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CHICAGO — GE Plastics of Pittsfield, Mass., is touting new construction-related uses for two of its engineering thermoplastics.

Unveiled at NPE 1997 in Chicago this week are cedarlike shake roof panels made from Noryl PX1718 polyphenylene oxide resin, and a line of bathroom and kitchen surfaces produced with Enduran 7322, a mineral-filled polybutylene terephthalate compound.

While both products are intended for different parts — and different kinds — of homes, they share the same type of processes: sheet extrusion and thermoforming.

GE and American Sheet Extrusion Corp. of Evansville, Ind., hope high-end customers make the ``Perfect Choice,'' American Sheet's brand name for Noryl roofing panels.

The companies have teamed up to reduce costs and target a specific region in the relaunch of a product idea — plastic roofing — that has been tried several times during the past few years.

``The main focus is on the Western part of the United States,'' said Andres Pugi, GE's industry manager for building and construction.

The panels are aimed especially at California homeowners who want the cedar look, but need flame-resistant roofing in the brushfire-prone state. New building codes restrict the use of kindlinglike cedar, meaning the millions of homeowners who eventually will need to replace their wooden roofs could turn to a viable look-alike.

Noryl shakes attained a Class A flame-resistance rating, Pugi said.

Customers on the other end of the dry-wet scale also could benefit from Noryl roofing, according to Pugi.

Homeowners in the Pacific Northwest have to contend with moss and mold on damp cedar shingles, he said, adding that the Noryl products will retain their look longer and need to be replaced less often.

American Sheet produces 18-inch-by-40-inch panels by extruding the Noryl resin into sheets, then thermoforming 13 shakes into the sheets.

``Real cedar pieces were used to create the mold [for the panels],'' Pugi said, adding that in-line thermoforming is faster and more flexible than injection molding.

``It's a unique match in the resin,'' American Sheet President Ken Hedges said. ``The unique properties of Noryl match the unique needs of the roofing product.''

Noryl is more rigid, better withstands high roof temperatures and is more resistant to ultraviolet light damage than comparable resins like ABS, according to Hedges.

``Noryl costs about 40 percent more than an extrusion-grade ABS,'' he said.

``But the only penalties are in cost. In fact, if you want a fireretardant grade of ABS, you would pay about the same,'' he said.

Other companies have sold Noryl-based roofing products using huge — and costly — injection molding presses. One such product was installed at a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago for an NPE demonstration six years ago.

But commercial applications were scarce because of the high capital costs and low throughput experienced with injection molding.

Hedges is betting his company has found the right process, the right market and the right time to make a commercial go of a Noryl roofing product.

``We've learned from the things [injection molders] have gone through,'' he said. ``We're the ones who are going to get the opportunity to commercialize [Noryl roofing] to the fullest extent.''

Another GE resin has found new markets as a kitchen and bath surfacing material.

Extrusion and thermoforming again opened product and price options — this time for the 2-year-old Enduran resin family.

In the past, Enduran, a mineral-filled polybutylene terephthalate resin, typically was injection molded.

Coextrusion with ABS and other colors of Enduran allows greater product flexibility, according to Dennis Kopp, GE's industry manager for kitchens, bathrooms and manufactured housing.

By coextruding ABS with 30-40 percent Enduran content, counter tops, sinks and shower enclosures can take advantage of the material's good surface qualities, while benefiting from cost savings of as much as 50 percent over a pure Enduran product, according to Kopp.

Using two different colors of Enduran allows a thermoformed product to be routed, to create colorful patterns.

Uses the company envisions for the material include a tile-replacement product for bathrooms and small, horizontal kitchen surfaces.

According to Kopp, the reduced costs and increased uses have enticed manufactured housing makers, who traditionally operate under tight price points.

``GE typically goes after higher-end niche markets,'' he said.

But the sheer numbers could make it worth GE's investment to develop the market.

Manufactured housing accounted for more than 363,000 homes last year, according to the Manufactured Housing Institute, which is headquartered in Arlington, Va.

Initially, Enduran surface products will be offered in only eight colors, with more coming as the product identity develops, Kopp said.

Enduran surfaces combine the look of stone or granite with a soft feel and easy maintenance, Kopp said.

``This stuff is unbelievably durable,'' he added.

``It's virtually unbreakable. ABS brings phenomenal strength to the product.''