GARLAND, TEXAS-Fritz Popst is a man on a metallocenes mission. The direct-speaking veteran of Texas blown film plants started his own company this year.
Popst bought three Battenfeld Gloucester monolayer blown film lines. He had the roof cut out of the industrial building and extended to accommodate the towers. To make bags, he runs a blend of metallocene-based polyethylene resins which, despite all the publicity, remains a brand-new material, more expensive than traditional film resins.
Popst Manufacturing Corp. in Garland didn't even have any orders when its crew began blowing bags in April.
Talk about a leap of faith.
But by mixing metallocene into linear low density PE - usually at 10-15 percent - Popst Manufacturing has been able to downgauge its monolayer bags by about 25 percent.
``And we still have as good or better product,'' Popst said.
Popst shared some of his knowledge about running metallocene LLDPE during a plant tour in August.
Right now, it doesn't matter that the word ``metallocene'' is a foreign language to buyers of products that flow from the factory in the Dallas suburb, things like institutional trash bags, meat box liners, baler bags, pallet covers and gaylord liners. Other markets include poultry packaging and bags for asbestos removal and carpet shipment.
``You could call it buffalo chips. They could care less about the name,'' he said. All they know is employees at Popst Manufactur-ing can stuff more bags into the same sized shipping box, and the customer gets more bags that are just as good for the same price.
``In three months I'm virtually sold out,'' Popst said. ``Am I proud of that? For a start-up company, you're damn right.''
Metallocene catalyst resins came along at just the right time for Popst Manufacturing, which uses Exxon Chemical Co.'s Exceed metallocene-based LLDPE. As a startup, the material allows the firm to quickly differentiate itself from other film makers - at least until metallocenes become widespread.
Popst thinks that won't take long. Like other boosters of the new material, he draws parallels with the breakthrough introduction of linear low density polyethylene in the 1970s. LLDPE began eating into traditional low density polyethylene in film markets.
``There'll always be linear, but I think the product you'll see five years from now will be linear and metallocene, not just linear,'' he said. ``You had 20 years of linear. Now you've got a new pellet.''
Blown film is the biggest initial market for metallocenes. Officials of Houston-based Exxon were unable to say how many other film blowers use the material. But not many are making monolayer film like Popst; coextruded film is considered easier to make.
Popst Manu-facturing and its 16 production employees are hardly starting from scratch, however.
``I have over 200 years of film processing experience here, and they all think they know how to make the best bags,'' Popst said. Phil Lanning, vice president of manufacturing, has 18 years in the business.
Popst hired his vice president of sales, Gene Wailes, in April, just after Wailes had retired from another bag maker. At Popst Manufacturing, Wailes' nickname is ``Phoenix.'' He began selling bags for Gulf States Paper Corp. in 1963.
``We made some of the first polyethylene grapefruit bags and sold in the Rio Grande Valley,'' he said. He worked on and off for several other Texas film companies. At one point he hired Popst. Later he went to another company and they scrapped over bag business in Texas and around the country.
Wailes has a new energy. Although he could not detail the exact application, he said Popst Manufacturing is on the verge of a major breakthrough in a see-through bag for industrial packaging bag that will replace some formidable materials.
``They came up with a spec that we had to meet in the polyethylene industry that was so tough because we were competing against woven polypropylene and burlap, which is cross weaved so you've got tremendous strength both ways,'' Wailes said.
The six-mil LLDPE contains 30 percent metallocene content, the highest amount yet used by Popst Manufacturing.
The company has run test film with higher amounts of metallocene resin, but Popst was unable to detect a major improvement in quality. ``At 40 percent I saw no value in going on. It wasn't getting any better,'' he said. ``At what point is overkill?''
``In the thicker bags, at 30 percent, it's almost bulletproof,'' he said.
A bag won't really stop a bullet, but Popst led a tour through the plant showing off the strength of metallocene bags. He grabbed a bag measuring 0.0065 mils thick, and began stretching. When the bag did not break, he put 40 pounds of weight inside and lifted. Then he threw in another 25 pounds of packing tape and poked holes in the bag. Normally, the holes would tend to enlarge.
But that didn't happen. Then a grinning Popst turned to a visitor, asking: ``How much do you weigh?''