CHICAGO (June 19, 9 a.m. EDT) — GE Plastics (Booth S2915) has formed a joint venture with Energy Conversion Devices Inc. to advance the technology for high-speed manufacturing of rewritable digital versatile discs and other optical media products.
Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics also is rolling out Diamond Visualfx grades of polycarbonate and ABS, as well as trumpeting eco-compliant, flame-resistant grades of PC, PC/ABS and polyphenylene oxide.
Ovonic Media LLC, the name of the joint venture firm, will be 51 percent owned by GE. The business will be based in Troy, Mich.
The effort plans to combine ECD's phase-change technology — a leading system used to make rewritable compact discs and DVDs — with GE Plastics' optical-quality polycarbonate film. Commercial products should be available by late 2001.
The technology that Ovonic Media is developing would allow data to be imprinted directly onto the PC film instead of onto an injection molded polcarbonate disc.
Eventually, the venture would include commercial production of rewritable DVDs, which could lead to full-scale DVD manufacturing.
"The discs would be of the same thickness and be made of the same material, they'd just be made with a different process," Ovonic Media project director Kevin Snow said. "The point is to lower the cost. We see this technology as potentially a very attractive alternative to VHS."
GE Plastics opted to form the venture instead of having a typical supplier/customer relationship with ECD because "several aspects of technology" were being brought together, according to Snow.
"We wanted to fund and drive that kind of activity, and we couldn't do that if (ECD) was a regular customer," he explained.
ECD entered into the venture to gain an advantage in a crowded DVD field, according to Ovonic Media's David Strand, who also serves as ECD's memory product development manager.
"We needed to make a product that goes beyond what anyone is currently manufacturing," Strand said.
ECD is a publicly held firm, also based in Troy, that employs 325 and posted sales of more than $29 million last year. The firm produces rechargeable batteries and solar-powered products in addition to licensing optical memory storage technology to Sony, TDK, Toshiba and other electronics makers.
In the Visualfx arena, GE Plastics' Diamond line is expected to offer product designers a jewel-like effect over PC and ABS. The material initially will be available with a single-level concentration of glass-like glitter, although custom concentrations will be available.
Diamond-line PC compounded at GE's Mount Vernon, Ind., plant will be commercialized in cellular phone housings later this year, Visualfx market development manager Keith Dunlap said.
"It's great for parts that are viewed close up in high light or reflective light," he said. "It's really good in opaque, but still pops in darker colors."
The new grade also is ideal for gloss surfaces and processes the same as other GE Plastics resins, Dunlap added. Other potential applications include automotive interiors and crisper trays for appliances.
The flame-resistant grades of PC, PC/ABS and PPO are designed to help processors meet more stringent fire-safety guidelines and to reduce the materials' environmental impact.
The new products meet the TCO99 European and Asian eco-label, which requires that resins be made without halogens or heavy metals.
The eco-FR grades of PPO, sold under GE's Noryl-brand name, offer higher flow for easier processing with thinner-wall tools and also can retain physical properties with use of up to 50 percent regrind.
The new flow technology — with viscosity levels 15-40 percent lower than those in existing grades — allows processors to use lower clamp tonnage and lower injection pressure while achieving faster cycle times.
The eco-FR products are expected to make inroads into markets for business equipment, telecommunications, consumer electronics, appliances and housewares.
An early application for the new eco-FR Noryl has been in notebook computers that require walls less than 1-millimeter thick, according to Noryl product manager Kristie Dolan.
"A molder can use fewer gates with the new material, which will provide better aesthetics and be more efficient," she said.
The high-regrind capability will be helpful to start-up molders who tend to produce more regrind than established firms, Dolan added.
The first eco-FR Noryl grade was commercialized in May, with three more set to hit the market by the end of the year. All of GE's eco-FR Noryls are made in Selkirk, N.Y.
Other GE Plastics advancements to be unveiled at NPE include:
* Grades of Noryl GTX resin to eliminate painting in exterior automotive body panels. The materials already are in use on the front and rear fenders of the Volkswagen Beetle and a new three-door design for the Saturn.
* Transparent grades of Ultem-brand polyetherimide for food service products. GE claims the resins — used in applications including storage dishes, food pans and utensils — have dropped reject rates from 15 percent to 5 percent at some manufacturing sites.
* Valox-brand thermoplastic polyesters that look and feel like metal. The platable resins can be injection molded in cosmetic packaging, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and vanity and desktop accessories.