Zotefoams plc has chosen Walton, Ky., as the location for its first North American plant, the firm announced April 21.
Zotefoams will invest $25 million in the new building and machinery, including extruders and autoclaves. It has begun engineering work and expects to open the plant in 2001, said Randall Redd, president of Zotefoams Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of the Croydon, England, firm.
The Walton plant will allow Zotefoams to reduce imports from Croydon and avoid duties on imported products, which average about 7 percent. Redd said the Walton operation, its first outside Croydon, also will make Zotefoams more competitive in North American packaging markets. Its parent is active in European packaging markets; however, imports to North America have concentrated on sports and leisure, aerospace and automotive applications.
Zotefoams claims the Walton operation will be the largest block-cross-linked polyethylene foam plant in North America. Redd estimates capacity at about 1.4 million cubic feet annually.
Redd claimed Zotefoams' technology is unique. It first extrudes thin profiles, which it can process immediately or store for later processing. Next it saturates the slabs with nitrogen gas in a high-pressure autoclave. The slabs go to a low-pressure autoclave where the nitrogen bubbles out, creating a foam. The company's patents on the technology ran out long ago, but competitors haven't copied it because it is capital-intensive and difficult to engineer, he said.
Zotefoams' products are available in densities of 1-10 pounds per cubic foot. Products include foamed high density PE, a rigid product used in sports protection gear, and super-soft foams for skin-contact applications such as ski-goggle edging and medical uses. The Walton operation will make the full range of the foams.
Redd said Zotefoams has been selling in North America for more than 20 years. Annual sales average about $10 million, or about 20 percent of Zotefoams' total, he said.