Last Wednesday, Piet Lemstra, a former DSM employee who developed a method of synthesizing the super-strong fiber – Dyneema – together with Paul Smith, is set to speak with a party interested in taking over the DSM Protective Materials division.
An alternative strategy
On Tuesday, DSM announced their intention to divest their materials division. The company wishes to focus on foodstuffs for humans and animals, a strategy used by Feike Sijbesma a decade ago.
With the imminent divestment of the Protective Materials branch, the Dyneema division will also operate under a new flag. Lemstra thinks that this is a shame. The fiber, a very strong synthetic material based on polyethylene, was the company’s flagship product for a long time.
Lemstra worked at the research department of DSM from 1976 to 1985. The first pilot plant for the new Dyneema fiber was built in Japan, followed by production in Heerlen in 1990. “Many of my students work there. My only son also works there,” says Lemstra. “He’s worried too.” Nevertheless, DSM’s decision does not have to have a negative effect on the Dyneema division in Limburg.
Overall interest in DSM’s fiber division has been piqued. Lemstra addressed the sale at hand, “You now see a status quo at the division. Less is invested, no more people are hired. With a new owner, things may take a turn for the better. After all, it remains within the Netherlands. Production is here and in America; it is unique technology.” Preceding the meeting on Wednesday, Lemstra refuses to provide further comment. However, he has revealed his hopes that the buyer company will be Japanese, as he believes that they “have a long-term vision.”
Interest in DSM’s fiber became apparent three years ago, when the former Staatsmijnen company won a patent case for Dyneema. Lemstra recognizes this international interest. After his retirement from the Eindhoven University of Technology, the professor worked in China for a long time. However, he does not expect the candidates to take over the division from China. “DSM has a huge lead, there are almost 40 competitors in China.” Lemstra also calls into question their ability to meet the quality standards of Dyneema.
A look ahead
Speaking about the future of Dyneema, Lemstra refers to the successful sale of Akzo Nobel’s fiber division twenty years ago to the Japanese Teijin. “Everyone expected the worst,” Lemstra adds, “In the end, it worked out splendidly. Teijin started investing again. The same could very well apply to Dyneema.”