19/03/2020

19 March 2020
19 March 2020, Comments Comments Off on Jan Peter Veeneman – Lippert Components
Jan Peter Veeneman - Lippert Components

Windows open on the global RV market

 
In January 2020, LCI Industries acquired Polyplastic Group B.V., the manufacturer of acrylic windows based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Polyplastic, which has had a 60 percent market share, is the leading window supplier to the European caravan and motorhome industry. In addition, this family-owned company has also successfully developed solutions for keeping refridgerated displays cool in supermarkets. At September 2019, Polyplastic had a twelve-month revenue of approximately €55 million. AboutCamp BtoB visited the Dutch company to speak to the former owner, 59 year old Jan Peter Veeneman, now CEO of Polyplastic, who took us on an interesting tour of Polyplastic Group BV starting at its acrylic plant, Delta Glass, in Tholen in the Netherlands, 40 minutes drive from Rotterdam.

Words and photo Wim de Roos

Jan Peter Veeneman gave some history of his business: “From 1995 to January 2020, the Polyplastic Group BV was owned by me. Polyplastic was founded in 1952 by my father, Wim Veeneman, who left the well known company, Unilever, to start his own business when he was just 22 years old . My son is now in the company, too. My father and his long time friend, Henk Kersten, were fascinated by acrylic as a new lightweight alternative for glass. As long as I’m in the company, and as the former owner and now CEO, I’m also passionate about the material, too. We help make RV’s more beautiful by filling the holes, so I like to refer to us as the dentists of the RV-industry!”

Polyplastic started as a company producing acrylic glass sheets, but four years later, in 1956, it development its own production of sheet acrylic in Rotterdam. Jan Peter Veeneman gave more details about this period of the company’s history: “With a lot of perseverance, help from the Dutch independent research organization, TNO, failing and starting again, and even explosions in the production facility, they developed a new method for production of high quality acrylic sheets themselves. They developed the current unique way of using liquid (Methylmethacrylate (MMA), forming it in autoclaves in just two hours into perfect PMMA (Polymethylmethacrylate). Since 1978 we have produced this at the Polyplastic company Delta Glass in Tholen. Starting with one small acrylic sheet per week, we now produce one large sheet every 50 seconds. It is highly UV resistent, very durable, clearer than real glass and availabel in a variety of thickness and colours.”
Today, with around 300 employees and a network of European representatives, Polyplastic has become the leading supplier of standardized and customer-specific window solutions for motorhomes and caravans in Europe. Polyplastic has the advantage of its own supply chain of high quality acrylic, needed to supply the caravaning industry with 4,000 windows each day.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are the advantages of acrylic windows and how has Polyplastic developed them over the years?
Jan Peter Veeneman: Thanks to the unbeatable advantages of acrylic, such as low weight and high stability, Polyplastic made a breakthrough in early 1960 with window systems for the caravan industry. Our cast acrylic is superior in transparency, easy to form, has great UV-stability, is lightweight and safer than glass. Nowadays the new brand DoubleCOOL, a full acrylic glass based scratch resistant product range, is offered for refrigerated cabinets in supermarkets. Now primarily focused on doors, but also covering counter solutions, side walls, front stoppers, etc.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What made you sell your family-owned business to a large company listed on the stock exchange?
Jan Peter Veeneman: After a recent stay in hospital (and full recovery), it makes you realise that nothing lasts forever, but now the continuity of Polyplastic has been guaranteed. I will remain as CEO of Polyplastic for the time being to continue Polyplastic’s partnership and help guide it to a new future. We can now reach other markets where Lippert Components is already represented. One of the obvious markets is America. It will also enable us to expand DoubleCool more easily.
With Jason Lippert as CEO of LCI Industries, and after his father Doug Lippert and the founder of the company, Larry Lippert, it still seems like a family-owned company even it is listed on the stock exchange. Lippert Components has made many acquisitions in recent years, of which Polyplastic is its third largest. It seems to me that both companies have the same corporate philosophy, so I am sure that nothing will change for Polyplastic and it’s workers. It has always appealed to me to make a combination of a beautiful product from a beautiful material, and finding the right customer for it who you can help with your knowledge, service, products and approach. I see the same values with Lippert Components company and people who want to sense and understand that same dream, make that an important part of customer happiness, and exceed the expectations of the customer.
Polyplastic will accelerate LCI’s expansion into the European recreational vehicle, trailer, supermarket, and e-mobility vehicle window market, and in return it will help introduce Polyplastic’s acrylic window products to its customer base throughout North America. The first signs of synergy with other company’s in the Lippert Components family are already visible.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Will Rotterdam still be the best base for Polyplastic, or if this will change after the acquisition?
Jan Peter Veeneman: It does sound a bit strange to be producing in a country where there’s only one manufacturer (Kip caravans); however, we are perfectly central for the rest of Europe as we are located between Germany, England, Scandinavia, France and Italy. To avoid customers finding us geographically far away, we always travel to the customer as quickly as possible. Responding quickly to wishes or any issues means we are always close by.
The facility in Rotterdam has expanded with a new production facility to processes the Delta Glass acrylic sheets. A few years ago, the making of a window, with treatment and handling of hot acrylate sheets and the operation of the modelling presses was done manually; however, one of our technical managers worked out a completely automated production model to mould the windows. It’s these examples that illustrate what Polyplastic stands for: challenge the people and the material properties to come up with new solutions for existing applications and new ones. Now we are in stage two of having large standard windows made in a robotized production process. There are still a lot of confidential company secrets in that process, so we cannot show you everything, but it is already delivering high quality production with less downtime. After all, the robot does exactly what it needs to do, without any distraction and in a very clean dust-free environment.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are the key issues or highlights of manufacturing windows?
Jan Peter Veeneman: It is a business decision whether you make a good product or not. We, therefore, ensure the addition of more UV-resistance in the raw materials, which we call our ‘acrylic recipe’. In this way, the user of the RV remains satisfied throughout the life of the product. In the past, windows sometimes changed colour, but that is no longer the case with our windows today. Engineering and development of acrylic glass windows is our main task at Polyplastic. Additions to the basic material or other pre-treatments give us countless possibilities for further development of products and markets. Everything we do is tested in our own laboratory for strength, UV-resistance and quality. By using a liquid base we produce a much better quality product than those made of extruded acrylic and granulate. With the best UV stability of all plastics at the moment, we produce cast acrylic glass with excellent impact resistance and the possibility of an anti-scratch coating. By doing so, we underline our leading market position. We can also produce impact-resistant acrylic ourselves. Of course there is a price tag on everything. That is why a product such as the scratch-resistant Polyplastic window has ended up with a premium brand, such as Concorde.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What about the environmental impact of producing acrylic products? A lot of energy is needed to produce acrylic glass sheets, which you only can do at temperatures up to 160 degrees Celsius, so is Polyplastic improving its environmental footprint?
Jan Peter Veeneman: We have developed plans to cover all rooftops with solar panels and in a few years the entire company will use only solar energy. Steam and heat from the autoclaves, ovens and presses is already reused for heating buildings and preheating water. Emissions are washed and cleaned from production residue, and with long term support of the European Union, in only one year of resurge and experimenting, our laboratory succeeded in producing high quality MMA from scraps and recycled windows without any loss of quality. We are very proud of that. Now we can already add five percent recycled and returned materials to the MMA without loss of quality in PMMA.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Where will Polyplastic be five years from now?
Jan Peter Veeneman: I am sure that Polyplastic will still be very successful and strongly focussed on innovation with a number of major new developments that the market can and will use. We will be successful in America with the acceptance of our plastic products at last, something that is not accepted everywhere yet. We will reach great successes with the DoubleCool cooling doors for supermarkets, and I also think we will have a successful third product for e-mobility. Lightweight glazing saves energy and saves weight for electric cars and things like transparent solar panels. And yes, the company will still be based in Rotterdam where we will be producing more, with more flexibility and the same high quality as we do now.