BRECKSVILLE, OHIO — BFGoodrich Co. has added 20 million pounds of thermoplastic polyurethane capacity by acquiring ICI's TPU business in Shepton Mallet, England. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
``In addition to immediately expanding our thermoplastic polyurethane manufacturing capacity, the acquisition also provides us with TPU process technology, especially for molding applications,'' Dale Kramer, Estane global general manager, said in a news release.
The site's 15 employees will be offered employment with BFG.
Richfield, Ohio-based BFG will continue to produce TPU for ICI's footwear customers. Most of ICI's technology on the site's two production lines was related to injection molding, with most of its output going into the footwear industry.
London-based ICI will continue to produce polyols, a key TPU feedstock, at a separate site in Shepton Mallet.
``BFGoodrich is the global leader in TPU capacity and ICI is a huge raw material supplier,'' said Estane senior commercial manager Michael Marasch. ``This deal is a good match between two companies that aren't as integrated as others in the industry.''
A technology-focused approach appears to be paying off at the Estane-brand TPU unit of BFGoodrich Specialty Chemicals.
The company's recent 65,000-square-foot expansion of its Idea Center, at its Brecksville operation, proves this focus is more than a philosophical move. The expansion included more compounding and lab-scale processing equipment and the addition of semicommercial-scale processing equipment at the research and development facility.
But to hear Estane officials describe it, the emphasis comes more from necessity than choice.
``Both of our major worldwide competitors, BASF and Bayer, are integrated in at least one of the major raw materials for TPU, so TPU is a great outlet for them to move [methylene diphenyl diisocyanate] and adepic acid,'' Kramer said in a Dec. 3 interview in Brecksville.
``Since we're not integrated, our approach has to be somewhat different. We have to create applications and grow TPU through technology.''
Almost three-quarters of Estane production goes into extrusion markets — film and sheet, hose and tubing, wire and cable. This concentration goes against the industry average of slightly more than one-quarter of TPU going to extrusion.
``A niche opportunity that might not make sense for our competitors might be very interesting to us,'' said Kramer, a 20-year BFG veteran who joined the Estane division in 1992. ``It's not rocket science; it's what we have to do. It's our area of expertise.''
The approach has yielded a growth rate of 15-20 percent for Estane in each of the past four years, and a customer base of 1,500 buyers, according to Marasch. He said Estane technology is designed with extrusion in mind.
``In TPU, extrusion requires more technology,'' he said. ``It's a difficult market to function in, because of the low gel requirements in the product.''
Marasch described Estane as a high-performance product with key applications in areas where cost is not the overriding factor in material selection. In general, TPUs are at the higher end, both in performance and price, of the thermoplastic elastomer family, ranking above vulcanizates and just beneath copolyesters.
``Estane is being used in escape slides for airplanes and in food belting, where you can't have any contaminants,'' he said. ``These are applications where you can't afford to fail because liability issues are too great.''
The material also is finding a home in custom molding on auto exteriors, where its higher per-pound cost is offset by increased durability and a longer life.
The unit also sees a huge opportunity in its Stat-Rite polymer alloys, which can control static in electronic applications.Stat-Rite, which is being manufactured by Mitech Corp. in nearby Twinsburg, Ohio, is sensitive to charges as low as 10 volts, preventing damage to recording heads in disk drives, said marketing manager Neil Hardwick. Previously used materials picked up only charges of 200 volts or higher.
The Estane unit also is promoting its Estaloc glass- and mineral-reinforced TPUs in industries ranging from agricultural to automotive, where high-impact and abrasion resistance are needed.