CHICAGO — Phillips Petroleum Co. wants to make an impact with mPact, its new product group aimed at marketing the firm's metallocene polyethylene resins.
``We wanted to gain a focus on metallocene developments,'' linear low density PE product manager Bill Beaulieu said in a May 12 interview in Chicago. ``So when we're talking with a customer we know what their needs are and we can meet those needs as quickly as possible.''
The mPact group will have top management based in Bartlesville, Okla., and Houston, along with representatives across the country and in overseas markets.
Phillips' metallocene resins have been available commercially since early 1997. The Bartlesville-based company recently introduced two new film grades of metallocene LLDPE, doubling its product offering in that area.
Overall, Phillips produced 10 million to 20 million pounds of metallocene LLDPE last year and expects to produce 60 million to 100 million pounds this year. In the long-term, the firm wants to reach 200 million pounds of production annually by 2000 and 1.75 billion pounds by 2005.
``We think metallocenes will move into more commodity areas as people see the value of the polymer and use it in other areas,'' the 20-year Phillips veteran said.
Phillips sees opportunities for its metallocene resins to move beyond food packaging and into industrial packaging — can liners, stretch film and heavy-duty bags and retail packaging, including merchandise bags and T-shirt bags.
Industrial uses would benefit from the puncture and impact resistance of metallocenes, while the products' clarity and gloss would make them appealing in retail markets.
With more than 50 metallocene patents, Phillips trails only Exxon Corp. and Dow Chemical Co. when technology is an issue. But where those companies have major presences in LLDPE, Phillips primarily has been active in high density PE, which the company developed in the 1950s.
Phillips currently ranks third in North American HDPE production.
Its Marlex HDPE is a solid trade name in the blow molding community, but the company to date hasn't had much of a presence in the film world, Beaulieu said.
``It's more of a challenge from our perspective,'' he said of non-HDPE markets. ``But the benefit is that Dow and Exxon have paved the way in making sure customers have heard about metallocenes and what they have to offer.''
Phillips also sees a big opportunity in licensing its metallocene technology with its patented loop-slurry HDPE process. With extensive licensing, the company's loop-slurry process accounts for about one-third of global HDPE production.
Lines using loop-slurry to make HDPE can be switched over to produce metallocene LLDPE in about 12 hours, Beaulieu said.
``We're seeing interest from our licensees,'' he said. ``They want to know, No. 1, does it work, and No. 2, does it add value. It helps that we can show processing data from our plant [in Houston]. If we were just in a pilot plant and weren't selling material, it would be a tougher sell.''
Phillips isn't concerned about promoting metallocene resins at a time when commodity resin prices are slumping. The metallocene resins cost on average 4-6 cents per pound more than standard LLDPE.
But Beaulieu thinks the pricing trough could work to the company's advantage.
``When times are tough, customers look to differentiate to improve their profitability,'' he said. ``It may be the best time to introduce a new product.''