Wherever you are in the world, 2020 has been dominated by one thing.

Even though it’s a time of great human need, it’s heartening to see how well so many people have adapted and how companies producing essential products take such pride in the role they’re playing.

For our team at Lucite International China (LICC), this meant rapidly developing the potential for acrylic to play a vital role in protecting against the spread of COVID-19. While the global acrylic industry has really stepped up to the challenge of providing personal protection, it was in China that many of the solutions we’re all seeing originated. As the country began lifting its lockdown measures in early March, LICC’s commercial team gave us their unique perspective on the effects we’ve seen.

Pictured: clear acrylic table separators, introduced to Asia’s acrylic industry by LICC.

Clear acrylic screens are now being used as a protective barrier in every corner of the world. You’ve probably experienced feeling safer behind one already. Worldwide, producers of acrylic sheet are working non-stop to keep up with record demand.

As China returns to work, these screens are being used widely to make multiple-occupancy spaces, such as open-plan offices and canteens, safer to use.

Using WeChat (a social media platform ingrained into the daily lives of almost one billion people in China), we reached out to the country’s acrylic industry to rally support from those who could help meet the rocketing demand for barrier products.

Mickey Zheng, Market Development Manager at LICC, says:

“During the lockdown period in China, we couldn’t physically meet our customers. However, we’ve been active on WeChat since 2017 and, through this channel, we are able to share our acrylics knowledge through the entire industry; from MMA customers to acrylic sheet casters, fabricators, machinery manufacturers, designers, university professors and more. In China, almost everyone has a WeChat account and it means we can easily connect even when we’re physically apart.

“In February, we learned that clear acrylic sheet was being used as a protective barrier and recognised it could be essential in the fight against COVID-19. We quickly published an article to introduce the idea to the wider acrylic industry, and included supporting topics such as performance comparisons with other clear sheet products and suitable disinfectant cleaning products.

“More recently, we’re glad to see this application multiply and further ideas emerge from it. For example, clear acrylic sheet screens have helped children return to China’s schools. Besides increasing demand from the domestic market in China, sales are strong overseas. LICC’s cast acrylic sheet customers are running at high operation rates to meet both domestic and export demand.”

Pictured: LICC’s proactive response has seen clear acrylic screens multiply, here being used to help children get safely back into China’s schools. (Image: Reuters)

At our own organisational level, the way we work at LICC has had to adapt too. In line with our KAITEKI values and abiding by government measures we are working hard to keep people safe and minimise the risk to everyone who works with us.

At our Caojing manufacturing plant, this involves:

– Splitting and rotating the site management team

– Operating with the minimum safe number of people

– Minimising non-essential engineering and maintenance

– Minimising contact between people (control room operators remain there at all times, even having meals delivered)

– Mandatory face masks and body temperature checks at the site entrance

And, in our office space in downtown Shanghai, it has involved:

– A work-from-home policy, which was gradually lifted in mid-March

– A body temperature screening system in the building entrance

– Mandatory face masks, disinfectant spray and a thorough hand-washing program

Though the situation around the world is evolving at different speeds, what have we learned at LICC? David Wu, General Manager at LICC, says:

“Contingency plans must be prepared well in advance, especially at a local level. Appropriate personal hygiene should be highly encouraged and, most importantly, no one should come to work if they’re unwell.

“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has affected everyone reading this. It’s affected our business, our customers’ businesses and everyone in between. But at Lucite International (LI), a group company of Mitsubishi Chemical (MCC) and the acrylic market leader in China, we’re leading the industry to help overcome current difficulties by identifying opportunities both immediately and for the future. With our global perspective, we can introduce new applications from other markets into China and introduce Chinese-manufactured cast acrylic sheet to overseas markets to help in the global fight against the virus.

“This reflects our current situation well. COVID-19 posed one of the biggest dangers to mankind. For our industry, this new challenge led to new applications bringing more opportunities to work closer together globally, to meet demand and to help keep people safe everywhere in the long-term.”