DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Owens Corning has struck two joint agreements designed to further its position in composite-materials systems for automotive and electronics applications.
The first, announced Oct. 23 at the K'98 show in Dusseldorf, will create a 50-50 joint venture Jan. 1 between Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning and DSM Automotive Polymers of Sittard, the Netherlands, a unit of DSM NV.
The new venture, to be based in the Netherlands, will develop and market long-fiber-reinforced polypropylene materials targeted initially at replacing metal in automotive applications such as integrated front-end systems and splash shields.
``We will start with automotive, but eventually we see uses in furniture, sports and leisure, white goods and other markets,'' Dick McKechnie, OC's marketing manager, transportation-Europe, said at the show.
But the automotive market potential is large enough to keep the partners busy for a while. McKechnie estimates that 75-80 percent of current automobiles have integrated front-end structures made of metal.
McKechnie said Andrew R. Hopkins, marketing manager for OC's Composite Systems Business in Toledo, will be the unit's general manager. The venture will employ five, and will produce and test materials at DSM's specialty compounds facility in Genk, Belgium.
McKechnie described the arrangement as a ``hand-in-glove partnership,'' since ``Owens Corning needed polymer technology, and DSM needed [glass-fiber-reinforcement] technology.'' He also pointed out the importance of DSM's strong automotive ties, because Owens Corning plans to step up activity in that area again.
Hans Dijkman, business unit director for DSM Automotive Polymers, said a key goal of the venture is to reduce the weight of structural components.
``This new solution is aimed at both replacing metal parts and reducing the number of manufacturing steps. Reduction of system cost is clearly the driver behind the addition of these products to our portfolio,'' he said in a prepared statement.
The long-fiber PP materials — which OC describes as a bridge between short-fiber materials and glass-mat thermoplastics — can be injection molded on standard machinery or extrusion compression molded by first plasticizing the material into a bulk molding compound charge.
Meanwhile, Owens Corning recently signed a joint marketing pact with Composite Materials LLC of Mamaroneck, N.Y., to develop markets and electronic applications for conductive-fiber composite materials.
In the late 1970s, Louis G. Morin Sr. developed the process to coat nickel, gold or platinum onto carbon fiber for use as a shielding material. The technology was used almost exclusively in defense applications — such as lightning-strike protection and radar-absorbing outer-ply materials on the B-2 bomber. He earned 18 patents on the processes and products.
In 1983 Morin sold the patents and the business, then known as Electro Metalloid Corp., to American Cyanamid Co. Annual sales exceeded $10 million in the late 1980s, but fell to about $3 million in 1993 with the defense industry downturn.
American Cyanamid included the business in the December 1993 spinoff of its plastics additive, industrial chemical, coating and composites businesses to Cytec Industries Inc. When West Paterson, N.J.-based Cytec decided to divest the business in early 1995, Morin and his son, Louis G. Morin Jr., re-entered the picture.
The younger Morin, chairman and chief executive officer of Compmat, said in an interview at the K show that he founded the firm for the purpose of buying back the conductive-fibers business from Cytec in January 1996. He declined to comment on the firm's current sales or profit, but said Compmat now employs 40, including his father, now 76, who still works in the office every day.
Compmat, however, is closing on a $70 million private placement offering. The offering was ``entirely committed to and partially executed'' as of Nov. 2, according to Susanne Febish, Compmat business development manager.
Only since the buyback did Compmat aggressively begin to explore the material's potential in electronics. Morin Jr. believes the prospects — particularly in mobile telephones and personal computers — are huge.
He claims that, compared with alternative shielding methods such as painting or plating, conductive-fiber thermoplastics can reduce production costs for certain applications by at least 25 percent, while improving design flexibility. Additionally, he noted, as much as 15 percent by part weight can be added as regrind without affecting performance.
It is difficult for a small, private firm to invest the time, energy and money necessary to gain and handle accounts with major computer and electronics original equipment manufacturers, Morin Jr. said. That led him to search for a partner.
``We were looking for a global company who understood fiber technology,'' he said.
In Owens Corning, he found a partner with technical expertise and worldwide marketing clout.
OC does its long-fiber work in a research and development facility in Granville, Ohio, near Columbus. Compmat currently does its R&D and manufacturing in Mamaroneck. The partners plan to merge their efforts into one facility, though they say they have not decided where or when.