Market Focus: Home Products/Appliances

October 02, 1998

Although not as glamorous as the Chrysler Concept Car Vehicle (CCV), the material and technology that makes that car possible may soon be headed to a washing machine near you. That, at least, is the hope of Kevin Beck, appliance and electrical sales manager at Ticona. For large panel applications in dishwashers and washing machines, Beck would like to help molders serving the appliance market make the leap to structure (see December 1997 IMM). "Typically the plastic part on appliances is ornamental, but not structural," he says. "We're looking to make those panels structural and ornamental." Such a conversion, he says, entails molding large, durable, easy-to-assemble panels that would eliminate the priming, painting, and assembly that current metal-based machines require.

Overall, Beck says, plastic in and on appliances is inching closer and closer to heat sources. Aesthetically this means designers and molders must cope with color stability. This is especially true with ever-popular white products, where yellowing under heat stress is a cosmetic nightmare. Beck says Ticona is coping with this problem by blending materials. A new alloy he's offering combines the aesthetics of PBT with the color stability and heat endurance of PET. "Temperature, structure, and toughness are putting pressure on traditional materials," he says. "That's why a lot of us are looking at blends and alloys."

A similar blend has been concocted at GE Plastics. Jeff Pembroke, industry manager for appliances at GE, says his company has introduced a color-stable Valox, also a PBT/PET. GE has also enjoyed success with a color-stable polyester for use with small appliances that is now making the transition to range applications.

According to Beck's research, the major appliance industry in the U.S. is growing at about 3 percent annually. "Because of that, most customers are looking at material costs to get a larger market share," he says.

Part redesign and metal replacement also provide good opportunity for growth. Internally he sees opportunities in gears, transmissions, housings, pulleys, wash basins, dishwasher racks, and agitators. Other growth areas include gas assist (see December 1997 IMM) and high-flow, low-viscosity materials for large parts.

Polypropylene dominance is no surprise here. What sets this market apart from others served by molders is the moderate use of a variety of materials that fall into the "other" category. It includes smatterings of PBT, PC/ABS, PET, PPO, Santoprene, a variety of TPEs, and SAN. In the next few years, look for engineering materials to play a more dominant role. Data is courtesy of the Plastic Buyer Profiles database from Phillip Townsend & Assoc. (Houston).

From what he's seen, Pembroke thinks the appliance market has done most of its metal replacement already. "There's still metal there, but all the easy stuff has been done," he says. "Still, there's probably more than 100 million lb of metal in this market," although much is on nuts, bolts, brackets, and supports. Growth, he says, will most likely come from penetration and new material technology. "Plastics have had good penetration in appliances, but it's not always been engineering resins," he says. Molders might look for opportunities to use engineering resin to enhance products and reduce piece-part costs.

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