In the space of a few short minutes, Colorite Polymers President Robert Brookman can talk up his company's potential Asian expansion and then tell you he feels like he's been on the defensive for more than 20 years.
Such is life for a PVC compounder in 1997.
Brookman is in his second year as president of the Ridgefield, N.J.-based firm, which includes the Unichem, Cybertech, Specialty Vinyl and Colorite Europe Ltd. segments of PureTec Corp.
Colorite (Booth E11024), a global leader in garden hose production, opened a medical-grade compounding plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, earlier this year and expanded a similar plant in Sparks, Nev.
The company's annual medical-grade PVC capacity now stands at 125 million pounds.
Brookman said his defensive stance is a result of criticism that has been leveled at PVC since the mid-1970s. He addressed these and other concerns — as well as Colorite's growth outlook and new products — in a May 29 telephone interview from Ridgefield.
Colorite — and the PVC industry as a whole — has become accustomed to defending itself from claims that PVC is harmful to the environment, he said.
Though the industry still takes such claims seriously, Brookman said, environmental groups such as Greenpeace ``have been proven wrong so many times people don't listen anymore.''
``When these allegations are made, such as the latest claim that PVC is an endocrine disrupter, we need to refute that with accurate science,'' he added. ``But Greenpeace can just make a statement, while it takes us a year or a year and a half to do the testing.''
In spite of such opposition, U.S. PVC production has grown from between 3 billion and 4 billion pounds in the mid-1970s, to its current total of 12 billion to 13 billion pounds, Brookman said
But he brushed away two other thorny topics: metallocene polyethylene's threat to PVC and the company's recently announced review by an investment banking firm.
While conceding that metallocenes offer a weight advantage when compared with PVC, Brookman said some metallocene characteristics still make it an impractical choice for medical applications.
``An [intravenous] set is put together by solvent welding and heating and that can't be done with metallocenes,'' he said. ``A manufacturer would have to retool an entire plant and I don't think many of them would be willing to do that.''
PureTec's financial review of its Plastics Specialties and Technologies subsidiary — which includes Colorite — is part of an effort to refinance debt PS&T had accumulated before merging with PureTec two years ago, Brookman said. But he said industry speculation that the review is an indicator that PS&T might be for sale is off-target.
``Under no circumstances is any division of PureTec for sale,'' he said. ``We hired investment bankers because we're not crazy about the 11.5 percent interest on the debt.''
A May 28 release from PureTec supports Brookman's statement of the company's intent. The sale speculation may have been fueled by PureTec's recent decision to reduce its work force at Specialty Vinyl Resins in Burlington, N.J., by 10 percent—an elimination of 15 or 16 jobs.
That cut, which Brookman said was mostly done through early retirement and reassignment, will save the firm about $750,000 annually.
PureTec's first-quarter sales of $66.4 million were down 9.2 percent from its 1996 first-quarter mark of $73.1 million. But the firm's losses improved for that same period from $4.5 million in 1996 to $3.2 million this year.
The firm posted total sales of $345 million in 1996.
With those trouble spots out of the way, he quickly warmed to the topic of Colorite's plans in the medical-grade PVC market. He offered several reasons for the 5-6 percent growth rate seen in recent years for disposable medical devices.
``We've got an aging population and more people are being treated in hospitals,'' he said. ``And in cases like AIDS and hepatitis, people don't want to reuse medical materials. You've also got areas like home health care where more IV sets are needed.''
Brookman targeted the Middle East and Asia—particularly Singapore—as possible locations for a new medical-grade PVC facility. He said Colorite expects to make an announcement on its Asian plans by year-end.
In addition to its global maneuvers, the firm is introducing four compounds and two resins at NPE, including Elastichem elastomeric PVC compound and Weatherflex compounds, designed to withstand extreme temperatures.
Brookman said the firm thinks Elastichem can make inroads in the automotive market by replacing synthetic rubber and thermoplastic elastomers in such parts as door gaskets.
Weatherflex, which is aimed at the electrical cable market, has a low liquid content and claims to be less brittle than competing products.
Colorite also is unveiling Unichem 95-950 flexible PVC compound, Cybercoil engineering-grade TPE and two specialty PVC resins for automotive, flooring, carpet and other uses.