Back to the Beginning
As early as 1949, the first small quantities of silicone fluids had been supplied as release agents to the tire industry. In the following year, the US military government – WACKER was still under the control of the occupation authority – officially permitted the company to start producing silicones. In 1951, WACKER expanded its silicone operations and published its first “provisional information” on silicone resins, effectively an instruction leaflet for customers: “Woven fiberglass impregnated with the solution is exceptionally resistant to heat. Once the solvent has fully evaporated at room temperature, leaving only a virtually tack-free film, the dried-on resin is baked for 10 hours at 180 °C.”
Visiting the Silane Furnace
In late 1950, Johannes Hess, then 74, who had been a managing director of WACKER from 1917 to 1945, paid a visit to the plant. He listened in silence as the silane furnace was explained to him. On this occasion, the employee newspaper reported: “In this furnace, we are currently producing at least 1,000 kilograms a month, and soon, when we have a further reactor, it will be two to three metric tons. Hess merely said ‘Make two to three hundred tons as soon as you can’ and walked away.”
That was a farsighted piece of advice. Before long, silicones had arrived in a big way. The new, environmentally sound product – the only big class of plastics to be derived from methanol (obtained from natural gas) rather than from crude oil – offered benefits to an increasing number of industrial sectors. 1949 and 1950 saw the introduction of silicone fluids as release agents in the rubber and tire industries. From 1951, silicone resins became available as electrical insulation and silicones themselves were employed to insulate motors and transformers and for impregnating textiles; there were silicone antifoam agents for paints and lubricants and silicone pastes were used as anti-friction and damping agents. In 1953, silicone emulsions were introduced to optimize building materials, and silicone rubber for molding and casting.
A great future opened up for these “S Class” chemicals. On January 1, 1953, WACKER established its first silicone department – “N.” At that year’s Hannover trade fair, a customer – the building-protection company Drengwitz from Opladen, Germany – advertised a WACKER silicone product for the first time. In 1953, WACKER’s silicone output was 78 metric tons; by 1964, it was already 2,800 tons.
Today, WACKER produces thousands of regular silicone products and even more specialty products on customer request. The portfolio ranges from silanes and silicone fluids, emulsions and elastomers, to sealants and resins. Every car contains several kilograms of silicone rubber grades that serve damping and sealing purposes. Silicone fluids and their emulsions find use in cosmetics and shampoos and serve as joint fillers in construction, especially in wet locations. In high-voltage cables, silicone insulators have replaced porcelain ones. Furthermore, to withstand weathering for prolonged periods, facades get a coat of silicone resin emulsion paint and silicone impregnations render textiles water repellent.
What began shortly after the war under modest conditions in a basement laboratory in Burghausen has long achieved global success. Silicones’ unique set of properties that can be adapted to suit individual needs make them indispensable to most industrial sectors.
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