MuCell Extrusion is finally coming into its own as an in-demand technology for producing extruded plastic products. For the first time in the company's history, the sale of plastic extrusion products made using MuCell Extrusion technology has exceeded $100 million in sales over a 12-month period, according to Mark Lindenfelzer, president of MuCell Extrusion.
"We measure our success based on the success of our licensee customers in generating top line sales of products using our microcellular physical foaming technology," said Lindenfelzer. "We have been closely tracking our progress toward the goal of $100 million in annual sales by our customers for several years now. A surge in sales of blowmolded automotive ductwork by our customer Kyoraku in Japan, combined with growth in the packaging industry, really pushed us over the top as we wrapped up the first half of 2014."
MuCell Extrusion first achieved the milestone of $10 million in annual sales of products made using its technology in 2009. The rapid acceleration of MuCell Extrusion technology to achieve this 10-fold increase in only five years has come across many processes and applications around the globe.
Eric Fredrickson, MuCell Extrusion's new commercial director, explained to PlasticsToday that in the early years of MuCell Extrusion technology, very little of the company's business was packaging. "Going forward, we're seeing the packaging piece of the business exploding in growth," Fredrickson said. "We project that volume will increase exponentially in the future on the packaging market."
|The MuCell Technology for Extrusion Blow Moulding (EBM) was created in close collaboration with packaging supplier ALPLA and MuCell Extrusion.|
Unilever has been a big contributor to the success of MuCell's entrance into the packaging market. "We're succeeding simultaneously in three areas," stated Fredrickson, "which include blowmolded bottle applications with Unilever, extruded sheet for the thermoformed products with Coveris and thin films with Mondi."
What's different from the applications MuCell Extrusion had been involved with in the past is that today the company can more quickly translate its technology to other customers. "That means not having to do as much R&D to satisfy each new customer in the packaging market," Fredrickson said.
According to Lindenfelzer, many of the company's largest customers want to keep the MuCell technology a proprietary secret. "They will not publically disclose the use of MuCell technology in achieving the type of cost savings and increased product performance that gives them a competitive advantage in their markets," he said. "However, we are proud to be a well-kept secret of these successful businesses."
But as the technology is coming into the light, particularly in the packaging industry, the secret is getting out. In fact, the mainstreaming of MuCell Extrusion has been helped dramatically by Unilever's contract that allowed MuCell Extrusion to take the technology to market after a short period of time, rather than holding it proprietary for many years. "Each customer is unique in terms of how we structure the contracts," explained Fredrickson. "Unilever took a unique approach in wanting to enable us to bring the technology to the market for the greater good and they facilitated that by allowing us to take the technology on to other companies. Unilever put a lot into it, and enabled us to really bring this to the marketplace quicker and reaching the goal of having a bigger impact in the broader marketplace."
Currently 80% of sales of products using MuCell Extrusion technology come from customers outside the packaging market in a wide range of applications including seals and gaskets, automotive ductwork, pipes, wire coating, profiles and tubing, as well as other unconventional applications, including some outside of the plastics industry.
"As our business expands into the packaging market we are seeing a paradigm shift in two ways: applications are more readily translated and more scalable from one market to the next and our customers are more open about the use of our technology as part of their overall corporate sustainability strategies," said Lindenfelzer.
In the packaging industry, agreements with Dow Chemical and Styron for exclusive rights to certain blown film and flat sheet extrusion foaming patents have spear-headed growth in the use of MuCell extrusion technology. Ken customers in this market driving volume growth include Mondi Group (formerly Nordenia) in the blown film market, as well as Coveris (formerly PACCOR), a producer of sheet for form-fill-seal packaging applications. Most recently, Unilever has announced the successful launch of blowmolded Dove Body Wash bottles using MuCell technology. This new wave of packaging applications is further accelerating growth.
At what point will the MuCell Extrusion be a mainstream technology? Fredrickson admits that it hasn't been an overnight success. "But it's starting to bear fruit in large part because we're able to implement it on a customer-by-customer basis to duplicate the technology much more quickly," he said. "While each application is unique and we're not the only ones with a solution to reduce costs so it's an application-by-application basis but we see it becoming mainstream fairly quickly. With the dual benefits of lightweighting packaging while improving package performance at the same time, we feel that MuCell Extrusion's success will be ongoing far into the future."