Ascend Performance Materials: Pioneering Innovation in the Electronics Sector

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Bridging material advancements in plastics and technological progress, Ascend leads with customised solutions for a safer, reliable and greener tomorrow.


Dharm Vahalia, Managing Director, Board Member, Ascend Performance Materials
Dharm Vahalia, Managing Director, Board Member, Ascend Performance Materials

Q. How would you explain Ascend to the non-tech CEO of a firm that is your prospective customer — from the electronics-related sector?

A. Ascend is one of the largest global and backward-integrated producers of plastic raw materials and chemicals based on polyamide chemistry (nylon).  The company is headquartered in the US and employs ~2,500 people across 11 manufacturing sites, 7 R&D centres, and 11 countries, including in India.

In the electrical and electronic (E&E) industry, our materials are widely used in components such as connectors, terminal blocks, circuit breakers, contactors, relays, motors, bobbins, switches, lighting, photovoltaics, cable management, communication devices, appliances, etc.  Our materials are also used in electro-mechanical components in EVs and supporting charging infrastructure.

Q. How would that explanation change, if you were speaking to the CTO / Head of R&D of the same firm?

A. We pride ourselves in being able to offer one of the largest portfolios of UL-certified flame-retardant plastic materials (STARFLAM®) in the industry.  In general, our solutions are primarily selected for insulating electrical components against excessive electric charge, heat and flame.

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Our materials are processable and able to perform in low-wall-thickness components supporting miniaturization. We engage with our customers through the entire development journey from material selection through application development, ensuring optimal use of our materials in your applications.

Ascend’s India manufacturing site based in Chennai is ISO and IATF certified, and capable of handling different polymers, enhancers and modifiers.

Q. Can you share some details about Ascend Performance Materials and its businesses related to electronics in India?

A. In India, we’ve built strong partnerships with industry leaders, providing them with tailored material solutions for a wide range of electronic components, including electric protection devices and switchgear applications. A significant portion of our business is dedicated to the E&E sector, where we collaborate with major Indian and global OEMs, supporting both the domestic market and exports with a focus on the ‘Make in India’ initiative.  Our STARFLAM® compounds have been sold in India since 2015, and we’re also actively engaged with the industry through associations such as IEEMA.

Q. How has the business been for you in the last 2 – 3 years (especially post-COVID)? Has it exceeded the pre-COVID levels?

A. We have been in India for over 12 years now through various channels. We have seen tremendous demand growth and technological advancements in manufacturing in India. Ascend decided to invest in a manufacturing facility in 2022 by acquiring a company based in Chennai. This acquisition has brought us closer to our customers and allowed us to provide customised solutions with much faster response times from this Chennai facility.

The period following COVID-19 has been marked by strong growth, with demand for our products in India growing at a double-digit rate and exceeding pre-pandemic levels. This upswing in business reflects not just from recovery in the domestic market, but also from our increasing share in the export-oriented market in India.

Q. Which are the top 3 segments (within the electronics eco-system) w.r.t. revenues from last 2 – 3 years?

A. The top three revenue-generating applications for us in E&E have been switchgear, terminal blocks, and connectors.

The last few years have presented challenging times for the electronics industry, first due to COVID and later due to a heavy shortage of semiconductors. As we see things today, we are confident of growth in E&E in India.

Q. Do you expect the same segments to be on top for the next 3 – 5 years too, or do you expect a change?

A. We expect the industry to grow at CAGR of 10-15% in the next 5 years. This, we believe will be driven by:

    • Investments in Digital India mission ranging from communication infrastructure, data centers, and mobile phones
    • Auto electronics related to ICE or BEV such as battery, motors, digital cockpit, safety systems
    • Increasing discretionary incomes and declining costs will propel demand for entertainment and gadgets that are part of smart homes
    • Photo-voltaic components are used in solar-powered alternative energy systems as adoption increases with declining costs and is encouraged by government incentives

Besides the traditional E&E components used in the above applications, we also expect a significant increase in demand for cable management systems.  Ascend is the world’s largest provider of materials in this application area.

Q. How important is the EV segment for Ascend?

A. The most significant end-use for polyamides are components used in a car – from airbags, tire-cord, to engine components, interiors, and auto electronics.  It must be noted that BEVs and PHEVs (hybrids) have a greater use of polyamides, mainly due to a combination of economics and a degree of inherent fire-protection characteristics of these materials.  Unsurprisingly, a significant portion of Ascend’s global revenues come from the automotive segment, and EVs are central to our innovation focus.

Ascend’s deep commitment to E-mobility dates back to the time when there were very few start-up OEMs in the West trying to scale-up in a limited way.  In 2021 (in the midst of COVID), we acquired Eurostar, which was a niche and reputed inventor and producer of flame-retardant solutions (marketed as STARFLAM®).  Our acquisition of this extensive portfolio has greatly enhanced our ability to partner with leading OEMs to innovate and accelerate new product launches.

From driving to charging and back to driving, we help designers to deliver:

    • Safe Power Infrastructure to handle higher charging and driving voltages using our world-class Starflam® flame-retardant products.  We recently launched STARFLAM® X-Protect, which offers resistance to direct fire exposure at 1,100°C for 15 minutes.  This product essentially delays fire explosion of components and allows passengers to evacuate safely.  Besides EVs, these materials are an idea fit for metal welding, industrial power management, and lead-free soldering applications.   Moreover, our STARFLAM® 500 series of products delivers best-in-class RTI, CTI, and UL V0 flame-retardancy at very low wall thickness, enabling its use in charging components and infrastructure for EVs.
    • Reliable Thermal Management to handle the unique heat challenges in EVs using our hydrolysis-resistant and HiDura materials.
    • Secure and Comfortable Ride for passengers with our Vydyne® AVS grades that offer structural support while reducing noise, vibration and harshness.

Q. What are the key challenges faced by your sales and marketing team w.r.t. driving growth in India (ex: price sensitivity, low value for TCO etc.)?

A. Many of our targeted applications are ultimately designed to protect end-users while offering benefits of digitization, rapid and secure communication, clean-energy transportation, or entertainment and convenience.  Hence, it is extremely important to maintain high-quality standards that ensure end-user protection and experience.  As a responsible supplier of material solutions, we partner with our customers in extensive ‘fit-for-use’ testing that is resource- and time-intensive.  However, we have discovered that the dichotomy between regulated and unregulated segments of the domestic market poses a challenge, with price sensitivity often rooted in this divide.  The unregulated portion of the market attracts low-priced participation of less organized players, often lacking third-party certified solutions.  This in turn squeezes margins throughout the value chain and discourages innovation, which is the heart-beat of the E&E industry.

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