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Novel High-heat Polyester Lets Tyco Keep Its PBT Tooling

A new grade of thermoplastic polyester enabled Tyco Electronics to use existing molds when a customer upgraded the thermal specification of an automotive connector (photo). Tyco was making the parts in polybutylene terephthalate (pbt), but the customer decided on higher soldering temperatures for the memory module that the connector was used on. pbt did not meet the specification, and Tyco considered a high-temperature nylon.

This would have meant retooling, owing to differences in material shrinkage. But Eastman Chemical proposed Thermx CGT33, a glass-filled poly(cyclohexylene-dimethylene) terephthalate (pct). It has the necessary thermal properties (melting point of 290°C compared to 225°C for pbt), but the same shrinkage as the initial glass-filled pbt. In addition, Tyco can use the same color masterbatch.

pct also has higher dimensional stability than nylon, since it does not absorb water. And, it is less expensive. Eastman Chemical Co., P.O. Box 431, Kingsport TN 37662

In PC, Bayer delays China capacity by a year

P olycarbonate production at Bayer’s new 50,000-tonne/yr plant in Xiaojing, China, looks likely to begin in 2004, rather than 2003 as originally planned, while an additional 50,000 t/yr of capacity originally intended to come onstream for late 2004 should be on-line a year later.

Bayer says its medium-term plan is to have a capacity of 350,000 t/yr in Asia. Bayer has a 150,000-t/yr plant in Map Ta Phut, Thailand, where capacity was increased from 50,000 t/yr last April. The site of the additional 100,000 t/yr of capacity has not been decided.

Injection Molding Activity Is Picking Up

The growth rate in our proprietary Injection Molding Business Index leveled off at the end of 2002, but still managed to post a healthy 6% increase over the previous year. Our latest forecast calls for a gradual acceleration in injection molding growth over the next four to six quarters. This will push the annual North American injection molding output to a gain of at least 7% in 2003.

Our forecast is based on expectations of a 4% expansion in the U.S. gdp. This will not be record-setting growth in the overall economy, but it is solid and sustainable long-term. Obviously, if economic growth exceeds these expectations, the outlook for molded plastics production will further brighten.

One factor that could have a dramatic effect on prospects for 2003 is the price of crude oil. Presently, there is a hefty risk premium built into oil prices, due to the situations in Iraq and the Middle East. If the threat of war abates, the price of oil should drop substantially. This will provide dual benefits to the plastics industry because not only will it spur overall consumer demand for goods, it will push raw-material costs down.

In 2002, resin prices were a drag on the recovery in the plastics industry. While inflation was low, resin prices jumped by as much as 40% for some processors. The price of materials is a large part of production costs for most processors, and the sharp rise diminished profit margins. Resin prices stabilized at the end of 2002, and the outlook for 2003 is a downtrend in prices.

The sluggishness of the economy and high resin prices notwithstanding, several major plastics end-markets managed healthy growth in 2002. Total U.S. manufacturing of appliances advanced 6%, computer production output jumped 9%, and housing starts swelled by 5%. In comparison, total U.S. industrial production was flat versus 2001. Our forecast calls for these markets to sustain their momentum throughout this year, and their annual growth rates should be slightly better than those in 2002.

One important market that will have slower growth in 2003 is automotive. Spurred by low interest rates and attractive incentive packages, the number of motor-vehicle assemblies manufactured jumped over 8% in 2002. Interest rates will remain conducive to strong vehicle demand this year, but last year’s rate of expansion is not sustainable. Look for growth in motor-vehicle assemblies to decelerate to 4 to 5% in 2003.

Latin American economies hold steady

While it is still too early to offer specific projections, the latest data from the major Latin American economies indicate that conditions there are improving, albeit modestly. Almost all Latin American countries depend primarily on North American consumption of their products. Thus, the continued recovery in 2003 in the U.S. economy will be beneficial to its Latin American trading partners.

The latest data from Mexico show that its economy registered growth in both the second and third quarters of last year. The service sector enjoyed the strongest growth, and activity in the construction and agriculture sectors also increased. Manufacturing remains shaky, though it appears to have hit bottom and entered a recovery phase. Yet, despite the gradual economic improvement, the value of the peso is still trending downward. This will heighten demand for Mexican exports, but will inhibit domestic consumption. Our forecast calls for the peso to rise gradually in 2003, mirroring the improvement in the overall economy.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, is also its biggest question mark. A weak currency, high debt levels, and uncertainty from the latest national elections have created an environment of low expectations in the country. All of the doom-and-gloom notwithstanding, the latest report on Brazil’s gdp was much stronger than expected and marked the second consecutive quarter of expansion. The extremely low value of the Brazilian real has boosted foreign demand for the country’s mining and agricultural products. As is the case with Mexico, Brazil’s currency will rise gradually in 2003, as the economy recovers, but not enough to inhibit rising foreign demand for Brazilian-made products.

The bad economic news in the region continues to emanate from Argentina. The nation’s latest gdp data show that its economy contracted by nearly 14% in the second quarter last year. This marked the third consecutive double-digit decline in the country’s gdp.

There are some hints that the worst is past, but little evidence that improvement will occur anytime soon. A presidential election will take place in March, but it is too early to tell if it will precipitate the badly-needed systematic changes in the country.

Production and utilization rates rising

U.S. production of plastics products increased steadily through 2002, and this trend will continue in 2003. Our forecast calls for a rise of 4 to 5% in the total output of plastics goods this year, following the modest 2% expansion in 2002. And while this growth will not break any record, it will push production rates above the peak levels in early 2001.

The industry’s capacity-utilization rates are also expected to improve steadily this year, rising from about 80% at the close of 2002 to over 85% at year-end. Again, this will not be the fastest post-recession recovery ever recorded, but it should prove sustainable for a good period of time. Consistent utilization rates of over 85% are important for the plastics machinery sector because they have historically triggered increased capital spending on new equipment.

It is important to note that there have been several periods recently where the production indices have increased but utilization rates have only held steady or even slightly declined. This is due to the ever-increasing efficiency and productivity improvements of plastics processing ma-chinery. Technology ad-vances have greatly en-hanced all phases of the plastics production process.

As a result, every new machine allows the processor to produce more products with less capital investment. This greater efficiency will benefit the industry in the long run, but it can have painful repercussions in the short term for equipment suppliers that do not respond to a rapidly changing and highly competitive market.

Polypropylene prices are in a downtrend

The price of polypropylene resins rose sharply in the first half of 2002, but in the third quarter of last year, market conditions clearly shifted. At the price levels that prevailed at that time, the output of pp resins consistently grew faster than sales. This shift is depicted on the rate-of-change charts, at the most recent point where the two lines intersect. Such occurences are always followed by a change in the pricing trend. pp prices leveled off in the second half of 2002.

For the first few months of 2003, the trend in pp prices is forecast to be down. The chart shows that there is currently a large gap between the supply and demand curves, as sales have continued to decelerate while resin production rates have held steady. This will put downward pressure on prices until the two curves cross again.

Demand for pp resins will gradually accelerate throughout 2003, and this will keep prices from dropping too far. However, there is enough capacity to meet the anticipated increase in market demand this year. And more capacity is expected to come onstream in the near future. This means that long-term, the average price for pp resins will gradually decline. But shorter-term pricing will still be dominated by cyclical factors.

Alliances to spur PLA polymer use

Cargill Dow, Minnetonka, mn, is teaming up with Amprica SpA., Castelbelforte, Italy, and Wei Mon Industry, Tapei, Taiwan, to foster packaging use of the company’s NatureWorks pla (polylactic acid) polymer derived from corn.

The polymer is fully compostable and performs like petroleum-based plastics, says Cargill Dow. Amprica, a major European maker of thermoformed packaging for the bakery and convenience food markets, has become a strategic partner of Cargill Dow, and is replacing the plastics it currently uses, including pet, pvc, and polystyrene, with the pla polymer.

Cargill Dow and Wei Mon Industry have struck an exclusive agreement to promote and distribute pla-polymer packaging in Taiwan. WMI is making end-use packaging for the Taiwan market from the polymer, marketed there as Nature Green. The Taiwanese government recently banned petroleum-based shopping bags and disposable tableware.

Stravropoulos replaces Parker as CEO of Dow

W illiam S. Stravropoulos is again president and ceo of Dow Chemical, succeeding Michael D. Parker, who was removed Dec. 12 by the board of directors. Parker was named president and ceo in November 2000. He succeeded Stavropoulos, who stepped down when he turned 60, but continued as board chairman.

In a statement at presstime, Dow said the move was “solely in light of [the company’s] disappointing financial performance over the last eight quarters, with [2002] results expected to show no improvement from [the previous] year.”

Dow’s sales for the third quarter (ended Sept. 30) rose 5% and volume was up 3% over 2001. The combined volume sales of its core businesses – performance plastics, performance chemicals, and plastids and chemicals – increased only 1%, which it termed “clearly disappointing.” The company continued to feel the impact of a slowdown in many markets worldwide, coupled with higher feedstock and energy costs.

Nozzle Tip Allows Change Into Shutoff Nozzle

The Shutoff Nozzle Tip allows processors to transform any standard replaceable-tip nozzle into a shutoff nozzle more economically than using a conventional shutoff nozzle, the supplier says. The spring-loaded valve opens when the tip is run forward against the sprue, and snaps shut when the carriage pulls back for sprue break. The unit’s low profile allows it to fit into the nozzle recess of most molds. Molders Choice Inc., 27000 Richmond Rd., Solon, OH 44139

10-ton Unit Can Be Automated

Model #60 injection press uses systems and controls from the supplier’s Model #70 and Model #75 vertical-clamp models, configured into a vertical-inject, horizontal-clamp machine. The unit provides “lights out” performance in a 11-ft2 footstep. Shot capacity is 1 or 2 oz, and the operator interface can store 36 recipes. Mini-Jector Machinery Corp., P.O. Box 259, Newbury, OH 44065 [email protected]

Vetrotex to add glass-mat line

Saint Gobain Vetrotex will start a new line for its Unifilo continuous-strand glass mat at its plant in Besana Brianza, Italy, later this year. Current capacity is over 17,000 tonnes/yr from two lines, and the third line will take capacity to over 24,000 t/yr. The company already has sufficient glass oven capacity to feed the new line.

Unifilo is used in preforms for such processes as resin transfer molding and structural resin injection molding, and it can be used in pultrusion. Vetrotex claims 40% of the global market for continuous-filament mat, ahead of Owens Corning.

Integrated preform molding, cooling system developed

A new venture established by injection machine supplier MIR and moldmaker Cantoni is marketing a 2800-kN pet preform molding system based on MIR’s RMP toggle machine with an oversized injection unit, and using a mold that does both preform molding and cooling, so that no robot cooling station is required.

Maximum preform cavitation is 16 for containers from 0.5 to 20 L, and the system has a top output of about 40,000 1.5-L preforms/h. Preform size can be altered by changing mold inserts. In a recent demonstration, MIR ran the machine on a 12-s cycle.

When the mold opens on a conventional pet preform machine, a robot extracts the preforms to a cooling station. In the MIR/Cantoni machine, there are two sets of cores, side by side, and three sets of cavities. The central set of cavities is used for molding the preforms, and the two outer sets are for cooling. Once the preforms are molded they are retained on the cores when the mold opens and the cores move either to the left or right. The mold closes, and while a new set of preforms is injected, the first set is cooled. When the mold opens again, the first set of preforms falls onto a conveyor without damage. Cantoni says a similar principle can be used to blow mold bottles. In this process, the preforms are blown in the second stage, rather than cooled.

A similar system has also been developed by Portuguese moldmaker Plasdan, which says it is ready to debut a mold system that will enable preform injection, stretch, and blow molding on a conventional injection machine. It has not released details, and it is yet to be clear how it differs from a system developed by SysTec Engineering, Bad Urach, Germany, almost six years ago (Sept 97 mpi, 29).

MIR says the preform molding system will be priced competitively with even the most inexpensive Chinese injection molding systems.

PolyOne pulls out of compounder So.F.teR

PolyOne Corp., Cleveland, oh, which has major interests in compounding, is selling its 70% interest in compounder So.F.teR, in Forli, Italy, to a company administered by its previous owner, Italo Carfagnini, now the managing director.

So.F.teR’s main activity is production of styrene-butadiene-styrene compounds for footwear, but it also compounds some polyolefins and developed technology for making thermoplastic vulcanizates (tpv), which are marketed as Forprene. So.F.teR’s expertise in tpvs is the main reason M.A. Hanna (before joining with Geon to form PolyOne in 2000) bought the firm in 1998.

PolyOne will have an exclusive technology and trademark license for production and sale of So.F.teR’s tpvs in North America and Asia, and it will continue to represent So.F.teR on a distribution basis in Europe. A statement from PolyOne further stated that there would be “a continuing relationship for future technology development within this product area.”

This is the second time Carfagnini has bought back So.F.teR. He first sold the company to U.K. company Evode, and then reacquired it in 1994.

Sources indicate that neither Evode nor PolyOne was able to implement its corporate culture into So.F.teR. Plus, its reliance on the footwear industry was seen as a weakness. “It’s something you don’t want to be in if you are looking for good margins,” says one close observer.