Materials Update

Keep those compounds coming

Crude oil prices may continue to climb, exerting cost pressures on feedstocks, but the outlook for compounded thermoplastics and TPEs appears positive. So says The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based business research firm, in its recent study of independent compounders.

While the entire U.S. market for compounds produced by independent firms is projected to grow 6.4 percent through 2006, the most rapid growth will be seen in automotive, medical, and industrial applications, according to the study. Automakers continue to look for lower-cost materials that will fill part performance needs while also reducing weight and resultant fuel consumption. Medical designers need materials that are low cost and sterilizable, properties that can be found in compounded resins. Wear-resistant, high-impact compounds are driving growth in the replacement of metal in many industrial applications.

Why are these materials becoming so popular? Compounds, both custom and standard versions, fill the need for boosting resin performance without increasing costs to the level required for new materials development. In addition, technological advances such as fillers for nanocomposites continue to add value and stimulate demand. Nanocomposites have better stiffness, fire resistance, and gas-barrier properties at lower weight than traditionally filled polymers. They also exhibit greater heat stability and electrical dissipation. Other study highlights:

  • Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are expected to lead the growth curve by displacing competitive materials and by becoming more widely used.
  • Engineered thermoplastics should remain the largest compounding segment through 2006.
  • Industrial applications should grow at a healthy pace, based on the development of high-impact, heat-resistant compounds offering cost and performance advantages over metal and other traditional materials.

    The Freedonia Group concluded that “independent thermoplastic compounders have several advantages over resin producers and processors, including faster delivery times, more personalized service, a wider range of formulation capabilities, and a willingness to supply small-volume orders, which resin producers typically find unprofitable.”

     
    Cachet chairs by Steelcase won the SPI Structural Plastics Div. Conference Award for top new product. The tubular frame is injection molded via gas assist from a 35 percent long-glass-reinforced Verton nylon 6 composite (LNP), while the legs use a 50 percent-filled grade for extra support.
    For 2001, the top seven independent compounders were listed as PolyOne, Ampacet, A. Schulman, Ferro, Teknor Apex, LNP Engineering Plastics, and Spartech. Of this group, only LNP is no longer independent. It was acquired by GE Plastics in March 2002.

    The past 12 months have seen other interesting developments in compounding. In January, PolyOne formed a strategic alliance to manufacture and market nanocomposites made from polyolefin, PVC, and other resins with Nanocor, a nanoclay fillers producer.

    In September, LNP, now a division of GE Plastics, introduced a new series of long-glass-fiber-reinforced Verton nylon 6 composites targeted at applications that require structural performance and aesthetics. Combining high tensile strength and flexural modulus with good impact and colorability, the resins can provide a Class B1 matte surface finish and approximate the performance of aluminum and steel.

    From the PVC-free alternative category, A. Schulman won approval from GM for its Invision soft-touch olefin compounds. The 60 to 75 Shore A materials, free of PVC, will appear in upcoming programs for the automaker.

    Contact information
    The Freedonia Group
    Cleveland, OH
    (440) 684-9600
    www.freedoniagroup.com

    Device reports heart rate to exercisers

    New insert molded heart-monitor hand grips use a stainless steel insert sealed in an ABS frame to allow individuals to track heart rates while working out on treadmills or elliptical runners simply by grasping the handles. Insert molded by Microplastics Inc. (St. Charles, IL), the heart-monitor hand grips were designed for use with Life Fitness brand strength-training equipment. Set into handlebars, the grips allow users to check their pulse while working out by gripping the handles. Mostly exposed, the stainless steel acts as a contact point for heart-rate measurement. Molded thermoplastic surrounding the edges provides a built-in seal to prevent perspiration or cleaning agents from leaking into and damaging electrical mechanisms.

    Contact information
    Microplastics Inc., St. Charles, IL
    (630) 513-2900
    www.microplasticsinc.com

    DuPont announces safety initiative

    Citing a consumer survey that listed safety as the number one concern when purchasing a new vehicle, DuPont used the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit, MI to announce a new initiative intended to heighten the safety features of more than 60 existing material lines and funnel $600 million into integrated safety systems. The company introduced advances in engineering plastics for impact-absorbing components as well as other technologies to further support this new commitment.

    DuPont says it will work with automotive OEMs and all points along the supply chain to develop materials, engineering services, and market assistance that offer value and enhanced protection. In one example, DuPont said materials like its Kevlar para-aramid fiber and Nomex aramid fiber can act as structural reinforcements for door and bumper beams. Another focus point that could affect automotive molders is engineering plastics used for crush areas in impact-absorbing bumpers, interior panels, and interior pillars. These materials would be designed to allow those components to absorb more energy longer and have the resiliency to recover after impact.

    Contact information
    DuPont Automotive, Troy, MI
    (800) 533-1313; www.dupont.com
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