Westlake Chemical Corporation – A Legacy in Plastic Yields Specialty PE Solutions
We look at how a company has continued to grow in a dynamic industry.
Westlake Chemical Corporation is a very strong player in the polyethylene (PE) arena. Since its inception in 1986 through the purchase of a single reactor in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the company has continued to grow significantly in both company size and geographic reach. Today, Westlake ranks as the world’s largest specialty autoclave low-density polyethylene producer, and as the second-largest producer of LDPE in the Americas. Westlake, which is also a leading global producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), employs approximately 9,500 individuals worldwide, generates over 40 B lbs (18.1 M metric tons) of production, & maintains operations on three continents.
The company has experienced excellent growth through what Erik Keracik, Vice President of Polyethylene, calls “strategic growth driven by a culture of collaboration.” In practical terms, that means the company takes a much longer-term view of value-focused growth than other businesses might. For nearly 35 years, Westlake has operated with a disciplined investment culture and a strong balance sheet, which has provided the company with the ability to weather economic cycles and generate strategic growth over time.
“It’s the customer collaboration and partnership that differentiates us,” Keracik explains. “Our interactions are deeper than just looking for a quick sale. We want to partner with our customers and develop a long-term relationship based on trust and mutual benefit.”
A great example of this is the continued investments in the Customer Solutions Center lab in Longview, Texas. This lab offers PE customers access to millions of dollars’ worth of commercial-scale plastics conversion materials and analytical equipment. Westlake continues to invest heavily in their lab capabilities purely as a service for its strategic customers. Keracik describes the lab as a place “where an experienced staff of operators, engineers, and scientists all work collaboratively to develop the best solutions for our customers.”
Furthermore, Keracik sees the lab as a critical piece of Westlake’s commitment to its customers and their PE business. “Our investments in our lab capabilities reinforce to our customers that we’re investing in this business for the long run,” Keracik tells us.
It’s an approach that makes good business sense in an increasingly competitive market when converters are faced with more choice than ever. There’s a growing number of new entrants into the market, and a flood of promises and marketing materials vying for the attention of Westlake’s potential customers.
The Future of Plastic
In an age of increasing awareness around issues of environmentalism and sustainability, the plastics industry can often find itself cast as the villain. But Keracik counters that plastic has an essential role to play in building a sustainable future.
“Misuse of plastic has created a perception that plastic is inherently bad. But the reason plastic has proliferated is its exceptional properties which help to prevent food waste and allow more efficient transportation, among many other advantages,” Keracik explains. “A great example is farmers utilizing plastic packaging to store seasonal crops. It prevents them from spoiling so they can be sold and consumed even off-season. The same qualities of plastic that can cause problems when it’s misused are also the qualities that can make it a valuable tool for sustainability.”
Westlake believes that all companies in our industry have a responsibility to educate consumers on the proper use of plastics and contribute towards driving solutions towards sustainability. Making a commitment toward reducing plastic waste worldwide, in 2019, Westlake joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a global consortium of over 50 leading producers and consumer-products companies committed to investing in reducing the amount of plastic waste, particularly in the world’s oceans.
As Keracik points out, “We are constantly helping our customers find new ways to achieve their sustainability goals through the use of our products and capabilities. For example, using MXSTEN® to boost properties in Post Consumer Recycle (PCR) blends or use less prime resin through downgauging.”
Three Focus Areas
Indeed, talking to Keracik it’s clear he’s optimistic about Westlake’s future and highlights three main areas of focus.
The first being international growth. “Our international growth in regions such as Europe will continue to be a focus moving forward,” he says. “We have been committed to the region and will continue to invest in ensuring our European partners enjoy the same level of service as our domestic customers, including access to local sales and technical resources for support.”
“We are working collaboratively with our European customers to develop superior film and coating structures that allow for downgauging, higher performance, and possibly even more simplified structures that allow for better recycling,” explains Dirk Wijnia, EU Key Account Manager.
The second area of focus is investment in its technical expertise and capabilities for joint development.
“Our technical services and capabilities have always been a Westlake strength, however, the needs of our customers and consumers are always evolving. Therefore, we are continuing to invest proactively in our ability to support joint development efforts through testing equipment and capabilities to collaborate with our customers in new and better ways,” Keracik explains.
The third area of focus is the return to the “new normal” once the pandemic is over.
Keracik concludes, “We understand that our customers, especially international ones, may be hesitant to travel or receive visitors even as the pandemic starts to subside. We want to make sure that we can accommodate this, while still maintaining connectivity and providing our customers with resources like our lab.”