HOW TO KEEP PACE WHEN TECHNOLOGY TAKES OFF

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HOUSTON — Processors should keep up with polyolefin developments because technology could make life complicated for the whole plastics industry, a consultant told delegates at the Society of Plastics Engineer's Polyolefins X conference in Houston.

``You can do so much more [with new resins], that people will want to do more,'' said Kenneth Sinclair, principal of STA Research of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Single-site catalysts such as metallocenes will encourage producers and users ``to have a field day'' with the new resins, Sinclair said in a conference discussion.

Sinclair predicted new polyolefins will affect all plastics as researchers fine-tune molecular architecture to compete with resins ranging from commodities to engineering polymers. He described new catalysis technology as ``the most intense technology to hit the plastics industry, ever.''

At the Feb. 23-26 show, Sinclair stressed that processors need to find out what suppliers can offer. Communication with suppliers is important because few standard grades exist for new resins.

``The processor doesn't know what to ask for,'' he said.

Sinclair said new polyolefins face ``mass customization'' as researchers match properties with specific applications.

Polypropylene suppliers have been doing it for 15 years, using compounding, multiple reactors and other techniques to exploit PP's inherent abilities and ``get all the variations possible.'' The polyethylene industry will evolve similarly, he predicted.

Another speaker said his company gained by communicating closely with its suppliers and capitalizing on metallocene resins. David Fischer, a founder of Rochester, N.Y.-based Cypress Packaging Inc., said his company got in on the ground floor of metallocenes in 1991 when it solved a fresh-cut produce packaging problem with metallocene PE blends. Cypress first addressed a heat-seal problem, but soon relied on metallocenes for clarity and oxygen transmission control in packaging.

In 1995, the firm became the largest producer of blown film from metallocene resins, Fischer said. Last year, W.R. Grace & Co.'s Cryovac unit acquired Cypress to expand into produce packaging. Fischer is Cypress vice president and general manager.

Cypress has a $20 million expansion under way that will add cast film production and boost printing and laminating capacity. Fischer said the company has entered stand-up pouch production and co-developed undisclosed technology with a metallocene resin supplier. The partners have applied for patents and will introduce the technology within six months, Fischer said.

``We think the metallocene market will explode,'' he said.

Fischer claimed Cypress exploited metallocenes ``without a single research scientist or packaging engineer on staff.'' He attributed its success to its willingness to work with suppliers.

``Our competitors have been too reluctant to allow suppliers in their plants and to give them access for testing,'' he noted. ``They often limit supplier contact to new-product briefings in a conference room and keep them away from manufacturing. We were different.''

Keynote speaker Robert Ockun, senior vice president of Montell North America Inc. of Wilmington, Del., said companies must form new types of partnerships. Coining the term ``powerships,'' Ockun said firms must pool strengths to ``jolt the market to your advantage.'' He said traditional partnerships, in which a customer's aim is to load costs onto a partner, will disappear.