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24. November 2007

Specters, Smart Fellows and Strategists

Teijin Twaron BV, 2007, 96 p., ISBN 978-9- 081-19391-7

The history of the people working for Teijin Twaron is in many ways intertwined with that of Twaron itself. This book describes from their point of view the up-and-down-history of development of a product which made history not only as a technological innovation, but also as one of the biggest investments ever and the stake in a struggle that made headlines for many years. It covers more than four decades and reflects social changes that occurred in rapid succession - from “everything is possible” through to the rise of the environmental movement, economic recessions, cautious revival andexpansion.

It all started after World War II – many companies sought to discover new fibres which could be used for different applications. In the 1950s technical nylon was discovered and ten years later polyester. But these two fibres reacted pretty poorly to heat build-up in applications, all the more in an application the Enka fibres division at Akzo had in focus – the replacement of steel cords in car tyres. When exactly the research team discovered Twaron is unknown, but on Christmas Eve 1970 a researcher named Leo Vollbracht performed the first trial of the full aromatic polymer PPTA. It took 27years and 156lawsuits before Twaron became a marketable product, today sharing the global market for para-aramid fibres with its former accuser DuPont in equal shares. To discover why it took so long is one of the pleasures of reading this book. One reason was the charge of patent infringement between these two, though this story began so innocently, following the quoted anecdote from Frans van Berkel, former chemical engineer at Enka and professor in Delft. In1970 on a Friday he went to confession with Prof. Dr. Herman F. Mark, an adviser to both companies. On Saturday morning 8:30 he leaves Prof. Mark with his suggestion: “Have you ever thought about aramid?” and telling Prof. Mark, that he is sceptical because of possible patent infringements. Prof. Mark replied cool: “Anyway, they (DuPont) can´t do anything with this product alone because no one wants to use a product that is made by just one company.” The book is an exciting history of the development of an innovation and a myth in a way, because Teijin Twaron decided at the beginning of September2007 that it will change its name to Teijin Aramid. Twaron is nowadays just one fibre product in range of others, but the first of its product family - at least for the people at Enka/Akzo and theirsuccessors.

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