TORONTO - Recycling of automotive sheet molding compounds suffered a setback April 1 when the major North American facility recycling the material shut down. Phoenix Fibreglass Inc. in Oakville, Ontario, closed its 28-employee operation because of low demand for recycled SMC materials. Its owner, Owens Corning of Toledo, Ohio, will write the plant off at a cost of about $500,000, estimated Owens Corning spokesman William Hamilton.
Phoenix was a key link in the SMC Automotive Alliance's efforts to recycle SMC. Phoenix showed recycling SMC is technically feasible, but automakers were slow to specify recycled content in SMC parts. Hamilton said automakers have not been convinced of any performance or cost benefit of using filler derived from recycled SMC.
SMC Auto Alliance Chairman Al True-man said he hopes the alliance can find another recycler to replace Phoenix by as early as the 1998 model year.
It could take that long to sell the more than 1 million pounds of recycled material now inventoried among the alliance's members.
``Let's make sure before we start up again that we can sustain [sales],'' Trueman said from the alliance's Troy, Mich., office. ``We understand the logistics and economics, but let's make sure the demand is there.''
He was reluctant to blame any one industry sector. All sectors spent a lot of time developing recycling technology, fine-tuning formulas and testing molded parts ``to make sure the product is the best it can be.''
Alliance members have spent several million dollars on recycling since 1990. Its 27 members include seven firms that supply recycled SMC: Budd Co. Plastics Division, Cambridge Industries Inc., Eagle-Picher Plastics Division, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Menasha Corp., Molded Fiber Glass Cos. and Navistar International. They were Phoenix's major customers.
SMC recycling mainly yields a mixture of finely ground glass fibers and thermoset particles suitable to replace up to half the calcium carbonate filler in SMC. Smaller amounts of chopped strands and milled glass fibers also result. The alliance focused on post-industrial SMC scrap but also worked on recycling SMC recovered for scrapped automobiles. An ideal program needs to include the latter stream, said Trueman, who is vice president of worldwide commercial development at Budd Co.'s Plastics Division in Troy.