HOUSTON - Just as resin producers promised, thermoplastic resins made with metallocene catalyst technology are giving converters performance characteristics that allow them to improve existing products and to make new products. The outlook for converters - especially for the lucky ones who will be pushed into processing metallocene resin by their suppliers or customers - is good.
Indeed, Brian Gersh told a recent conference gathering in Houston that he believes metallocene-catalyzed resins will be the most common types of polyolefins available in the world in 30 years, and converters who are not processing metallocenes will be obsolete by then. Gersh, an industry specialist for polymers for Arthur D. Little Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., spoke Sept. 20 at SPO '95, the specialty polyolefins conference organized by Schotland Business Research Inc.
Gersh took a futuristic overview of the effects metallocene resins would have on the polyolefins converting industry, while another conference speaker, Joseph Gagne, provided his views on the effects of metallocene resins on current markets.
Gagne, operations manager and technical director for Deerfield Plastics Co. Inc. of South Deerfield, Mass., looked at today's world realistically.
He said his company, a maker of blown polyethylene films for packaging, has found metallocene resins allow higher line speeds, better heat seals, fewer leaks in packages, and better clarity in multilayer constructions.
``To the end user, this may also mean a slight increase in packaging costs due to the higher cost of the metallocenes; however, this may be offset by potentials for downgauging the product,'' Gagne said. He noted that his company's tests with metallocene-based resins are not complete.
While he cited improved clarity and better bonding strength as benefits of metallocene resins, Gagne said his company has had several production problems with the resins.
``The melt stability, therefore the bubble stability, is not as good with metallocene linear low density polyethylene as with conventional LLDPE,'' Gagne said.
Because of that, manufacturing personnel at Deerfield have to monitor stiffness and tension more carefully with mLLDPE resins to avoid tears and wrinkling, he said.
Gagne said another area to monitor closely is resin compatibility. He noted that it appears that mLLDPE resins do not have the wide range of compatibility that conventional LLDPE resins have, and said manufacturing personnel at Deerfield have to watch lines closely.
Finally, converters must redesign their existing equipment set-ups, in part to accommodate the higher back pressures that mLLDPE resins require in processing, Gagne said.
However, in summing up, Gagne said metallocene resins appear to offer solutions to a wide range of problems, and that he believes the problems his company has discovered in processing the materials will be overcome.
In looking at metallocenes, Gersh imagined he was in the future, looking back at the world from the year 2025.
He said he believes that in 30 years it will be clear that resin suppliers and end users had to offer incentives to push reluctant converters into using metallocene resins.
He said he believes converters who use metallocene resins will remain in business in 30 years, while those who do not adopt the technology will disappear.
``[Suppliers] provided assistance for machine modifications early in development to provide incentive for the converter to switch to metallocene polyolefins,'' Gersh said.
``Some leading converters embraced metallocenes early as a basis of differentiation, in support of programs with end users. These leading converters embraced metallocenes based on partnerships with end users or to support their leading market position,'' he said in his rear-view mirror approach.
``Small converters embraced metallocenes as a basis of competitive advantages for small volume applications, thus allowing them to enhance margins.
``Finally, converters that did not adopt metallocenes lost market position as metallocenes became the new quality standard in the industry,'' and those converters became obsolete, Gersh said.