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NAFTA Color and Additives Concentrate Market Continues to Grow

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. July 2016

Market is expanding at rates not seen since the 1990s.

 

The latest research from Applied Market Information (AMI) Consulting (U.S. office in Wyomissing, Pa.) reveals that the NAFTA market for thermoplastic color and additive concentrates continued to have strong prospects for growth and market penetration. At the same time there are new opportunities to profit from increased customer service needs among major brands.

 

In fact, AMI’s detailed market report “Thermoplastic Concentrates in NAFTA”, indicates that in recent years, this market has seen a period of sustained growth not experienced since the 1990s, with North America increasingly a key center of innovation and global brand developments, making it an ideal place to develop new colors and property enhancing products.

 

According to AMI, the largest market for concentrates in NAFTA is still for additive types—especially mineral-based products, which account for 47% of demand. The color segment is, however, the most important in value terms in a market which now exceeds $3 billion in sales.

 

For many years, the concentrate industry in NAFTA tended to outperform the overall polymer industry as plastics processors recognized the technical and business advantages of using concentrates over compounds or other systems. Although in the future, the delta between polymer growth and the concentrate market advance will narrow, with the prospects in value-added areas such as custom color and additive materials still being very good.

 

The NAFTA market is seeing a considerable volume of new investment both from the traditional major players but also new market entrants. This will only emphasize the competitive nature of the market where there have been clear winners and losers in recent years with some players cutting back their activities and closing plants while others have sought new markets to sustain their business. AMI’s research highlights the way in which a number of new names in the industry are coming to the fore in the color segment.

 

AMI also notes that NAFTA continues to have a strong export surplus in concentrates of well over 50 million lb. This is further testament, says AMI, to the strength and size of the concentrate industry in NAFTA. The surplus is most significant in additive and color varieties, but all product types show net levels of exports.

 

The AMI report concludes that the market in NAFTA will continue to grow, albeit at levels much lower than has historically been the case because of much slower growth in the traditional volume market for concentrate in PE film and blow molding. Opportunities will arise in more specialty sectors such as glass yarn and high performance packaging and in the growing use of recycled materials that will require additive packages to modify performance.

 

Look for a special PT supplement on plastic colorants that will accompany our September issue. It offers tips and best practices on how to avoid typical challenges encountered when choosing, processing, metering and measuring color.

 

For more on color and additive concentrates, see PT’s additives database.

 

LLDPE Replaces Paper In Additive Packaging

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 19. July 2016

 

The new packaging system replaces paper bags with more robust LLDPE bags.

 

Among the many times through the years that I have reported on plastic chemicals and additives news, I’d say it’s been less than a handful of times where the topic was about their packaging. Typically, it’s about new and/or improved versions of additives that improve performance of plastics and/or their physical form (e.g., pellets, beads) which allow for easier handling. Some small particle additives, in particular, have traditionally posed particular challenges.

 

So, I found it interesting to hear that J.M. Huber Corp.’s Huber Engineered Materials division had invested in an innovative, multi-million dollar packaging system, which replaces paper bags with a conversion to more robust LLDPE bags at its precipitated amorphous silica Havre de Grace, Md., production facility. Huber’s silicas and silicates are used in a variety of industries and when targeted as an anti-blocking agent for plastics, polyolefins is a key application.

 

A Huber spokesman explained that the new filling technology and use of LLDPE bags for small particle materials such as silicon dioxide is just emerging. “Use of plastic bags is more and more common for gardening items and masonry materials….those industries have been converting for many years but are much easier to package than silica because of the large particle sizes and high bulk density. The expertise in the design of the packaging equipment, coupled with the emerging technology in the design of the films used to create the LLDPE bags effectively adapts to handling silica’s unique properties,” he says.

 

Asked if the LLDPE choice is unusual for packaging these type of additives, the Huber source notes that PP is most commonly used in both Asia, where sacks are reused for other purposes, and India, due to lack of trees/paper. He notes, however, that these PP bags release considerably more dust and are manually filled. Here’s more on Huber’s system and bags:

 

• Huber’s new packaging platform is being introduced systematically across the globe with automatic filling equipment already in place in select production facilities in the European and American regions, with the intention to do the same in Asia in 2017. (The company is a global leader in precipitated silica with seven manufacturing sites strategically located across North America, Europe, and Asia.)

 

• The improved LLDPE bags offer stronger tensile strength.

• The LLDPE bags minimize the nuisance of dust.

• They eliminate trapped air within each LLDPE bags, making the packages more easily stackable for more stable pallets during shipment, unloading, and warehousing.

• The LLDPE bags also provide increased printing and labeling options.

• The new packaging is also easily recyclable which is integral to Huber’s commitment to sustainability.

 

According to the Huber spokesman, the novel packaging’s development was also influenced by customers’ requests for improved performance over paper bags—which are susceptible to moisture, excessive dusting, improved recycling needs, emerging food safety, and employee health exposure regulations.

 

For more on Huber and additives offered, see PT’s additives database.

 

Engel’s Liquid-Metal Technology Could Be a Hit

By: Matthew H. Naitove 14. July 2016

A technology leader in plastics, the Austrian firm’s collaboration with innovative metal molding firm Liquidmetal is drawing “overwhelming interest.”

 

At a recent press conference reviewing business trends in 2016, Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO of Engel Austria (U.S. office in York, Pa.) noted the “overwhelming interest” in its new Liquidmetal injection molding technology at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. This technology utilizes amorphous zirconium alloys developed by Liquidmetal Technologies, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Engel, as its exclusive machinery partner, developed a special 180-ton press modified from its e-motion all-electric platform (see Aug. ’15 Close Up for details).

 

Engel executives said the market interest is coming especially from medical and consumer electronics that require molding of “very precise, thin, detailed, sophisticated” parts. They noted the good corrosion resistance of the material as one advantage. Other benefits are said to include a unique combination of hardness and elasticity, as well as relatively low specific weight. Engel sources see it as an alternative to powder injection molding (PIM), though they caution that it is aimed at “premium markets” and is a “niche of a niche.” For it to move ahead, they see a need to identify suitable moldmakers.

 

Petoskey Plastics Assists With Flint Water-Bottle Recycling Efforts

By: Heather Caliendo 13. July 2016

Petoskey has donated recycling bags to help recover used water bottles. 

 

The water crisis in Flint, Mich., forced many residents to avoid drinking tap water and millions of bottles of donated water were flown in. Petoskey Plastics, Petoskey, Mich., wanted to also offer its assistance to the people of Flint, but, its efforts focused more on the environmentally-friendly disposal of the bottles once they’re empty. Petoskey has donated recycling bags to help some of Flint’s bottled water users store empty bottles and move them to recycling collection points.

 

Jason Keiswetter, Petoskey Plastics executive director of marketing, research & development, said Schupan Recycling—one of several companies involved in water bottle recycling efforts around Flint—had an existing business relationship with his company and asked it to get involved in supplying recycling bags when bottled water usage soared. Keiswetter said Petoskey Plastics had furnished about 13 pallets filled with the bags—about 70,000 bags in all—for the Flint users.

 

Keiswetter said the bags are distributed to bottled water users through recycling stations. Once bags are returned with empty bottles, Schupan gathers and bales the bags, with Keiswetter noting that Petoskey Plastics then purchases them back to be re-purposed into new plastic products.

 

China’s Appetite for Advanced Molding Technology

By: Matthew H. Naitove 13. July 2016

Do automation and advanced molding technologies still offer U.S. molders safe harbor against low-cost competition?

 

At its recent pre-K press conference at its headquarters in Schwertberg, Austria, Engel (U.S. office in York, Pa.) reviewed its business outlook as well as its new technology to be presented at the K 2016 fair in Dusseldorf this October (see Close Up story in August).

 

In reviewing the machinery business, Engel CEO Dr. Peter Neumann made some interesting, and possibly unsettling, observations about technology trends in China. I say “unsettling,” because they challenge assumptions that automation and advanced technology offer U.S. molders safe harbors against competition from low-cost manufacturers in China and elsewhere in Asia.

 

For one thing, Neumann said his company sees rising demand for automated molding systems and integrated technologies in China. Why is there such a demand in a region notorious for its low labor costs? Although labor costs are rising in China, Neumann said the main reason is the increasing emphasis on high quality in Chinese manufacturing. Automation is rightfully seen as the key to maintaining stable processes and consistent quality.

 

Second, Neumann said China is active on one of the forefronts of integrated molding automation, known as “Industry 4.0.” This generally refers to a trend for machines to gain intelligence and self-awareness of their own condition and productivity and the ability to communicate their status to other machines and operators. (See our Sept. ’15 feature on the subject.)

 

I myself have seen more enthusiasm for Industry 4.0 among European machinery OEMs than here in the U.S. So I was surprised to hear Neumann say that the second most active country in the world for developing Industry 4.0 is, you guessed it, China. Again, the reason is probably the Chinese national focus on boosting its reputation for quality in manufacturing.

 

Third, Engel executives indicated that one of the new, emerging areas of molding technology—high-strength, lightweight composites—is not the exclusive preserve of European, North American, and Japanese molders—at least not for long.

 

“Similar to Europe, research institutes and material producers in Asia are pushing ahead with innovative composite technologies,” said Dr. Stefan Engleder, chief technical officer. He referred specifically to Korea, and he added that lightweight design is not only a major innovation for automotive manufacturing. The consumer electronics industry is also closely investigating composite materials in order to make their products lighter and thinner. “Thermoplastic fabrics, will, for example, replace magnesium frames in laptops,” Engleder said.

 

Incidentally, Neumann will be retiring from Engel after the K Show (his 10th at the company), and Engleder will assume the role of CEO.

 




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