From Instant Coffee to High-Tech Powder - Wacker Chemie AG


From Instant Coffee to High-Tech Powder

WACKER’s VINNAPAS® dispersible polymer powder has been setting benchmarks in the construction industry for 60 years. Over three million metric tons have been distributed globally to date, and new applications are still being found. This pioneering product has become a world-famous all-rounder.

VINNAPAS® is a German baby boomer. Amid the country’s rebuilding and growing prosperity, the development of dry-mix mortars was particularly important for the construction industry. The overriding concern at that time was to build or renovate as fast as possible. Growing prosperity also raised quality expectations. In both cases, VINNAPAS® provided the answer, as dispersible polymer powders paved the way for faster, more efficient working, while enhancing the quality of construction. This holds true to this day and sales volumes of the powders have risen continuously. Over three million metric tons of VINNAPAS® have now been sold worldwide. That makes WACKER not just the pioneer, but also the world’s biggest supplier of dispersible polymer powders used for modifying mortars.

At the start of the 1950s, WACKER embarked on initial tests in Burghausen to convert its liquid vinyl acetate dispersions into powder that only redisperses when processed. This process was masterminded by WACKER chemist Dr. Max Ivanovits. The story goes that he got the idea from instant coffee. He would always take some Nescafé with him on his frequent visits to customers. While making his coffee one day, he had the brainwave of turning dispersions into powder, and simply reconstituting them on-site as needed. Once the idea had taken root, it would not let him go. Previously, liquid dispersions had been delivered to construction sites in small drums, and construction workers performed the painstaking job of mixing them with other components (cement, sand and additives) in defined mixing ratios to prepare the finished mortar. If, however, the dispersion could be provided as a finished dry-mix mortar, it would need to be mixed with water on site – just like a cup of instant coffee. These ideas were quickly followed by actions.

Built with Dispersible Polymer Powders

From Idea to Global Product

In 1969, WACKER produced 1,490 metric tons of dispersible polymer powders. Ten years earlier its output was just 19 metric tons.

An initial application patent was registered in 1953. However, much more development work was needed to obtain a usable product. After several attempts, so-called spray drying was successful. Here, the dispersion is sprayed into the spray tower as a fine mist; high temperatures then evaporate the liquid component, leaving behind powdery polymer particles. Following on from the laboratory process, a small jet dryer successfully started producing initial quantities of powder at WACKER’s Burghausen plant in 1957.

Customers were quickly won over by the new miracle powder. It boosts durability, tensile adhesive strength on many substrates, and resistance to abrasion, moisture and airborne pollution. What is more, modified mortar can be processed faster and more easily, because dispersible polymer powders optimize such key parameters as non-slump properties and open time (i.e. how long the mortar can be worked).

“Our range is so varied – its innovative potential has by no means been exhausted even after 60 years.”

Andreas Collignon Head of WACKER’s dispersible polymer powders business

With these advantages, WACKER’s dispersible polymer powder quickly revolutionized the construction industry. Without these binders based on vinyl acetate and ethylene, many modern construction applications, such as EIFS/ETICS, thin-bed mortars and lightweight construction materials, would not be possible at all. The fine white powders also radically changed tile laying, for example. Thanks to dispersible polymer powders in the tile adhesive, nowadays only a very thin layer of mortar is needed, instead of the thick mortar beds in which tiles used to be set. Builders thus achieve higher productivity, coupled with lower error rates and better quality. Furthermore, only one third to half as much material is required with the thin-bed technique, which is kinder on the environment and conserves resources.

Tailor-Made Quality

Vinyl acetate dispersions in powder form – an idea that revolutionized the construction-material sector worldwide.

Since the 1970s, dispersible polymer powders have been tailored more and more to the specific requirements of customers around the globe. Softer and harder, hydrophobic and hydrophilic, as well as heat- and frost-resistant grades were added to the range. Dispersible polymer powders and additives can also facilitate formulation of cementitious systems such as grout mortars and tile adhesives suited precisely to specific applications – indoors or outdoors, on smooth or uneven surfaces, and for stoneware tiles on plasterboard or porcelain tiles on wood.

To cater to cost-sensitive markets, WACKER has increasingly also been developing all-rounders in recent years, which are suitable for a wide range of dry-mix mortar applications, from cementitious tile adhesives and plasters to self-leveling flooring compounds and EIFS/ETICS.

“We are continuously working on adapting our construction chemicals to suit the industry’s changing requirements,” confirmed Andreas Collignon, head of WACKER’s Construction Polymers business unit. “WACKER’s dispersible polymer powder has revolutionized the construction industry over the past 60 years and will continue to be an important building block – to help conserve valuable resources on the one hand and increase quality and efficiency in construction on the other.”

Solving Tomorrow’s Challenges

WACKER runs a global network of technical centers in which products and formulations can be tested and adapted to meet the needs of individual regions.

Today, VINNAPAS® is available in six product classes and used in over 3,000 specific application formulations. With its dispersible polymer powders, WACKER has always been an innovation driver in the construction sector. Product development is a key component of its corporate strategy. With annual R&D expenditures at some 3% of sales, the Munich-based chemical group ranks among the industry’s most research-intensive companies. Over the past five years, this gave rise to around 90 to 100 new patent applications and inventions per year.

WACKER’s dispersible polymer powders are also continuously being developed in order to support the construction sector’s four megatrends: cost efficiency, saving energy, optimum space utilization and environmental awareness. “Gaining a lead over competitors means solving tomorrow’s challenges today. Our aim is to develop convincing solutions with and for our customers early on,” said Collignon.

Whereas dispersible polymer powders have long been established as building additives in western industrialized countries, emerging-market economies in Asia, South America and eastern Europe, in particular, are registering an above-average rise in demand. WACKER is well prepared to meet this demand. At our technical centers around the world, technicians are working on new dispersible polymer powders, dry-mix mortars and standards for country-specific applications around the clock. This is because, along with the powder itself, the entire mortar formulation has to be tailored to specific requirements such as the regional climate and available raw materials. “Starting materials such as sand and cement differ from country to country. That is why it is important for us to develop a customized solution that meets the local needs of each market and also delivers an attractive price/performance ratio,” explained Collignon.

Our global network also offers support for problems with construction chemicals and local technical service. “It puts us in a position to deal with our customers’ needs and wishes directly, and to develop the perfect solution hand in hand with them,” he added. To provide its locally based customers and partners with the required expertise in high-quality construction chemicals , WACKER has set up WACKER ACADEMY branches at many of its sites. This international training center is oriented specifically to the needs of the construction-chemicals industry, and along with theoretical training offers practical exercises in applications laboratories. “We now have training centers in Germany, the USA, China, India, Russia, Dubai, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Singapore,” said Collignon with a touch of pride. “We can pass on sector-specific knowledge about construction trends from around the world to local experts and thus create definite added value for our customers.”

VINNAPAS® Dispersible Polymer Powders

... are thermoplastics based on vinyl acetate and ethylene. As film binders, they find use in such wide-ranging applications as tile adhesives and joint fillers, mineral plasters, waterproofing membranes, plaster of Paris, repair mortars, self-leveling compounds and powder paints. They enhance important end-product properties, such as adhesion, cohesion, flexibility and flexural strength. Dispersible polymer powders have positive effects on water retention and processing properties. Function: The polymer film, which acts as a binder, is formed via fusion of individual polymer particles as the water partially evaporates. This film (acting as an organic binder) bonds the filler’s particles, thus improving the mortar’s intrinsic strength (cohesion).

Global Network

Even after 60 years in the business, there is no sign of VINNAPAS® polymer powders approaching retirement. On the contrary, global demand is still on the rise. Modifications tailored specifically to local needs are becoming increasingly important in all areas of application. “In Mexico, we recently attended Latin America’s largest construction tradeshow, where we successfully presented our solutions for self-leveling flooring compounds that meet local design preferences. Our Dubai team is working on local products that take account of the region’s distinct climate. And in China, we are currently observing increased quality awareness in construction, making our dispersible polymer powders indispensable there,” says Collignon. That is why he is optimistic: “Our range is so varied – its innovative potential has by no means been exhausted even after 60 years.”

60 Years of Dispersible Polymer Powder

1967

Ten years after the start-up of the first powder tower, dispersible-polymer-powder production reaches its capacity limit at 1,000 metric tons.

1968

WACKER starts operating its second powder spray dryer with a capacity of 2,400 metric tons per year.

1969

WACKER POLYMERS succeeds in copolymerizing vinyl acetate and ethylene and thus launches the monomer combination that continues to dominate the market to this day.

1976

WACKER develops the world’s first non-sag dispersible polymer powder specifically for tile adhesives.

2015

WACKER opens the biggest, most efficient, state-of-the-art spray dryer worldwide with a capacity of 50,000 metric tons per year in Burghausen.