K2016 Reporter’s Notebook: Materials News

19. October 2016


Celanese to offer PEEK, TPE; SABIC eyes new Gulf Coast facility; Covestro displays automotive, electronics innovations; and Baerlocher launches heat stabilizer for recycled resins.


Celanese: Will Offer High-Flow PEEK; Expands Portfolio into TPE More With So.F.TER. Deal
Celanese Engineered Materials opened the show with big news beyond the fairground’s halls, announcing that by year's end it will have entered into the TPE business via the acquisition of Italy's So.F.TER. The company will also expand its engineering plastics portfolio with the latter's reinforced PP, nylons 6 and 66, PBT, PC/ABS, ABS, PC, PS, SAN and PPE compounds.



Beyond that, the company announced it will enter into the PEEK market, with a special high-flow product. This is new enough the company still has no brand name but still launched at the K. Celanese representatives said they plan to use their LCP expertise for complex PEEK geometric shapes targeting under hood automotive and electronics applications, among others.


In addition, Celanese is launching its first ever flexible Fortron PPS for applications like cable ties for materials handling, agriculture equipment and auto. These will compete with nylon cable ties, with Celanese stating PPS boasts better heat resistance.



The company is also now sampling brand new high-flow Celstran LFT grades. These are initially PP-based but other polymers can be used. Celanese believes these will be ideal for instrument and front end panels in automotive.


Covestro: Electric Concept Car Boasts Seamless PC Glazing/Lighting Integration
Among the various new technologies touted at K2016 by Covestro LLC was a the new electric concept car, featuring a wrap-around glazing made of transparent PC. Designed to give drivers better all-around visibility, the concept vehicle also featured an entirely new lighting concept. One key stressed by the material supplier was seamless integration of the PC body with the PC lighting structure. The rear of the vehicle also featured an eye-catching holographic lighting function. The extremely thin design with PC backlights and LED technology is said to be a “first”.



Covestro also touched on interesting 3D printing technology across several industries. Within athletics, the company discussed opportunities in footwear, with Covestro officials seeing that space as the most rapidly developing in terms of commercial additive manufacturing. At this time, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFD) is being applied with TPU and PC filaments.


The company also discussed a new steering wheel production process. Eliminating spray painting, the application is injection molded from PC or PC/ABS, and in one shot within the same mold a PUR coating is integrated.


In electronics, Covestro showcased a PC sheet impregnated with continuous carbon fiber as a next-generation laptop housing. Applicable for mass production, Covestro says the ultra-thin housings, which are rated UL94 V0 below 1 mm, feature good stiffness.



SABIC: Plans to Partner With ExxonMobil on Gulf Coast Plant; Automotive Innovations
SABIC officials confirm they are evaluating, in conjunction with an ExxonMobil affiliate, the building of a petrochemical and derivatives complex, including polyolefins, either in Texas or Louisiana.


By end of 2017, SABIC will produce glass-fiber-reinforced polyacetal which will be sold globally for applications in automotive, building/construction and more. Standing out at its stand is a New Scania truck, which features 30 different applications that utilize SABIC materials. These include:


  • A Cycoloy PC/ABS instrument panel
  • Stamax long-glass filled PP storage boxes, mounting panels and guiding rails
  • A Xenoy PC/PBT upper side step panel and mud guards



In addition, Sabic touted an industry-first use of plastic in body-in-white (BIW) reinforcement without adhesives or foams in the 2017 Jeep Renogade. This hybrid plastic-metal solution is directly welded to the rocker. Part of the floor rocker reinforcement is made of GTX 910 PPE/nylon 6.



Other eye-catching displays:


  • A 3D-printed airline seat made from Ultem PEI filament
  • A new Udmax fiber-reinforced thermoplastic tape portfolio (initially in PP but carbon fiber PC and glass nylon coming soon).


Baerlocher: Proprietary Heat Stabilizer for Recycled Materials
Baerlocher has developed a proprietary heat stabilizer technology called Baeropol RST for stabilization of recycled and recycled content materials. Sold under the product name Baeropol T-Blends, it is primarily aimed at polyolefins but is also said to look promising for PS, nylons and polyacetal.


In the metallic stearate family, the RST component of the new heat stabilizer blends can either totally eliminate phosphites or reduce their use due to RST's synergy. Unlike phosphites, Baerlocher says the RST technology has no solubility limitations and no plate out or gels in high speed extrusion. This allows greater use of RST, which also cost less than phosphites. Moreover, it promotes improved colorability, with better whiteness and less yellowing.


Commodity Engineering Resin Production, Consumption Shifts to Asia

18. October 2016


Supply/demand in balance for PC, nylon 66; overcapacity looms large for ABS, nylon 6.


A mixed bag reflects the market outlook for the four large-volume commodity engineering resins—ABS, PC, nylon 6 and nylon 66. At this year’s Global Plastics Summit (GPS 2016), co-hosted by IHS Markit and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association. Paul Blanchard (pictured) IHS Markit’s senior director for engineering plastics tackled this subject. Here’s a look at key takeaways from his presentation.



• Global ABS demand needs to catch up to capacity additions.

• Lower prices can be had from North American suppliers.

• ABS consumption is mainly in Asia—83%.

• Asian ABS suppliers are selling at near variable breakeven cost.

• Capacity overhang in key Asian market restrains operating rates and profit margins.

• Global prices to remain under downward pressure.

• Supply/demand balance will improve with modest demand growth.



• PC rationalization of plants in the U.S., Singapore, Japan and Brazil reset the supply/demand balance in 2016. This, from the overcapacity of 2011-12.

• Tighter supply allows PC suppliers to recover cost increases in the near term.

• North American PC operating rates are pretty high; suppliers gain margin for near term.

• Entry of new Chinese companies is a game-changing development.


Nylon 6

• Nylon 6 fiber continues to be “king”, accounting for 66% of consumption.

• China now producing 58% of nylon fiber globally, with most consumption in Asia.

• China’s drive for self-sufficiency is adding capacity well ahead of global demand; this impacts trade patterns.

• Falling exports to Asia are reducing operating rates in North America and Europe.

• Caprolactam plant closures in U.S. and Germany are removing excess capacity.

• Pricing for nylon 6 pricing rising in North America and expected to fall in Asia.


Nylon 66

• Global demand for Nylon 66 is balanced and well managed—so far new capacity is tracking demand.

• Operating rates for nylon 66 are in the 80s% range vs. nylon 6 which are at a dismal 60% range.

• Closely-held adiponitrile technology supports high industry concentration; technology barriers to new entrants.

• Performance overlap with nylon 6 in engineering applications.

• Startup of Invista Shanghai plant in 2016 offset by the closure of Invista Chattanooga plant.

• Price trend is upwards.

Key Takeways from IHS Markit Pros on PE, PP Outlooks

17. October 2016


The polyolefins presentations at GPS 2016 signal better times for processors in terms of pricing leverage, options.


The fourth annual Global Plastics Summit (GPS 2016) co-hosted by IHS Markit and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association provided a comprehensive view of the ever-changing global plastics industry, as well as perspectives from across the supply chain.


The well-attended summit included presentations from IHS Markit experts on the outlook for key commodity thermoplastics including engineering resins. Here are key takeaways from the PE and PP presentations, starting each with a focus on the North American market followed by global outlooks.


A New Era for Polyethylene, presented by global business director plastics & polyolefins Nick Vafiadis. Vafiadis sees the North American PE market continuing to be characterized by competitive production economics, high operating rates, and both domestic and export demand growth. However, he also pointed to the changes that are emerging that will impact the market differently than 2016:


• Near-term capacity additions…..

• Braskem Idesa + Ineos Sasol + Nova Chemicals=2 million m.t (4.41 billion lbs)  in 2016.

• ExxonMobil + CP Chem +Dow= 3.2 million m.t. (7 billion lbs) by end of 2017.

• Some 2017 contracts are already reflecting increased discounts.

• Arbitrage is playing enhanced role in North American PE prices.

• Expect increased competition to trim suppliers’ margins as buyers gain options and leverage.


Vafiadis summed up key takeaways for the global PE outlook this way:


• Global demand growth outpaces GDP.

• Potential for record growth overcapacity during 2016-2018.

• Capacity overhang may dampen prices and margins as cost-competitive regions compete for global market share.

• Regional prices move toward netback parity as competition ramps up.

• Price and margin impact dampened if significant new-start delays develop.

• PE buyers increase purchasing leverage during 2017-2018.

• 5 million m.t. of new North American capacity in 2016/2017.


“Global PP: How Does Near-Term Oversupply in Asia Affect the Rest of the World? Have Global Producer Margins Peaked”, presented by senior director Joel Morales, started with the immediate outlook:


Not so good for PP suppliers; getting better for PP buyers; and, suppliers’ margins have indeed peaked! For the North American market, Morales’s key takeaways include:


• ‘Golden Goose’ of suppliers’ profit margin flushed out in 2016.

• Massive influx of imports sets a floor for most competitive segments like film and fiber.

• Pace of debottlenecking accelerates and domestic suppliers need to push out imports to run at full rates in 2017; opposite of 2015.

• Reinvestment economics for greenfield projects questionable though current margins on mostly depreciated assets exceptional.

• Growth for 2017 expected at near 4.5%; overall growth 2016-2021, a steady 2.8%.


Morales’ global PP market takeaways include:


• Timing of new Chinese capacity start-ups is likely the single biggest factor over the next 18 months.

• Global net exporters such as the Middle East and South Korea will continue to focus on alternative markets.

• Naphtha-based PP suppliers continue to benefit from the low-priced oil environment that allows for higher local production rates.

• Global non-integrated margins are in decline from this point forward; only PDH (referring to on-purpose propylene hydrogenation) operators benefit with slight oil-price recovery through the forecast period 2016-2021.

• North American PP pricing ‘experiment’ concluded and imports to remain a price ceiling.

Nylon from Wood Industry Waste?

14. October 2016

Process can produce nylons from wood cellulose terpenes.


A process developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) can produce high-performance engineering plastics from terpenes—a side stream of the cellulose production from wood. Their new bioplastic and its potential applications will be featured at K 2016 at the Fraunhofer exhibit—booth SC01, Hall 7.


More specifically, the synthesis of nylons from terpenes was developed at BioCat—Bio, Electro and Chemocatalysis, a branch of Fraunhofer IGB. BioCat, headed by professor Volker Sieber, works on techniques for converting terpenes into biosurfactants, biobased epoxides or monomers for biobased nylons with new properties. 


Terpenes are hydrocarbons that are typically found as components of softwood, but there are also several other sources in nature including: dandelions, rubber trees, and spices such as aniseed, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and allspice. Slightly volatile terpenes, referred to as essential oils, can be derived from the peel of citrus fruits during the manufacture of orange juice of tinned fruit.


The BioCat researchers first aimed to develop a bioplastic that is like nylon 6. Synthesized from the terpene 3-caren, this novel nylon is said to be significantly more transparent than nylon 6, making it suitable for new and high-quality applications, such as the production of ski goggles or visors of helmets. According to project manager Harald Strittmatter, it will also be possible to manufacture coatings, textiles and adhesives from the biobased nylon.


The Fraunhofer researchers are driven to work with terpenes because they are a renewable resource that is generated in large quantities as byproducts in the pulp and fruit industries.


“As a waste stream, the application of terpenes for the production of new bioplastics is in conflict with the need for food production for humans and animals…similar compounds are only accessible from fossil resources with great effort,” said Strittmatter.


For the synthesis of nylons, terpenes have to be modified: via an oxidation step, a so-called carbonyl group is introduced, which can be converted into a lactam—a monomer building block of nylons.


The process’s benefits: this synthetic route of producing terpene-based lactams is shorter and, more importantly, combines bio- and chemo- catalytic reaction steps, which allow avoidance of harmful regions. Until now, these bioplastics have been manufactured only in the laboratory but the research team plans to develop a route which will allow for commercial-scale production. 


More than a Buzzword, ‘Predictive Maintenance’ Is Key to Optimum Machine Utilization

13. October 2016

I wrote here recently that this month’s K 2016 show in Dusseldorf (where I and the whole staff of Plastics Technology are headed next week) is evidence that the wave of “Industry 4.0” activity is building toward a crest.


Now, I’m also expecting to find signs of another wave just starting to build. That wave has its own buzzword: “Predictive Maintenance.” But don’t dismiss it as a fad. It’s very likely to be your future.


Predictive maintenance as an essential strategy for obtaining maximum machine efficiency and uptime. The idea is to install sensors on processing machines that will measure vibrations, torques, temperatures, pressures, electrical functions, and other things like oil quality (particle count), level, and moisture content.


One machine builder compared it to Formula 1 racing, where the vehicle data are analyzed on every circuit of the track in order to keep the car operating at optimum performance and to call it in for maintenance before a breakdown is imminent. The ultimate goal is to detect wear, leaks, or deterioration of components before a critical failure occurs. Sensor signals, processed by appropriate software, can be used to send emails to maintenance departments to order a spare part or schedule preventive maintenance.


The key is for maintenance shutdowns to be planned events, not a potentially costly surprise that has to be dealt with on an emergency basis. Predictive-maintenance data can also be monitored remotely by the machine builder, which has the expertise to interpret the information. This added level of machine intelligence and communication functions makes predictive maintenance and element of the Smart Factory, or Industry 4.0.


One maker of injection machines notes that the need for predictive maintenance technology comes from two factors:


Many manufacturers have fewer experienced maintenance technicians on-site these days;


It’s getting harder and harder for those technicians to keep up with all the new machinery and controls technology entering the market. (Just read our K Show previews in September to get an idea.)


But as one machine builder wisely puts it, predictive maintenance is the intersection of technology and human diagnostic competence. You have to “know what to listen for, how to interpret it, and when to put this knowledge to use.”


My first awareness of predictive maintenance came more than a decade ago, when Coperion Corp., Sewell, N.J. (then Werner & Pfleiderer), promoted the idea of putting vibration sensors on compounding equipment to sense the health of drive bearings. More recently, the pioneer has been Prophecy Sensorlytics of Columbia, Md., which has licensed Novatec Inc., Baltimore, to use its preventive-maintenance sensor technology on materials-handling auxiliaries. (Read about it here.)


At K next week, there will be at least three firms that I know of talking about predictive maintenance:


Engel Austria (U.S. office in York, Pa.) will present its new e-connect.monitor software and sensors for monitoring screw wear and ballscrews on electric servo axes of injection machines. (See our K preview.) Engel considers it part of its “inject 4.0” program.


•Last week, at its open house in Torrington, Conn., I learned that Wittmann Battenfeld will introduce its Condition Monitoring System for comprehensive monitoring of injection machines (photo). It’s a new addition to the “Wittmann 4.0” program (details here).


•Italy’s ICMA San Giorgio, an established producer of twin-screw extruders, will present its I-Smart concept of sensors and advanced diagnostics on a co-rotating compounding machine (details here).


I’m sure these are just the first ripples of a new wave of technology you can’t afford to ignore.


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