Sabic adds PP compounding to MS site, sees auto opportunities for Stamax long-glass-fiber composites

Sabic Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, MA) is adding polypropylene (PP) compounding to its Bay St. Louis, MS site, including planned production of its Stamax long-glass-fiber-reinforced PP composites, with an eye on the automotive market. Speaking from the company's Wixom, MI technology center, which houses its Exatec polycarbonate (PC) glazing operation, Sabic officials noted that the combination of Sabic Innovative Plastics engineering thermoplastics portfolio, with the specialty polypropylene (PP) the company added through its acquisition from DSM in 2002, gives it a materials range that covers 60% of the plastics currently used in automotive.

"We see automotive as an important market for Sabic going forward," stated Greg Adams, VP of Sabic Innovative Plastics' Automotive unit. "But I think we see it both for basic materials, whether it be PP or trim type activities, or the work we're doing to continue to expand engineering materials."

Greg Adams, VP SABIC Innovative Plastics, Automotive
Greg Adams, VP Sabic Innovative Plastics, automotive unit.

For the new PP capacity, the company will convert existing compounding lines at the Bay St. Louis operation, which originally supported Sabic's acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) business, to run glass, mineral, and long-glass fiber PP compounds. Leon Jacobs, PP global business director, Sabic Innovative Plastics, noted that PP compounds have established strongholds in a number of applications, including bumper fascias, instrument panels (IPs), door panels, and interior trim, among others. Jacobs said that market demand for Stamax composites is growing due to its combination of strength, dimensional stability, and high flow for thin-wall structural parts, seeing adoption in front-end modules, IP carriers, door modules, tailgates, and seating systems. "With the investment here in the U.S.," Jacobs said, "Sabic is expressing its commitment to the automotive industry to combine lightweight, high-performance materials."

Jacobs said localized production also serves a growing industry trend towards global platforms for automotive OEMs, where Sabic's customers desire uniform materials produced to global specifications regardless of where they're sourced. Jacobs said the new capabilities in Mississippi would be mechanically complete by the fourth quarter, with a range of PP compounds available at the start of 2011. The proprietary Stamax production process for long glass fiber PP composites, which is described as wire coating, is slated to come online in the third quarter of 2011.

The company has been supplying the North American market with Stamax since September 2008 through an acquisition. On April 17, 2009, it purchased the RheMax product line from RheTech Inc. (Whitmore Lake, MI). Under the agreement's terms, RheTech has acted as the toll manufacturer of Stamax in North America.

Originally a joint development in the Netherlands of DSM and Owens Corning, Stamax has greater penetration in the European market, where it's been available since the early 2000's. Jacobs estimated a European market penetration of almost 25% for the long-glass-fiber PP technology, with more than 40 commercial front-end modules there. In the U.S., he said the company has a few applications in the market, which is growing quickly, but most of the work is still in the project phase.

As reported here, last July, Sabic Innovative Plastics in Europe announced plans to open a new compounding site in Genk, Belgium, with 140,000 tonnes/year of capacity for PP and long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (LFT) compounds.—[email protected]

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