CHICAGO — BASF Corp.'s North American concerns these days start with the letter A, as in Altamíra, Mexico, where capacity for 615 million pounds of polystyrene and styrenic polymers became operational last week.
Mexican development could be the shape of things to come, according to Reinhart Katz, vice president of BASF's plastic materials division.
``More and more competition could shift to Mexico from Asia,'' Katz said in an interview at NPE 1997, held June 16-20 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 said the Altamíra plant gives BASF an added North American presence, and allows it to provide 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 PS on the way for late 1998 in Joliet, Ill.
But David Vranesich, PS sales and marketing director, said the impact of that new capacity will not be felt immediately.
``It's misleading to think there will be 315 million pounds of new [PS] capacity loaded into trucks and put into the marketplace,'' Vranesich said. ``Prices are still falling in a market that's growing.''
A 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 the Plastics News 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.
BASF is 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 zeroed in on several new weather-resistant grades of its products to capitalize on these strong markets. Topping the list is the firm's Luran acrylic styrene acrylonitrile resin, used in automobiles, trucks, boats and swimming pools.
The pre-colored products address environmental concerns and costs associated with solvent-based painting, 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 are finding homes in exterior automotive products such as door handles, mirror shells, vent grilles and wheel covers.
Similar grades also are available in Ultradur-brand polybutylene terephthalate and Ultraform-brand acetal.