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Tech bringing new life to common materials

By He Wei in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-16 11:28
A child's air filter mask, developed by Minnesota-based company 3M, is on display at the China International Import Expo, held in Shanghai in early November. [Photo/China News Service]

As Chinese firms push cutting-edge technology, such as cloud computing and self-driving cars, and look to raise product quality, there will be even more opportunities for material suppliers to sell to the world's biggest market, said the head of 3M China, a conglomerate manufacturer.

"We think China has the opportunity to achieve early breakthroughs ... especially when it relates to scaling it up," Stephen Shafer, president of 3M China, told China Daily during the recent China International Import Expo.

Founded in 1902 as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co, today Forbes ranks 3M as the United States' 97th biggest company by revenue.

The miner has expanded out from its sandpaper roots to produce a wide range of materials, including industrial tapes and adhesives, healthcare, safety and graphics, and electronic products.

3M is also involved in the next generation of driving, through materials for cabin noise reduction, battery solutions, or reflective technology for roads.

Thanks to emerging technology, some of the firm's materials are even seeing new demand-such as Fluorinert, a line of liquid coolants trademarked in the 1960s.

Today, the product can be used to keep data centers cool, thus saving money and improving performance, and so help the rise of cloud computing.

"It's a technology we developed many years ago, but has found new life because of the changes that are happening in the world," he said. "China is leading what future data centers and high-speed computing power will look like."

China is 3M's largest market outside the US, representing over 10 percent of its revenue. A majority of the products sold in China, from respiratory masks to a vehicle air purifier systems, are even tailored for the local market.

However, Shafer said he believes the country's integral role in many multinational corporations' growth plans is not just down to its sheer size, but its strategic importance.

"China is actually becoming the leader in many markets and technologies that we are interested in," Shafer said, noting that the country is far more advanced relative to other global markets in the way firms engage digitally with customers.

The executive also applauded the import strategy upheld by the Chinese government, saying it is set to be the big driver of the economy.

"There is a resolve that China will need to have the access to the products and technologies from around the globe to continue to support the domestic economy and innovation, and to meet the increasing demands of Chinese consumers," he said.

Shafer noted how Chinese manufacturers are raising aspirations to improve their product performance, and that durability, reliability and quality have gone up significantly in past years. That has in turn boosted 3M's business in China.

"We see a lot of our Chinese customers here who are looking to 3M's technologies to help them develop their products to be able to meet those increasing needs. That fits well with what we do," he said.

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