MEXICO CITY (Nov. 21, 2 p.m. ET) — Glass-fiber giant Owens Corning Corp. has put a new furnace on-stream at its glass-reinforcement facility in Tlaxcala, Mexico, an investment the Mexican government said is worth $80 million.
Owens Corning described the investment in a news release as “the latest step” in its global capacity to produce composite material. This fall’s announcement coincides with that of a similar investment at the company’s plant in Gus-Khroustalny, Russia, 120 miles east of Moscow.
“The Tlaxcala plant expansion will support increased manufacturing of Owens Corning’s corrosion-resistant Advantex glass and will initially produce assembled roving and dry-use chopped strands,” Owens Corning said.
The furnace more than doubles production capacity at the facility, 100 miles east of Mexico City, it added.
According to Mexico’s Economy Ministry, the investment is worth $80 million and will enable Owens Corning, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, to produce 220.5 million pounds of composites a year at the plant, making it one of the largest of its kind anywhere.
In a separate development, Steve Zirkel, general manager of Owens Corning’s global thermoplastics business, said a growing trend in glass-reinforced thermoplastics is being driven partly by the shale gas boom in the United States.
“We are continuing to see trends in the market for greater usage of thermoplastics in light vehicles, appliances, building and construction,” he said in a telephone interview. “Part of this is being driven by shale gas and continuing strength in the building sector.”
“Roughly a third of the glass-reinforced market is thermoplastics” he said, adding that, “of that third, a majority goes into automotive applications.”
Mexico boasts a mushrooming light-vehicle assembly sector, which is on course to produce 3.7 million units this year and 4 million in 2013. “We’re seeing movement in Tier 1 and Tier 2 [suppliers] in northern Mexico,” Zirkel said, explaining that Owens Corning’s “primary [supply] source” of glass-reinforced thermoplastics is one of its facilities in South Carolina.
But he added that Tlaxcala and other plants give the company “a lot of options” in terms of potential production growth.
Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari said the U.S. company also has signed agreements with Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to conduct nanotechnology research in Mexico.
Owens Corning was founded in 1938, employs 15,000 in 28 countries and reported sales of $5.3 billion in 2011. Its composites business posted sales of $1.43 billion through the third quarter, compared to $1.52 billion in the same period in 2011.