After two postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 World Adhesive and Sealant Conference (WAC 2022) was held in April—and it was well worth the wait. More than 1,250 industry professionals from 26 countries had the opportunity to come together in Chicago, make meaningful connections, and build opportunities for long-term growth.
“The ASC is very honored to have hosted the 10th World Adhesive and Sealant Conference—WAC 2022—and its global attendees,” said Bill Allmond, president of the Adhesive and Sealant Council (ASC), which served as host of WAC 2022. “The energy and enthusiasm during the event were electrifying and underscored the fact that our industry is strong and its future outlook is bright.”
It was truly an action-packed several days, starting with the co-located Hot Melt Short Course and Emerging Leaders Workshop on Monday. The official WAC 2022 Opening Ceremony, First-Time Attendee and New Member Reception, and Taste of Chicago Reception and Cabaret Casino Night were all also featured throughout Monday afternoon and evening.
The technical sessions began Tuesday morning and were organized in multiple concurrent tracks throughout the conference. More than 70 industry experts shared their insights during these educational presentations. Tuesday also brought the well-attended EXPO, featuring 120 exhibits of the industry’s latest products and technologies, as well as an Emerging Leaders Reception.
Wednesday morning provided attendees the opportunity to participate in the ASC Gives Back community service project, and technical sessions again ran throughout the day. WAC 2022 went out with style at the Closing Ceremony and Gala, featuring a Great Gatsby-themed Gala Dinner on Wednesday evening.
The ASC is known for providing event attendees with insights from industry leaders through dynamic keynotes, and WAC 2022 was no exception. During each breakfast and lunch, as well as the Opening Ceremony, leading executives shared their thoughts on trends, opportunities, and challenges facing the industry.
A good time was had by all at Monday evening’s Taste of Chicago reception and Cabaret Casino Night.
Post-Pandemic Trends and Technologies
In his keynote during Monday’s Opening Ceremony, Jim Owens, president of H.B. Fuller, discussed “Connecting What Matters: The Future of the Adhesives Industry.” He noted several trends that will impact the industry in the years to come, including B2B ecommerce, a lack of access to clean water, the aging global population, increasing capabilities in drone package delivery, and recycling. In Owens’ view, factors that will enable the industry to innovate and address these trends include talent, sustainability, and Industry 4.0.
“We’re a people-intensive business,” he said, noting that 400 million people are working today in manufacturing roles around the world. The key is finding, appealing to, and retaining the right people.
In today’s competitive jobs market, companies need to illustrate their diversity, as well as a commitment to their employees’ careers. Owens cites offering flexible working conditions and being socially responsible as important goals in this area.
Regarding sustainability, Owens stressed the need to be collaborative with suppliers and customers. “Being on the front end of sustainability will drive success for all companies in the industry,” he said.
Owens shared several benefits that result from sustainable manufacturing, including lower resource, production, and regulatory costs; stronger company reputation; improved sales and brand recognition; greater access to financing and capital; and easier employee hiring and retention.
Turning to Industry 4.0, Owens shared that 62% of B2B companies today feel that they are lacking in digitalization competencies. While challenging, Industry 4.0 will help transform the industry via connections to customers, smart factories, big data, augmented reality, ecommerce, and automating cross-industry supply chains. For example, Owens shared that machine learning systems for automated production processes can result in a 10% reduction in maintenance costs and up to 20% less downtime.
Risks and Opportunities Surrounding Sustainability
At the breakfast keynote on Tuesday morning, Vincent Legros, chairman and CEO of Bostik, discussed “Adhesives and Sealants Facing the Rising Trend of Sustainability: Risks and Opportunities.” He shared his thoughts on sustainability-related needs for products such as fully compostable disposable diapers, for example, as well as trends in the automotive, construction, and packaging sectors that are driving the need for sustainable innovation.
Desired adhesive properties that will help meet these goals include incorporating bio-based materials, being lighter than traditional fasteners, and having debonding capabilities. The packaging industry, for example, needs options to be able to create sustainable packaging. A shift toward paper-based packaging from plastic will help, but paper packaging requires functionalities such as liners in order to be effective.
The good news, according to Legros, is that many end-use industries haven’t decided on which sustainability-related options they are going to pursue. Our industry needs to be ready to capture these trends when they happen, he says.
A key challenge facing adhesives will be raw materials selection and supply, according to Legros. For example, the European Union’s Green Deal will restrict the use of thousands of chemicals. As a result, Legros noted that 50% of additives will need to be changed in the coming years because they’ll be prohibited. In addition, in his view, supply chain disruptions will become the norm, so the industry needs to get used to adjusting formulations and ingredients.
“The very good news about all of this change, and the very good news for our industry, is that all these solutions exist,” he said. “The adhesive industry is a sustainability enabler. Let’s make sure we capture these opportunities.”
During the WAC 2022 EXPO on Tuesday, 120 companies shared their latest products and technologies for the adhesive and sealant industry. (Photo courtesy of the Adhesive and Sealant Council.)
Science and STEM
Jayshree Seth, 3M’s corporate scientist and chief science advocate, gave the lunchtime keynote on Tuesday. She shared her thoughts on “Sticking with Science! The Need for STEM Advocacy.”
Seth discussed some of the key takeaways from 3M’s annual State of Science Index Survey. While respondents’ skepticism of science had been rising since 2018, the onset of the pandemic brought a decline in skepticism in 2020 and 2021. “When healthcare got involved, science got personal,” she said.
Trust in science and in scientists has increased since 2020, reaching 90% and 86%, respectively, in 2022. In the 2022 survey, 52% of respondents indicated that “Science is important to my everyday life,” representing an increase from 46% in 2020. However, skepticism of science increased slightly in 2022 (to 29%, compared to 27% in 2021), which Seth notes as a cause for concern.
A positive result of respondents’ increased trust in science is their growing understanding regarding the importance of STEM opportunities in our educational systems. They reacted positively to the following statements: “The world needs more people pursuing STEM careers to benefit society’s future” and “A strong STEM education for students is critical.”
Respondents also recognize that diversity is key when supporting STEM in education, with 88% agreeing that “it’s important to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM” and 87% agreeing that “more needs to be done to encourage and keep girls and women engaged in STEM education.” To help support efforts regarding STEM, Seth suggested everyone can do their part through volunteering, organizing, inspiring, championing, and engaging.
Many attendees participated in Wednesday morning’s ASC Gives Back community service project, preparing care packs for veterans and storytime kits for the youth of Chicago.
Looking to the Future
Wednesday morning’s breakfast keynote was given by Christian Kirsten, a member of Henkel Adhesive Technologies’ executive committee, who discussed “Shaping the Future of Adhesive Technologies.” He structured his talk around the key trends of digitalization and sustainability.
Kirsten noted that digitalization efforts have been fueled and accelerated by the pandemic, sharing a quote attributed to Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”
Factors that support the digital disruption include process automation and virtualization, as well as the future of connectivity, disrupted infrastructure, next-generation computing, applied artificial intelligence (AI), and zero-trust architecture. Kirsten stressed that the industry’s business models need to evolve, driven by data-enabled digital solutions.
He discussed sustainability in terms of environmental impacts, climate change, and regulations. In addition, he stressed that companies’ focus on sustainability needs to shift from efforts to limit harm to those that actively do good, as well as evolving from operational changes that simply improve efficiency to those that provide transformation. Efforts driving transformative change relate to achieving sustainable operations, utilizing bio-renewable materials, and enabling circularity.
“Sustainability is not a choice anymore…,” he said. “Let’s be pioneers at heart for the good of generations.”
WAC 2026 will be held in London, England. For more information regarding WAC 2022, including the final program, presentation decks for many of the technical sessions, and a photo gallery, visit www.wac2022.org.
Note: Photos by ASI, unless otherwise noted
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