KING OF PRUSSIA, PA.—Elf Atochem North America Inc. recently unveiled its new polymer technology center, designed to help customers with trouble-shooting and product development. The center is one of 12 buildings on the firm's research and development campus in King of Prussia. The 51,000-square-foot facility centralizes R&D and technical support for the company's three U.S. performance polymers units: technical polymers, functional polymers and Atoglas.
"We've put together a broad range of polymer processing equipment under one roof to replicate customers' processes," said Rich Rowe, performance polymers president. "We're bringing together businesses with like materials and like technologies, which gives us a broader solution base in a broader basket of technologies, which is what customers are looking for."
About a third of the tech center houses commercial-scale production equipment. It also has several physical testing and accelerated weathering laboratories.
Elf Atochem held an open house last month for the facility, which has been operating since October. In the high-bay process area, demonstrations included film extrusion on a 1-inch Killion line. In the materials lab, workers were conducting tests they hope will lead to new resin applications.
The new tech center has about 60 ongoing projects ranging from those involving early polymer synthesis to those nearly ready for commercialization. Several projects are under way to evaluate the combination of secondary materials with basic polymers — for example, to improve properties such as cold-weather impact resistance, abrasion resistance or electrical resistivity.
To expand its global reach, the center will be installing a mobile video conferencing system that will allow a customer in another part of the world to participate in a trial in King of Prussia.
Although it's too soon to gauge the center's growth and sales, Rowe said, "Our growth will come out of our ability to innovate across product lines, as well to find a broader range of applications.
"Today, we have half a dozen initiatives looking at cross-polymer technology — for example, taking a product from one application area and trying to solve a problem typically solved with another product line."
The Philadelphia-based firm has sales of $2.2 billion and employs more than 4,000 worldwide. It is an affiliate of Paris-based chemicals major Elf Atochem SA, which has annual sales of $10 billion.