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Articles from 2012 In September

Made in Taiwan, but sold elsewhere: Taiwanese plastics machinery explores emerging markets

Taipei, Taiwan - For the first half of this year, Taiwanese rubber and plastic machinery exports declined to a value of $631.7 million, down 2% compared to the previous year.

This decline mainly occurred in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) while Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan showed positive growth, according to representatives at the Taipei International Plastic & Rubber Industry Show 2012 (Sept. 21-25; Nangang Exhibition Hall).

In 2011, the export value of Taiwanese plastic and rubber machinery products grew 14.4% and reached $1.34 billion in 2011.

"Last year, was a fruitful year for the Taiwan plastic industry, said Hsiu Tsang Hsu, chairman of the Taiwan Association of Machinery Industry (TAMI). "This year is bit trying but the industry remains strong."

At Taipei Plas 2012, David Wu, chairman of the Plastic and Rubber Machinery committee of TAMI, said the impacts of the "sluggish" U.S. economy and European debt crisis were the main reasons for the decline, which resulted in reduced purchases of machinery in emerging markets.

"Rubber and plastic exports from January to June 2012 still maintained its result in comparison to last year, which is a remarkable achievement especially in these difficult times with the worsening of U.S. and Japanese economies and the debt crisis in Europe, which lead to the slow down of developing countries and the BRICs," he said.

TAMI President C.C. Wang noted the deciding factors affecting the export performance of Taiwan's machinery industry in 2012 include unsteady prices of raw materials such as steel and iron, the appreciation of local currency against greenback, and the free trade agreements inked by South Korea and the European Union and between South Korea and the U.S.

Mainland China, Taiwanese largest exporting country, saw a decrease of 7.5% from the previous year.

Still, despite the declining China market, Wu said that the industry can never overlook the country since its the destination of more than 50% of Taiwanese plastic and rubber machinery exports.

Taiwan is the fourth largest exporter of plastics and rubber machinery in the world. Nearly 82% is exported and the main categories include plastic injection molding machines, thermoforming machines and blowmolding machines.

Last year, Taiwan produced about 15,000 plastic injection molding machines while Japan produced about 12,500 but with a unit price 3 to 4 times of Taiwan, Wu said.

"This shows that there is still room for raising our unit price," Wu said. "I believe advances in quality, technology and marketing and the collaboration among the machinery industry, government agencies and academic institutions will improve the quality and quantity of our machinery."

Growth in emerging exporting markets

John Hsu, chairman of TAMI, said while the export value of plastics machinery declined to mainland China, India, and Vietnam, exports grew steadily in other southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

"In addition to the continued strengthening of these markets, efforts should be made to help the plastics and rubber machinery industry explore other emerging markets, holding exhibitions and marketing events in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Mexico, Poland and Russia to get more business," he said.

Kai Mei Plastic Machinery Co. is a manufacturer of blowmolding machines for food, pharmaceutical and the cosmetics packaging industries. Jack Chen, general manager with Kai Mei, told PlasticsToday the company sees exporting opportunities in Africa, Europe, and Iraq.

Wu said India continues to serve as another important emerging market for Taiwan, particularly for injection molding machines. Wu compared the overall growth rate in India to that of mainland China about 10 years ago.

He pointed out that India's imposed anti-dumping duty on Chinese plastic machinery puts "us in an advantageous position to expand local market share, which is an opportunity we should seize."

While the Taiwanese can be a bit more cautious in working with India than China because of the different cultures, he still sees opportunity for joint ventures between Taiwanese and Indian companies.

Perrys Chang, sales supervisor for Taiwan-based Worldly Industrial Co., a manufacturer of converting equipment for flexible packaging materials, said that one of the company's main markets for exporting is India and next year the company is targeting Russia and Latin America. Chang said that exports for the company are up this year.

Taiwanese auxiliary equipment maker Shini Plastics Technology also echoed the talk of growth in India. Alan Chen, overseas business and marketing director for Shini, said while the company's biggest market is China (about 30%), they believe their next big market will be in India. The company established Shini India in 2009, which marked its first manufacturing site outside of the China region. Chen said that the U.S. is still a strong market for the company, and that they plan to build a new facility in the states to support that growth.

Bush Hsieh, vice chairman of plastic and rubber machinery committee of TAMI, also said they expect demand from southeastern Asian countries will grow.

Indonesia, for instance, has a stable political environment that has attracted foreign investment, which has driven GDP growth and lower unemployment, he said. The country has enjoyed an economic growth rate of more than 5%.

According to the Asian development bank, Myanmar could expand at 7% to 8% a year by 2030.

Thailand also represents rapid growth due to the demand from factories to replace old machinery after the floods, Hsieh said.

With growing demand in southeast Asia, the total out value in 2012 is expected to increase compared to the previous year, which represents "new opportunity for Taiwanese machinery manufacturers," Hsieh said.

Wu Den-Yih, Vice President of The Republic of China (Taiwan), said while it's difficult to predict the course of the changing economy, in order to survive, one most continue to improve, such as being a more customer oriented society. He also emphasized the importance of the plastics industry to the country's economy, which relates to job opportunities and increased revenue.

"We hope you can export more, sell more so that the government can grow more, but the government also has a responsibility," he said. "I'm here to extend my gratitude to all who build the market for 'Made in Taiwan' products."

Green Matter: Success now grows on trees

At the two-day trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry in the Benelux that took place this week in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, the mood was decidedly mixed. Among the toolmakers, there was a general feeling of elation: the books were full and the orders were still coming in.

Rising prices in the Far East and in some cases, problems with quality and communication, were driving customers back to Europe. However, for the smaller design agencies, molders, and equipment suppliers, business is not strong, although better than a year ago.UPM

Many of the small and medium-sized business in this industry are wrestling with the problem of cash flow and delinquent payment behavior, which they can obviously ill afford. Poor payment practices have become widespread throughout the sector and are impacting heavily on the ability of many of these businesses to remain healthy.

Nonetheless, the show was completely sold out, including the extra space, which was added this year to accommodate the growing number of exhibitors eager to boost their exposure in the Benelux market.

PP, cellulose biocomposite
Among the booths was one displaying an upbeat banner reading, "Success now grows on trees" - an intriguing message at a plastics show, to say the least. The booth belonged to UPM, a Finnish paper company that has developed a new bio-based composite material with a high renewable material content that is composed of a polypropylene matrix reinforced with pure cellulose fibers. The recycled cellulose fibers, from which all the lignin has been completely stripped, are derived from the company's papermaking business and significantly increase the stiffness and strength of polypropylene. UPM sources all its wood from sustainably managed forests.

The new composite, called UPM ForMi, was launched last year in November in Finland, the countries of Scandinavia and Germany. The response has been extremely enthusiastic, which has encouraged UPM to venture further into Western Europe, explaining their presence at the Benelux show.

UPM ForMi is specially designed for injection molding applications. The material is recyclable, odorless and available in granular form and customizable colors. According to the company, it is suitable for automotive and electronic applications, as well as for consumer products - including food applications, as the material has been certified as being food compliant. ForMi comes in three grades - ForMi GP for general use, ForMi SP for special surface, and ForMi TP for technical applications. Other grades are available upon customer request.

Greener then glass fiber
And how 'green' is it? A carbon footprint assessment, which presents the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of a product converted into carbon dioxide equivalents  (using global warming potentials of 100 years) was carried out for this material by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland from a cradle-to-gate perspective.

According to this assessment, the carbon footprint of UPM ForMi varied between 1187 - 1875 kg CO2 eq/tonne, depending on the cellulose content. If glass fiber were used instead of cellulose, this would rise to 2346 - 2601 kg CO2 eq/tonne. The report points out that 'by using cellulose fiber as raw material, UPM ForMi replaces the use of fossil-based plastics with renewable raw material from sustainable and non-food sources with a verifiable chain of custody.'

Asked about future developments, Antti Kämäräinen, sales manager at UPM ForMi, said that UPM was looking at the possibilities of cellulose-reinforced extruded film for food packaging applications. He added: "We are also interested in the developments around bio-based PP, and are following these closely. In the future, we hope to be able to offer a product that is based on 100% renewable resources. That is completely in line with UPM's ambition for sustainable solutions and good environmental performance."

Sheet combines best properties of acrylic, ABS

Spartech Corp. used the SPE Thermoforming Conference and trade show to introduce its new WeatherPro T-20 and T-30 multi-layered, weatherable ABS products. Spartech introduced the new material in a special presentation given by John Hirsch, Spartech's product manager for polycarbonate, acrylic and weather able ABS products.

"What distinguishes WeatherPro T-20 and T-30 is the excellent balance of properties demonstrated in both products," Hirsch said. "Combining the appearance, chemical and weather resistance of specialty formulated acrylic resins with the stiffness, impact strength and thermoforming characteristics of ABS, the WeatherPro T series should prove to be a great solution for many of our customer applications."

Hirsch stressed that this is an "enhancement, not a replacement" for the company's previous products. "This is the next generation of acrylic/ABS technology," he noted. "We've optimized the structures to meet the latest demands of our customers."

The properties of the WeatherPro T-series make it ideally suited for thermoformed outdoor parts including tractor panels, lawn and garden equipment, marine parts and paint and gel-coat replacement applications.

Hirsch explained that the WeatherPro T-20 sheet material is slightly softer, slightly tougher and the 'depth of image' (DOI) is not as sharp, but provides the best chemical resistance. WeatherPro T-30 has a very sharp DOI and a harder surface. "Color is a huge part of our T-20 and T-30," he added.

In addition to the WeatherPro products, Spartech featured its specialty products for the thermoforming industry, including Ultros Renu, an environmentally-friendly PETG for the building and construction markets; Extreme TPO, a high-performance thermoplastic polyolefin for the transportatino markets; and its line of Royalite specialty products.

Celebrate Manufacturing Day: Take a young person to your plant

In case you haven't heard, one week from today is Manufacturing Day 2012. This inaugural event will be celebrated on October 5, and the founders of this day hope that manufacturers nationwide will celebrate with open houses, plant tours, career workshops and other events to showcase manufacturing's great opportunities in high-paying, skilled work.

Manufacturing Day is the brain child of Ed Youdell, president and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA), and is also sponsored by the U.S. Commerce Department's Hollings Manufacturing Extension partnership (MEP), Wisconsin MEP (WMEP), and the Illinois Manufacturing Extension Center (IMEC). MEP is part of the DOC's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).Manufacturing Day 2012

"Manufacturing Day will be the 'coming out party' for U.S. manufacturers all across the nation," said Youdell. "October 5th is dedicated to celebrating the great work and innovation of the 12 million men and women who make the United States the world's largest manufacturing economy. FMA and MEP centers are encouraging their members and manufacturers to open their doors to their local school kids, community college students, press, and job seekers so that they can see firsthand the safe, high-tech and innovative work environments that await the best and brightest who pursue careers in manufacturing."

Manufacturing has certainly taken center stage this year with Made in the U.S.A. efforts creating greater awareness of  how much manufacturing contributes to a thriving economy and why that is so important as we continue to try and pull ourselves out of this recession. 

In an FMA release, Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) noted that "Setting aside October 5th as Manufacturing Day to promote the gains we've seen in manufacturing is a great initiative. The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association and the National Institute of Standards and Technology are playing no small part in the resurgence of manufacturing, and I commend them for their hard work."

Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL), who co-founded the House Manufacturing Caucus, has long championed manufacturing in Illinois and throughout the country. "I encourage all manufacturers to reach out and invite their members of congress to visit their facility on Oct. 5th for a tour and a chance to meet their constituents," he said in the FMA release. "Manufacturing Day is a great opportunity to do this."

Certainly next Friday will be a great opportunity to celebrate what manufacturing has done for this nation and what it has done for each of us personally. As the daughter of a tool & die maker, I fell in love with manufacturing early on, and have worked in manufacturing during my career. Writing about manufacturing and helping to promote the many areas of manufacturing in the plastics and mold making industries has been a great pleasure over the past 30 years.

Oddly enough, Manufacturing Day falls between my now-deceased father's birthday (Oct.4) and my birthday (Oct. 6), and I can speak for both of us when I say that there could be no greater celebration than to honor what made this country great!

I would encourage all of you who are company owners to contact your local community organizations and invite them to visit  your plant. From the Chamber of Commerce to school teachers to city councilpersons to parents of students and the students themselves, everyone needs to see what manufacturing means to a community and to the nation as a whole.

Question: What will YOU do to help celebrate Manufacturing Day?

Helix Medical adds molding capacity; eyes more acquisitions

Helix Medical adds molding capacity; eyes more acquisitions

Privately held Helix Medical, already one of the fastest-growing polymer processors in the global medical device field, is actively adding more molding equipment and scouting possible acquisitions and joint ventures.

"Since our first acquisition in 2004, we have consistently had double-digit growth every year, and it looks like that trend will continue this year," Dr. Jörg Schneewind, president and CEO of Helix Medical (Carpinteria, CA) told Plastics Today in an interview. "We continue to add machines in all of our locations."

Helix Medical CEO Jorg Schneewind
Three molding machines were added recently to the company's plant in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and more molding machines and extruders will be added to a joint venture plant in Ireland in the coming months. A major new plant in Costa Rica is just opening now.

Global sales for 2011 were $70 million. Head count has grown from 529 at the end of last year to 700 now.

Helix Medical is a wholly owned division of the Freudenberg Group, a 163-year-old family owned company based in Weinheim, Germany. The parent company, which had revenues of $7.7 billion last year, began as a producer of leather products and is now best known for its elastomeric products for a variety of markets.

Clean rooms added

Its first acquisition in medical plastics processing, made through its Freudenberg-NOK group in the United States, was Jenline Industries, a silicone contract manufacturer in Gloucester, MA. Capacity at that plant has since been more than doubled with the addition of thermoplastic molding and cleanrooms. In 2006, Freudenberg-NOK bought Helix Medical in Carpinteria, CA.

Due its growing size, Helix Medical become a wholly owned business of Freudenberg Group two years ago and it now has plants in nine locations. There are plants in California (two), Massachusetts, Germany, China, Costa Rica, and two joint venture companies in Ireland (three).

"We are focused on silicone and thermoplastic molding, extrusion and assembly," Dr. Schneewind said in the interview.  "We also do packaging and additional services for our customers."

Helix Medical fits into Freudenberg's long-term strategy.

"Freudenberg is a conservatively managed company that is building a diversified portfolio focusing on markets that promise profitable growth where we can leverage our technical capabilities," Dr. Schneewind said.

One example of its technology development in the medical polymers field is a silicone tubing product for light-sensitive pharmaceuticals. Another example is consumables for in vitro diagnosis, including an

Capabilities include LIM and thermoplastic.
integrated automated injection molding, assembly and packaging process.

Within the past two years, Helix Medical has added cleanroom capacity at all of its locations, and is still growing into that additional manufacturing space. Capacity at the Costa Rican plant can be doubled as demand develops.

Catheter focus

Helix Medical announced an investment last month in Cambus Medical, a manufacturer of precision metal (hypodermic) hypotubes and micro-components for advanced catheter systems. Under the agreement, Helix Medical will provide expansion financing for Cambus in 2012 and will acquire a 50% share in Cambus Medical Jan.1.

Manufacturing capabilities at Cambus include injection molding, machining, laser precision cutting, laser welding and marking, assembly and packaging.  Principal focus is development and manufacturing of hypotubes and catheter shafts used in angioplasty balloon catheters and stent delivery systems.

Helix Medical also owns a 50% share in another Irish company specializing in specialty catheters, VistaMed.

"We are currently expanding our VistaMed capacity to meet strong growth," said Dr. Schneewind. "We need more cleanroom capacity."  More molding machines and extruders will be purchased for the 50% cleanroom capacity expansion, which will be completed next year.

Design engineering growth

Another area of growth will be design engineering.

"We have some design capabilities, but not as much as we want," said Dr. Schneewind. "We are looking to invest in this as well because our strategy is to be a complete partner, including design and manufacturing services."

More manufacturing capacity may be coming for Helix Medical in Asia.

"We see strong growth in the emerging markets in the Pacific Rim because of the sheer size of the market and the growing population. That market is a priority for us. Both acquisitions and organic growth are on the table right now. The U.S. is more complex. The market is not growing that fast."

Growth is not expected in proprietary products.

Helix Medical operates a business called InHealth Technologies that makes voice restoration products for people who have undergone surgery to the larynx. "That is a small, niche business that is basically holding steady and is managed totally separately."

Arburgs and Toyos

Arburg and Toyo are the standard molding machines at Helix Medical. "We try to limit the number of brands of machines so that we can have a 'plug-and-play' approach allowing us to transfer tools and projects, when requested by our customers, quickly from one factory to another. That helps reduce complexity and cost."

Freudenberg facilities in Germany and North America manufacture some of the molds used by Helix Medical. Other mold makers that are expert in specific technologies are used. "We have local mold makers in Europe, the United States, and we have excellent, continuously improving mold makers in China."

Evonik to apply new MMA production technique at expanded Alabama plant

over the last five years for the manufacture of methyl methacrylate (MMA) will be applied at commercial scale production rates in a newly announced 120,000 tonnes/yr site in Alabama. Evonik is starting basic planning of the facility which will come onstream in mid-2015, with the site to apply its Aveneer process and employ 100. The monetary investment was described as being in the "three-digit million Euro range." MMA's primary use is as a building block for the resin polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Evonik's Mobile, AL operation is its largest North American site, and it will be the first MMA plant globally to use the new Aveneer process. Evonik says the Aveneer process has an improved carbon footprint, with process CO2 emissions that are lower than 1000 kg CO2/tonne of MMA. That level equates to a little over half of the current value, according to Evonik.

As with the traditional ACH sulfo process, Aveneer still uses ammonia, methane, acetone, and methanol, but it does not need sulfuric acid and provides an overall yield of 95%, which Evonik says is "significantly more efficiently than the current process." It also allow simultaneous production of methyl methacrylate and methacrylic acid in a single plant.

Evonik also maintains MMA production in Germany (Worms and Wesseling); Fortier, LA; and Shanghai. Evonik markets more than 50 monomers, in addition to MMA, which are produced from or related to MMA under the Visiomer brand name. MMA's principal production method is acetone cyanohydrin (ACH), which uses acetone and hydrogen cyanide as raw materials. The intermediate cyanohydrin is converted into a sulfate ester with sulfuric acid.

Ford is putting the wood back in "Woodie"

Ford says it plans to make extensive use of a  cellulose fiber reinforcement composite that has been newly developed by forest products giant Weyerhaeuser and its partners.

The automaker announced today that the new proprietary, patent-pending composites meet its requirements for stiffness, durability and temperature resistance. The parts made with the composite material weigh about 10% less and can be produced 20% to 40% faster and with less energy compared with fiberglass-reinforced compounds.

A press release issued by Ford makes this statement: "...the cellulose-based plastic composite material could be as important to Ford as soybeans have become. Ford uses soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles such as the all-new Fusion, saving about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually."

News of the wood-based composite was reported first, and exclusively, by Plastics Today two weeks ago.

"Our responsibility to the customer is to increase our use of more sustainable materials in the right applications that benefit both the environment and product performance," said John Viera, Ford global director of Sustainability and Evironmental matters.

Prototype armrests were tested as potential components that could made with the cellulose-based material.

And Ford also made this interesting statement in its press release: "Not only can the cellulose material be used in interior applications, but the high level of performance provided by the cellulose fibers also makes it a good candidate for exterior and under-the-hood applications as well."

Dr. Ellen Lee, Ford's plastic research technical expert, led the testing on the composite.

"We found that working collaboratively at an early stage has accelerated the development of a material that has a high thermal stability, doesn't discolor and doesn't have an odor," said Lee. "That's important because it opens the door for use of the material in a wide range of applications that could eventually add up to significant environmental benefits across our product line."

Weyerhaeuser said the new composites, trademarked "Thrive", will initially be used in household goods and automotive parts. Application targets include office furniture, kitchenware, small and large consumer appliances, and other industrial goods.

They are currently available in polypropylene compounds with both high and low melt flow indices. Weyerhaeuser plans to expand the line to a range of hydrocarbon and nonhydrocarbon (bioplastic) polymers.

"Thrive products readily absorb dyes and offer excellent flowability and thin-section fill, providing manufacturers with considerable design flexibility," said Don Atkinson, vice president, marketing and new products for Weyerhaeuser's Cellulose Fibers business. "In addition, Thrive composites are produced using a proprietary process that allows control of the dispersion of cellulose fibers within the polymer matrix. This allows for a smooth surface finish, which opens up new opportunities for the use of natural fibers in composite plastics. Conversely, if manufacturers prefer the fibers to be visible, they have that option as well."

Onex targeted KraussMaffei for some time

KraussMaffei formally came onto Onex' acquisition radar late in the first half of this year, but the private equity giant had been interacting with the venerable German maker of plastics processing machinery for some time, including meetings at the last K show in 2009, as well as this year's NPE and Chinaplas events.

Those discussions, and additional due diligence, left Onex with a favorable impression of the Munich-based machinery business and prompted the Toronto firm to make its third investment in the plastics machinery market in the last five years.KraussMaffei injection molding machine

"We thought [KraussMaffei] was a phenomenal business in the industry," David Mansell, a managing director at Onex, told PlasticsToday, noting that knowledge gleaned from the purchase of Husky in 2007 and subsequent sale in 2011, as well as the late 2011 acquisition of Davis-Standard helped inform its strategy with KraussMaffei.

"In private equity, intellectual property is quite useful where you have it," Mansell said, "and when you do have it, you're going to try to capitalize on it."

Why plastics?
Not long ago manufacturers of plastics processing equipment saw weakened demand in developed regions and an oversaturated market. Those outsized machinery inventories grew further bloated during the global economic slowdown and subsequent machinery fire sales. Perhaps not a hot target for private equity, but today, the return to growth in developed regions, and more importantly, emergence of new markets, offers tantalizing prospects for businesses like Onex.

Mansell said the relatively predictable upside and growth of plastics, in addition to KraussMaffei's strength of brand and management, were big reasons it targeted the company.

Within emerging markets, Mansell explained that as GDP/capita grows there is a fairly predictable corresponding increase the per capita consumption of plastics. "One thing I think you can bank on in the next 20 years," Mansell said, "is there will be more and more people coming into the middle class."

A successful track record
Onex declined to discuss details around its valuation of KraussMaffei, but said once the company is fully integrated, quarterly earnings report will include some details on its debt, earnings, and more. "In general, when evaluating a company, you look at historic results, future prospects, and comparable transactions," Mansell said.

Onex paid Euro 568 million ($729 million) for KraussMaffei, outstripping its equity investment of $622 million into Husky in 2007.

The price tag was higher, but if Onex can match or exceed the return rate it banked on Husky when it sold the company for $2.1 billion last year, it will be well worth the higher price tag.

In the Husky deal, Onex received net proceeds of $1.8 billion, for a gain of approximately $1.2 billion and a 36% rate of return. Onex' portion of the net proceeds came to approximately $583 million, including carried interest.

Founded in 1984, Onex has made approximately 360 acquisitions with a total value of approximately $44 billion, according to its second quarter earnings statement. The 36% rate of return on the Husky deal is higher then, but in line with, its historical 28% compound annual return on invested capital.

The company expects the deal to close by the end of 2013's first quarter. Mansell said outstanding issues that remain include financing, which he described as "committed" and regulatory approval, including antitrust review, which he said was "routine."

KraussMaffei will be rolled into its Onex Partners III investments, it newest vehicle, which includes the Tropicana Las Vegas, Tomkins, ResCare, and Jeld-Wen. Started in December 2009 with $4.3 billion, of which $800 million was committed by Onex, it had completed four acquisitions prior to KraussMaffei, with $1.8 billion of capital invested.

Targeting Europe
On June 18, Onex announced the opening of a London office, its first in Europe, with Tony Morgan joining as a managing director for the operation. Gerald W. Schwartz, Onex' Chairman and CEO pointed to the continent's potential for investment in the release announcing the expansion. "We see great opportunities in the European market for investors like Onex," Schwartz said, "and are pleased to have Tony, a British national and experienced investor, join us to help establish this local presence."

"It was not surprising that our first investment in Europe comes from an industry we know," Mansell told PlasticsToday. In general, Mansell said that in Europe and elsewhere, activity in the private equity industry has been picking up over the last six months or so, including at Onex. "We, as a firm, are quite busy right now," Mansell said.

Medical Musings: Replace plastics with what?

"While the baby boomer population has surpassed 76 million, the number of young people requiring medical care is also on the rise," says Shomik Majumdar, vice president, chemicals and materials. "The higher incidence of lifestyle diseases, along with governments' keener focus on improving healthcare, drives the demand for medical devices and consequently, plastic polymers."

Favoring plastics' growth is the move to reduce hospital stays to lower healthcare costs. That is sharply  increasing the focus on homecare medical devices and increasing the demand for dialysis kits and diabetes control devices. Trump cards for plastics include their low cost, ability to be designed into complex shapes, their  durability and their light weight.

"There has also been heightened focus on engineered polymers such as co-polyether-ester elastomers (COPE), polyether block amides (PEBA), and acetal chemistries that have more advanced performance properties for niche, technologically advanced healthcare applications, such as tissue engineering and implants," said Research Analyst Tridisha Goswami. "These new materials will expand the scope of plastic polymers' application and propel the market."

Concerns about degradability?

The Frost & Sullivan researchers say that environmental concerns, specifically degradability and recyclability, may affect the growth rate of plastics.

"Nevertheless, this environmental issue has not reached a critical state. The low price of commodity resins like PE, PP, PVC and their high performance characteristics makes them irreplaceable in the near future."

To me that's an odd commentary. Replace plastics with what?

There is a growing trend in American hospitals to take a closer look at the environmental impact of plastics. That effort is very much in its embryonic phase. And the impact, so far, has been replacement of one type of plastic with another type of plastic. Specifically, olefin-based elastomers are in the early stages of replacing polyvinyl chloride in IV bags and tubing.

There is an interest in degradability, but plastics use will grow as a result -- not decline. A few major hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic are now specifying bioplastics in place of other materials and processing them in their in-house composting systems, already in place for food waste.

Copper producers have tried to take advantage of increased interest in antimicrobial surfaces to reduce hospital-borne infections.  But plastics companies have developed an impressive array of germ-fighting compounds.

I have not heard of any metals-for plastic substitution in the medical market. In fact, just the opposite is happening on a large scale.

Here is a link to the Frost& Sullivan press release. See what you think. Feel free to post your comments here or send them to me at [email protected]

PolyOne expands innovation centers in Asia, U.S.

PolyOne continues to upgrade and invest in its Innovation Centers to further serve the needs of customers interested in collaborating to solve product and performance challenges, while accelerating their speed to market.

Recent Innovation Center expansions and enhancements include:

  • Launching a new color and additives Innovation Center in Seoul, South Korea.
  • Doubling the size of PolyOne's Shanghai Innovation Center, including the addition of a training facility, design showroom, and equipment that expands prototype capability to textile and fiber applications.
  • Launching rapid prototyping equipment at PolyOne's Avon Lake (Ohio) Innovation Center. This new technology provides customers Fused Deposition Modeling capability, which utilizes computer drawings to directly manufacture working prototypes, eliminating the costly and time-consuming step of machining molds from metal. This new 3-D printing capability also allows for on-the-spot experimentation with multiple base materials.
  • Increasing production capacity and expanding capabilities to support customers by prototyping film, sheet and injection molding processes at PolyOne's Suwanee (Georgia) Innovation Center.

The Innovation Center in Seoul will serve the growing colorants and additives business in South Korea. This new facility expands the network of PolyOne Innovation Centers to eleven, and will offer enhanced levels of service and collaboration to PolyOne and ColorMatrix customers, helping to simplify and shorten development time and increase speed to market.

Steven Chai, managing director for ColorMatrix Asia, said, "This is an exciting new development for our customers in Asia. The Center is equipped with the full portfolio of capabilities from PolyOne Color & Additives Asia as well as ColorMatrix's DosiXpress rapid color development cell, an advanced liquid colorant system that typically reduces color development time from weeks to hours. These offerings will deliver significant value to customers in a number of key market sectors in the region, including personal care and beverage packaging as well as household products."

The Seoul Innovation Center is located in the Yeongdeungpo-Gu area of the city. This facility signals a significant step in PolyOne's continued expansion into the Asian market, and will enable more effective collaboration with customers locally as well as the utilization of the full portfolio of colorant and additive technology solutions.