Loranger hits Plasthing from beyond the grave

Trustees serve writ for repayment More than two years after the collapse of U.S.-based automotive component supplier Loranger Manufacturing, shock waves are still being felt around the world. Trustees of the company, which was forced to close in late 2002 after customers led by Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. and Visteon Corp. started involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against it a year earlier, served a writ for repayment of $150,000 at the end of last year from supplier Plasthing Hot Runner Systems Inc. (Mishawaka, IN), which Loranger had paid in early 2001 when it was already insolvent.

Unable to defer payment, and short of cash, Plasthing Inc. itself filed for bankruptcy. Plasthing makes all its hot runners in Turin, Italy, but the U.S. operation was owned through its U.K. arm, Plasthing Ltd., in Penge. That company was already suffering from the downturn in the U.S. and U.K. molding industries. This combined with a weak dollar that had caused it to lose at least one major U.S. order to North American competition; in addition, it lost about $120,000 in a few months on currency exchanges alone. Company owner John Donovan says the closure of Plasthing Inc. "created a €300,000 hole in the Plasthing Ltd. balance sheet." As a result of this and related cash-flow problems, Plasthing Ltd. has been forced to close. At press time, it was not clear if the Italian parent company, Plasthing SrL, would be pulled down by the failure of its subsidiaries. Donovan was talking with its Italian banks and with potential investors.

In Brief

Baton Rouge on line

ExxonMobil Chemical says its 90,000+ tonnes/yr metallocene ethylene elastomer manufacturing facility in Baton Rouge, LA, is on line. The firm will use the site to expand its ethylene elastomer product portfolio, including production of the Vistamaxx specialty elastomers announced by the supplier at NPE 2003. The plant will also serve as the supplier''s global supply point for metallocene ethylene elastomers.

GKV says leave it alone

The German Plastics Processors Assn. (GKV; Frankfurt) is fighting a move by the EU commission to eliminate the quality brand "Made in Germany" with a more general trademark, "Made in the European Union." GKV President Reinhard Proske says goods should indicate their real origin. He says "Made in Germany" products provide the buyer an assurance of quality and safety that might not be achieved in products from other countries, including the 10 new member countries joining the EU next month.

O-I selling assets

Glass and plastics packaging processor Owens-Illinois (O-I; Toledo, OH) is selling assets, possibly to include its entire blowmolding business, to service its debt. Subsidiary ACI Packaging sold its thermoformed and extrusion blowmolded packaging operations in Australia and New Zealand to Visy Industrial Plastics. ACI is keeping its PET bottle blowmolding operations.

Friendly takeover bid

Sumitomo Bakelite (Tokyo) has launched a friendly bid to acquire management control of plastic sheet manufacturer Tsutsunaka Plastics Industry Co. (Osaka) in February. Sumitomo Bakelite currently holds around 27% of Tsutsunaka.

Sony debuts biodegradable DVD player housing

Flame retardant PLA now commercial Sony Corp. and Mitsubishi Plastics Inc. (both Tokyo) have teamed up to develop a flame-retardant polylactic acid (PLA) biodegradable resin claimed to be as strong as ABS. The new material will be used in the front panels of Sony standalone DVD players. The first application will be a DVD player due to be launched in Q3 of this year. The resin employs an aluminum hydroxide flame retardant, is rated UL94 V-2, and complies with the EU''s Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) directive.

A key to successful deployment of the PLA is the ability to process the PLA with a cycle time on par with ABS. Previously, extended cycle times were required in order to crystallize the PLA and impart sufficient heat resistance. Sony says the use of additives and modifications to molding parameters lets it process PLA compound on conventional injection presses in commercially viable cycle times.

Plastic membrane protects World Cup stadium

Fluoropolymer film adopted Asahi Glass Co. (Tokyo) has won an order to supply its Fluon ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer) film as the covering material for Allianz Arena, a 67,000-seat stadium under construction in Munich, Germany, that will host the opening match of the 2006 World Cup. Covertex GmbH (Obing, Germany) will manufacture the membrane covering from Fluon.

When completed in May 2005, the stadium will be the world''s largest structure employing a membrane over a steel frame. Asahi Glass will supply approximately 150,000 sq m of fluoropolymer film for the cover.

DuPont rolls out bioplastic hub cap

DuPont''s aliphatic-aromatic copolymer Biomax has hit the streets of Aichi, Japan, to publicize the 2005 World Exposition that will be hosted by the prefecture.

The material has been employed in the hubcaps of 50 taxis plying the streets of prefecture capital Nagoya. The hubcaps were thermoformed from Biomax sheet by processors Ohtsuka Brothers & Co. (Tokyo).

U.S. Commerce Secretary Evans optimistic at NMW appearance

As four straight years of monthly job losses within manufacturing nears, and as the nascent economic recovery in the United States slowly starts to bear fruit, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans addressed a concerned crowd at the National Manufacturing Week (Feb. 23-26, Chicago, IL).

"I''m optimistic, but I completely understand if you aren''t feeling the same sense of optimism," Evans said. "You''ve been hard hit—there''s no doubt about it—we understand that."

Evans said meetings with U.S. manufacturers last year contributed to a Department of Commerce (DOC) report, now used to guide new manufacturing-friendly policy. It contains more than 50 recommendations from manufacturers themselves.

An advisory Manufacturing Council to President Bush is also being created, and will be filled with industry representatives. Evans said a new Office of Industry Analysis will track important manufacturing trends and work on issues such as tax laws, health-care costs, and R&D funds.

Evans said an Unfair Trade Task Force within the Import Administration will examine market trends and foreign government practices. Evans said the ultimate goal is to assist U.S. manufacturers before they''re irrevocably harmed. The DOC also is forming a Trade Agreement Enforcement Unit to examine unfair trade practices and issues like intellectual property rights.

Additives maker Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Basel, Switzerland) sees future growth coming from Asia rather than traditional European and N. American markets. CEO Armin Meyer says any new capacity expansions will be built in Asia, while debottlenecking of existing facilities in Europe or N. America would be undertaken if necessary. Of its 500 million Swiss franc (CHF) investment in Asia during the last 10 years, a whopping 400 million CHF went to China. Ciba will open its own R&D center later this year in Shanghai, says Hermann F. Angerer, executive VP. However, to guard intellectual property, Ciba plans to concentrate only on parts of new product developments at the center.

Battenfeld cooperates with Chinese extrusion concern

A strategic cooperation agreement between the extrusion division of Battenfeld (Bad Oeynhausen, Germany) and Chinese processor Hebei B&S Group Co. (HBS; Baoding, Hebei Province) will advance their mutual business interests in China, according to company officials. Under the agreement, Battenfeld companies designate HBS as a key account and share with it new designs in extrusion equipment and information on emerging film, pipe, and profile application; provide technical advice on product development; and keep the processor apprised of global trends in polymer consumption and other market data. Battenfeld will also provide regularly scheduled service calls, training, and technical seminars.

HBS, meanwhile, makes the Battenfeld companies preferred vendors for extrusion equipment. The processor will share information with Battenfeld on market trends in China for extruded products, product requirements of its customers, and other market information and technical feedback.

HBS already uses Battenfeld machinery, including blown film and cast polypropylene sheet lines and pipe and profile extrusion lines. HBS figures the agreement could give it a competitive advantage in extrusion technology and product development, while Battenfeld gains greater insight into the product and process needs of China''s growing extrusion business, which will enable it to design more competitive machines for the market, according to Bill Joyce, Battenfeld Gloucester''s director of international business for Asia.

PET turnkey system manufacturer moves into new facility

Kortec Inc. has moved into a new $14 million headquarters in Ipswich, MA, which triples its total space to 110,000 sq ft. The facility has 10 bays to house Kortec''s coinjection molding cells for PET preforms, and the 45-person company is planning on 10 new hires this year.

Demag goes for global branding, opens Russian machine assembly operation

The unification earlier this year of injection machinery brands Van Dorn and Ergotech under the single Demag banner has ended a process begun just over 10 years ago when Strongsville, OH-based Van Dorn Plastic Machinery was bought by Mannesmann Demag, based in Schwaig, Germany. The merger process, not always smooth, accelerated after Bill Carteaux and Helmar Franz took charge of Van Dorn Demag and Demag Ergotech, respectively. The very poor situation of the U.S. injection machine market in recent years has also forced rationalization of the two companies'' machine lines.

Van Dorn Demag Corp. is now Demag Plastics Group Corp. Demag Ergotech has also initiated a process whereby the company and its subsidiaries are renamed Demag Plastics Group.

Demag has also formed an alliance with one of its customers in Russia in which that company, OOO PKF Betar, in Chistopol, will assemble specially-designed machines for the local market, using components from Demag. Franz says these toggle machines, with the Bars model name, are the company''s response to the growing number of low-cost Asian machines being sold in Russia.

The first unit, with a 1500-kN clamp force, was displayed at the Interplastica show in Moscow in February. Other sizes likely will follow. He hopes for sales of around 100 units/yr in the short term.

Demag says it expects to win price-sensitive new customers with the new machine, and to further increase its market share in Russia. Franz puts the total Russian market at around 900 units/yr, of which only 42% are new. Of these, 64% came from Asia and 27% from Europe. Figures for 2003 are expected to show further penetration by Asian suppliers.

Through its Russian subsidiary Mannesmann Demag Plastservice, Demag Plastics Group is long-standing market leader, with sales of around 100 machines/yr. Says chief strategic officer Gerd Liebig. "These Bars machines will not replace our current business . . . we will sell [most] Bars to new customers and sell German products then to the enhanced customer base."

Franz reckons there are around 8000 aging East German Kuasy machines (built where Demag now makes small machines, in Wiehe) still in use in Russia. Sales of new machines in Russia almost quadrupled between 1998 and 2002.

BASF, Toray form JV for PBT production

Toray BASF PBT Resin Sdn. Bhd., a 50-50 joint venture between BASF AG (Ludwigshafen, Germany) and Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo) will build a 60,000 tonnes/yr PBT plant at BASF''s site in Kuantan, Malaysia. The new plant is scheduled to come on stream in 2006. The PBT base resin will be independently marketed by each company under their own trade names—Ultradur (BASF) and Toraycon.

Toray, the first Japanese company to establish a PBT plant outside Japan, will compound the PBT at various locations and plans to expand its global compounding capability. BASF''s portion of the PBT will be mainly used for compounded products with compounding done in Asia, though the supplier also will sell some of its portion directly to the market for extrusion applications.

Ticona increasing PPS capacity

Fortron Industries, a joint venture of Ticona and Kureha Chemicals Industries, plans to increase the capacity of its Fortron PPS plant in Wilmington, NC, by 25% through debottlenecking by the end of 2005. The company has also begun feasibility and conceptual design studies for a new PPS plant to be completed within the next five years.

Ticona does not release capacity figures; in 2001, when it first spoke of increasing PPS capacity, it estimated existing capacity at 7500 tonnes/yr.

Bayer TTC open for all

The Thermoplastics Testing Center (TTC) operated by Bayer Material Science in Krefeld-Uerdingen, Germany, is available to companies involved in compounding, extrusion, and injection molding. Previously Bayer''s technical service laboratory, the TTC offers a one-stop service which, in addition to offering about 200 tests for thermoplastics, also covers the production of granules and test pieces. A complete production line enables the compounding of ABS and its blends, polycarbonates, and industrial thermoplastics in quantities ranging from 1.3 to 100 kg. About 100 injection molds are available for virtually every testing procedure in accordance with ISO, UL, and CAMPUS. Testing is highly automated.

LG Chem develops nanobarrier technology

LG Chem Ltd. (Seoul, South Korea) has developed an engineering plastic compounding technology based on nanotechnology that imparts high gas, solvent, and water barriers to resulting compounds. The firm employs clay nanoparticles and various resin matrices, such as polyolefins and polyamide, in its Hyperier compounds, depending on the application. The compounds are also said to have good heat and impact properties. Target applications include automobile fuel tanks and containers for food, cosmetics, and pesticides.

The first commercial application of Hyperier is in cosmetic containers due on the market in the first half of this year. Moreover, joint research projects with automakers are also in progress. "Our target is to become the leading company in barrier materials by securing 30% of the global market by 2008," says Jong-Man Oh, VP of LG Chem''s Engineering Plastics division.

GE building up resources in Europe

General Electric''s Global Research Center—Europe, in Munich, to open in June, will be dedicated to applications-related research in energy and power, electronics and automation, medical, and automotive (including such areas as lighting, glazing, drive-by-wire, and alternatives to paint decoration). Golnar Motahari Pour, president of GE Advance Materials—Plastics, says the new center will enable the conglomerate to develop applications that combine technologies coming from different business units, such as light-emitting diodes from GE Lighting with high-performance thermoplastics or liquid silicone rubbers from GEAM.

MGC breaks ground on U.S. nylon plant

MGC Advanced Polymers (MAP), based in Chesterfield County, VA, has started construction of a plant in Chesterfield County for the aromatic polyamide nylon MXD6. Completion of the 22-million lb/yr facility is slated for the end of 2004, and commercial operation will start in early 2005. Total investment will be about $18 million. MAP is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co. (Tokyo), with about 30 million lb/year of nylon MXD6 capacity in Japan. The material sees use in automotive parts and food packaging in North America, and increasingly as a gas-barrier material.

COMPOSITE PLASTICS

Genmar spins off VEC technology

Pleasure-boat maker Genmar (Minneapolis, MN) has spun-off its VEC Technology business as a standalone company called VEC Technology LLC. The virtual engineered composites (VEC) technology involves a closed mold with tooling floating in a liquid, and uses heat and pressure to form composite parts with vastly improved surface appearance compared to traditional composites processing methods (August 2003 MP/MPI). VEC is seen as a means for thermoplastics sheet to grab a larger share of the marine, large automotive parts, and bathroom fixtures markets.

The first announced outside investor in VEC LLC is resin and gel coat supplier Interplastic Corp. (St. Paul, MN), which also will be the exclusive supplier of thermoset resins to VEC LLC. Another partner in the venture is Drew Industries (White Plains, NY). Leigh Abrams, Drew president and CEO, says Drew''s Better Bath bathtub thermoforming business, part of the Kinro subsidiary, has sold a joint patent and other intellectual property back to Genmar, which then bundled this in the new business. At the same time, VEC LLC gave Better Bath a license to use VEC technology and also a VEC molding unit for its plant in Arlington, TX. Abrams says the unit is awaiting tooling. Drew has an option to buy into VEC LLC, he says.

Better Bath has been exhibiting bathroom fixtures made using VEC technology at trade shows since NPE in June 2003. "We''ve used it only for shows so far," Abrams says, but this summer Better Bath expects to have products ready for launch. "We see great potential for Better Bath to thermoform new products both for manufactured homes and recreational vehicles, and possibly for other industries."

The firm''s license is royalty-free and exclusive for certain bath products for the manufactured housing, modular housing, and recreational vehicle industries and royalty-free but non-exclusive for other products in the same markets.

SPE environmental awards

At its Global Plastics Environmental Conference (Detroit, MI; Feb. 18-19), the Society of Plastics Engineers handed out awards to companies whose commercially available products, services, and technologies benefit the environment. Among the winners were:

The Gordon Institute at Tufts University (Medford, MA) for its Electronic Engineering Thermoplastic Recycled Materials Guidelines, which are specifications used to characterize electronics scrap plastics to assist in commodity trading of the material.

DuPont Engineering Polymers (Wilmington, DE) for its work with Denso Corp. of Japan to create a radiator end tank molded of nylon 66 recovered from radiator tanks.

Furniture designer Herman Miller Inc. (Zeeland, MI) for its Mirra office chair, made with 42% recycled content, 96% of which can be recycled itself. In addition, an overmolded steel spine was replaced with a 100% nylon variation.

Recycling machine supplier Erema (Linz, Austria) for its VacuRema system, able to process post-consumer PET scrap into material FDA-certified for food contact. VacuRema is a combination vacuum reactor/extruder and was commercialized in 1997, with the first units almost all used to process production scrap. Increasingly, though, they see use in the processing of PCR-PET into material suitable for food contact.

Ashland Chemical for its Envirez 5000 soybean-and-corn-based polyester, used in some John Deere vehicles.

3DM acquires recycler

3DM Worldwide plc, the Whitney, U.K., developer of the Powder Impression Molding (PIM) process, has agreed to acquire the entire issued share capital of Italian company, EEVJP Ltd. (Milan), which specializes in several plastics recycling processes, two of which produce material processable by PIM (February 2004 MP/MPI, p. 51). The first material is for airline waste, medical waste, and old refrigerators; the second works with old PET x-ray plates. A third process is a means of using recycled plastics in sewage treatment, which also has further applications in hydroponics. 3DM intends to offer license agreements for the recycling processes under similar terms as it has done for the PIM process. Company Chairman Ken Brooks says that while the original work done on the PIM process was exclusively with virgin material, "we are finding that we can apply significantly more types of materials to the PIM process than was originally anticipated."

RFID mandatory in medical?

In February the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report on measures to prevent counterfeiting of drugs and pharmaceuticals, with one proposal adding RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to all medical packaging. Use of the tags is not yet mandated, though.

The FDA wants the medical industry to "secure the movement of the product as it travels through the U.S. drug distribution chain," according to an FDA release. The FDA believes industry-wide implementation of RFID technology can be accomplished by 2007, and might force the issue if counterfeiting increases.

RFID replaces bar codes with individual Electronic Product codes that are emitted from an embedded microchip and antenna on the product. These individual codes can be tracked through production, shipping, and purchase.

Masterbatcher lowers minimums in niche bid

Looking to new markets, Colour Tone Masterbatch (Caerphilly, Wales), is now focusing on supplying processors of small-run applications with 10- and 15-kg lots of universal and polymer-specific masterbatch in previously approved colors as standard, rather than the usual 25-kg minimum quantity, on a 24-hour delivery basis.

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