Buoyed by strong market growth and corporate restructuring, Mobil Chemical Co. is increasing production of oriented polypropylene packaging films worldwide. Already the leader in OPP production, Mobil, through its Pittsford, N.Y.-based Films Division, will increase capacity by one-third, from about 430 million pounds a year to about 575 million pounds by the end of 1998.
The expansion will be distributed evenly between Mobil's North American and European facilities and its new joint venture in Thailand. It is aimed at meeting increased demand for OPP, which is replacing cellulosic films in many packaging applications. Industry experts estimate OPP use will grow 6-8 percent annually for the next few years.
Mike Kimmitt, a spokesman for Mobil Chemical Co., said about 70 million pounds of capacity increases will come from production upgrades at Mobil Films plants in Stratford, Conn.; LaGrange, Ga.; Shawnee, Okla.; and Belleville, Ontario.
A new, state-of-the-art metalizer went into use last fall in Belleville.
The company's North American capacity will total about 305 million pounds when the improvements are complete.
In Europe, Mobil will expand capacity at three plants by 50 million pounds per year. The boosts will bring European capacity to about 245 million pounds per year by the end of 1998. Included in the European expansion will be installation of a new film orientation line with 20 million pounds of capacity at the firm's Virton, Belgium, site. Additional capacity also is planned for facilities in Kerkrade, the Netherlands, and Br¡ndisi, Italy.
Kimmitt said the orienter at Virton is significant because it is capable of producing Mobil's new Hicor-brand oriented high density polyethylene film. The company is touting the film, also produced at the Stratford facility, for its stiffness, ability to fold and puncture resistance.
The third area of capacity expansion will be accomplished through Mobil's joint venture with Thai Film Industries Public Co. Ltd. of Bangkok, Thailand. The resulting firm, TFM Packaging Films Co. Ltd., will make about 20 million pounds per year of OPP at Rayong, Thailand, beginning in 1997.
``The Films Division has been restructured to make it more entrepreneurial and more able to make autonomous moves in response to the market,'' Kimmitt said. ``We subscribe to the predictions of growth for OPP in the future.''
Kimmitt said the sale of Mobil's Plastics Division to Packaging Corp. of America, a unit of conglomerate Tenneco Inc., freed some funds for the Films Division's expansions.
``Actually, our parent, Mobil Corp., has an ongoing downsizing, which has resulted in greater concentration on its core oil, gas and petrochemical business over the last several years,'' he said. ``That has resulted in restructuring and production efficiencies that have helped us be more competitive.''
He declined to quantify the cost of the announced OPP expansions.
The Mobil announcement comes at a time when other OPP film producers are boosting production capacities.
Applied Extrusion Technologies Inc. of Peabody, Mass., said it will boost its OPP capacity by 50 million pounds per year, to 225 million pounds, by 1997, while Vifan Canada Inc., a Montreal-based unit of Vibac Finanziaria SpA of Aless ndria, Italy, has begun a $75 million, 85 million-pound-per year capacity upgrade at its North American facility.
In addition, Celanese Mexicana SA de CV of Monterrey, Mexico - a joint venture of Hoechst AG and Hoechst Trespaphan - is spending $50 million to boost production at its Zacapu, Mexico, plant. Hoechst AG of Frankfurt, Germany, also is teaming with London-based Courtaulds plc to boost capacity this year at plants in Neunkirchen, Germany; Swindon, England; and Mantes, France, to 264 million pounds per year.
Inteplast Group, a unit of Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastic Corp., also has added two OPP film lines at its Lolita, Texas, facility, while Borden Inc., the Columbus, Ohio-based dairy, food and packaging giant, recently announced it will sell its worldwide packaging business, which includes substantial OPP film production.