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Articles from 2009 In March

Greening of an Industry: Sustainability initiative saves big at Toray Plastics

Annual savings of 17 million gallons of water, 8.5 million kW hours of electricity, and 10.1 billion BTUs: that, says flexible plastics packaging processor Toray Plastics (America) Inc. (North Kingstown, RI), is the harvest it is reaping from the projects it launched in 2004 to improve its environmental profile and, not coincidentally, its operations.

A self-financed sustainability program is paying of in a big way at Toray Plastics’ Rhode Island facility.

Those savings come from a variety of operational initiatives that include zero landfill non-hazardous waste utilization, waste reduction, water conservation and wastewater recycling, best management practices for storm water, condensate heat recovery, HVAC and furnace energy efficiencies, chiller upgrades, lighting improvements, and reverse osmosis technology.

For example, its Zero Landfill Waste program now diverts the company’s non-hazardous waste (general trash and solids from an ethylene glycol distillation column) from a landfill to a waste-to-energy plant instead, where it is burned and converted into electricity. In the processor’s onsite wastewater-pretreatment plant, effluent is reused as cooling tower-water makeup-water, which it says saves 9 million gallons of potable water annually. Even simple steps such as switching from fluorescent lamps to high- efficiency lamps with motion detectors that have been installed throughout the plants, automatically shutting off lighting when no one is present, are paying dividends.

In answer to an MPW query, firm officials report the Toray sustainability programs have all been implemented at the company's expense; no state or federal funding was used. [email protected]

Plastic pallet giant joins EPA SmartWay Transport Partnership

“Sustainability and concern for our environment are core underpinnings of iGPS, so joining the SmartWay Partnership makes total sense for us,” says Bob Moore, CEO of iGPS. Launched in February 2004, the SmartWay Transport Partnership’s goals are to reduce 33-66 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and up to 200,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide emissions per year by 2012. Its 1200 members include freight shippers, trucking companies, railroads, and logistics companies.

According to iGPS, its plastic pallet weighs 30% less than a typical multi-use wood pallet, contains four RFID tags for tracking and tracing, and is 100% recylcable. iGPS pallets meet or exceed all GMA requirements and have received fire performance certification under UL 2335 (file no. R25482) and FM Approvals 4996. MPW reported initially on the company here.

iGPS reports an independent life cycle analysis found that its pallets are environmentally superior to the typical multi-use wood pallet on every regularly-measured dimension. More information on the life cycle analysis comparing the environmental impact of iGPS’ all-plastic pallets versus typical multi-use wood pallets, including a greenhouse gas savings calculator, can be found at [email protected]

Plastics recyclers, Scotland wants you

Plastics recyclers with a taste for the Highlands, or just a desire for a new business challenge, may want to consider this offer from the Scottish government: £5 million ($7.174 million) in funds from its Mixed Plastics Capital Grant Program, which can be used to cover up to 30% of the total investment required to develop new plastics recycling facilities in Scotland. Businesses and organizations are asked to submit applications for the Grant Program outlining recommended locations and technology and researched sources for feedstock and markets for the processed polymer by Friday, June 26.

The plastics recycling program is part of the government’s larger Zero Waste Fund, designed to increase the country’s recycling and other sustainability measures in the next few years. The £5 million program was launched by the government and WRAP Scotland (Waste & Resources Action Program), which has been tasked with sorting through applications and administering the scheme.

Iain Gulland, the director of WRAP Scotland, says currently only 15,000 tonnes of plastic used by households are collected for recycling annually in Scotland, with the majority of that being sent to Asia for processing.

Companies keen to apply for the funds or to learn more about the program can download the guidelines from, or contact the WRAP Capital Grants Team at [email protected]. [email protected]

Greening of an Industry: Aldi offers biodegradable plastic shopping bags

Leistritz extrusion labGerman discount supermarket chain Aldi Süd is now offering its customers shopping bags converted by Victor Güthoff & Partner Group (Kerpen, Germany) from the biodegradable plastic Ecovio supplied by BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany).

Ecovio consists of BASF’s Ecoflex, a petrochemical-based polyester, with polylactic acid (PLA), which is based on cornstarch.

Although petrochemical-based, Ecoflex’s molecular structure is such that it can be digested by microbes; it is completely biodegradable according to European standard EN 13432. Ecoflex makes the bag flexible, tear-resistant, waterproof and suitable for printing, while the PLA component contributes the renewable raw material. Film processors can tailor their products so that, for example, film with a higher percentage of Ecoflex will be more flexible, whereas a higher percentage of Ecovio delivers a stiffer film.  [email protected]

Greening of an Industry: Kmart customers test compostable plastic bags

(Melbourne). Biograde does its film processing at its site in Nanjing, China, which no doubt helped it earn a $1.2 million contract to supply the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games with biodegradable packaging, but may hinder its efforts at Kmart. The Biograde bags will be competing with reusable paper bags that are converted in Australia.

The Biograde bags are part of a trial starting this month across the retailer’s 12 stores in South Australia to determine what kind of bags will be offered to customers after the South Australian Government ban on plastic checkout bags takes effect in early May. Customers requiring a bag will select from Biograde’s compostable bags or reusable paper bags at a charge of Australian $0.15 per bag.

Biograde has developed its own proprietary blend, based on cornstarch. The Biograde bags are the same shape and size as existing plastic bags and comply with Australian Standard AS 4736-2006, European EN13432, North America’s ASTMD6400, Japanese GreenPla and China Environment Label standards. [email protected]

Bridging the gap: Design house brings East & West together

Daniel Roney’s Detekt Design is a truly modern design house, bringing East and West together to meet rising consumer standards amid global pressures.

Design was something that was always a part of Daniel Roney’s life and something that has continued to grow throughout his career. After completing degrees in industrial design and mechanical engineering he worked a number of years in manufacturing before starting Detekt Design (Melbourne, Australia, and Shenzhen, China) in 2003. The business was a natural progression after identifying the need for a product design capability that provided companies with a quality structure to engage with manufacturing in Asia. The name Detekt was created by integrating the words “design” and “technology” with a German twist (the “k”) to emphasize quality. The brand has been built on these fundamentals.

Detekt Design's Daniel Rooney

Being based in southern China, Roney has a prime view of industry trends and developments in the “World’s Workshop,” and in these tough economic times, he has some valuable advice as to what it takes to be successful in global manufacturing.

MPW: What prompted you to set up shop in China?

Roney: Detekt was a ‘born global’ enterprise and China’s booming manufacturing sector offered a fantastic platform for our growth. We reviewed a number of locations in Asia and decided that the city of Shenzhen, in China’s Guangdong province, was the most suitable. The decision was based on accessibility, manufacturing capability, skills and government policy. Detekt opened its China office in 2006 and through this establishment provides its global client base with a turnkey, design-to-manufacture service.

MPW: What are some of the challenges and pitfalls for small foreign companies operating in China? In particular, do foreign companies underestimate the cost of doing business in China?

Roney: China brings a range of difficult challenges for small companies. The obvious ones are the cultural difference and work practices, but the key challenges lie a bit further below the surface. As a result of the high bankruptcy rate with the small and medium-sized manufacturers it has become increasingly difficult to place small manufacturing projects. In the short term this gap has been filled by larger manufacturers who are willing to accept lower order quantities. However, this will all change when the economy picks up. 

MPW: There has been a lot of news recently regarding thousands upon thousands of manufacturing firms closing their doors in southern China. What is the reality and what are the prospects for manufacturing in China in the medium to long term?
Roney: Due to a high proportion of export manufacturing, southern China has been hit hard over the past three months. Factories have shut their doors, staff have been sent home for an extended Chinese New Year period, and 26 million have lost their jobs. The once-bustling sea ports and overflowing logistics centers have slowed substantially. Bankruptcy levels have spiked and wiped out a large proportion of the small and medium-sized manufacturers.

Although consolidation in this sector has been growing over the past three years, no one was prepared for this. Despite the severity of the downturn, China will continue to be a manufacturing powerhouse as the fundamentals remain unchanged. The Chinese government continues its domestic infrastructure programs undeterred by the current environment and focused on continued industrialization throughout the nation. Just like in key Western markets, the balance between growth and financial stability has been adjusted and this has had a direct impact on the attitude of manufacturers. Manufacturers have become more in tune to the profit drivers in their organizations and more selective in the business they pursue.

MPW: Do you think India will ever emerge as a true alternative to China as a manufacturing base? If so, in what time frame?

Roney: India’s large domestic population and continued industrialization will ensure that continual growth occurs within its manufacturing sector. The key factor that will determine whether it becomes a true competitor to China for the West will depend on the Indian government’s infrastructure investment plans.

MPW: Tell us a bit about the importance of supporting your design service clients with manufacturing and the role that Detekt Manufacturing plays?

Roney: At the end of the day, Detekt’s foreign clients are all looking for one thing: quality manufactured products that are fit for sale in Western markets. Detekt’s manufacturing team makes this happen by guaranteeing a seamless process. The team is made up of a balance of experienced expatriates and Chinese engineers and project managers who work hand in hand with our clients. In an emerging industrial environment like China the risks of remote manufacturing are high and the results often disastrous. Who hasn’t got a China manufacturing disaster story?

MPW: How is the use of plastics evolving in the products you design?

Roney: Over the past year there has been an unprecedented level of interest in green products. This has increased the interest in recycled and biodegradable plastics. The increased pressure is stemming from socially conscious consumers and responsible corporations. High-tech plastics such as antimicrobial compounds are also growing in use. This interest, perhaps different from the past, has not been affected by the economic downturn.

MPW: Are there any particular plastics or plastic processing methods that have grabbed the interest of your designers?
Roney: IMD (inmold decoration) is a current process that is drawing the attention of many of our clients. It had been used extensively to apply graphics to cell phones and is now finding applications in other products. More and more Asian manufacturers are adding IMD to their in-house manufacturing capabilities and I expect to see this continue. The process eliminates the need for post-printing operations and is feasible with high-volume items. It has a special relevance for the Asian market due to their liking of pattern and symbolism. The Detekt designers are rather spoilt due to our operations in China; they are in and out of the factories on a daily basis and right at the coal front, watching their products transition from design and engineering through to manufacturing. —[email protected]

Visit us online for more conversations with industry leaders. Just click on the “As I See It” tab on our home page.

In the past, Daniel Roney has offered university students from across the globe the opportunity to complete three-to-six-month internships at Detekt Design’s Chinese office. The program is open to any student currently enrolled in a recognized industrial design course. Find about more about Detekt Design at their website.

Freedom Plastics auctions off PVC pipe businesses

North American Pipe Corp. (Houston) has acquired a majority of the assets of Freedom Plastics Inc.’s Janesville, WI polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe plant, boosting its total capacity to more than 1 billion lb/yr. North American Pipe, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Westlake Chemical Corp., expects to begin limited production at the site over the next several months, according to spokesman David Hansen. Freedom had been scaling back operations at the site over the preceding months, according to Hansen, and it was idle at the time of acquisition. The facility operated under Freedom with approximately 155 employees, 17 lines, and a total capacity of 190 million lb/yr.

The plant extrudes PVC pipe in diameters up to 24 inches for use in a variety of applications including sewer, water, plumbing, and irrigation. North American Pipe currently operates nine PVC pipe plants throughout the U.S., including the recently completed Calvert City, KY and Yucca, AZ facilities.

According to the Janesville Gazette, Westlake Chemical joined three other buyers of Freedom assets, paying $6.3 million for the Janesville pipe manufacturing division. Harrington Corp. (Lynchburg, V) purchased the Janesville fabrication division for $1 million; Silver-Line Plastics (Asheville, NC) paid $3.8 million for its Florida division; and NACO Industries (Logan, UT) paid Freedom $400,000 for equipment in Idaho. Freedom was auctioned off on March 18 in Rock County, WI. [email protected]

Plastics in automotive design: Weight reduction getting more than lip service

It’s not often that one theme gets repeated so frequently that it clearly is the topic de jour, but such was the case at last week’s “Plastics in automobile design” event in Mannheim, Germany. Most significant automotive trend? “The absolute weight of a car needs to drop. This is really high on the agenda,” said Franz Zängerl, manager for business development (automotive) at plastics supplier Borealis Group, in a statement echoed throughout the day. In fact, lightweighting trumped the perennial “lower the cost” mantra.

The optional targa top for this 2008 Corvette was molded of polycarbonate, with weight savings which are becoming increasingly important in automotive design.

Bas Blom, GM for automotive, Europe at plastics supplier SABIC Innovative Plastics (Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands), agreed that weight savings, and ways plastics can help OEMs reduce their fleet’s weight, is the hottest topic at present. It touches on two themes—increasing fuel economy and reducing CO2 emissions—to which the industry’s OEMs long have paid lip service but to which they now need to pay closer attention, as failure to do so will cost them. The Obama administration in the U.S. has made clear that the support it offers its domestic carmakers is predicted largely on those companies’ promises to improve the fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness of their vehicles. Every kilogram of weight saved in a car reduces its CO2 emissions by 75mg/km.

For European OEMs the day of reckoning arrives soon, as last December the European Parliament voted to adopt a “Regulation on CO2 from cars” that will establish carbon dioxide limits and a system of fines for carmakers if their fleets don’t meet new CO2 emissions standards. The fleet average to be achieved by all cars registered in the European Union will be 130 grams/km. By 2012, 65% of each manufacturer's newly registered cars must comply on average with the legislation. This will rise to 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014, and 100% from 2015 onwards. If the average CO2 emissions of an OEM’s fleet exceed its limit value, the manufacturer has to pay an excess emissions premium, per each car registered, of €5 for the first g/km above the limit, €15 for the second g/km, €25 for the third g/km, and €95 for each subsequent g/km. This system of fines holds steady until 2019 when even the first g/km above the limit will cost €95/vehicle registered.

Reducing a vehicle’s weight is not a novel idea, nor are some of the ways being reconsidered for achieving this goal. Ralf Giesen, GM automotive business unit at Trocellen, says his company is seeing resurgence in interest in a well-established technology—sandwich constructions, using his firm’s polyolefin foams as the interior material. “Right now everyone is rediscovering lightweight construction—we’re in talks with Skoda, VW, all of them,” he says, noting also that foams based on PE or PP are lower cost than polyester foams. Looking ahead, he anticipates one day seeing his foam replace rubber as the backing in floor mats (the mat stretched across the entire car interior).

The annual “Plastics in automotive design” event, organized by the VDI, is a small but significant event on the automotive industry calendar. In years past almost 2000 representatives of Tier suppliers, OEMs, plastics suppliers, and manufacturers of machines and molds have made the trek to the event, which includes a micro-tradeshow in the foyer outside the hall where two days of presentations are made. This year the crowd was decidedly thinner but, at more than $1000/head for attendance at the conference, what else could one expect from cash-strapped carmakers and their suppliers? Besides, maybe thinner crowds make sense when weight savings is the main topic. [email protected]

UPDATED: Bayer to distribute PC through M. Holland, sell lab

Bayer MaterialScience LLC (BMS; Pittsburgh, PA) has added M. Holland Co. (Chicago) as an authorized distributor of its polycarbonate (PC) product portfolio in the U.S. Effective immediately, M. Holland will use its more than 70 warehouses, as well as packaging and bulk terminals across the continental U.S., to distribute BMS’s Makrolon PC resin, Apec high-heat PC, Makroblend PC/polyester alloys, and Bayblend PC/ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) alloys.

M. Holland also distributes PC from Taiwanese firm Chimei, including its Wonderlite PC and Wonderloy PC/ABS. M. Holland splits the U.S. into five geographic regions (West, Central, Midwest, Ohio Valley, Northeast, and Southeast) and claims to inventory more than 80 million lb of material at its warehouses and terminals on a daily basis.

In Mid-March, SABIC Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, MA) announced it would shift from a direct-distribution model in North America and Central America for its materials, including Lexan PC, to one utilizing distributor Ashland Distribution (Covington, KY). BMS did not respond to questions from PlasticsToday as to whether BMS’ move was in response to SABIC shifting its PC products to Ashland Distribution. Ashland's Ken Gordon offered the following statement: "Ashland is currently an authorized distributor of Bayer MatrialScience product in North America, and while we are anticipating some changes to our line card, we don't know what they will be at this time. We will work with our customers to make sure their raw material supplies are secure."

In other Bayer news, Bayer MaterialScience AG (Leverkusen, Germany) will sell its Thermoplastics Testing Center (TTC) to Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL; Northbrook, IL). Based at Chempark Krefeld-Uerdingen, the TTC can perform more than 200 different testing procedures and employs 65, all of whom will be taken on by Underwriters Laboratories. UL is an independent product safety certification organization that evaluates more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials, and systems annually with 20 billion UL Marks appearing on 72,000 manufacturers’ products each year. [email protected]

TPE resin pricing, March 23-27: PE, PP, and PS all rise

Polyethylene (PE) prices last week were steady or slightly higher, driven by rising monomers and a “pronounced increase” in exports to China, according to spot-trading platform, The Plastics Exchange (TPE), and its reporting partner The PetroChem Wire. Producers were pushing a $0.05/lb increase in March PE contracts, but market participants have indicated this increase will be delayed until April. Generic-prime railcars of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) blowmolding and injection grades rose a half-cent early last week, with linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) film butene flat, and all trading in the low $0.40s/lb. High-molecular weight (HMW) HDPE film traded in the low-to-mid $0.40s/lb, with low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film in the high $0.40s to low $0.50s/lb. Some discounted railcars of offgrade material were said to be available at the end of the week as some resellers had a few unsold cars to ship before the end of the month. Traders stepped up interest in exports last week, with Chinese demand joining Mexican and South American inquiries.

Polypropylene (PP) prices were slightly higher last week as resin supplies tightened due to an increase in export activity. PP contracts in March increased by about a penny, and producers have reacted to overall weak demand by idling lines and keeping operating rates around 80% during the first quarter, according to TPE. Generic-prime railcars of PP were mostly priced in the mid $0.30s/lb, with the lower end of that range reflecting FOB Houston warehouse prices and the higher end tracking delivered U.S. domestic prices. Copolymer PP has maintained a premium of 1.5 to 2 cents over homopolymer and is trading in the mid-to-high $0.30s/lb. Offgrade railcars were discounted by $0.02 to $0.03/lb. Interest in exports was on the rise, with most of the demand seen from South America and Mexico, particularly for commodity injection resins, as well as raffia/fiber grades.

Polystyrene (PS) spot prices rose last week after an extended drop, with the increase fueled by rising benzene and constricting supplies. Spot general-purpose PS was available in the mid-to-high $0.40s/lb, with off-color material discounted. High-impact PS offers were in the low-to-mid $0.50s/lb range, as prices rose $0.01 to $0.02/lb. —[email protected]