SIBUR PolyLab: Meeting Customer Demand

SIBUR launched PolyLab, a research and development centre for polyolefins.

In late May, SIBUR inaugurated PolyLab, its polyolefin R&D lab in the Skolkovo Innovation Centre. At the new facility, SIBUR will develop advanced materials and product solutions, make and test product samples, and assess efficiency of the polyolefin processing technology. The R&D centre will work closely with polymer processing companies.

Why Polyolefin Laboratory

SIBUR is a global leader in the production of polyolefins, i.e. polypropylene and polyethylene. Its customers in Russia and more than 50 other countries use them for a variety of applications, including industrial and food packaging, agriculture, construction, medicine, cars, and domestic appliances.

SIBUR's plans to expand production of polyolefins required a research centre that would focus on the development, expansion, tech support and enhancement of the Company's new product range.

The centre was co-founded by Norway-based Norner, a global leader in the research and development of polymer solutions for industrial applications. Norner has broad expertise and many years of practical experience in synthesising and modifying polymers and adapting them to the needs of end consumers. Cooperation between SIBUR and Norner started a few years ago.

The launch of a new R&D centre is yet another step to meet customer needs.

The centre is unique for the opportunities it offers: we will be able to develop improved polymers and test them in finished products right away.

“Our two companies initiated the PolyLab project back in 2014 as we signed an agreement to hold consultations and share information on the lab's concept,” says Lars Evensen, Director for Business Development at Norner. “This R&D centre is a landmark event in the cooperation between our companies and is definitely a huge step forward for SIBUR as an innovative petrochemical company. We are proud to be selected by SIBUR as a partner for its project.”

Joint efforts of the partners resulted in a new R&D centre launched at Skolkovo. The centre is viewed by SIBUR as a step towards meeting customer demand and an important tool to develop new polyolefin products and solutions.

“The purpose of SIBUR's PolyLab is to diversify the product range with value-added solutions,” PolyLab’s Director Sergey Tutov explains. “It will help us find new applications for polyolefins both in the existing and new products on the market. The centre is unique for the opportunities it offers: we will be able to develop improved polymers and test them in finished products right away. This also enables us to assess the processing technology, manufacturing costs and properties of the end product at length.”

Landmark Event

The inauguration of SIBUR PolyLab on 29 May 2019 was attended by Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Maxim Akimov, Deputy Prime Minister, Denis Manturov, Industry and Trade Minister, Dmitry Konov, Chairman of SIBUR Holding's Management Board, Victor Vekselberg, Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation's Board, Arkady Dvorkovich, Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation, SIBUR’s partners and other guests.

Dmitry Medvedev, Dmitry Konov and Arkady Dvorkovich at the inauguration of SIBUR PolyLab.

“Russia makes great efforts to develop its petrochemical industry and attaches great importance to advanced production technology,” Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at the inauguration ceremony. He expressed hope that the new R&D centre would demonstrate the highest level of expertise, which would benefit both SIBUR and the country's entire petrochemical industry.

“For now, this centre is the most advanced and yet one-of-a-kind in Russia. I hope what it does will be in demand,” the Premier said.

As part of the inauguration event, SIBUR held a conference at Skolkovo for polymer processing companies and signed memoranda with global chemical R&D leaders – Norner AS, 3M, Reifenhäuser, and BASF. The memoranda provide for the cooperation in developing new and improved product grades, organising training for SIBUR’s customers, and introducing polymer recycling solutions.

SIBUR signs memoranda of cooperation with global leaders in chemical R&D – 3М, Reifenhauser, BASF and Norner AS. .

With the start of LLDPE and HDPE production at SIBUR, importance of the flexible packaging segment is also growing.

Machinery and Production

The launch of SIBUR's polyolefin R&D centre is not the first initiative of the Company in this domain. Back in 2006, SIBUR established NIOST, its corporate R&D centre for chemical technologies, in Tomsk. While NIOST focuses on material studies, the new R&D centre will, apart from analysing properties of materials, explore and develop real applications. For this purpose, PolyLab is fitted with the machinery to simulate key production operations that use SIBUR's existing and yet-to-be-developed polyolefin grades. Polymer tests are growing in importance with the launch of ZapSibNeftekhim. This petrochemical plant in Tobolsk ramps up SIBUR’s polyolefin production capacity threefold, both in terms of physical output and its product range.

The injection moulding equipment includes 30, 50 and 150-tonne injection moulding machines to manufacture caps, lids, rigid packaging (lidded containers, 850 ml thin-wall plastic cups, and 1 l handled buckets). The 150-tonne machine can also be coupled with a robot to test-run stockpiling and manufacture in-mould labelled products.

Polymer tests grow in importance with the launch of ZapSibNeftekhim and resulting increase in SIBUR's polyolefin capacity.

SIBUR PolyLab’s cutting-edge equipment helps develop new polyolefin grades and make recommendations on optimal processing modes and faster adoption by customers.

Other important segments of rigid packaging production are thermoforming and extrusion blow moulding. The suitability of propylene grades for thermoforming will be tested using a machine fitted out with a 200 ml cup mould. An EBM machine will be used to make 1 l to 10 l polyethylene and polypropylene bottles and cans.

With the start of LLDPE and HDPE production at SIBUR, importance of the flexible packaging segment is also growing. The new R&D centre will have full-scale production lines for multi-layer 1.3–1.5 m wide tubular film and CPP film with the capacity of 250 and 500 kg/h.

A 32–110 mm pipe extrusion line is designed to use the existing grade of statistical propylene copolymers, as well as yet-to-be-produced grades – HDPE and block copolymers. The only exclusion is the fibre and nonwoven fabric segment, which will have a multifilament yarn machine only. Industrial machinery for this segment is too large to be installed in the R&D centre.

All these machines will help SIBUR PolyLab develop new polyolefin grades, evaluate the impact of their properties on processing and operating parameters, showcase advantages of new materials to customers, and make recommendations on optimal processing modes and faster adoption by customers.

Special attention should be paid to the development of BOPP film formulas. PolyLab will have a 7-layer sheet extrusion machine and a tenter frame for the orientation of sheets produced. This equipment will bring BOPP film development projects to a totally new level by reducing their time and costs.

Learning about SIBUR PolyLab's capabilities

Test Site

Along with being a tool to support current R&D projects of SIBUR and its customers, SIBUR PolyLab will provide end-to-end research and testing services for the development of new formulas and solutions. For this purpose, the R&D centre will have a 100 kg/h twin-screw extruder that will be used to improve existing polyolefin stabilising formulas and develop new ones. Additionally, PolyLab will be able to develop new compounds based on SIBUR’s current product offering.

Another important advantage of the new centre is its ability to test finished products, such as pipes, cans, bottles and cups, measure their dimensions, and assess their appearance, structural and mechanical properties, and resistance to heat and frost, which plays an important role in analysing new ideas and optimising product formulas.

SIBUR PolyLab will provide end-to-end research and testing services for the development of new formulas and solutions.

It is worth mentioning a one-of-a-kind set of equipment to test polyolefin grades for piping. The centre is fitted with equipment that allows for long-duration hydrostatic, crack growth resistance, plastic flow and tightness tests, as well as for obtaining results much faster. For instance, one of the lab testing devices is used to measure the resistance of polymer materials to fast crack growth.

“There are not more than three laboratories that can perform pipe tests similar to ours in Russia,” assures Stanislav Khvostov from SIBUR PolyLab.

Another wide area of finished product tests covers polyolefin grades for the film production. The laboratory features both regular devices for tensile strength tests, optical and sealability measurements and less common equipment needed to test new film grades, such as an Elmendorf tear tester, a drop weight impact test machine, puncture and barrier property testers. The Company sometimes needs to study customers’ production processes, particularly when testing new batches, modifying existing materials or handling customer claims. This is what corona treatment, flexographic printing, lamination and solvent coating machines do.

R&D centre for the development and testing of polymer products – SIBUR PolyLab.

The centre will provide end-to-end research and testing services for the development of new formulas and solutions.

Polymer processing should always start with the evaluation of rheological properties. For this reason, the laboratory is fitted with conventional rheometers, as well as with a rotational viscometer and a capillary tube viscometer with a melt strength measurement option. The centre also features a variety of devices to measure mechanical, thermal and optical properties of materials.

To explore the structure and physical and chemical properties of polymers, the laboratory has necessary equipment for gas and liquid chromatography, along with a gel permeation chromatograph, which is indispensable in polyolefin studies. Thermal research methods and IR spectrometry help studying stabilisation formulas and the structure of polymers.

It is often necessary to take a look into finished products to learn the internals of a processing technology. With the help of electron and optical microscopes, researchers will look into the distribution of pigments and additives in the polymer matrix. Microscopes will also be instrumental in responding to customers’ requests.

Processing Machinery and Laboratory Equipment at SIBUR PolyLab

What Customers Want

As seen from what has been said, PolyLab gives SIBUR an opportunity to improve customer relations. High qualification of the staff and advanced equipment help developing solutions that will improve processing parameters and product properties on the customer's side. As a result, consumers will enjoy products meeting the highest quality requirements. In order to ensure a comprehensive approach to customer relations, all these efforts will be coupled with extensive customer support in introducing new polymer grades and advance claim handling services to be provided by the tech support staff in association with SIBUR PolyLab.

SIBUR PolyLab will grow from a polymer research and development centre into a centre of excellence for polyolefin technologies. The centre will host seminars and broadcast webinars for both company employees (professional development of front-line staff) and SIBUR's customers. The centre's training curriculum includes fundamentals of polymer processing technology, deep dives into production segments, hands-on production and testing workshops, and product seminars. Webinars on polymer packaging requirements, stabilisation of polymer properties and recycling are currently under development. The first webinar was broadcast on 17 May.

SIBUR PolyLab will also play an important role in increasing plastic consumption. The Company plans to use its R&D centre as a platform for round-table discussions with processing companies, experience sharing seminars for major market players, and other activities to promote the applications of plastics across different industries.

Guests visiting SIBUR PolyLab's laboratory facilities.

Personnel is Key

Qualified personnel is a key to successful research and development initiatives. Professional diversity is a key principle of SIBUR PolyLab. It employs 38 people with various competencies from different divisions of the Company. Out of this number, 14 are engaged in product processing and development, and another 14 work in the test lab, with the rest being maintenance staff. All of them are reputable employees of SIBUR and representatives of R&D institutions.

SIBUR PolyLab will grow from a polymer research and development centre into a centre of excellence for polyolefin technologies.

“Qualified employees for PolyLab are sourced from across all divisions of the Company and externally, mostly from our customers,” says Vasily Mashukov, Chief Technology Officer of the Technical Centre for the Development and Application of Polyolefins. “This approach to staffing enables us to stay consistent and follow the existing logic of delivering projects and has opened up new opportunities to use advanced tools in developing and expanding our product portfolio.”

It is true that PolyLab employs process engineers and product developers, with many of them being former customers of the Company.

A technology development team is vital for customer relations. It is this team that will work together with the technical support in contacting customers of the Company. Like SIBUR's other divisions, the team is divided into four segments – casting and forming, compounds, films, pipes and fibre.

Each segment is headed by a seasoned manager with extensive competencies and broad expertise in the segment, product development, patents, and industry in general. For example, Olga Kovalenko who heads Casting and Forming has over 30 years of experience, while Alexander Yakimov has solid expertise in the production of pipes and fibre.

The team includes other experts with a shorter track record but no less ambitious. They also have management and organisational experience and, guided by the managers, will grow professionally by delivering R&D projects. Managers and experts will be supported by a strong maintenance team consisting of operators and fitters with relevant experience.

“The right balance between experience of managers, strong motivation of experts, talents of operators and competencies of researchers will create knowledge synergies along the production chain from polymer synthesis to end products,” Sergey Tutov assures.

PolyLab staff

The launch of SIBUR's polyolefin R&D centre PolyLab is a true milestone for the Russian petrochemical industry. It will help the leading polymer producer to establish new points of contact with many processing companies, thus increasing the share of Russian products on the market.

“SIBUR PolyLab boasts a unique set of cutting-edge processing, manufacturing and laboratory equipment essential for a full-cycle testing of polymers, from granules to end products. Together with our partners at Skolkovo, we believe that PolyLab will bring together companies seeking to leverage advanced eco-friendly materials to build sustainable business, industry and society,” says Dmitry Konov, Chairman of SIBUR Holding's Management Board.

Gallery: Launch of SIBUR’s polyolefin R&D centre PolyLab.

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