TORONTO — The Society of Plastics Engineers posthumously honored at Antec '97 the man who launched the expanded polystyrene industry.
Ray McIntire, a former chemical engineer with Dow Chemical Co., unwittingly invented EPS in 1941 while trying to synthesize a new rubber. Dow named the product Styrofoam. It now makes more than 600 million pounds of Styrofoam extruded EPS annually at 26 plants around the world.
On that fateful day McIntire mixed equal amounts of styrene monomer and isobutylene in a pressure reactor and heated the mixture for a week. When he opened the reactor he found the styrene had polymerized but the isobutylene had evaporated and foamed the polystyrene. By accident he used the exact ratio of materials that allowed the evaporating isobutylene to cool the polystyrene below its softening point and set it as a rigid, closed-cell foam.
Billy Williams, director of research and development for Dow's Fabricated Products business, presented SPE's Outstanding Achievement Award to McIntire's widow April 29. It was the first time SPE has presented the award posthumously. McIntire, born in 1918 in Gardner, Kan., died in February 1996.
Williams discussed highlights of McIntire's career at Dow, which he joined in 1940 after graduating from the University of Kansas in chemical engineering. McIntire also helped develop high-impact PS, Saran plastic film and acrylic fibers, and held technical management positions at Dow.
The first commercial form of Styrofoam was extruded logs about a foot in diameter and 10 feet long with a density of 0.8 pounds per cubic foot. The logs were cut into pieces for Coast Guard life rafts and other marine applications and building insulation. Other uses proliferated and Styrofoam soon became a preferred insulation for homes and buildings.
Styrofoam has become so commonplace that many people mistakenly equate the name with all types of EPS. Dow is concerned about the frequency of this mistake and continues to ``vigorously protect'' its tradename, a spokeswoman said after the Antec presentation.
Antec was held April 28-May 2 in Toronto.