Azdel Inc., a major supplier of composite panels to the RV industry, changed its name to Hanwha Azdel effective Sept. 1. The name change better aligns the Azdel business into the global business organization and strategy of parent company Hanwha L&C Corp. (HL&C), a division of the Hanwha Group, Seoul, South Korea, which acquired Azdel Inc., in 2007, the company reports.
And it comes at an important time in the RV sector for Hanwha Azdel, which began supplying composite panels to the RV industry in 2006 as a replacement for Lauan plywood, and today claims that more than 50 million square feet of its SuperLite RVx composite panels have been used in the construction of recreational vehicles.
Spokesmen for Azdel, distributed exclusively to the RV arena by Robert Weed Plywood Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., say their composite material has gained acceptance for use in exterior and interior walls, ceilings, roofs, floors, partitions, cabinets and doors on the premise that SuperLite panels are 50% lighter than wood, offer better insulation, are impact- and puncture-resistant and are rot-, mold- and water-resistant.
In fact, a corporate release indicates, Hanwha Azdel, a large automotive supplier, reached a significant milestone in September by shipping the 50th million square foot of composite product to the RV industry since entering the market in 2006. They say 20 RV manufacturers now use Azdel panels in some or all models.
“The company and the product is still Azdel,” says Chris Willis, director of sales and marketing, non-automotive. “Hanwha is more of a global name as far as the automotive industry, and that is a large part of our business. They’re a tier-two auto supplier to a majority of the automobiles produced in the United States as well as Europe, Asia and Australia. And we have about a 30% share of the headliner market in the U.S., Canada and Mexico,”
Curiously, Willis says his composite product came to be known by the name of the company that supplied it – rather than its actual “SuperLite” name – because “SuperLite” had become a pretty generic term by the time it was developed in the late ‘90s and was later introduced into the RV marketplace.
“SuperLite is a nebulous term in the RV market,” Willis told RVBusiness during the recent Hershey Show. “If you go out in the midway here at the show, you see the words SuperLite, Ultra-Lite, Mega-Lite, Aero-Lite. That’s the way it was when we introduced the product in 2006. So, the industry named our product based on the company name at the time — Azdel. Going into our fifth year, that’s how the Azdel brand has come about and has become the leading materials for lightweight construction.”
For the most part, says Willis, Azdel’s been used to replace plywood in exterior walls, with Coachmen Industries Inc., later the Coachmen Division of Forest River Inc., being a lead customer.
“Our products for the most part are used as the exterior wall substrate in replacing plywood,” he added. “Because of our relationship with Robert Weed Plywood Corp., they have developed a new product for interiors as well. They combined our material with a vinyl or paper-like facing. So, now they have a whole new product line for interiors, and manufacturers today use our product everywhere — exteriors, interior walls, ceilings, roofs. Some have even developed flooring.”
Looking down the road, Willis sees demand growing for composites, and he cites the entry of several competitors as evidence of the viability of the push toward lighter, more durable materials that ultimately make for for lighter vehicles.
“At first,” he noted, “it was that they just wanted to get away from wood because it is a tremendous liability. Virtually any large manufacturer of RVs today will spend in the millions on warranty issues related to moisture. Our material takes away those warranty issues. The other component that sets us apart is that our product is very low density and therefore is lightweight naturally. We offer 50% weight savings. What that represents to the OEM is not just taking weight out of the RV for fuel efficiency. It’s bringing more value. As they push closer to the GVWR of the chassis, they can put a lot more value in the coach without compromising.
“So, by paying a little bit more of a premium for our product, they can bring more value to the consumer.”