices and factories. It is both smart and vital to invest in research and stay on top of these fast pace developments.
What are the main areas of the research?
Both our Silicones R&D Center and extended Polymers Technical Center, with its research and testing laboratories, focus on the optimization of existing products in terms of productivity and quality as well as the development of new cutting-edge technologies. The WACKER ACADEMY is closely integrated with the technical centers in Seoul (Pangyo) and Anyang and a great extension of our R&D department. We believe that research is a collaborative effort. Sharing knowledge helps to discover new ways of finding solutions. The aim of the WACKER ACADEMY is to provide participants with an overview of best-in-class solutions for their products and applications. During the seminars, the open discussions give rise to new ideas, which in turn strengthens our customer’s competitive position. In Korea, we focus on the electronics, automotive, consumer care, release coating, adhesives & coating, and construction industry.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the training?
Since the outbreak at the beginning of 2020, Wacker Chemicals Korea switched to online trainings for customers and distributors as needed. Our team took action and filmed lab demo videos to illustrate the product testing and introduce the benefits of WACKER’s products. These videos were shared with our customers and distributors and made the online training more fruitful and informative.
In order to support the online trainings, the WACKER ACADEMY global team set up the WACKER Online Trainer (WOT) program for local trainers. It provided them with the necessary knowledge and tools, so that they were able to continue organizing and providing high-quality education. In the effort to maintain the high-quality level, the WACKER ACADEMY global team offered the chance to acquire a certification from TÜV Rheinland. Two of our local employees are now certified as official WACKER Online Trainers.
Thankfully, the pandemic did not impact the technical training in any major way: We held 53 WACKER ACADEMY seminars from January to December with 432 participants, and conducted 32 online courses with 242 participants. Overall, more than half of the trainings took place online. We will continue with our digital formats at the WACKER ACADEMY in 2021. We want to keep our trainers and the participants safe while still benefitting from our service.
– Duke Cho, president of Wacker Chemicals Korea
How do you keep the employees safe during daily operations?
In Korea, safety takes top priority in everything we do – it is an essential part of every individual’s daily routine in our production site. All employees of our Ulsan and Jincheon sites take a keen interest in the many occupational health and safety activities. Occupational safety takes top priority in all production phases. From conception through design to start-up and subsequently during the daily operations. We are very proud that both our two sites have achieved a zero-accident record.
How did you achieve the zero-accident record?
Every beginning is difficult and it took some time to implement the comprehensive safety strategy in all areas of the production sites. The site managers and EHS managers did thorough work in setting up guidelines, enforcing regulations and training the employees. Their hard work paid off. Now, 100% compliance with all applicable environmental, health and safety (EHS) regulations is part of our daily routine. For all of our employees, the responsibility of safety is part of their job, regardless of their position.
To keep it this way, new hires must undergo safety training and submit a safety declaration. In addition to that, it is mandatory for all visitors to our production sites to take part in a safety briefing before they enter the premises properly. The outside contractors of our production sites are no exception either. They are assessed for safety regulation compliance in the same way as employees. If they want to work with WACKER, they are required to get safety training, have the proper equipment, submit accident reports, and join the safety meeting. If the assessment result is not meeting the standard, the contractor is not allowed to join the next bidding. You just cannot take risks when it comes to health and safety.
What do you do to keep up the good work?
Thanks to all our efforts, the Ulsan and Jincheon sites earned a reputation for their outstanding performance and spotless safety management in the chemical industry. This kind of recognition is a great motivator. Now we have the opportunity to transfer this know-how to other companies by providing trainings and sharing insights.
Our sites continuously improve their safety and put a lot of effort in keeping a zero-accident record. The employees keep their eyes open to find near miss cases to prevent potential incidents. Furthermore, they openly communicate any improvements or complaints for the safety systems and measures.
We have different incentives to promote safety culture. The sites offer several awards to recognize employees' outstanding performance in regard to safety. Also, if anyone has a good idea to improve the safety measures, the company awards them with recognition. Everyone is invited to get involved in the ongoing optimization of safety routines by taking part in the employee suggestion system. Safety is one of the key criteria for the employee performance appraisals.
What is next for the Asian market?
WACKER’s approach to Asia and especially Korea has always been long-term and strategic. We have very good reason to believe that Asia will continue to be the powerhouse of the global economy in the 21st century – with Korea spearheading this trend. This is why our R&D department is so important. You have to evolve to keep up with emerging trends and markets. Open communication combined with a leaner organization structure will enable us to move faster in the market. And we will continue to be an innovative solution provider for customers.
Our investment here is an integral part in WACKER’s global growth strategy. It strengthens our market position as the world’s leading manufacturer of silicone elastomer as well as VAE-dispersions and dispersible polymer powders. The newly expanded production sites in Jincheon and Ulsan will help WACKER to meet our Asian customers’ continuously rising demand over the long term.