DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY (Nov. 7, 11:35 a.m. EST) — Phillip Griswold finally is stepping out of Big Brother's shadow in Kingsport, Tenn., where he has toiled for 24 years at Eastman Chemical Co.
Eastman's pending split Jan. 1 into two public companies will project the specialty plastics business unit that Griswold heads onto a new stage, out from under the wing of the firm's higher-profile PET resins business. The change should provide an added push to rising product stars in the speciality plastics portfolio, such as the Eastar Bio copolyester biodegradable polymers that garnered so much attention on the firm's stand at the recent K show.
In an Oct. 28 interview in Dusseldorf, Griswold said the corporate structural change will give greater focus to the specialty plastics unit, of which he is vice president and general manager.
“We've been quietly growing” into appropriate market niches such as cosmetics packaging and biodegradable clamshell food packaging, he said. “We don't want to be so quiet anymore.”
He said the biggest challenge facing his unit, which will be one of three grouped under the new Eastman Co., will be “to get our message out and to get our brands known.”
Eastman Co. will comprise three units:
* Specialty plastics, with projected 2001 sales of $600 million;
* Coatings, adhesives, inks and resins, with annual sales of about $2 billion; and
* Performance chemicals and intermediates, with sales this year of more than $1.2 billion.
The other spun-off entity, named Voridian Co., will have annual sales of about $2 billion, with PET accounting for more than half of that. Voridian also will include Eastman's polyethylene and acetate fibers businesses.
While Eastman Chemical, which itself was spun off from photo giant Eastman Kodak Co. in 1994, is perhaps best known as the world's largest PET producer, Griswold points out that his unit also is the world leader in copolyester resins. The firm has monomer and polymer production facilities in Kuantan, Malaysia; Hartlepool, England; and Kingsport, and is a major producer of cellulose ester resins.
The specialty plastics unit's diverse customer base has proven useful during these economically challenging times.
“We're holding up pretty well this year,” Griswold said. “We're softer in North America than we'd like to be, but there are some strong spots in Europe and Asia, with double-digit growth.” For instance:
* China and Hong Kong have been big consumers of the firm's Durastar water- and chemical-resistant injection molded polymer. It's finding use in pen caps, crisper trays, toys, even high-end, clear Italian chairs.
* Drink products such as Gatorade and Nescafe Ice are using Embrace copolyester to dress up plain containers with printed shrink-film sleeves, he said. The material provides an alternative to PVC film, Griswold said.
* Some thermoformable, heavy-gauge, Spectar-brand sheet products are finding favor as an alternative to polycarbonate and acrylic sheet, he noted, especially for point-of-purchase displays. Meantime, Eastman plans to introduce next year a higher-temperature-resistant, thick sheet material for outdoor applications such as signage and skylights.
* Earlier this year the firm started small-scale production in Kingsport of its Titan liquid-crystal polymer, targeted at high-end computer and electrical/electronics applications, though those markets are fairly depressed at present.
But company officials said the unexpected highlight of the K show at Eastman's booth was Eastar Bio, a biodegradable copolyester resin that processes like polyethylene on blown-film or cast-extrusion equipment, and can be blended with starch and other materials.
Eastman is testing the food-contact-approved material as a laminated coating on the starch-and-limestone composite clamshell containers made by EarthShell Corp. of Santa Barbara, Calif. Such a development could interest fast-food giants such as McDonald's Corp., which years ago phased out its use of polystyrene-foam clamshells for environmental-perception reasons.
Eastar Bio also can be used in agricultural mulch film, as it can be plowed right back into the earth, and in several fiber and nonwovens applications.
Griswold noted that the resin is the first product that Eastman has introduced first in Europe and then exported to the United States and Asia. The company modified a production line in England in 1999 and now has the capacity to produce 33 million pounds of the resin annually.
He said Eastman will be able to handle increased copolyester demand during the next three years at its three existing plants, in part because of those plants' flexibility. Griswold noted that his unit will make some PET for Voridian, but added: “We can modify a PET reactor to make copolyester resin” if demand dictates.