“That’s where the strength of the best distributors lies – in the ability to overcome logistical challenges by relying on their in-depth knowledge of the market and of their clients’ needs.”
Hutchinson and Safic-Alcan: transforming the rubber industry together
Looking through Safic-Alcan’s records, we can see it first sold rubber to Hutchinson way back in 1861.
That means it is over 160 years since their business relationship began. And they continue to work together to shape the future of the industry.
More than just business
Not many businesses with over 100 years of history are still going strong today. But it is true of both Safic-Alcan, a distributor of speciality chemicals, and Hutchinson, a subsidiary of the TotalEnergies group that designs and manufactures customized materials and solutions for the automobile and aerospace industries, among others.
The two companies have forged a special bond, as explains Serge Perret, current president of the National Union of Rubber and Polymers (SNCP) and director of procurement at Hutchinson from 2010 until late 2021.
Far beyond providing a revenue source, Perret believes there are many benefits to a long-term business relationship, and these prove important in challenging times.
After all, the two companies have been able to tackle logistical issues that cropped up during the pandemic because they knew each other so well.
The two companies paths’ have also crossed within SNCP. Serge Perret leads the union’s management committee, of which Philippe Cenreaud, managing director of performance products at Safic-Alcan, is also a member.
SNCP’s mission is to champion the interests of the rubber industry and its 40,000 employees in relation to economic and regulatory policy and workers’ rights.
“Safic-Alcan is an active member committed to ensuring funds are properly used.”
One of SNCP’s achievements was funding a study on the emerging challenges posed by electric vehicles. This has helped answer members’ questions, for instance by providing information about changes to under-the-bonnet product parts resulting from new temperature constraints.
Hutchinson and Safic-Alcan share big ambitions when it comes to sustainable development. This topic is a key business issue for Hutchinson and is fast becoming a fundamental criterion when choosing suppliers.
All suppliers must meet increasingly strict requirements regarding carbon neutrality and greenhouse gas emissions. Hutchinson also pays close attention to product origin, as well as avoiding supporting deforestation and child labour.
“In the last two years the pace of environmental requirements has stepped up considerably. It’s now an area of strategic focus and all distributors need to play their part.”
Safic-Alcan is helping Hutchinson minimize its environmental impact by looking to shorten supply chains and seeking out new sources for future production.
But their shared interests do not end there. Both are also founding members of the Foundation of Rubber. Focused on forecasting and research, the foundation has been led by Hutchinson’s CEO since it was first established, beginning with Mr Maigne, followed by Mrs Moreau-Leroy.
“There’s a constant need to innovate. And the foundation enables us to fund research that furthers our knowledge and improves our performance so we can do just that.”
Investing in the future
Technical innovation and automation are not the only ways to prepare the rubber industry for the future. Training is also essential.
With this in mind, Hutchinson and Safic-Alcan continue to invest in human capital, preserving valuable know-how and ensuring the industry has the skills and resources needed to grow and evolve.
Serge Perret and Philippe Cenreaud sit on the board of directors at IFOCA Academy. The only institute of its kind in Europe, IFOCA specializes in teaching rubber science and technology.
The academy is helping to meet businesses’ immediate recruitment needs while also preserving the industry expertise which was first developed in Europe with the Goodyear patent in the mid-19th century, and is now passed on to the next generation by SNCP members who teach at the academy, including Safic-Alcan.
“The rubber industry is all about craft and production, as we start off with raw materials and transform them to make products and deliver solutions. This appeals to young people who want to work on something tangible."
Raising the profile of rubber
Hutchinson and Safic-Alcan are also involved in working with stakeholders in the public and private sector to grow and develop the industry.
They contribute to Polymeris, a competitiveness cluster that helps raise funds and promote the polymer industry. Through their work with SNCP they are helping the manufacturing sector reinvent itself.
And they are supporting an emerging ecosystem of startups through the newly established Elastolab incubator.
Hutchinson and Safic-Alcan’s relationship has gone far beyond the confines of a simple business partnership, with the two working together across multiple organizations to shape the future of the rubber industry.
As they keep a watchful eye on new products and markets, they are both convinced that Europe’s reindustrialization will involve preserving niches and creating a new, reimagined manufacturing sector. Their shared future looks bright indeed.
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