CHICAGO — BASF Corp.'s North American concerns these days start with the letter A, as in Altamíra, Mexico, where 615 million pounds of polystyrene and styrenic polymers are coming on line July 17. Mexican development could be the shape of things to come, according to Reinhart Katz, vice president of BASF's plastic materials division (Booth S330).
``More and more competition could shift to Mexico from Asia,'' Katz said in a Monday afternoon interview at NPE 1997 in Chicago. ``With the devaluation in Mexico in the last three years, companies that used to go to Asia can get the same cost advantages in wages and salaries in Mexico.''
Katz added that the Altamíra plant will give BASF an added North American presence to give its customers the same resin grades worldwide.
``We're trying to follow our customers or stay ahead of them,'' Katz said.
The Mount Olive, N.J.-based firm also has 240 million pounds of high-impact polystyrene on the way for late 1998 in Joliet, Ill.
But David Vranesich, the company's PS sales and marketing director, said the impact of that new capacity will not be felt immediately and may not even be enough to turn around slumping PS prices.
The slump can be seen in prices for injection-grade HIPS, which averaged 46 cents in mid-May after being as high as 57 cents as recently as July 1996, according to Plastics News' resin pricing chart.
Similarly, general-purpose injection grades of crystal PS averaged 44 cents in May, down from 55 cents in July 1996, according to the chart. Those averages are based on annual purchases of between 2 million and 5 million pounds.
``It's misleading to think there will be 315 million pounds of new [polystyrene] capacity loaded into trucks and put into the marketplace,'' Vranesich said in a Monday afternoon interview at NPE.
``Prices are still falling in a market that's growing,'' he said.
BASF is also seeing strength in nylon, especially for automotive uses, according to Katz. A new nylon 6 resin plant will be up and running in September in Freeport, Texas.
At NPE, company hype has zeroed in on several new weather-resistant grades of its products to capitalize on these strong markets. Topping the list is BASF's Luran acrylate styrene acrylonitrile resin, which includes automobiles, trucks, boats and swimming pools among its many applications.
The pre-colored products address environmental concerns and costs associated with solvent-based painting, BASF officials said.
Fleetwood Folding Trailer of Somerset, Pa., has used weather-resistant Luran to make tops for folding trailers, while JY Sailboats of Noank, Conn., has used the same product as a surface for its crafts.
Weather-resistant grades of Ultramid-brand nylons also are finding homes in exterior automotive products, such as door handles, mirror shells vent grilles and wheel covers.
Similar grades are also available in Ultradur polybutylene terephthalate and Ultraform acetal.