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Next generation materials

With the research and development arms race from signage material developers reaching new levels of intensity, Brendan Perring examines a player looking to break the mould

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Lim Yun Cheng, the deputy general manager for LG Hausys

Electronics to vinyl wraps, the rise of LG Hausys

The sign and graphics material market has come a very long way in the last few decades, with brittle and easily torn block colours for simple vinyl letters applied to rigid panels giving way to printable media, and today a massive array of products that can be applied on everything from BMWs to windows. And while there are thousands of suppliers selling badged and branded media, there are relatively few technology developers at the heart of this global market. Working away in cutting-edge laboratories from the UK, across to Germany and round the world to Korea, the science and technology that is used to invent, design, and put into production what sign-makers use for their stock in trade is quite astounding.

One of these key developers is LG Hausys, part of global business group LG.  With roots that date back to 1947 and the foundation of the Lak Hui Chemical Industrial Corporation (LG Chem), the company started manufacturing the new boom product of the age, vinyl flooring, in 1958. In the same year, Goldstar (LG Electronics) was founded as another core part of the overall Group.

Growing and expanding across several visual communications markets over the decades, its last key landmark came in 2009, when the surge in growth of the signage, graphics, and advertising materials markets saw the demerger of LG Chem and the launch of LG Hausys. Today it is the biggest manufacturer in Korea in this area, with sites now firmly set on expansion across the rest of the world.

State of the art

In an exclusive interview with Lim Yun Cheng (known to his friends as LP), the deputy general manager for LG Hausys’s overseas sign and graphics business team, he explained how the development of technology at the cutting edge of sign and graphics materials is improving the quality of output and efficiency for sign-makers around the world: “The company has been strategically organised so that there is complete vertical integration between our production processes, which allows us to keep complete control over the quality of the materials we are producing, and ultimately means they are honestly superior to a range of alternatives. The added benefit is that it also allows us to make significant cost savings, which we can direct back into research and development.”

The mention of ‘vertical integration’ is in reference to the relationship to LG Chem, which LP explains still provides the raw materials such as PVC and plasticiser to create LG Hausys’ growing range of products.

He continues: “The development of high-quality materials for use in sign and graphics applications that are robust and perfect for their specific application is dependent on a guarantee of stability and cooperation between the different stages of the production process.

“LG Hausys has a production facility that has been designed to cater for an international market. And as LG Chem does the first stage of the production process, it is like creating a blank canvas for us. It means we can be really flexible, efficient, and quick when it comes to designing and developing new products to suit the latest application needs of the market.”

We can be really flexible, efficient, and quick when it comes to designing and developing new products to suit the latest application needs of the market

Beauty in function

Sitting as part of the chemicals division of LG Group, LG Hausys has more than 4,160 employees with some 60 percent of its output consumed domestically in Korea, and 40 percent exported to the international market.

Far from being all about boffins in labs, LG Hausys has also pioneered in the sense of design, by tying up with some world class acts in their respective disciplines, such as Vera Wang (fashion), Alexandro Mendinin (architecture), Karim Rashid (industrial and interior spaces), and Zaha Hadid (architecture). Each has helped with the creation of products from window graphics systems through to wall and biodegradable floor graphics.

LP continues: “Ultimately, if you want to develop the best materials, you need direct feedback from the best minds in design about how they can be used to greatest effect as products. We have more than 70 designers working for us in total, based in our Seoul headquarters.  As with our production setup, it means we can very quickly respond to demands from our customers within a week, to help them respond to challenges and requests from theirs.”

Steady growth

A key factor in the ongoing development of technically advanced materials is that the model that fundamentally underpins the market has changed significantly over the last decade. Once mega manufacturers would produce huge runs of a single product and then warehouse it to achieve the best economies of scale, safe in the knowledge that it would remain relevant for several years. Today fashions and demands from the market change so rapidly that manufacturers such as LG Hausys have had to adapt to producing a far greater range of products, in much shorter runs, and with the ability to produce them almost ‘on demand’. Its range of self-adhesive products spans signage vinyl, digital print media, window graphics, vehicle wrapping colour change films, and speciality decorative products in this latter area. The company also advises that LG Chem has developed a range of grey, clear, and black adhesives that allows for permanent, repositionable, and removable applications, as well as advanced products that feature air-release channels for premium vehicle wraps on tight turnarounds.

 Lim Yun Cheng, the deputy general manager for LG Hausys’s overseas sign and graphics business team says it has developed a range of products that are designed to provide high levels of flexibility and ease of application on both standard projects and those that involve tight curves, difficult shapes, and low energy surfaces (before)

“Our expansion approach has been based on the principal of choosing only the best dealers in each country we operate in, which undergo a stringent checking process. We strictly reject a strategy where some competitors create as many partnerships as possible in pursuit of quick sales,” continues LP, adding: “Our goal is to establish the LG Hausys brand through slow but steady promotions that can be trusted. We also make sure our in-country partners will not disrupt each other’s trading activities and protect their interests.”

We strictly reject a strategy where some competitors create as many partnerships as possible in pursuit of quick sales

UK ambitions

Our own little island remains a global superpower, and although much reduced since the days of empire, it still holds a prime place at the world’s top table when it comes to economic clout. As such, it consumes vast amounts of graphics materials to supply the huge annual cycle of seasonal retail promotions, brand development, and a huge trend towards the personalisation of everything, from iPhones to Lamborghinis. The other factor is that UK consumers and businesses are among the most discerning and demanding in the world. Indeed, even my local Chicken Cottage has wall graphics in it that are of a quality that would be happily used by the world’s leading design studios. All of this puts huge pressure on the developers of graphics materials to produce solutions that are of the highest specification.

(after) One of LG?Hausys’ flagship developments is Premium Art Cast, which claims to allow for very high levels of glossiness, resistance to chemical attack from pollution and grime, water repellence, and scratch resistance—used here to transform a standard BMW 3 Series into a sporty racer

LP continues: “Ultimately we would like to become the most trustworthy sign and graphics brand in the UK, not in terms of volume, but in regards to quality and brand value. This is part of our global Group’s philosophy, and the UK is a model country for LG to introduce our latest products and innovations.

“To this end we are focussing on conveying our message through a range of mediums and becoming a valued member of the UK sign-making community. We are also considering exhibiting at Sign and Digital UK on a regular basis. A special focus for us will be colour change and speciality vehicle wrapping films, for example our DPM and Premium Art Cast products, as this is one of the most technically challenging areas of the market and so really plays to our strengths.”

As a key example of one of the emerging players on a global scale in sign and graphics technology development, if LG Hausys’ ambition is anything to go by, then it certainly will mean more choice and a better deal for sign-makers.


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