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ROMANS, FRANCE — Polyurethane elastomer specialist Michel Baule SA/Ureflex has completed a $2.65 million expansion of its chemical, machinery and molding facilities in Romans, setting the stage for a ``significant increase'' of the firm's systems offerings in 1997.

Parallel to the expansion, Ureflex has established a North American beachhead, licensing Air Products Co. to handle its PU systems business and Hi-Tech Engineering of Grand Rapids, Mich., to assemble and sell Ureflex processing equipment.

Ureflex recently hosted 40 customers from around the world at a business seminar held at the new facilities to mark the company's 20th anniversary.

At the heart of the firm's modernization program is a 27,000-square-foot laboratory and machinery assembly shop that allows Ureflex to offer customers a complete systems approach —machinery and polymers. The combined research and development center also provides customers with the opportunity to run trials of new systems/equipment/products prior to setting up production in their own plants.

Ureflex began in 1976 as a PU elastomers molder in Romans and later started mixing its own PU formulations and making its own machinery. In 1987 the firm decided to offer machinery on the open market, and in 1989 it started the prepolymers business.

Molding of PU elastomers at MB Polymeres remains Ureflex's largest business area, accounting for 49 percent of 1996 sales of $21 million, but chemicals sales from the firm's MB Chimie division have doubled since 1993 to $8.3 million.

MB Chimie should become the company's main business in the coming few years, especially considering the firm's plan to broaden its polyurethane systems product range in the coming year and its licensing of Air Products in the United States.

The company did not elaborate on its expansion plans for next year. It currently processes 3.3 million pounds of methylene diisocyanate- and toluene diisocyanate-based quasi and prepolymer systems, along with polyether and polyester polyols and aliphatic isocyanates.

Machinery sales have grown nearly a third to $2.4 million since 1993. MB Mecanique has sold more than 100 low pressure dispensing machines in the past nine years.

The product range covers simple two-component mixing machines to more sophisticated three- and four-component capabilities, with outputs ranging from 200 grams to 200 liters per minute. Ureflex also offers equipment and engineering assistance in ribbon flow roll covering.

MB Mecanique also refurbishes and updates its equipment. Visitors at the anniversary meeting saw the first machine Michel Baule ever sold, in 1987, in operation at the technical center. It had been refurbished and sold to Politan Poliuretan San. ve Tic. AS of Istanbul, Turkey.

Overall, Ureflex's sales have grown 48 percent since 1993, while the number of employees has risen 21 percent, to 102.