But it is about more than the looks - it has made a world of difference for the 40-year-old entrepreneur.
Founder of a small Chinese company that makes semi-finished composite sheets and customized parts for sporting equipment, Niu has been looking for a simple and efficient way to purchase continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) composites, which he further processes into semi-finished goods. He didn’t have many options though. Distributors? Lack of transparency and consistency. Buying directly from manufacturers? A company of his size - less than 20 people - is at the long tail end of the distribution scale so he can‘t always get what he needs.
“A small company like us relies all the more on speed and agility to serve our customers. Being able to purchase directly from leading manufacturers like Covestro on an online channel at flexible quantities means a lot to our success in the market,” says Niu.
In a country where digitalization and e-commerce are changing virtually every aspect of consumers’ lives, it’s not completely surprising for material suppliers to ride the digital wave. However, selling advanced composites online raises many question marks. Unlike commodity polymers, the value chain for composites, in particular thermoplastics, still has some gaps. Can an online platform with a reliable supply of materials help fill in some of those gaps? Do the molders and processors on the 1688 platform have the capability to take thermoplastics to the downstream?