SOAPS AND DETERGENTS
Whether for washing clothes or cleaning dishes, new products are increasingly the result of collaborative chemical development
MICHAEL MCCOY, C&EN NORTHEAST NEWS BUREAU
Cascade plastic booster. mir fresh magic. quick Dissolving Tide. Power Sudsing Dawn. What do these consumer products have in common? All are new cleaning formulas that owe their effectiveness to joint research and development between home care companies and chemical makers.
Collaboration between specialty chemicals firms and their customers is not a new phenomenon. But as consumer product companies seek to cut costs, speed up product development, and boost innovation in an increasingly competitive business, they are intensifying the extent to which they turn to their ingredient suppliers for help.
A case in point is Henkel, one of the world's leading producers of cleaning and home care products. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, head of product development and technology for Henkel's laundry and home care business, says his firm's use of development partnerships has grown substantially in the past five years. He estimates that 90% of all Henkel innovations in the marketplace today are the result of development projects with external strategic partners. This compares with less than 25% in 1997, when Henkel first measured its partnering.
According to Müller-Kirschbaum, one reason for the increase in partnering is Henkel's divestment of Cognis--its former oleochemicals and surfactants business--a process it completed in late 2001. Cognis is now an external partner, along with all the other surfactants companies with which Henkel has strategic partnerships.
But Henkel's use of partnerships is on the rise in nonsurfactant areas as well. Unlike smaller companies, Henkel isn't forced into joint development by economic necessity. It does so, Müller-Kirschbaum says, to help increase the flow of ideas into the company.
"There must be an openness by the big companies," he says. "Our partners ask for our long-term strategy. We say: 'In two or three or four years, we want to be there and there. Is it possible for you as a strategic supplier to help us--to start a project together with us to develop the special ingredients we need?' "
Henkel's new Fresh Magic detergent concept is an example of this approach, Müller-Kirschbaum says. First launched in France under the Mir name at the end of September, Fresh Magic expands on the successful Black Magic detergent for fine washables that was rolled out across Europe in 2001.
Black Magic contains a cationic dye fixative designed to keep black clothes black by preventing color fading. Fresh Magic, in contrast, is called the world's first laundry detergent to neutralize unpleasant odors in synthetic garments as they are worn.
Müller-Kirschbaum says the active system in Fresh Magic is the result of a three-year cooperation with an unidentified strategic supplier. Called Neutralin, the system combines a proprietary malodor absorber with a tailor-made fragrance to deliver odor neutralization and a long-lasting fresh smell.
QUICK STUDY Degussa's Goldschmidt unit says consolidating R&D, marketing, and manufacturing at an expanded site in Hopewell, Va., has accelerated decision-making.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE of the growth in external partnerships at Henkel will be revealed in March, when the company announces its annual Fritz Henkel innovation awards for outstanding R&D achievement. For the first time, Müller-Kirschbaum says, an award will go to a joint team of internal and external researchers.
At Cognis, the former Henkel subsidiary, Rita Köster, global marketing director for home care and industrial and institutional (I&I) markets, says she too sees a rise in codevelopment projects. Köster attributes the rise partly to cost-cutting measures and partly to a desire to shrink the time it takes to get new consumer products to market. She says this is important "especially in an environment where consumer product life cycles become shorter and shorter."
Peter Otto, global head of Ciba Specialty Chemicals' home and fabric care business, adds that joint development of innovative product effects is one way to counter the ongoing rise of private-label and store brands, particularly in Europe. Otto notes that this trend tends to commoditize the laundry detergent category--a challenge for marketers of premium name-brand products.
"Of course, our customers are very concerned about this," he says. "They are aware that an essential part of a sustainable solution is innovation that is consumer relevant." New catalytic oxidation technology that Ciba is launching this year came out of joint development efforts in the laundry, laundry auxiliaries, and automatic dishwasher segments, Otto adds.
According to Kevin Beairsto, director of detergent marketing and technology development at Alco Chemical, a division of National Starch & Chemical that focuses on specialty polymers, the downside of cost-cutting initiatives by customers is that they want suppliers to deliver end-product-enhancing ingredients while maintaining, or even reducing, the total cost of the detergent formula.
"The upside of the situation is that detergent and cleaning companies now rely more heavily on research-driven suppliers like Alco," Beairsto says. "For many soapers, the not-invented-here syndrome is all but dead." He says Alco has seen a much greater interest in joint development projects in the past few years than ever before.
Such projects aren't all upside, however. Beairsto notes that joint development requires a "great deal of consideration and project management from both a technical and business perspective. We have to be very selective about the projects we pursue."
Henrik Meyer, vice president for detergent and textile marketing at the enzymes producer Novozymes, acknowledges that product development with just one customer can be risky. "There is a risk that you plow down a path, investing money with one company, and then something happens," he says. Technical benchmarks change or market opportunities evaporate, and new products get put on hold.
Still, Meyer contends that, for Novozymes, the likelihood of developing successful new enzymes is generally higher with a close company-to-company relationship than with internal development made available to the market as a whole. "Because we are so close together, we know when we are deviating from the target and can adjust as we go along," he says. "It's easier for our customers to get what they want when they are close to our research."
Examples of Novozymes' detergent products developed in collaborations--with Procter & Gamble in both cases--include Mannaway mannanase enzymes, which remove carbohydrates in the mannan family, and Carezyme cellulase enzymes for cotton fuzz removal.
J. Keith Grime, vice president of R&D for P&G's global fabric and home care organization, has been involved in multiple collaborations with Novozymes and other chemical companies since the mid-1980s, when P&G committed to joint development as part of its R&D strategy.
Grime makes a distinction between commodity and specialty chemical development. "The supply of commodity raw materials is still driven by market forces, and the competitive system prevails for incremental improvements to these chemicals," he says. "However, for the development of breakthrough, consumer-noticeable, differentiating technologies, joint development projects are an absolutely vital strategy."
He adds that the key to successful projects is a focus on specific, targeted, consumer-driven benefits. "Well-intentioned but loosely defined developments initiated in the hope that a target will materialize as collaboration proceeds are easy to set up but rarely successful," Grime says.
A look at new heavy-duty laundry detergent and hand-dishwashing products that arose from collaborations with Shell Chemicals and Rhodia, respectively, provides a glimpse at how the collaborative innovation process works at P&G.
In both cases, Grime points out, the breakthroughs occurred when researchers challenged the existing theory of surfactant behavior. Breakthroughs come from allowing the "what's possible" to come into play, he says, rather than from trying to find a solution using current assumptions.
With Shell, P&G tackled what it calls the number one complaint that consumers have with powder laundry detergents: solubility. Grime explains that the perennial balancing act is between surfactant chain length, biodegradability, and solubility. With linear alcohol sulfate surfactants, longer chain length leads to higher surfactancy and performance, offset by low hardness tolerance and limited cold-water solubility.
The traditional solution has been linear alcohol sulfates in the C12 to C15 range supported by alcohol ethoxysulfates as cosurfactants to achieve the right balance of performance and hardness tolerance. However, such formulas were optimized long ago, Grime says, "and a breakthrough was needed to move to another level of performance."
The key to successful projects is a focus on specific, targeted, consumer-driven benefits.
WEIGHING IN A researcher at Henkel's Düsseldorf headquarters evaluates performance after laundering.
THE BREAKTHROUGH was the idea that controlled alkyl substitution--preferably methyl substitution in the middle of the hydrophobe chain--can produce a surfactant that is biodegradable, highly soluble, and more surface active than the traditional linear C14 or C15. Such branching, Grime says, allows the use of chain lengths as long as C16 or C17 without incurring any of the historical negatives like lack of biodegradability.
He calls the project "a classic match of core competencies." Performance, structure, formulation, and product assessment were developed in P&G laboratories, while biodegradability assessment and manufacturing optimization were supplied by Shell. Shell opened a new plant dedicated to the branched alcohol in Geismar, La., early in 2002. P&G launched the surfactant--dubbed HSAS, for highly soluble alcohol sulfate--soon thereafter in all its North American dry-powder brands, led by Quick Dissolving Tide.
With Rhodia, P&G set out to develop a chemical that would improve the cleaning power and appearance of its dishwashing liquids while increasing the foam that, to consumers, is a sign that cleaning is taking place.
The theory challenged in this case is that suds longevity must be controlled by surfactant type and level. Researchers at the two firms took a new approach: developing polymeric chemistry designed to increase suds longevity by preventing the bubble collapse caused by the presence of soils in the wash water--independent of the surfactant used.
The original chemistry and formulations were developed at P&G laboratories in Brussels and Cincinnati. Rhodia optimized the process, conducting physical chemistry and applications work in France and synthesis development in the U.S., according to Herman Mihalich, vice president for fabric and home care in Rhodia's home, personal care, and I&I business. Rhodia also developed the manufacturing process. Aiding in the development effort, Mihalich notes, was the ability to draw on Rhodia technology normally used in shampoos and laundry detergents.
In the end, Grime says, careful control of molecular weight, charge density, and the composition of the polymer--which includes dialkylacrylamides and methacrylate esters--led to significantly better suds boosting than the conventional surfactant-based approach did.
The new technology is now in P&G brands around the world, including Dawn, Joy, and Ivory in North America; Fairy, Dreft, and Yes in Europe and the Middle East; and Joy in Japan. Mihalich notes that the foaming agent, part of Rhodia's Mirapol line, is made exclusively for P&G and is not expected to be sold elsewhere.
The new dishwashing liquids exemplify another trend: the significant amount of development work occurring in the nonlaundry segments of the home and fabric care business.
Alco's Beairsto says he is seeing a particular burst of innovation in the automatic dishwashing (ADW) field. "ADW is traditionally a workhorse business without a lot of sexy technology," he says. "But over the past year or two, we've seen a lot of exciting new developments, both in terms of product form and functionality."
One example is P&G's Cascade Plastic Booster, a tube-based product intended to be added to automatic dishwashers along with the usual detergent. According to P&G's Grime, the product was developed in response to the number one problem that consumers have with plastic dishes and containers: red stains from greasy foods such as spaghetti sauce.
THE PRODUCT, which was introduced in the U.S. market last March, contains at least two chemical innovations. Greasy, hydrophobic stains are targeted by the use of benzoyl peroxide, a hydrophobic oxidizing agent. Performance is further enhanced, Grime says, by increasing the activity of benzoyl peroxide and other actives on the plastic surface via a patented nanoparticle delivery and dispersion system developed in collaboration with Eastman Chemical.
Henkel's Müller-Kirschbaum points to the rise of new product forms--tablets and gel-filled sachets--as a manifestation of ADW innovation. Germany in particular has embraced tablets, he says, to the point that they command 80% of the ADW market there. Müller-Kirschbaum attributes the high market penetration to the fact that dishwasher loads, unlike washing machine loads, are relatively similar each time and don't require tailoring of detergent type or quantity.
In Europe, ADW tablets, first launched by Henkel in 1990, have paved the way for two subsequent innovations: the incorporation of rinse aid into two-in-one tablets and, more recently, water softener and rinse aid into three-in-one tablets. Müller-Kirschbaum calls these products classic convenience-driven innovations because they cut out the separate loading steps that consumers were required to perform for softener and rinse aid.
ADW tablets are also catching on in the U.S.--more so than laundry detergent tablets, which after an initial splash declined to a U.S. market share of less than 2%.
Either way, tablets present an opportunity for specialty chemicals suppliers--mainly in the binding agents required to hold them together before use and the disintegrants that break them apart during use. Joan M. Hoffmeier, North American market manager at Rohm and Haas, says her company has been developing technologies that quicken tablet dissolution, while also developing granulated polycarboxylated dispersants that enable easier tableting and disintegration.
Last spring, Alco launched a new polymer called Alcosperse 747 that claims to improve surfactant dissolution rates in tablet detergents. At the same time, Beairsto says, the polymer can be used to provide stability in nonaqueous liquid formulations such as the new sachet form of laundry and ADW detergents.
Cleaning wipes for home and personal care applications are another nondetergent innovation that specialty chemicals makers see as a potential market. In December, for example, Cognis awarded its gold prize in innovation to a team of North American employees who succeeded in enhancing surfactant-based wet wipes with a skin-care lotion. Although the lotion was first used in a baby wipe, Köster notes that products developed for personal care are increasingly making their way to the home and fabric care market.
Beairsto also sees an opportunity to impart basic cleaning wipe products with secondary characteristics. Alco is working with its parent company, National Starch, to develop polymers that provide these secondary benefits while extending the useful life of many types of wipes. He says some of this chemistry will be commercially available later this year.
Customers want suppliers to deliver end-product-enhancing ingredients while maintaining, or even reducing, the total cost of the detergent formula.
|FRONTAL ASSAULT The front loaders that predominate in Europe provide a more concentrated wash liquor.
YET ANOTHER nondetergent product showing up in supermarkets is the nonwoven sheet that is tossed into the wash to trap fugitive dyes that have leaked from garments. Brands on U.S. store shelves include Shout Color Catcher and Woolite Dye Magnet.
Although P&G doesn't market one of these "dye magnet" products, Grime acknowledges their consumer draw. "The most appealing part of these devices from the consumer perspective is that the sheet changes color as it picks up the dye," he says. "This is an old idea, and such products have been around for several years, particularly in Europe. Their reemergence reflects the industry's willingness to respond to the consumer's need for color protection."
Developments in the laundry detergent market last year may have been less noticeable than in nonlaundry sectors, but innovation, of course, did occur. Industry participants say R&D focused on color protection and other "fabric care" effects that go above and beyond simple cleaning.
?Grime notes that detergents offering color protection are in their third or fourth generation, with the current emphasis on the consumer's desire to protect and maintain dark clothing. Henkel's Black Magic and the new Woolite Dark Laundry from Reckitt Benckiser are examples of specialty detergents that meet this need.
Not surprisingly, Grime believes that P&G's Cheer with Colorguard contains the most sophisticated color-protection system on the market. It uses peroxide to scavenge chlorine, hydrophobically modified carboxymethylcellulose to reduce abrasion of cotton surfaces, a cationic polymer based on imidazole and epichlorohydrin to "lock" or fix dyes, and the vinylimidazole variant of polyvinylpyrrolidone to inhibit dye transfer. The latter two technologies are also part of Tide Wear Care powder.
International Specialty Products is often considered the leader in dye-transfer inhibition chemistry, or DTI, but other specialty chemicals companies are also pushing into DTI, as well as dye lock and other color-protection chemistries.
Alco, for example, will launch the first of a family of DTI and color-protection polymers this summer, Beairsto says. Terry A. Laine, North American textile care business manager at Degussa's Goldschmidt cationic chemicals unit, says a change in North American fabric softener chemistry last year opened the door for Goldschmidt softener actives to back color-care label claims.
Ciba has marketed Tinofix brand dye fixatives to detergent makers for about four years. Then in October, at the 5th World Conference on Detergents in Montreux, Switzerland, the firm announced the forthcoming launch of a new bleaching technology, Tinocat, based on oxidation catalysis. Ciba's Otto calls Tinocat a selective catalytic chemistry: It destroys stains by bleaching them and inhibits dye transfer by oxidizing fugitive dyes in the wash.
The manganese-based catalyst works by effectively activating sodium percarbonate and perborate bleaches, particularly at low wash temperatures. Initial applications will likely be in powdered laundry additives that contain these persalts, but Otto says Ciba researchers are working to adapt the technology for liquid detergents as well, possibly by using it to capture and harness ambient oxygen.
For Ciba and other specialty chemical makers, the trick is to develop novel technology at a cost that is acceptable to customers. For example, at the detergents conference, Rohm and Haas debuted controlled-release microcapsules that would allow fabric softener to be included in laundry detergent. But Hoffmeier acknowledges that "the challenge is converting these materials into products that perform in the laundry formulation cost-effectively over consumer-use conditions."
Likewise, Alco's Beairsto says it isn't easy to find the right balance between innovation and cost. "There are very few technical challenges that can't be solved," he says. "But many of those solutions come at a cost that is unacceptable to the consumer. The true measure of innovative success today in detergents is the ability to provide the benefit and meet the consumer need at a cost that is commercially viable."
Detergent makers maintain that they are committed to achieving this kind of success through greater use of collaboration. At P&G, Grime says partnerships continue to evolve and intensify, resulting even in co-location of resources in each companies' laboratories in some cases.
And at Henkel, Müller-Kirschbaum makes a prediction that should hearten many potential specialty chemicals partners: that attention may be shifting away from detergent delivery forms--powders, liquids, tablets, and sachets--and toward increased performance. "I think there may be a revitalization of the performance idea," he says. "We have all the delivery forms you can think of. Now let's refocus on what the real purpose of a detergent is: It should wash and clean and take care of clothes."
SOAPS & DETERGENTS
Whether for washing clothes or cleaning dishes, new products are increasingly the result of collaborative chemical development