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A. Schulman ramps up products for K

By: Frank Esposito

October 16, 2013

DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — A challenging European economy isn't going to stop A. Schulman Inc. from showcasing several new products at K 2013.

Those products include flame-retardant masterbatch concentrates and a new nylon 6 powder for rotomolding, Schulman executive Heinrich Lingnau said in a recent interview at the firm's regional headquarters in Kerpen, Germany. Lingnau serves as vice president and general manager of the Europe/Middle East/Africa region for Schulman (Hall 8A/D12).

The nylon 6 powder can be used in rotomolded fuel tanks and is "a revolution for the industry," Lingnau said. Previously, only polyethylene and nylon 12 could be used in such rotomolding applications, he added. Schulman partnered with Dutch materials firm DSM NV to develop the material, which Lingnau said sells for less than similar materials but provides similar performance in fuel barrier and other properties.

New flame-retardant masterbatches are part of Schulman's Polybatch line. Also at K, Schulman will be unveiling new masterbatches that use the firm's Papermatch technology, which can provide the appearance and feel of paper in packaging for butter and other food products.

Schulman also has unveiled numerous new products in the last year, all of which are now commercially available. These include:

* A broad range of flame retardant compounds and masterbatches aimed at appliances and household products.

* High-impact grades of Schuladur-brand PET and PBT compounds for the solar and automotive industries.

* Sustainable grades of nylon/ ASA compounds used in e-bikes.

* Schulamid-brand XT nylon compounds that offer extreme temperature stability in auto parts, such as downsized motors and engines. These materials can withstand high temperatures for more than 3,000 hours without changing properties, according to technical customer service head Dirk Hansch.

* Light-weight hybrid Schulamid grades, including nylons blended with polyolefins such as specialty polypropylene.

* Schuladur PCR grades with high recycled content of PBT and PET. These include a 30 percent glass-filled PBT.

Schulman is based in Fairlawn, Ohio, but for many years the firm has generated most of its sales from Europe. Schulman now operates more than 1.5 billion pounds of annual compounding and concentrate capacity in its Europe/Middle East/Africa region. Combined with its resin distribution unit, Schulman handles more than two billion pounds of thermoplastics per year there.

That unit distributes for 14 resin makers, selling almost 900 million pounds of resin annually to 11,000 customers. The business handles virgin, near-prime and recycled grades of both commodity and engineering resins. Schulman's ICO-brand rotomolding powders unit operates five plants in the region and also does tolling work.

Schulman ranks as Europe's largest masterbatch concentrate maker — with nine production sites — as well as the region's largest non-integrated engineering resin compounder. In addition to its regional headquarters, the firm operates a technology and development center in Kerpen, as well as a compounding plant with more than 200 million pounds of annual capacity.

Schulman operates two other similar-sized plants in the region as well.

One of Schulman's major customers in the region is auto parts giant Bosch. Schulman's materials can be used in numerous interior and exterior automotive applications, including wipers, window housings, door handles, and under-hood parts such as motor covers, water pumps and other high-temperature parts.

"Our customers are in a situation where European demand is not super growth-oriented," Lingnau said. "So they need more innovation and better solutions."

Hansch added that most of Schulman's customers want the solution that works best for their application, rather than a specific material or resin.

With much of Europe working to pull itself out of an economic recession, Schulman's challenge has been readily apparent. "The European plastics market is looking at slow to no growth, and the magnitude of [resin price] volatility is increasing," Lingnau said. "Before the recession, demand growth was in the low single digits. It's been coming back in the last couple of months, but it's not back to pre-recession levels."

Longer-term, Lingnau said that Schulman "needs to be more cautious on cash flow," partly because of shorter lead times requested by customers.

In the first nine months of its 2013 fiscal year, Schulman's global sales grew 2 percent to almost $1.6 billion, but the firm's profit slipped almost 30 percent to $29.7 million.