PITTSFIELD, MASS. — Although GE Plastics does not expect to continue last year's breakneck $800 million pace of capital investment, officials are eyeing several smaller expansions and banking on new resins unveiled March 26 to fuel new growth.
The plant expansions include additional capacity for Ultem polyetherimide at its Mount Vernon, Ind., facility; a revamping of its Washington, W.Va., plant to boost acrylic styrene acrylonitrile resin capacity; and a new facility in Germany to double European capacity for crystalline resins.
Much of the $800 million spent on infrastructure last year — the most GE Plastics has ever spent in a single year — went to a facility in Cartagena, Spain.
The Pittsfield firm is installing some 286.6 million pounds of polycarbonate resin capacity there by next year.
Also internationally, GE officials are very bullish on the market for engineering thermoplastics in Mexico.
``I think it's going to grow like crazy,'' said Gary Rogers, GE Plastics president and chief executive officer.
Rogers said GE has had to shift some staff from its South Korean affiliate to GE Plastics' wholly owned ABS compounding plant in Tampico, Mexico, to handle the flood of business from Korean electronics manufacturers expanding their production operations in Mexico.
GE Plastics also invested more than $20 million in the past year to implement Six Sigma quality standards, which translates into no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.
``We recovered all our costs in the first year of Six Sigma,'' said Ferdinando Beccalli, who in January was named vice president and general manager of GE Plastics, Americas. ``We have several hundred people devoted exclusively to Six Sigma now, and more than 500 projects ongoing in this area.''
Meanwhile, GE rolled out several new products, including a line of PC/ABS blends particularly for automotive exteriors and computer monitors, an Ultem/ polyphenylene oxide resin for automotive under-the-hood applications, three Geloy ASA resins; and a Lexan PC targeted at the optical market.
The Mount Vernon expansion will boost capacity for Ultem by 20 percent by the third quarter, with additional capacity planned in 1998 and 1999 that should double its Ultem business to 40 million pounds by 2000, according to Michael W. Huff, general manager of the high-performance polymers group.
GE is set to double its current ASA resin capacity and triple compounding capacity with a revamping of its West Virginia plant by July, said Paul McBride, general manager of Cycolac/Geloy resins. The company said in August it was eliminating about 300 jobs at the Washington facility as it phased out Cycolac ABS compounding at the site.
In its place, the firm is adding previously announced Cycolac compounding capacity at plants in Bay St. Louis, Miss., (four new twin-screw extruders and 230 million pounds per year) and Ottawa, Ill. (100 million pounds), by 1998.
GE managers confirmed some analysts' projections of overcapacity in the ABS market but, they said, long-term growth still looks good.
``There is overcapacity, no doubt,'' McBride said. ``I tend to look at it as optimistic. We've gotten commitments to invest, to improve quality.''
ABS growth will be modest compared with resins such as Lexan, with ABS demand rising at a pace with the gross domestic product in Europe and the Americas and 7-10 percent a year in the Pacific, he said.
GE also is testing a streamlined production process for Ultem in Mount Vernon, and Huff said the aim is to construct a plant after 2000 to make Ultem.
Crystalline resins will get a boost when the company opens a polybutylene terephthalate facility in Scharzheide, Germany, in the second quarter.
The plant will produce 70 million pounds of PBT resin, doubling the company's European crystalline resin capacity, according J. Michael Brown, general manager of crystalline polymer products.
The company announced a series of new resins or improvements to existing resins:
A new Ultem/PPO resin blend, MD133, a cheaper Ultem product aimed at under-the-hood automotive applications and at replacing stainless steel in some food-service applications.
Two new Cycoloy PC/ABS blends, part of product launches including upgrades of two other resins. The new resins are ECO80, a flame-retardant grade for thicker-wall computer monitors (at $1.25-$1.30 per pound), and MC8800 ($1.25-$1.50 a pound), its first such grade for automotive exterior panels.
The upgrades are C6200, for thinner-wall business equipment ($1.35-$1.45), and IP1000, for automotive interior applications ($1.20-$1.50), he said.
The MC8800 and IP1000 products are to be available in the second quarter.
The company said it plans to sell 17 times the Cycoloy in 2001 than it sold in 1991.
Three new ASA blends for recreational vehicles, auto exteriors and building and construction.
A Cycolac ABS resin launched in the last few months, VW55, is in a market projected to grow about 100 million pounds in three years, McBride said. VW55 has improved flame-retardant characteristics for the business equipment market.
An optical-quality Lexan resin called OQ3 White Water, which will be available for eye-care markets in the second quarter.
A new crystalline PBT resin called Valox 364, designed for outdoor telecommunications uses such as smart network interface devices, which provide a single location on outside walls for phone lines and advanced information technologies.
The company plans to feature its ``Weatherables'' line at NPE 1997 in Chicago in June. GE Plastics will have a 13,000-square-foot exhibit area that will subject materials and visitors to weather conditions, including temperature extremes, in a specially constructed room.