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Victrex Expands Its “Downstream” Parts Manufacturing Business

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 15. February 2017

 

The joint venture with Tri-Mack Plastics to accelerate use of PAEK composite components in aerospace.

 

A joint venture recently formed by Victrex (U.S. office in West Conshohoken, Penn.) and Tri-Mack Plastics Manufacturing Corp. of Bristol, R.I., aims to accelerate the commercial adoption of PAEK composites in aerospace applications.  This multi-million dollar investment, TxV Aero Composites, includes the establishment of a new U.S.-based, purpose-built polyketone composites center of excellence, due for completion in 2017, according to the partners.

 

This PAEK (polyaryetherketone) composite parts downstream manufacturing venture represents the second such move by Victrex, which in 2015 acquired polymer gears specialist Kleiss Gears, Grantsburg, Wisc., with particular expertise in molding PAEK.  

Perhaps this is indicative of a returning industry trend toward downstream operations for resin producers, as indicated by Victrex’s recent actions and those of other resin makers in recent years. In past decades, for example, Phillips and Chevron established their own downstream HDPE pipe operations, while Occidental had a PVC pipe venture.

 

Just this past December, we reported on the acquisition of WL Plastics, one of the largest HDPE pipe manufacturers in North America, by Ineos Olefins & Polymers. Moves of a similar kind include companies such as PolyOne, which acquired Spartech, the leading producer of custom plastic sheet and rollstock in 2013. This year, the company also bought two Colorado-based composites businesses—Gordon Composites and Polystrand.

 

Meanwhile, new venture TXv Aero Composites intends to offer a range of PAEK composites, from custom laminates to pre-formed composite inserts for hybrid molding processes, as well as finished composite parts and complete over-molded hybrid composite components and assemblies. Such composites boast weight savings of up to 60% over conventional metallic options, along with continuous manufacturing processes and cycle times measured in minutes versus hours for thermoset alternatives.

 

One example is new Victrex AE 250 composites, a family of lower-temperature processing PAEK-based composites that is said to enable a unique hybrid molding process. It is said to combine the strength of continuously-reinforced thermoplastics composites with the design flexibility proven performance of PEEK injection molding resins.

 

TxV Aero Composites anticipates it will be able to address customer challenges with dedicated speed and focus, through the combination world-class expertise in materials, engineering, development and manufacturing.

 

Said Victrex CEO David Hummel:

 

“This is a hugely exciting opportunity to accelerate innovative and differentiated solutions for our customers in the aerospace industry. Victrex has an unrivalled history of making markets where polyketones have a strong advantage…Our Aerospace Loaded Brackets program is a great example of how we can offer new forms and components, alongside supplying materials, and build a new supply chain to address the unmet needs of the aerospace industry.”

 

Tri-Mack Plastics develops and manufactures complex parts and assemblies for the aerospace industry, with a long-standing partnership with Victrex. Will Kain, president of Tri-Mack Plastics, is a proponent of thermoplastic composites, as indicated by his comments on the joint venture.

 

“With an estimated 35,000 new aircraft to be launched in the next 20 years, the aerospace industry is embracing thermoplastic composites as a cost-effective solution to support this growth. The efficient processing and performance advantages of PAEK thermoplastic composites combined with state-of-the-art automated manufacturing will position TxV Aero Composites to meet the Industry’s cost and weight challenges.” 

Sidel’s Lightweight Bottle Design; One Relevant Example of Resin Savings

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 14. February 2017

The current upward trajectory of PET prices makes such designs more attractive.

 

Just a few days ago, I blogged about how higher crude oil prices and key feedstocks for several resins, coupled with planned and unplanned outages in some cases, have resulted in very early year price increases of several commodity resins, including PET.

 

How long prices of key PET feedstocks—PTA, MEG, and paraxylene, will continue to be volatile and impact PET prices is difficult to tell at this moment. How much higher PET prices are likely to get is also not clear, although a global oversupply situation which has been in existence is more than likely to continue for some time.

 

Still, I would venture most processors are sure to continue to look for ways of reducing resin usage in their products, such as through innovative lightweighting methods. Among equipment makers who have worked on improving both the efficiency of their equipment as well as on the development of innovative packaging concepts, is Sidel (U.S. office in Norcross, Ga.).

 

Two such innovations, launched within the last three years, nicely demonstrate the company’s ability to solve the dilemma between lightweight PET design and the need to protect the brand experience in the hands of consumers, all without compromising on production costs.

 

Bottles designed following Sidel RightWeight concept, reportedly offer improved performance and reductions in material costs, while the implementation of the Sidel StarLite base in PET bottles is said to enable a reduction in air-blowing pressure, yet increase the resistance of the base and stability of the bottle. Here’s more on each:

 

• RightWeight: Weighing just 7.95 grams, the RightWeight 0.5-litre bottle is around 34% lighter that the average commercial bottle for still water and demonstrates an impressive top load performance making it 32% more resistant than the lightest commercial bottle. Moreover, the RightWeight bottle achieves this rigidity without the use of nitrogen dosing, again minimizing costs.

 

• StartLite: Through the use of two proprietary PET design innovations, the StarLite PET bottle base for still drinks has a unique shape that makes the bottom of the container significantly more resistant and stable. Also, it is said to offer better protection against extreme temperatures (hot and cold) while reducing energy consumption during production, lowering package weight and improving design flexibility—all without compromising on bottle integrity or product safety.

 

Read more about the process in the PT Blow Molding Zone.

 

Upward Pricing for PS, PVC and More

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 8. February 2017

Higher global oil prices and derivative feedstocks are among the factors driving resin price increases in PS, PVC, PET and nylons.

 

Here we are into the shortest month of the year and already the industry is seeing price increases either being implemented or about to be. Just last week, I tried to tackle what is taking place and how things might turn out, at least going into second quarter, in the typically volatile polyolefins pricing arena.

 

Meanwhile, in addition to supply/demand fundamentals, which vary depending on the resin, the combination of higher global prices of crude oil and key resin feedstocks, along with planned and unplanned production outages, are major factors driving price initiatives for other resins as well. Polystyrene and PVC are among them, and Mark Kallman, v.p. of client services for engineering resins, PS, and PVC at Resin Technology, Inc., recently offered an update. 

 

• PS: Driven by January benzene contracts that moved up by nearly 60ȼ/gal, PS prices moved up 5ȼ/lb last month. Moreover, PS suppliers are out with an 8ȼ/lb price hike for this month, and Kallman says, they are likely to get at least 6ȼ/lb of this increase. Global supply constrictions in benzene, styrene monomer and butadiene (which affects HIPS) are behind the upwards movement. A clear indication of this widespread situation is that there have been no low-priced PS imports coming in. Still, Kallman ventures that some softening in PS prices is likely as early as April.

 

• PVC: Interesting, but PVC prices which were flat in January, as they were for eight months of 2016, are expected to move up 3-4ȼ/lb this month, according to Kallman. This would reflect suppliers’ February 4ȼ/lb hike. In addition, PVC suppliers are now out with a 3ȼ/lb price increase for March.

 

Driving this upward movement are the typically late-settling monthly ethylene contracts, expected to settle up by 2ȼ/lb for January, following a 2ȼ/lb hike in December. Due to both planned and unplanned outages, a third such ethylene contract increase is likely for this month, according to Kallman. 

 

Still, if PVC suppliers get their 4ȼ/lb increase in place, the ‘new’ March 3ȼ/lb hike might be pushed off. Although PVC suppliers ended last year with strong inventories, some supply constrictions were likely due to some domestic PVC plant maintenance turnarounds during the first quarter. This would occur nearly mid-way into this quarter, as PVC processors are looking to stock up for the startup of construction season in second quarter.

 

At this juncture, it appears that there are adequate supplies for domestic consumption but little for exports, according to Kallman. He ventures there’s potential for some easing on PVC prices once ethylene and PVC outages are completed or resolved.

 

At the same time, however, there are some industry projections that this year’s construction season will be a strong one. If this pans out, the PVC price hikes now expected to go through, will be maintained for a while.

 

Meanwhile, other resin price increases underway include PET and a broad range of nylons, driven primarily by spiking feedstock costs.

 

PET: January’s average cost of feedstocks (including PTA, MEG, and paraxylene), according to PetroChemWire (PCW) was 55.8ȼ/lb, up 3ȼ/lb from December. Prices of domestic bottle-grade PET in January averaged 56.3, and by February 3, PET prices has moved up to 58ȼ/lb (delivered Chicago basis), according to Xavier Cronin, senior editor of PCW’s Daily PET Report. He confirmed that DAK Americas, for one, successfully increased its PET resins by 5ȼ/lb last month.

 

Nylons: In this arena, several key suppliers have issued hefty, across-the-board price increases—generally on the order of 12-13ȼ/lb--for nylon resins and compounds, ranging from nylon 6 and 66 to high-temperature and specialty nylons like nylon 12 and beyond, effective this month or as contracts allow. Generally, the increases are on the 12-13ȼ/lb range. Included are: Ascend Performance Polymers; BASF; Solvay; DuPont Performance Polymers, and a Evonik

 

PVC profiles

PE Prices Moving Up; PP Prices Spike Sharply

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 3. February 2017

An early outlook: the reversal in the trajectory of polyolefin prices is happening faster than usual.

 

Around this time last year, I blogged on how global factors like plunging oil prices and larger global resin decreases were impacting polyolefin prices—with a downward trend appearing to be the most prudent and one that actually colored most of 2016. You can say that the start of this year appears to be an ‘about-face’.

 

Those global factors are still in play—but, now with rising oil prices (though hovering in the low $50/bbl range despite talk of reduced production) and rising prices of global polyolefins and other resins. But other key factors must be accounted for: in the case of PP, those include the significant run-up of propylene monomer prices, as well as tight supply in the case of both PP and PE at the start of the year.

 

In January 2016, domestic polyolefin prices carried a big premium over the rest of the world. In the case of PP, domestic PP pellets sold at nearly 25ȼ/lb higher than Chinese PP, as noted by Scott Newell, v.p. of PP markets at Resin Technology, Inc. (RTi). In the case of PE, where the concern is not imported pellets but finished film and bags, Chinese imported bags in the first week of that month were going for 75ȼ/lb while domestically produced bags were at 82ȼ/lb, which according to RTi’s v.p. of client services Mike Burns would become an urgent issue were that differential to widen beyond 10ȼ/lb. 

 

By the end of 2016, suppliers of both PE and PP had reduced prices adequately enough to combat imported finished goods in the case of the former and imported resin in the case of the latter. By the end of January, the pricing trajectory was reversed.

 

• In the case of PE, prices remained flat, but a February 5ȼ/lb price increase is now largely expected to be implemented by this month. RTi’s Burns notes that this is not a demand-driven increase, nor could he cite any solid driving factors behind the increase other than lower supplier inventories. He makes the point that PE suppliers pushed through 10% more exported material than is the norm in December, in their aim to reduce growing inventories. This has resulted in at least a temporaty tightening of the PE market, with off-grade material selling at or above prime resin prices.  Burns expected the market to be more balanced within the March-April time frame, noting that many processors were working off inventories in January and would buy only as needed though this month.

 

Once the market comes more into balance, factors to look at that could bring about further upward pricing are higher oil prices,  as well  and the strength of the export market, according to Burns.  He maintains that direct impact on PE prices is not likely to  materialize until oil approaches $60/bbl.

 

In the case of PP, prices moved up a whopping 10ȼ/lb last month in step with the late January settlement of propylene monomer, up to 41.5ȼ/lb from December’s 31.5ȼ.  If spot monomer prices continue to spike, February monomer contract prices could move up more, with PP following. RTi’s Newell ventures February PP prices could move up 5-8ȼ, but in step with monomer with no margin increases attached, noting, “Resin prices are moving up enough as it is in this very volatile market.”

 

For now, Newell projects the market becoming more balanced in the late March-April time frame, with prices settling down a bit. Still, he and Michael Greenberg, CEO of Plastics Exchange, The expected PP prices to reach to as high as the low 60ȼ/lb range before the end of first quarter. Both concede that prices in the low 40ȼ/lb range and even below seen in 2016, are unlikely to occur this year. Newell ventures prices will drop but closer to the high-40-to-low-50 ȼ/lb range. 

 

Bioplastic Based on a Fragrant Cellulose By-Product

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 1. February 2017

U.K. university researchers utilize chemical found in pine needles to produce new bioplastic.

 

Last month, I blogged about strides being made in the development of novel biodegradable plastics, including one derived from the organic compound chitin extracted from shrimp shells and one based on the cassava root—both of which are targeted to the production of shopping bags, food packaging and other flexible film applications. 

 

Strides are also being made in the development of renewably-sourced, tougher engineered bioplastics, and there’s a lot of attention on terpenes—a group of compounds synthetized in plants, particularly in coniferous trees such as pines.

 

In addition to being components of softwood and generated in large quantities as a wood waste product, other sources in nature include dandelions, rubber trees, and spices like aniseed, cloves, cinnamon and allspice.

 

Aside from being plentiful, the various terpenes—widely used for flavoring and fragrance—are becoming of particular interest to chemists as building blocks for more complex chemicals as replacements for petrochemicals. The reason is that they are chemically similar to molecules in crude oil: essentially, they are hydrocarbons in that they contain only hydrogen and carbon atoms.

 

This makes them easier and less expensive for chemists to work with, due to their familiarity with existing processes and equipment, compared to other plant-based materials, particularly those containing oxygen atoms.

 

Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at U.K’s University of Bath have been working with pinene, a terpene found in pine needles. One aim has been to develop a biobased caprolactone, a rubbery component and key feedstock for nylon polymers.

 

A pinene-based caprolactone can replace its petrochemical counterpart when used with degradable polyesters such as PLA to make them more flexible and sustaining the ‘renewable’ aspect of the resulting plastic.

 

The research is still in its early stages—just a few grams have been produced, but the researchers are aiming to scale up the process within the near future. “This research is part of a wider project that looks at using biobased chemicals like pinene as a sustainable starting material for making a range of useful products in the place of petrochemicals. This reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and provides a renewable feedstock that has the potential to revolutionize the chemical industry,” said professor Matthew Davidson, director of the CSCT and Whorrod professor of Sustainable Chemical Technologies.

 

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, this project also entails the investigation of other terpenes, such as limonene from citrus fruit to make a range of products—from plastics to pharmaceuticals.

 

Just last year, I blogged about a process developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB) that has been shown to produce high-performance engineering plastics from terpenes. Results from this ongoing work and potential applications were featured by Fraunhofer at K 2016 this past October. These researchers first aim was to develop a nylon 6-like bioplastic. Their novel nylon, synthesized from the terpene 3-caren, 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.

 




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