Zotefoams Poland Q&A with David Stirling

As the opening date for Zotefoams’ new plant in Poland moves closer, Group CEO David Stirling provides answers to some FAQs about the choice of location and plans for opening the facility.

Q: Why did you choose Poland as the location for Zotefoams’ third foam manufacturing site? 

A: Poland was a clear choice from the outset: it is a manufacturing powerhouse, with the sixth largest demand for plastics in Europe. The selected location, in the south west of the country, is close to major national and trans-European routes, putting it within a few hours’ journey time of many customers and manufacturing hubs in western and central Europe. Skills were also an important consideration, as Zotefoams’ requirements are both diversified and highly specialised.

Q: What do you see as the main markets for Zotefoams in Poland?

A: The key industrial consumers of plastic within Poland are product protection, construction, automotive and electronics, which are all major markets for the AZOTE® polyolefin foams range.

Q: How did the UK’s decision to leave the EU affect your plans?

A: We had already identified Poland as a preferred location for expansion ahead of the Brexit vote and last year our UK site achieved Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status, allowing us to fast track through certain customs procedures. That said, there is no doubt that the ability to produce and store products within the EU will minimise any potential disruption at the end of the transitional period, while manufacturing our most popular AZOTE products close to our EU customers will guarantee tariff-free supply options and simplify logistics.

Q: What production facilities does the site have?

A: The project very much follows the blueprint for the establishment of our plant in Kentucky, USA, where expansion of extruded, nitrogen-saturated slabs was the first process to be introduced. This allows us to bring operations onstream at the earliest opportunity, using a large high-temperature, low-pressure autoclave to expand slabs manufactured in the UK to serve customers in continental Europe. This autoclave is already in place and close to production-ready, with extrusion to follow. Flexibility to meet demand through three global manufacturing locations is key to our growth strategy.  

Q: Will you be offering any additional services?

A: We’re very clear that our speciality is foam manufacture and our customers are the experts in downstream processing. To that end, and as in the UK and the USA, we will offer basic fabrication services (principally cutting, skiving and laminating) to ensure we can deliver materials of the required size to our customers.

Customers who have visited us in the UK will know that our site, where we have been since 1936, is in an urban location and offers no scope for expansion, so having that option in mainland Europe was a key consideration for this project. Business has changed significantly in the past decade, with less predictable order patterns and shorter lead times throughout the supply chain. This trend has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the capability to store materials for rapid delivery almost as important as the ability to produce them in the first place. We have the capacity to store up to 7,600 pallets of foam at the Polish plant, including inside storage for 1,600 pallets, ensuring the best possible service for our customers.

Q: Will you manufacture the full range of products in Poland?

A: The plant will produce foams in the AZOTE range, for which there is significant established demand in central Europe. The engineering polymers that form the basis of the ZOTEK® high-performance foams range typically require specifically adapted production equipment, so for the foreseeable future, we will continue to manufacture those in the UK for global supply.

Q: Do you plan further expansion in the future?

A: The possibilities for expansion at our global headquarters and manufacturing site in the UK are very limited so it is important that we have this option elsewhere. The land acquired in Poland allows for significant growth in the future; we have recently completed a major expansion at our USA plant to reflect increased demand in North America. Having manufacturing facilities close to our customers wherever possible is key to our growth strategy and we are confident that, once operational, Zotefoams Poland will be the catalyst for greater demand from our customers in continental Europe.   

Q: When will the plant begin operation?

A: It was always our intention to commence operations in Poland in 2020. We began construction in February 2019 and remained ahead of schedule until restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic took effect. Currently we are very slightly delayed; with much of the equipment sourced internationally, commissioning has been slower than anticipated. We are currently examining the best start-up date and the plant is almost ready to commence production with an opening date expected to be announced within the next few weeks.