Rohm & Haas Co. of Philadelphia will exit the Plexiglas acrylic sheet business after more than six decades, by selling its 50 percent share in the AtoHaas joint venture to its partner, Paris-based Elf Atochem SA.
Deciding to sell its share in the 6-year-old joint venture was difficult for Rohm & Haas officials, since many customers worldwide associate the Plexiglas name with the company, Rohm & Haas spokesman John McKeogh said.
``It's bittersweet and more than a bit nostalgic,'' McKeogh said in a Jan. 29 telephone interview. ``A lot of people jokingly said Plexiglas was our middle name.''
At one point in the 1940s and 1950s, Plexiglas was Rohm & Haas' largest single product. In the past two decades, the company's other businesses have grown to the point where Plexiglas' main ingredient, polymethyl methacrylate, now makes up only about 8 percent of its overall business.
Rohm & Haas, the world's second-largest acrylic acid maker, will continue to provide AtoHaas with methyl methacrylate, the monomer needed to produce PMMA, McKeogh said.
While AtoHaas still leads the extruded acrylic sheet market with a share of about 30 percent, industry sources said competitors such as Cyro Industries of Rockaway, N.J., ICI Americas Inc. of Wilmington, Del., and Plaskolite Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, have made significant gains in the past several years.
``The main advantage to buying back the business is Elf Atochem can develop the business more quickly because of the synergies we have with the polymers business and because of our technology,'' Francois Perier, Elf Atochem executive vice president, said by telephone from Paris.
Perier added that the AtoHaas line is ``very complementary'' to Elf Atochem because of the firm's involvement in several polymers, including polyethylene, polystyrene and PVC. PMMA was Rohm & Haas' only plastics product.
Elf Atochem expects the building and automotive markets to continue to be strong for the AtoHaas product line and is optimistic about the electronics market, where Perier said acrylic products could end up in television screens and digital versatile discs.
Rohm & Haas has decided to concentrate on high-growth areas such as agricultural and electronic chemicals, McKeogh said. The company's electronic chemicals market has shown double-digit growth in recent years.
In addition to acrylic sheet, AtoHaas produces Plexiglas acrylic molding resins and Tuffak polycarbonate sheet. The company, which posted sales of $500 million in 1997, has eight production facilities worldwide, including North American plants in Kensington, Conn.; Bristol, Pa.; Louisville, Ky.; and Matamoros, Mexico.
AtoHaas will continue to be based in Paris, with North American headquarters in Philadelphia.