AKRON, OHIO—Big changes in the PVC industry will have to start small—as small as the molecules that make up each resin pellet.
A group of industry players and polymer scientists arrived at this conclusion after a Jan. 14-15 meeting in Akron organized by Edison Polymer Innovation Center, a partnership that includes faculty from the University of Akron and Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University.
More than 30 representatives from two dozen firms attended the session, designed to prioritize a list of 24 projects proposed by the EPIC staff. The seven projects focusing on new molecular architecture far outpaced all others in the field in terms of interest generated, said EPIC PVC program director Chuck Wilkes.
``There was a lot of interest in making new PVC polymers by ways you can't make them today,'' he said. ``Those projects came out high on the value curve.''
Improving heat distortion and impact strength in rigid PVC and boosting compression set, thermal stability and nonmigratable plasticizers in flexible PVC topped the list of ways in which PVC can be improved. These improvements would allow PVC to compete with engineering thermoplastics such as reinforced nylon, polysulfones and high-end ABS, Wilkes said.
Session attendee Bill Bezubic said he is encouraged by EPIC's new approach to how PVC will be used in the future. Bezubic is chief scientist for vinyl building projects at CertainTeed Corp.'s research center in Jackson, Mich.
CertainTeed is North America's largest pipe, profile and tubing extruder, with 1996 sales of $481 million. The Valley Forge, Pa., firm also makes more than 300 million pounds of PVC for its own use.
``PVC is a very inexpensive material, and as such it didn't get the lion's share of research,'' said Bezubic, who has worked in the industry for almost two decades. ``Now it's just the opposite approach. If PVC can go against engineered materials, its price advantage would be outstanding.''
Dave Bonner, senior vice president for top 10 PVC producer Westlake PVC Corp. of Houston, also was impressed with what he heard at the EPIC session. He addressed the Vinyl Institute's executive board, of which he is a member, at its Jan. 20 meeting to urge its support of the EPIC initiative.
``I think the people [at the EPIC session] saw for the first time the possibility of a breakthrough in technology that they hadn't thought possible,'' Bonner said. ``Now we need to make sure the funding is there, at least to get the project to first base.''
Robert Burnett, Vinyl Institute executive director, said the EPIC program has received an enthusiastic response from the institute's member companies so far.
``There are several research initiatives out there, including the EPIC initiative, and I think they've kind of relit the fire for research in the industry,'' Burnett said. ``I'm pleased the industry's responding to this opportunity.''
The Vinyl Institute doesn't plan to sponsor EPIC directly, but will encourage its members to participate in projects that are appropriate to their needs, he added.
John Andries, vice president of technology for PVC compounder Teknor Apex Inc. of Pawtucket, R.I., said his firm particularly is interested in research projects that could develop new PVC blends, such as the PVC/thermoplastic elastomer alloy Teknor Apex unveiled last year.
Andries added that it is important for PVC to maintain its low-cost position as technology advances its potential uses.
Other attendees ran the gamut of the industry, including PVC makers Geon Co., Shintech Inc., Condea Vista Co. and Borden Chemicals & Plastics; compounder Colorite Inc.; additives suppliers Morton International and Elf Atochem North America; fabricator Armstrong World Industries; and machine suppliers such as Cincinnati Milacron Inc.
Wilkes was especially pleased with the involvement of several non-U.S. firms that do not produce PVC in North America, such as Solvay SA of Belgium and Mitsubishi Chemical of Japan.
Though none of the attendees has committed financially to EPIC, Wilkes said he hopes to have funding lined up in late March so the group can launch research on 13 or 14 projects this spring. He estimates the effort will need an annual budget of $2 million a year for a three-year period.