Engineering plastics giant GE Plastics will turn its attention back to the little guys early next year when it launches a new business unit to serve small-lot compound buyers.
``We realize this is counterintuitive to what the majors are doing, but the engineering resins market isn't growing fast enough,'' said Paul Hirt, who will serve as general manager of the new unit, to be called GE Plastics Specialty Products & Services. ``We want to provide smaller end-users with the same service that a regional compounder can.''
The business will target plastics processors who buy material in amounts of less than 5,000 pounds. Hirt said many of these customers are injection molders buying custom or specialty compounds.
Initially, the new unit will focus on GE Plastics products such as polycarbonate and ABS, but may eventually expand to compound commodity plastics such as polypropylene or polyethylene, Hirt said.
GE Plastics officials expect to release more details of the Selkirk, N.Y.-based venture — including locations of existing facilities GE will dedicate to the project, and its involvement in the growing Internet commerce market — at Engineering Thermoplastics 99, a conference hosted by Principia Partners in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 25-27.
Hirt said GE had scaled back its efforts to serve smaller buyers in recent years. But the company is changing strategies in order to accelerate the engineering resins market beyond its recent 5-6 percent annual growth rate.
The move is also tied to the speed with which engineering plastics are replacing metal in such products as internal parts for computers and copiers and under-the-hood car applications.
``These kinds of customers need small amounts of product quickly and they're currently not able to get that speed,'' Hirt said. ``With product development cycles shrinking, they need small amounts for prototype tooling so they can turn things around quickly.''
In addition to being North America's leading PC and ABS maker, GE Plastics ranked second in a recent industry survey of the largest U.S. compounders.
The survey, conducted by Frost & Sullivan of Mountain View, Calif., gave GE 7 percent of a market estimated at almost $9 billion a year.
GE Plastics also ranked as the top U.S. blends and alloys compounder with 45 percent of that market segment, according to the survey.
Engineering Thermoplastics 99, meanwhile, also will feature presentations from DaimlerChrysler Corp. and Evergreen Nylon Recycling, a joint venture between AlliedSignal Inc. and DSM NV.
DaimlerChrysler executive engineer Larry Oswald will outline the future of all-plastic car bodies for the U.S. and world markets. Oswald also will review the production process used to mold and assemble the all-polyester car body.
Dave Mezzanotte, Evergreen general manager, will offer an update on the company's Augusta, Ga., plant, which will divert more than 200 million pounds of post-consumer carpet from landfills each year.
The plant, set to open in the second quarter of 1999, will convert nylon 6 carpet fiber to virgin caprolactam. It expects to be producing 100 percent post-consumer nylon resin by late 1999.