NEW YORK — Double-digit sales growth is leading GE Plastics to expand a trio of engineering resin plants in Burkville, Ala.; Selkirk, N.Y.; and Bergen-op-Zoom, the Netherlands, In Burkville, GE's polycarbonate plant will be expanded to equal the size of the firm's Mount Vernon PC facility. According to some estimates, that would lift Burkville's capacity to about 550 million pounds.
The North American PC market saw growth of 10-14 percent in 1999, according to Nani Beccalli, vice president and general manager of Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics. The growth was particularly strong in the electronics market, where PC is in compact discs and digital versatile discs, Becalli said at an Apil 18 press event in New York.
The Burkville expansion will use GE Plastics standard PC technology and not the LX technology the company is using at its Cartagena, Spain, plant which opened last year. Officials said the Cartagena plant is fully operational after experiencing some lengthy operating difficulties.
Beccalli said conventional technology was chosen over LX — which replaces phosgene with diphenyl carbonate, which is considered less toxic — for the Burkville expansion because it fit more easily with the existing raw material infrastructure there.
In Selkirk and Bergen-op-Zoom, GE will bring about 64 million pounds of additional capacity for its Noryl-brand polyphenylene oxide resin on line by next month.
The firm also will add 24 million pounds of capacity at the two sites by mid-2001 and expects to add an undisclosed amount of capacity in 2003.
Noryl general manager Paul Hirt said the material saw double-digit growth in 1999, a higher growth rate than it had seen for much of the 1990s.
New advancements in Noryl will allow for easier processing, improved flame resistance and high-heat platability, which will allow for use in water faucets and automotive wheel covers.
Improved flame resistance also has allowed GE to use Noryl in developing pallets that pass UL flammability tests.
"Now there's an option other than adding more sprinklers to improve fire protection in warehouses," Hirt said of the pallets.
New, transparent grades of Noryl are making inroads in housewares, food packaging and microwavable containers.
The material also is replacing PVC in smoke detectors and is winning back some television monitor business it had lost to flame-retardant high-impact polystyrene, according to Hirt.
Production methods across GE Plastics are being altered to free up new capacity, allowing for annual debottleneckings instead of massive capital investments, Beccalli said.
"The old way was we'd run like crazy and then stop to fix what we broke by running like that," he said. "Now we're looking to run for longer periods with continuous improvement and without any shutdowns. If we're running a line at a million pounds a day that we can max out to 1.3 million pounds, we won't run it past 1.1 or 1.2."