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Foreign Exhibitors See NPE As The Place To Be

It’s too early to predict what attendance will be at the NPE, June 23-27 in Chicago, but the show will feature its highest number of foreign exhibitors and may set a new exhibitor record. At press time (mid-May), a spokesman said that of 1908 registered exhibitors, 575 — or 30% — were from outside the U.S. At NPE2000, 495 exhibitors — 24.5% of the total — were foreign.

The increase in foreign exhibitors continues a trend toward greater offshore participation in NPE that has been evident since the mid-1990s. One area in which this will be apparent is multi-exhibitor country pavilions. This year, 15 pavilions totaling 35,000 ft2 of space are registered. Three years ago, there were six that took 19,300 ft2.

NPE2000 drew a record 2014 exhibitors. As of mid-May, the show needed just 17 more to exceed that number. The figures are heartening considering the severe recession that has bedeviled much of the global plastics industry for the past three years. They also follow a trend of exhibitor growth: In 1994, NPE attracted 1250 exhibitors; in 1997, the number was 1726.

Many observers are cautiously optimistic that a good NPE will provide the boost necessary to lift the industry out of its protracted slump.

SARS epidemic takes its toll on industry business

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (sars) epidemic has had a disruptive effect on business in Asia and elsewhere around the world. As reduced business travel and other transportation-related cutbacks slow manufacturing exports, Manila, Philippines-based Asian Development Bank, in its Outlook 2003 report, predicts sars’s economic impact in Asia will increase dramatically.

sars was on the minds of many attendees at the Plast exhibition in Milan in early May. Giovanni Morandi, sales manager of Monza, Italy-based blow molding and thermoforming machine maker Meico, said only one of the company’s customers in Asia made the trip to Italy. Equipment suppliers report they are reducing sales and service calls until the situation in Asia stabilizes.

With buyers reluctant to travel to Asia to source products for this year’s holiday season, processors — particularly those in China — could be facing a slump in demand. Producers of high-value products that utilize plastics components, such as consumer electronics like cell phones and personal digital assistants, may also encounter logistics issues as regional airlines have considerably tightened available freight capacity.

Slumping consumer demand in China will also have an impact. Andy Drake, managing director at consultant GfK Asia, in Singapore, says, “It is extremely difficult to assess how great the impact will be on retailing [in the affected countries]. However, the early evidence is that the impact in sales is very deep, as consumer anxiety means large numbers of potential buyers withdraw from the market.”

Drake says in Hong Kong, the year-on-year sales value of desktop computers fell 37% in March, and demand for portable computers dropped 22%. At the same time, products such as mobile phones and video camcorders saw sharp falls of 16% and 31%, respectively. In China, Drake says, “Our weekly tracking service on mobile phones showed a 30% decrease in demand in Guangzhou City” for the four-week period ending April 13 versus the preceding six-week period.

Iran would be a giant in European resin supply

National Petrochemical Co. of Tehran, whose products are mostly polyolefins with some engineering resins, will go it alone in marketing its huge output, which in two years is expected to top 5 million tonnes (11 billion lb)/yr. The company intends to sell up to 20% of production in Europe by 2005. NPC now exports 4% of its polymer to Europe.

There was speculation that the company would hook up with a Western polymer producer to sell and distribute Iranian polymer in Asia, Europe, and Africa. M. Ehtiati, chairman and managing director of the Iran Petrochemical Commercial Co., the marketing arm of NPC, told modern plastics at last month’s Plast show in Milan, that his company sees better prospects of success on its own. “We have been contacted by any number of international [resin] producers wanting to form ventures, but we believe we have better possibilities going a different route.”

The company plans to establish 20 sales and service offices in Europe this year, as well as five bonded warehouses for its material — two in Europe and three in Africa. IPCC is negotiating with distributors to market polymer grades in the three regions. These should be selected by the end of the year, he says.

EXTRUSION

Battenfeld Gloucester in partnership for coating, laminating machinery

Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering and Polytype Converting Ltd. Machinery have formed a partnership to provide extrusion coating and laminating machinery marketed under the brand name Polycoat. Battenfeld Gloucester, Gloucester, ma, is a division of SMS Plastics Technology, whose products include blown film and cast film and sheet systems, winders, dies, bag-making and coating lines. Polytype, in Fribourg, Switzerland, builds coating and laminating systems, among other products.

Machinery will be built at Polytype’s plant in Fribourg or at Battenfeld’s plant in Gloucester. Sales will be conducted through Fribourg and Gloucester, as well as SMS Folientechnik in Vienna, and Battenfeld Chen Extrusion Systems in Guangdong, China. One unit has been shipped, to converter Douglas-Hanson Co., in Hammond, wi.

Amut eyes North American presence by 2004

Extrusion and thermoforming equipment maker Amut, in Novara, Italy, plans to establish North American-based sales, service, and spare parts sourcing by next year. President Piergianni Milani says it recognizes the need to have operations closer to U.S. and Canadian customers in order to expand in the North American market. The operation would probably be located in Toronto, on, Canada, where the company’s owner-partner, The Royal Group, a large profile processor, is based.

Rapra Technology starts research to lower U-PVC production costs

In April, Rapra Technology, Shawbury, England, began research aimed at lowering the cost of unplasticized pvc compounding and extrusion of solid u-pvc profiles. The $900,000 project, to run 12 months, will study the use of liquid carbon dioxide to reduce processing temperatures and thus energy costs.

The program will develop prototype CO2 injection equipment that can be fitted onto conventional compounding and profile extrusion machinery. Investors include The Carbon Trust, an energy-conservation group, pvc supplier Hydro Polymers, Rapra, and processor Telford Extrusions. Trials will be done on machinery at Hydro Polymers and Telford Extrusions. Patent applications for the liquid CO2 technology have been submitted.

Deceuninck acquires Thyssen Polymer

Deceuninck, Hooglede-Gits, Belgium, reputedly the world’s third-largest processor of pvc building profiles, acquired Thyssen Polymer, Bergen, Germany, the extrusion business of ThyssenKrupp, for about _118 million (_40 million for the business, plus debt).

The purchase came on the heels of an announcement by German energy concern RAG that it would sell its plastics business unit, which includes Europe’s largest building-profile processor, HT Troplast. As of early May, no buyer had appeared.

According to Deceuninck, which had 2002 sales of _362.2 million, Thyssen Polymer is the fifth-largest plastics building-profile processor in Europe and in the U.S., though market analyst AMI, Bristol, England, ranks it seventh in Europe.

It has a capacity of 86,000 tonnes/yr, and 2002 sales were _186 million. The firm has plants in Bogen and in Oakland, nj, and Little Rock, ar, where it operates as Vinyl Building Products Inc., as well as in Bangkok, Thailand, and Wroclaw, Poland.

PACKAGING

German food retailers pick up on endless bar coding

Germany’s leading food stores, Lidl and Aldi, are driving a transition from small bar codes printed on the top side of most film packaging, to endless bar codes that extend the full width of packaging, according to Martin Berlekamp, product manager for specialty films at the food division of processor Klöckner Pentaplast, Montabaur, Germany.

Endless bar codes, which are about 2 cm wide, enable store cashiers to price-scan packaging more quickly as they do not have to turn items over to orient the bar code to scanners. Bottom-read scanners are used.

Berlekamp says Lidl has already ordered its film suppliers to make the transition, as has Aldi Sud (South). The northern Aldi chain has not yet implemented the change in all stores. He says the bar codes are added in secondary printing processes, either rotogravure or flexographic.

At the Anuga food manufacturing technology exhibition in Cologne, Germany, Berlekamp highlighted other developments at Klöckner Pentaplast, including work on films that change colors under changes in temperature or other conditions. The processor is developing additives to achieve such color changes, working with an undisclosed pe film processor. The color-changing pe film is laminated onto another film.

China approves sack for cement

A polyolefin sack that costs four-fifths of paper packaging and is a drop-in replacement on paper bag-packaging equipment has been approved by the Chinese National Building Material Industry Center for Cement Bag Quality Supervision. According to Don Pansier, president of Amplas Inc., Green Bay, wi, which developed the Dry-Sak bag (Mar mp, 38; mpi, 30), it is the only plastics bag to be approved for use in China.

The sack is weather-resistant and provides between 5 to 10 times greater strength and puncture resistance than paper sacks, says Pansier. The monolayer structures use a 2- to 4-component polyolefin blend based on an ethylene-hexene copolymer from ExxonMobil Chemical, Houston, tx. Polyethylene sacks previously proved unstable for hot-fill applications such as cement.

RECYCLING

Lawmakers ponder plastics as energy

The director general of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME), Brussels, says politicians are focusing more on plastics’ benefits than the waste they produce. Nancy Russotto, who spoke at the Identiplast recycling conference in Brussels last month, noted that European lawmakers are now more willing to consider waste plastics as a viable energy source, a change from previous European Commission commentary which hinted that incineration eventually would be eliminated as an option for plastics refuse.

Lawmakers in Europe and elsewhere must understand there are limits to how much plastics scrap can be recycled at economic levels, noted many conference participants. Cathy Cirko, director general of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association’s environmental and plastics industry council, said there will always be some level of unrecyclable scrap, and solutions like energy creation should be considered.

Limiting the amount of plastics landfilled or incinerated is the goal of Michael Biddle, ceo of MBA Polymers, Richmond, ca. His firm has developed separation technologies to remove plastics from mixed waste and separate plastics types from each other. Although there is no legislative pressure yet, he says, “Manufacturers in the U.S. are very interested in increasing the use of green (recycled) plastics” to improve their economics, but also their image, and in anticipation of legislation.

RESINS/COMPOUNDS

Taiwan firm launches PBT plant

Shinkong Synthetic Fibres Co., Kuan Yin, Taiwan, has started up a polybutylene terephthalate plant with a nameplate capacity of 42,000 tonnes/yr. Resin is produced via a new two-reactor, continuous polymerization technology.

The technology yields material with intrinsic-viscosity levels of 0.85 to 1.2 without a solid-state post-condensation stage. Some pbt will be used for in-house production, while the remainder of production will be compounded and sold.

Rhodia opens nylon compounding plant in South Korea

Polyamide supplier Rhodia Engineering Plastics, Lyon, France, opened a $16 million compounding plant at its site in Osan, South Korea, raising compounding capacity there by 20%, to 36,000 tonnes/yr. The plant can produce Technyl nylon 6 and 66 grades, plus Technyl Star grades, in addition to nylon/abs blends.

The facility is Rhodia’s second in South Korea. Rhodia Polyamide was established in January 1999, when Rhodia acquired the engineering plastics business of the Hyosung Group, which included a 23,000-tonne/yr plant in Anyang, near Seoul.

Vincent Kamel, Asia director for Rhodia Engineering Plastics, in Seoul, says the Osan plant is positioned to serve the Japanese market in addition to Korea. “We have to gain access to customers in Japan in order to secure business from them in the rest of Asia,” he says. “Infrastructure is in place to increase capacity by 50% with minimal additional investment,” he adds. Rhodia claims a 37% share of the 45,000-tonne South Korean nylon market.

Next year, Rhodia will start construction of a world-scale nylon plant to serve the Chinese market, but no details were revealed.

BASF completes nylons swap with Honeywell

ASF AG last month completed its takeover of the engineering plastics business of Honeywell Intl., Morris Township, nj, and transferred its nylon fibers business to Honeywell. The deals take BASF out of the fibers market and considerably strengthen its plastics business, particularly in North America. Honeywell was the leading U.S. supplier of nylon 6.

The sale does not include Honeywell’s Aegis nylon barrier resins division, which is associated with the company’s films unit, or its reactor-produced nylon-based nanocomposites for barrier films.

Honeywell’s engineering resins business posted sales of around $380 million in 2002. BASF’s nylon fibers business generated about $360 million in sales last year.

Meanwhile, Honeywell says it has agreed to acquire from Seoul-based Kolon, a biaxally-oriented nylon film plant in Dangin, South Korea. Terms were not disclosed.

Degussa to make doped crosslinkable PBT compounds

Polymers and chemicals supplier Degussa, Düsseldorf, Germany, has signed a know-how and license agreement with LPKF Laser & Electronics, Garbsen, Germany, that enables Degussa to make and market doped crosslinkable polybutylene terephthalate compounds. Under the agreement, Degussa has rights to use an undisclosed lds (laser direct structuring) additive and market the doped compounds. Degussa will add the compounds to its range of crosslinkable pbt compounds.

The additive enables component surfaces to be activated with a laser produced and marketed by LPKF, and subsequently metalized. Parts made this way are reflow-solderable and, thus, suitable for electronic devices. High-density circuit artwork can be realized on complex 3-D carrier structures in only three production steps by integrating the previously separate housing and pcb into one component carrier.

LPKF is negotiating with suppliers on licensing of other doped plastics.

COMPOUNDING

Kreyenborg becomes majority owner of pelletizer maker

The Kreyenborg Group, Münster, Germany, has acquired a majority stake of ips Intelligent Pelletizing Solutions GmbH & Co. KG, Großostheim, Germany, for an undisclosed amount. ips makes strand pelletizers and will be integrated as an independent company.

Kreyenborg makes underwater pelletizing systems through its affiliate BKG Bruckmann & Kreyenborg Granuliertechnik GmbH. Kreyenborg also makes melt filters and pumps, diverter valves, and oblique extrusion heads.

ips has 230 systems in place. Gerald Weis, one of ips’ founders, remains managing director.

FOAMED PLASTICS

Sekisui buys another polyolefin supplier

Sekisui Chemical, Osaka, Japan, has acquired a controlling share in South Korean polyolefin foam maker Youngbo Chemical Co., in Daejeon. Details were not disclosed.

The acquisition supports Sekisui’s aim to secure a dominant global position in the 80,000-tonne/yr closed-cell polyolefin foam market. Sekisui acquired a stake in Zotefoams plc, Croydon, England, in April 2002, and last December, gained control of Shanghai Holy Plastics, now called Shanghai Sekisui-Holy Plastics.

With Youngbo’s annual sales of 6000 tonnes, Sekisui says its global market share will increase from close to 35% to over 45%. Sekisui now has 10 production bases in Japan and Asia, the U.S., Europe, and Australia.

Demand for foamed polyolefins in South Korea is estimated at 13,000 tonnes. In China, demand is about 3000 tonnes/yr, but a significant increase is forecast due to more automotive companies moving into the country, China’s inclusion in the WTO, the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, and the 2010 Expo in Shanghai.

POLYURETHANES

Bayer, PolyOne cooperate on a systems house in the U.S.

Bayer Polymers LLC, Pittsburgh, pa, and PolyOne Corp., Cleveland, oh, have formed a 50/50 joint-venture systems house, BayOne Urethane Systems LLC, for the development, production, and marketing of polyurethane systems in North America. It is now in operation with a staff of around 50. The headquarters is in St. Louis, mo.

The move complements those in Europe in recent years by Bayer. Most recent was the 50/50 Büfa joint venture for specialty applications with Büsing and Fasch GmbH & Co. KG, Oldenburg, Germany.

GLASS REINFORCEMENT

Owens Corning, Saint-Gobain to build world-scale furnace

Two of the three largest glass-fiber suppliers, Owens Corning and Saint-Gobain, will form a 50/50 joint venture to build a global-scale furnace for the manufacture of glass fiber used in composites. The fiber will be sold through the firms’ global sales networks. Production is planned for late 2004.

At press time, no details on the location or size of the plant were disclosed. Earlier this year, supplier Johns Manville announced a $100-million investment in its glass-fiber plant in Slovakia, a move it says will propel it from being the fourth-largest supplier in the world to among the top three.

EXHIBITIONS

Plast drew well despite slow economy, SARS

Despite the generally poor state of Europe’s economy and a lower number of attendees from Asia because of travel concerns due to the Severe Acute Respitory Syndrome epidemic, the attendance figure for the Plast exhibition in Milan in early May is expected to top that of the last fair three years ago (70,631), according to show organizers.

Exact figures hadn’t been tallied at press time. But, according to early estimates, about 20% of this year’s visitors were from outside Italy. MP

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