Altana – worldwide market leader for special chemicals from Wesel

Without being aware of it we come across Altana’s products somewhere every day. In metallic automotive paint, mobile phone displays, shavers, all kinds of electric motors, coffee capsules or crown corks, but also in lipstick – Altana’s products are added into all sorts of things. Although the success story of the company in Wesel goes back over 50 years it still needs explaining. In the market segment for special chemicals Altana is a world leader, their heavy duty wire enamel already conquered Mars back in 1997. As part of the Pathfinder Mars-Mission the little Sojourner-Mobil with enamel coating made by Elantas, a division of Altena, was on the move.

A large modern office with the Altana logo can be found on the Abelstrasse in Wesel. Located around it are the manufacturing facilities of the BYK additives division. However you are not reminded of a large chemical industrial park This is because only high quality products are produced in Wesel which are added to paints and other carrier materials in homeopathic tins. Everywhere where manufacturers value, for example, smooth surfaces, good adhesive properties, brilliant shades of colour or certain mechanical properties, the additives of Altana come into play. Often they only have a share of 0.1 to 0.5% of the finished product, but contribute decisively to the quality and appearance. Altana’s products can be found in nearly all paints, printing ink, insulation material and packaging. Customers are not looking for a chemical product, but for a solution to their problem such as blistering or frothing during the manufacturing process. Altana has the ability to continually reinvent itself. Innovation and service are the basis of their success. Six percent of the turnover is invested in research and development, which is considerably more than the average in the chemical industry. More than 6000 people are employed worldwide by Altana, of which 1000 work in laboratories. They are highly specialised, and besides having a knowledge of chemicals, they also have to be au fait with the customers technical application know-how in order to be able to understand their problems and find solutions for them. In 2014 turnover grew by 11 percent to around 2 billion Euros. For many years now Altana has not only been amongst the most innovative but also fastest growing and productive chemical companies worldwide.

Altana, Byk, Additive? Although almost certainly not for the first time, Dr. Matthias L. Wolfgruber, Chairman of the Board of Altana, proudly explains in his friendly manner how it all began. The first to set up was the chemical company Byk-Gulden, forming a subsidiary in Wesel in 1962, now the headquarters of Altana AG and their divisions Byk, Elantas and Actega, including the largest production and research facilities for Byk Additive. Even then Byk-Gulden manufactured additives for the paint industry, and so it was that the company made plans to be near important customers, particularly those based in the Ruhr region and in Wuppertal. The company searched throughout the region, but it was the town of Wesel that reacted promptly and was able to offer a suitable site on the best of terms. So that is how a success story began in the Niederrhein which continues until this day.

The roots of this chemical production reach back to the year 1873, when, during the first years of the German Empire, the chemist Dr. Heinrich Byk in Oranienburg near Berlin established a chemical company. In 1917 the company merged with the Leipziger Farbwerken Paul Gulden & Co. and in 1931 the company Ernst Lomberg – Photochemische Produkte was taken over. Additives that have been developed by this company since 1935 are in part still produced by Byk Additives & Instruments in Wesel.

In 1941 Dr. Günther Quandt became a majority shareholder in Byk-Gulden Lomberg. Quandt is Chairman of the Board of AFA (Akkumulatoren-Fabrik AG), which in 1962 was renamed Varta AG. During the war important documents and formulae were deposited in a vault belonging to the Deutsche Bank in Constance. After the war Byk-Gulden in Constance made a new start. Only then when a branch was formed in 1962 did Wesel come into the picture. In 1977 Varta was divided into three companies, one of which is today’s Altana AG. In 2007 Altana sold its pharmaceutical business and from then on defined itself purely as a special chemicals company with four operational divisions – BYK Additives & Instruments, Eckart Effect Pigments, Elantas Electrical Insulation and Actega Coatings & Sealants.

The onetime conglomerate whose biggest income earner was “Pantoprazol”, a drug to treat stomach disorders, now focuses on developing special chemical solutions for diverse branches of industry, for example: the paint and plastics industry, the electrical and electronic or the graphics industry. In 2010 the main shareholder, Susanne Klatten with her SKion GmbH, took over the company completely. This made Altana a private company after 33 years of being noted on the Stock Exchange. The long-term orientation of the company being thereby once again underpinned.

With its current healthy balance sheet the company makes a good impression. It has hardly any liabilities, allowing it to be flexible and take quick action without being overhasty. 86 percent of the turnover is achieved outside of Germany, since the Altana Group has worldwide 49 manufacturing facilities and 50 service and laboratory locations. Altana invests six percent of its turnover in research and development. Management also take bold and innovative steps, such as when at the end of 2012 all four division managers changed places at the same time, leading to many new ideas and perspectives throughout the group. Over the last ten years in Wesel alone 200 million Euros have been invested in buildings, equipment and laboratories and the location continues to expand. Although the company operates worldwide on a decentralised basis always keeping near to its customers, the heart of Altana beats in Wesel. The newly erected administrative building with its impressive Plaza-Foyer (Architect: Arndt Brüning von Brüning Rein and Partner in Essen) is constantly receiving guest from all over the world. The building can be intensively used and is able to cope with conferences with up to 300 participants. Employees come from all over the region including Munster, the Netherlands, the Niederrhein, Düsseldorf or Essen. The airport in Düsseldorf allows customers all over the world or the other group locations in Europe, Asia and America to be reached quickly.


Altana AG
Abelstraße 43
46483 Wesel

Tel. 0281 670-8
Fax 0281 670-10999