Global PEI Shortage to Last Until Second Half of 2015

Surging demand plus plant maintenance downtime leaves processors scrambling--and perhaps looking for substitutes.

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Since the global supply of Ultem PEI (polyetherimide) resin from SABIC Innovative Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass., has tightened in the last few months, molders and OEMs have had to manage risks such as long lead times and supply disruptions. The company anticipates the extended lead times will last until the second half of 2015, as a result of a significant increase in global demand for Ultem over the last year, coupled with upcoming scheduled maintenance at one of its Ultem resin facilities.

"We are very sensitive to the impact this situation is having on our customers," a SABIC spokesman said. "We are honoring all previously submitted orders and are working with great urgency to increase capacity. The scheduled maintenance, while affecting supply in the short term, will allow for increased capacity in the future."

This spokesman noted that demand is growing generally for higher-heat engineering materials. Key drivers include trends such as thinner and more complex consumer electronics, uniquely branded automotive headlamps, and lightweighting in the aerospace industry. He notes that some customers have realized unforeseen double-digit growth, and that engineering resin suppliers are working hard to meet the volume needs of their customers.

For example, RTP Company, Winona, Minn., is addressing the Ultem supply squeeze by offering a number of alternative thermoplastic compounds. They utilize amorphous materials such as polysulfone or semicrystalline materials that have been modified, alloyed, and/or reinforced to achieve physical properties very similar to PEI. To support transition to a new material, RTP provides on-site technical service and CAE support, including mold-flow analysis, FEA mechanical simulation, and fiber-orientation analysis.

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