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January 1, 2008

10 Min Read
First Look: Industry News and Analysis

Solvay sells PP compounding business to Basell

Polyolefins supplier Basell (Hoofddorp, Netherlands) reinforced its North American polypropylene (PP) compounding presence with the acquisition of Solvay Engineered Polymers (SEP; Mansfield, TX), a division of The Solvay Group (Brussels, Belgium), which has shifted its plastics emphasis towards its Advanced Polymers unit and high-performance materials. According to Solvay, SEP’s annual sales make up less than 2% of the turnover for the entire group, which, through the first nine months of 2007, was euro 7.206 billion.

In 2001, SEP sold its PP production capabilities, so that for the last six years it focused solely on compounding PP in Mansfield and Grand Prairie, TX. It also has an automotive applications center in Auburn Hills, MI, and sales offices in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and China. SEP’s material portfolio includes grades for injection molding, thermoforming, and sheet and profile extrusion.

Basell has North American polyolefin production in Jackson, TN, with base polymer production in Lake Charles, LA and Bayport, TX. On Nov. 20, Basell and Lyondell shareholders voted to accept a merger of the polymer and chemical giant, which was proposed initially on July 16. The new business will be called LyondellBasell Industries.

GLS’ materials see use in a broad range of products.

TPE/TPV moves: PolyOne buys GLS, and Santoprene expands

Compounding power PolyOne (Cleveland, OH) acquired specialty thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) supplier GLS Corp. (McHenry, IL). Terms of the deal between the publicly traded PolyOne and privately owned GLS were not disclosed, but a release stated that GLS generates approximate annual sales of $130 million and has posted double-digit revenue growth in each of the last 10 years. GLS, which has 200 employees, supplies five standard TPE product lines from McHenry and a Suzhou, China facility that opened in 2006. GLS recently launched a new family of TPEs based on Dow Chemical’s Infuse olefin block copolymers (OBC) and also partners with Kraton Polymers and BASF on alloys.

In addition to purging compounds, colorants, and additives for TPEs, PolyOne has existing TPE capacity and formerly had a presence in thermoset elastomers, but sold it to an investor group led by Lion Chemical Capital LLC and ACI Capital Co. Inc., which subsequently changed the name to Excel Polymers. Following a string of divestments—the most recent being the July 6 sale of its 24% interest in Oxy Vinyls LP to Occidental Chemical Corp.—the GLS deal marks PolyOne’s first acquisition since its restructuring began. PolyOne had 2006 revenues of $2.6 billion.

Meanwhile, in order to support the company’s growing base of customers in China, ExxonMobil Chemical’s Santoprene business now sells a full portfolio of thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPV) in Renminbi, the Chinese currency. Materials warehoused in China are supplied from ExxonMobil’s production sites in Baton Rouge, La.; Notre Dame de Gravenchon, France; Cologne, Germany; Newport, Wales; and Pensacola, FL.

In addition, ExxonMobil announced it would build a second major petrochemical complex in Singapore, including a 300,000-tons/yr specialty elastomers unit.

Pictured after the order are (l to r) Dietmar Straub (CEO KraussMaffei), K.S. Lee (director of IL Kwang’s advanced R&D center), and Manfred Reichel (a KM director and leader of its extruder business).

Equipolymer expands European PET presence

Swiss supplier Equipolymer will increase the capacity of its Ottana, Italy polyethylene terephthalate (PET) production site by 150,000 tonnes/yr to 485,000 tonnes. With that new capacity, Equipolymer, a joint venture formed in 2004 between Dow Chemical and the Kuwait Petroleum Corp., will become the largest PET supplier in Europe.

In addition to Italy, Equipolymer has manufacturing in Schkopau, Germany, with company headquarters in Horgen, Switzerland. The Ottana operation, which is located on the island of Sardinia, is the company’s third PET production facility site. In Germany, the company’s facilities have annual capacities of 160,000 and 175,000 tonnes.

The current leading European supplier of PET, Spanish supplier La Seda de Barcelona, earlier this summer acquired the European PET bottle blowmolding and preform molding operations of Australian packaging group Amcor Ltd. for €425 million.

KM nails first SkinForm sale

Plastics processing machinery manufacturer KraussMaffei (Munich, Germany) announced in late November that, during October’s K show, Korean automotive components supplier IL Kwang ordered what will be the first SkinForm processing cell for commercial parts.

IL Kwang supplies the Hyundai/Kia Group. The SkinForm system supplied to it will include an inline compounding extruder, a KM 2300-14000 spin-platen injection molding machine, the patented SkinForm process, and two KraussMaffei robots.

Interior trim components with soft-touch surfaces will be processed. Thermoplastic substrates are first injection molded, using material compounded inline, and then PUR mixing heads affixed to the mold cover defined areas of the substrate with abrasion-proof, soft-touch surfaces. Processors can vary the size, thickness, and tactility of the coating in different areas as part of the same process, and without changing machine settings. The skin’s color can be changed from shot to shot.

Matrix builds blowmolding site

Matrix Packaging is opening a new extrusion blowmolding operation in St. Louis, MO for processing of household chemical and personal care bottles. Matrix, a division of packaging firm Sonoco (Hartsville, SC), reports the 150,000-ft² facility initially will house six extrusion blowmolding machines and employ 75 workers. Matrix also plans to add three new blowmolding machines to sites in Canada, Los Angeles, and Jefferson City, MO before the end of the year.

Earlier this summer, Sonoco paid $210 million cash to purchase Matrix Packaging Inc. (Mississauga, ON; MPW First Look, July 2007). Matrix operates six facilities between the U.S. and Canada, employing 860, and in addition to extrusion blowmolding, it performs injection stretch blowmolding and injection molding.

Songwon’s Dieter Morath and Irina Pavlova, MD of BPC Chemical Technologies, which will distribute Songwon’s additives in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus and CIS countries. The supplier plans further expansion of its reach.

Songwon plans European expansion

With plans in place to create a worldscale European facility in 2008, Korean additives supplier Songwon (Ulsan) and German compounder W. Zink GmbH (Jettingen-Scheppach) announced a cooperative arrangement for one-pack systems (OPS). Songwon supplies antioxidants, light stabilizers, UV absorbers, heat stabilizers, plasticizers, lubricants, surface coatings, and other chemicals.

In September 2006, Songwon announced it would begin direct marketing of its additives to customers outside of Asia; previously it relied on Clariant to distribute its materials ex-Asia. Since then the company opened Songwon International-India (Mumbai) in August 2007, as well as a European headquarters in Frauenfeld, Switzerland and U.S. headquarters in Houston, TX. In addition, the company added a second antioxidant production facility and extended its product range.

Azdel sold to Korea’s Hanwha

Hanwha Living & Creative (L&C) Corp. (Seoul), a diversified Korean supplier of building products, PVC compounds, plastic sheet/film, and other B&C-related products, has acquired Lynchburg, VA-based Azdel Inc. Terms were not disclosed. Azdel was a 50/50 joint venture of plastics supplier GE Plastics (now Sabic Innovative Plastics) and glass-fiber supplier PPG Industries. Both founders have agreed to long-term supply agreements for Azdel, which makes semifinished composites that can be, for example, thermoformed for use on trains, planes, or automobiles.

Azdel’s products will continue to be marketed using the Azdel brand. In addition to its long-term agreement to supply thermoplastics to Azdel, Sabic IP also will work with Azdel on R&D.

Johnson Controls buys former Visteon site

Tier One automotive supplier Johnson Controls will purchase Ford Motor Co.’s Saline, MI injection molding site. The 1.6-million-ft² operation had been rolled into Ford’s Automotive Components Holdings (ACH) interiors business, which was used to collect together operations that former Ford business Visteon had divested. In 2005, the companies signed a definitive agreement that shifted approximately 24 North American facilities from Visteon to an entity managed by Ford.

The plastics processing site that Johnson Controls will buy has a product mix that includes instrument panels, full cockpits, door panels, door trim, and consoles.

The deal will close if a new collective bargaining agreement between Johnson Controls and the United Auto Workers can be reached. From the original 24 sites, ACH now has 11 plants and employs approximately 11,000 hourly and salaried employees.

Toyota leads with thermoformable thermoset foam

Japanese carmaker Toyota Motor Corp. is the first in that country to specify Basotect TG thermoformable thermoset foam for use in a Japanese-made car, according to BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany), the supplier of the material, which was introduced in 2006. Toyota is using the material for the engine hood covers in its Lexus LS series cars.

Basotect TG can be formed under heat and eliminates the previous step required to process this material, which required impregnation with adhesives, pressing, and then drying in order to form complex automotive parts. This foam, based on melamine, is lightweight (with a density of about 9 kg/m3), flame-resistant and sound absorbent, and can be employed at temperatures up to 200°C (392°F).

Site helps processors link to datasheets

Plastic materials information manager IDES (Laramie, WY) now offers processors and others a tool to add links to technical plastic material datasheets from their websites. IDES updates its Prospector database of 70,500 plastic material datasheets weekly.

IDES says adding links to summary datasheets is easy to do, allowing website owners to copy and paste code from the IDES website onto their site. The html code and a short demonstration video are available on the IDES website at: http://www.ides.com/search.

Clariant growing Latin America presence

Clariant Masterbatches (Muttenz, Switzerland) acquired the product inventory, equipment, and business portfolio of Columbian masterbatcher MasterAndino and will continue manufacturing at the existing MasterAndino plant until early in 2008, when both operations will be merged in a newly constructed Clariant Masterbatches facility in Cota, on the outskirts of Bogotá.

Earlier this year, Clariant purchased PlastiColor S.A., a producer of color masterbatches in Guatemala City, Guatemala. In Chile, a greenfield plant opened in December 2006 in Maipú, near Santiago. In Brazil, Clariant Masterbatches expanded capacity at its site in Suzano, just east of the city of São Paulo. Three new masterbatch lines are being installed along with an automated materials handling system.

In Brief

Chemson ups U.S Ca/Zn

Austrian PVC stabilizer supplier Chemson is expanding its capacity of calcium/zinc one-pack stabilizers at its Philadelphia site in the U.S., responding to what it says is growing demand for these. Tin stabilizers remain the standard for PVC in North America. Elsewhere, Ca/Zn or other non-lead alternatives are steadily replacing lead stabilizers.

Argotec doubles space

Film extruder Argotec Inc. (Greenfield, MA) will more than double its 56,000 ft² of manufacturing space with the purchase of a 60,000-ft² building located nearby. The company extrudes optical, medical, and weatherable films from two sites in Greenfield.

Gulf eyes ME BOPP

BOPP film processor Gulf Packaging Industries is expanding to meet Middle Eastern and export demand for the web, adding a 5-layer, 25,000-tonnes/yr line at its site in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. A 32,000-tonnes/yr biax line will be added next year.

Husky’s banner 2007

Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. (Bolton, ON) reports orders for preform molds and molding systems increased more than 13% in FY07 and were the highest in company history. “PET still accounts for only one-third of all beverage packaging, so there is room for more growth,” said Jeffrey MacDonald, Husky’s VP beverage packaging.

[ On the record ]

“The euro is a nightmare.”

Robert Knaster, director of U.S. sales for Italian injection molding machine maker NPM Plastic Metal Gambellera.

“The U.S. market (for biaxial orientation equipment) is a continuing good market, but only for some specialty biax films and not commodities, while Russian demand has declined over the years due to saturation. China remains the real growth area.”

Ludwig Eckart, COO sales/project

management, at German tenter-frame builder Brückner Maschinenbau.

"While orders amounting to around €7 million were placed during K 2004, this time we can look back on an order volume of some €16 million from (K 2007)." Gerhard Wendelin, CEO and managing partner of Austrian recycling equipment maker Erema.

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