Plastics News correspondent Roger Renstrom gathered these items at EPS Expo 2000, held March 7-9 in San Diego. Speaker encourages Geofoam promotion
Geofoam makers are being urged to promote their soil-stabilization billets as a viable solution for roadbed construction problems.
"The U.S. is way behind others," said David Van Wagoner, vice president of engineering and marketing with GeoTech Systems Corp. of Great Falls, Va. "It is the technology of choice in the rest of the world."
Van Wagoner encouraged attendees to market the concept to "conservative and risk-averse" civil engineering community, particularly at state transportation departments, and to target high-priority projects being funded under the new $198 billion federal transportation equity act. A University of Illinois study on geofoam is scheduled for release in July.
Geofoam installations overlay weak soils quickly and with a low life-cycle cost, Van Wagoner said. Generally, installation costs about $65 per square yard. Studies have shown the material retains its properties and does not deteriorate.
The industry scored a major success in supplying 130,000 cubic yards of expanded polystyrene foam for a massive Interstate Highway 15 project in Utah. Terry Meier, sales representative for Advance Foam Plastics Inc. of Murray, Utah, reported his first contact on the I-15 project occurred in July 1996 and he made the sale in February 1998.
Other states allowing the technology include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Washington and Wyoming.
Panel market small despite growth boom
Fast-growing production of structural insulated panels is approaching $100 million, but remains a small market for exterior framing for residential construction. A panel is made with expanded polystyrene and oriented strand boards.
"The opportunity for structural panels and EPS is huge," said Tim Feagan, president of the Structural Insulated Panel Association and president of Team Industries Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich. "Two or three years ago, it was in the $55 million range."
Typically, the panels replace dimensional lumber and fiberglass.
"We are taking the message to architects and contractors and showing them the opportunity to reduce labor on their jobs and make a stronger and more energy-efficient building that goes up in less time," Feagan said.
Rohm and Haas Co. of Philadelphia and Ashland Chemical Co. of Dublin, Ohio, supply structural adhesives for laminating most EPS cores to two pieces of oriented strand board.
Wood product firms such as Weyerhaeuser Co. of Federal Way, Wash., cut trees, generate chips 4-5 inches in length and press the material into large strand boards.
A panel manufacturer uses enhanced computer programs to automatically fabricate a wall in the plant.
SIPA Executive Director Jim Tracy of Gig Harbor, Wash., identified untapped panel markets in senior housing units, fast-food restaurants and computer clean rooms.
There is "a lack of a cohesive product standard," Tracy said in a presentation, "and we're going to fix that."
SIPA holds its annual meeting May 22-24 in Tacoma, Wash.
Virginia block molder invests in equipment
Expanded polystyrene block molder Tri State Foam Products Inc. of Martinsville, Va., is awaiting delivery of an automatic wire positioning machine from Hirsch USA Inc. of Peachtree, Ga.
The machine, worth about $200,000, "will save labor and may replace two or three of our typical cutting machines," said Tri State President Kevin Farrell. "We are investing in technology to automate cutting operations."
Tri State Foam employs 55 and occupies 90,000 square feet.
"We had perhaps 20 people five years ago," he said.
The family-owned firm started with construction-related products in 1984 and expanded into fabricated packaging for furniture and glass manufacturers in the late 1980s.
Construction and packaging each account for about one-half of Tri State's output for customers, mostly in Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee.
French EPS makers try to recover losses
Makers of expanded polystyrene insulation in France have launched an initiative to recover market losses to other materials, particularly glass wool.
Use of EPS-related resin in France totaled about 138.6 million pounds in 1992 and dropped to 123.2 million pounds in 1996, said Olivier Burot. Burot heads an advertising and marketing effort that helped to boost EPS resin sales to 176 million pounds last year.
The program is part of a Paris-area trade group called Promo PSE. To support the advertising messages, the group encourages companies to stamp common identifications on EPS thermal and sound insulation products, in addition to company names.
Burot said companies are teaming up to conduct research and development for additional EPS applications.
Hirsch unit offering option on machine
A division of Hirsch Servo AG of Glanegg, Austria, is marketing a multiple-pass component as an option on its standard batch polystyrene pre-expander machines.
The feature costs about 15 percent more than a comparable pre-expander and is available only on new machines, said Mark Clark, president of Hirsch USA Inc. So far, three machines in the Midwest and West have the feature.
New low-pentane expanded PS materials prompted the development at Hirsch Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG in Glanegg.
"It is very difficult to bring low-pentane materials down to very low densities," Clark said, "The lower the pentane, the longer it takes to reduce the density."
Low-pentane EPS can reduce a pre-expander's capacity by 20-30 percent, he said.
The system uses a large-fill silo, load cells and separate feed nozzles in facilitating an additional pass. The second pass can reduce densities to one-half pound per cubic foot.
The development coincides with Hirsch's improvements in cutting equipment and opens up more applications for a less-costly material from block-molding facilities, Clark said.
Hirsch USA in Peachtree City, Ga., was established in 1997, employs four and handles sales, service and supplies.
More than 400 Hirsch machines are located in North and Central America.