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Some Highlights From Global Plastics Summit 2014

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. October 2014

Early this month, I was at the very interesting and exceptionally well-attended 2014 Global Plastics Summit (GPS) hosted by IHS and SPI in Chicago, which addressed the industry’s challenges and opportunities. In addition to the informative commodity resin analyses and outlooks presented by top IHS pros, presenters included resin producers, processors and manufacturers and, there was a focus across key markets including, packaging, automotive, healthcare and medical. Here are some highlights:

 

• IHS sees continued good economic growth in 2015. North American gas supply is plentiful and low cost and a continued wide disparity between oil and gas prices is projected.

 

• Will converters benefit yet from shale gas development? This will take some time to trickle down from lower energy costs, but productivity is up in end-use plastic markets. IHS and SPI cite wages, productivity growth and lower energy costs as key drivers for competitiveness.

 

• Planned new ethylene capacity is now about a year behind and planned 2017 new PE capacity is not likely to show up until 2018, according to Nova Chemical’s Chris Bezaire, senior v.p, PE business. At that point, he says converters will have greater supply options, redundancy, more price leverage, less supply disruptions. He also noted that Nova is very concerned about PE demand destruction and was a reluctant follower of the September PE price hike.

 

• Also concerned about opportunity destruction due to high commodity resin prices were speakers representing leading North American flexible packaging and rigid packaging manufacturers Bemis Company and BWAY Corp., respectively. They addressed growth opportunities and threats for plastics, noting that cost is a key driver in material selection, but also noted that supply availability is crucial, citing tight supplies.

 

They described pricing of commodity resins, particularly PE, to be “irrational” over the last two years, and called for more public education to overcome negative perception of plastics. Bemis sees lots of opportunity for both metal and paper replacement in the food packaging arena. BWAY sees a “good news story” in terms of the conversion that has taken place in the consumer rigid packaging market, and a “bad news story” which is the return to alternative packaging due to higher resin prices.

 

•  Among some of the IHS experts’ resin pricing outlooks are:

 

PE

• Demand growth of 4.4%/yr or 1.2 times that of GDP.

• Most of the planned PE capacity will materialize, but with delays.

• There has not been one reduction in PE contract prices in the past 2 years, which is unprecedented, and it may go to 3 years.

• Flat prices are projected for remainder of the year, with “roughly” flat prices through 2015.

 

PP

•World PP capacity is more than adequate but North America will continue to have a “sellers” market because of tight supplies till 2017, when planned on-purpose propylene plants will start to make an impact.

• North America’s dependence on PP imports is growing—double in 2014 to that of 2008. Imported Asian pellets and finished goods like BOPP will continue as new PP capacity is not likely to be on stream until after 2017.

• PP prices are projected to stay high until capacity expansions come to fruition.

 

PET

• World PET capacity is long and will continue long, making suppliers’ resin margins short or non-existent.

• America is “getting healthy” and this is killing the PET carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market, while PET water bottles use under half of the PET of CSD bottles, driving operating rates to under 75%.

• In 2014, virgin PET suppliers lost volume to RPET, PET imports and APET sheet imports.

• Significant new PET North American capacity coming on stream next year may have to be exported unless there is a dramatic domestic demand increase.

• PET prices are projected to be relatively flat for 2015.

 

PVC

•  Global PVC construction market is expanding. In the Americas, it’s a healthy 3.8%.

• Low-cost feedstocks, along with construction market demand, are key drivers to PVC’s upsurge in the U.S.

• PVC prices are likely to be higher in the coming years.

• Supply/demand balance to improve; 3%/yr growth in demand projected.

 

Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastic Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.

 

 

More Details On The Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) Project

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 27. September 2014

 

As I discussed in an earlier blog this week, the launch of Cincinnati Inc.’s prototype Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine (BAAM) made a big splash at the recent IMTS show in Chicago, and further development of what is already an impressive machine is underway.

 

A couple more interesting tidbits about BAAM were passed onto me by my colleague Jim Callari. One is that Dri-Air Industries furnished the dryers for the carbon fiber reinforced ABS that was used for the Strati car project that was produced during IMTS. The other is that a well-known authority in plastics processing and machinery  designed the screw for the project. The original screw used was generating 10 lb/hr but the new design from this pro boosted BAAM’s output to 35-40 lb/hr, as noted in the earlier blog. This pro has also signed up to design and build new extruders for this evolving project.

 

As reported previously, BAAM resulted from the formation of the company’s partnership earlier this year with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop a large-scale additive manufacturing system. The partners aim: to introduce significant new capabilities to the U.S. machine tool sector which supplies manufacturing technology to automotive, aerospace, appliance, and robotic industries.

 

The prototype machine uses the chassis and drives of Cincinnati Inc.’s gantry-style laser cutting systems at the base, and incorporates a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism, and control software. Cincinnati Inc.’s market development manager Rick Neff explained to me how the company participated with Local Motors, Sabic and ORNL to take on the challenge to 3D print a car during the IMTS trade show.

 

Printing started on Sunday morning at 7 am, and by 6 am Tuesday, they had printed the main structure of the car including the frame, seats, cockpit, hood and tail in one 1000-lb piece. The rough part was then taken to a Thermwood Router where the surfaces that needed to be accurately machined smooth were routed smooth.

 

On Wednesday through Saturday morning, the Local Motors crew attached a drive train, suspension, steering wheel, instruments, brakes and some trim to complete the car. The car, named Strati (Italian for layers), uses a drive train from Renault that is employed in the European Twizy City Car. “Right on schedule at 9 am Saturday, we fired up the Strati and drove it out of the show…the reaction from the crowd and the press was overwhelming,” says Neff.

 

Here is some key information Neff provided about BAAM:

 

• The machine extrudes hot thermoplastic to build parts layer-by-layer, similar to an FDM machine.

• BAAM’s extrusion rates are very high—in the neighborhood of 35 lb/hr, which is reportedly hundreds of times faster than typical rapid prototyping 3D printers.

• The material for Strati is ABS with carbon fiber reinforcement formulated right into the plastic. Carbon fiber reinforced ABS is readily available for about $7/lb.

• The layer thickness is 0.160”.

• The build envelope on the prototype BAAM is 2m x 4m x 0.87m.

• The extruder can use quite a variety of thermoplastics and fiber reinforced thermoplastics. Neff says they have used ABS, PPS, PEKK, and PEI. Carbon fiber and glass fiber reinforcements have been used to improve strength and thermal stability of the parts.

 

Although a production version of BAAM is not yet ready for delivery, Neff confirms that the company is considering selling a very few alpha level machines to laboratories or companies who would like to do some basic research on the technology right now. He says, they are also willing to take orders for beta level and production machines that will be available in 2015 for customers who want to be the first in their industry to be using BAAM.

 

Big Area Additive Manufacturing Stars at IMTS

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 23. September 2014

At this year’s IMTS show in Chicago earlier this month, Cincinnati Inc., launched its prototype Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine (BAAM), which resulted from the formation of the company’s partnership earlier this year with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop a large-scale additive manufacturing system. One that would be capable of printing polymer components up to 10 times larger than what is currently producible, and at speeds 200-500 times faster than existing machines.

 

The partnership’s aim is to introduce significant new capabilities to the U.S. machine tool sector which supplies manufacturing technology to automotive, aerospace, appliance, and robotic industries. The prototype machine uses the chassis and drives of Cincinnati Inc.’s gantry-style laser cutting systems at the base, and incorporates a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism, and control software.

 

Cincinnati Inc.’s market development manager Rick Neff explained to me how the company participated with Local Motors, Sabic, and ORNL to take on the challenge to 3D print a car during the IMTS trade show. “We started printing on Sunday morning at 7 am. We printed the main structure of the car including the frame, seats, cockpit, hood and tail in one 1000-lb piece by 6 am on Tuesday. We then took the rough part to a Thermwood Router where the surfaces that needed to be accurately machined smooth were routed smooth.”

On Wednesday through Saturday morning, the Local Motors crew attached a drive train, suspension, steering wheel, instruments, brakes and some trim to complete the car. The car, named Strati (Italian for layers), uses a drive train from Renault that is employed in the European Twizy City Car. “Right on schedule at 9 am Saturday, we fired up the Strati and drove it out of the show…the reaction from the crowd and the press was overwhelming,” says Neff.

 

Here is some key information Neff provided about BAAM:

 

• The machine extrudes hot thermoplastic to build parts layer-by-layer, similar to an FDM machine.

• BAAM’s extrusion rates are very high—in the neighborhood of 35 lb/hr, which is reportedly hundreds of times faster than typical rapid prototyping 3D printers.

• The material for Strati is ABS with carbon fiber reinforcement formulated right into the plastic. Carbon fiber reinforced ABS is readily available for about $7/lb.

• The layer thickness is 0.160”.

• The build envelope on the prototype BAAM is 2m x 4m x 0.87m.

• The extruder can use quite a variety of thermoplastics and fiber reinforced thermoplastics. Neff says they have used ABS, PPS, PEKK, and PEI. Carbon fiber and glass fiber reinforcements have been used to improve strength and thermal stability of the parts.

 

Although a production version of BAAM is not yet ready for delivery, Neff confirms that the company is considering selling a very few alpha level machines to laboratories or companies who would like to do some basic research on the technology right now. He says, they are also willing to take orders for beta level and production machines that will be available in 2015 for customers who want to be the first in their industry to be using BAAM. 

Bayer To Quit Plastics

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 18. September 2014

Bayer AG has announced that it plans to focus entirely on its Life Science businesses—HealthCare and CropScience—and intends to float MaterialScience on the stock market by 2016 at latest as a separate company. The BMS business, with North American headquarters in Pittsburgh, is comprised of polyurethane, TPUs, PC, inorganic chemicals and coatings & adhesives.

 

Bayer CEO Dr. Marijn Dekkers says the company intends to create two top global corporations: Bayer as a world-class innovation company in the Life Science businesses, and MaterialScience as a leading player in polymers. Subsequent to the intended spin-off, MaterialScience will be Europe’s fourth largest chemical company; it had global sales in 2013 of more than $14.2 billion (pro forma figure). The new company will have a new name and a separate identity and be headquartered in Leverkusen, Germany. Employment levels are expected to remain stable over the next few years. It is planned that the new company will have a global workforce of about 16,800, including 6500 in Germany.

 

Dekkers noted that the company firmly believes that MaterialScience will use its separate status to deploy its existing strength even more rapidly, effectively and flexibly in the global competitive arena. A strategy and corporate culture aligned to technological and cost leadership, coupled with the ability to make its own investment and portfolio decisions, would give MaterialScience the best development prospects in a highly competitive market. That, according to Dekkers, includes direct capital market access so that that it would not have to compete with the Life Science businesses for investment funding in the future.

 

It is possible that a similar action might be taken by DuPont, according to a Sept. 17 Forbes article. Activist investor Nelson Peltz sent a note to DuPont’s board this past Tuesday, which said Peltz’s hedge fund, Trian Partners, is urging the company to break itself up. According to Forbes, Trian is one of DuPont’s largest shareholders and discussions have been underway for the past year as Trian feels that it can “no longer be silent as DuPont continues to struggle to execute” what Trian believes is a flawed business plan.

 

Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastic Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.

 

Thermoplastic Composites Prominent At SPE's ACCE

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 17. September 2014

Last week in Novi, Mich., I attended SPE’s Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) and was impressed by the daily panel discussions, including one on lightweighting and the multi-material car. Moderated by president and CEO Jay Baron of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), it featured panelists from Ford, GM, Magna, Gurit Automotive, and EDAG Engineering AG.

            Among the highlights of the discussion:

• Lightweighting in automotive is an enabling tool to deliver fuel economy and performance, and not something consumers care about.

• The greatest advantage of plastic composites currently is also their greatest disadvantage: that they are so infinitely tailorable.

• The composites industry would do well to take cues from the steel industry which has aligned itself with the automotive industry and identified the development of new materials.

• The steel industry seems to reinvent itself every 10 years and the third generation steel grades allow for making low-cost parts with tenfold the strength of previous generations. As such, we can expect a rather stable presence of low-cost, high-performance steel in automotive, even in the most composite-intensive vehicles.

• Ford’s new aluminum-intensive F-150 truck will demonstrate a significant step in weight reduction, but this can be achieved by other materials.

• There is great potential for carbon fiber reinforced plastics as new materials are developed, the cost is dropped, and parts are designed for these materials.

• By the same token, we are not likely to see high-volume, composite-intensive vehicles on the road for a while.

Also impressive was the broad range of presentations on developments in both thermoset and thermoplastic composites. A “star” emerging in the thermoplastics composites arena is long fiber thermoplastics (LFT). Advances with LFT were discussed by suppliers of materials like Invista and DuPont, suppliers of glass fiber reinforcements Owens-Corning and PPG, carbon fiber supplier Zoltec, as well injection molding machine maker Arburg, and the Fraunhofer Institute. In the exhibit hall, compounder PlastiComp, which specializes in LFT, showcased a semitruck fender liner made of LFT-PP, which outperformed a failed short glass fiber part and replaced metal, resulting in mass reduction and increased durability (see photo).

Stay tuned for an upcoming article in PT on these and other interesting developments in thermoplastic composites. These include  advances in thermoplastics reinforced with carbon nanotubes (CNTs), high-impact nylons reinforced with a new nanoadditive that are promising for use with FDM additive manufacturing technology, and new generation boron nitride nanotube continuous fibers that show potential to surpass in mechanical properties CNTs and possibly graphite fibers.

 

Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastic Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.

 


 




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