PHILADELPHIA — The plastics additives business at Philadelphia's Rohm & Haas Co. is adding capacity as it works to match the company's annual growth target of 10 percent.
The additives unit plans to add more than 120 million pounds of capacity for its Paraloid-brand impact modifiers and process aids at plants in Louisville, Ky.; Grangemouth, Scotland; and Lauterbourg, France.
The new capacity will be gained through debottlenecking and improved process technology, officials said.
All of this activity comes at a time when prices for PVC, the material that accounts for 70 percent of Rohm & Haas' plastics additives sales, are slumping because of overcapacity and decreased demand from Asia.
``The PVC chain is clearly very commodity-based and pricing has been driven way down,'' David Underwood, global plastics additives business manager, said in a recent interview in Philadelphia.
``But building and construction growth has been tremendous,'' he said. ``New homes are using more vinyl and remodeling has grown.''
Vinyl siding is the additives unit's biggest single market segment in the United States, while vinyl window profiles lead the way in Europe.
Europe, with 45 percent, and the United States, with 35 percent, are the two biggest markets for Rohm & Haas' additive business.
Additives continue to be a key part of the company, which recently reorganized itself into three business units, down from 10.
The additives unit is part of the company's performance polymers business, the largest of the three units, with $1.7 billion of the company's $4 billion annual sales total.
Underwood said the additives unit is the second-largest of the six businesses grouped under the performance polymers banner, but he declined to release specific totals.
Rohm & Haas' niche in the additives market is in impact modifiers and process aids, a segment that accounts for 16 percent of the global additives market. The company's line of Paraloid-brand products, first launched in 1956, improves material performance in processing and heightens toughness and heat-distortion limits.
The non-PVC part of the business includes additives for such materials as polycarbonate, polyester and polybutylene terephthalate.
The Paraloid EXL series is targeted specifically at these and other engineering resins.
Although the construction market may have somewhat of a static reputation, Underwood said there's an ongoing demand for more-efficient additives and processing aids.
``Processors have larger extruders and they want to move more pounds through per hour,'' Underwood said. ``And if they can get the stability they need at five parts per hundred, they want it at 4.5 parts per hundred.
``There's always a need for process aids that have the best flow characteristics,'' he added. ``But the unmet needs for impact modifiers are really in the desire for a lot of folks to take the cost out.''
This approach can have its pitfalls, however. Underwood pointed out some foam window profile makers have seen structural problems when they tried to reduce their material costs by increasing the amount of air in their product.
While Rohm & Haas claims to lead the impact-modifier/process-aid segment, it is keeping an eye on plans by additives makers such as Elf Atochem AG and Witco Inc. to enter the market. Even with the increased attention, Underwood insists, there is room for the industry to grow beyond its recent growth rate of 3-4 percent per year.
``We've still got a ways to go in material substitution, for the most part,'' he said. ``Our goal is to continue to grow the business and take costs out on a per-pound basis.''