NEW YORK - Sales may be down at Dow Chemical Co., but the Midland, Mich.-based firm plans to keep its 2002 research and development budget steady at $1 billion.
For plastics - which brings in about half of Dow's total sales - that means continued funding for work on Inspire-brand enhanced polymers, Strandfoam-brand polypropylene foam and a host of other products.
``It's important to maintain R&D spending even though the economy's down right now,'' Kurt Swogger, vice president of R&D for Dow's polyolefins business, said at the company's year-end news conference Dec. 19 in New York. ``It's a question of what you really need and where you want to be.''
The investment commitment will allow Dow to continue toward its goal of having 15 percent of sales generated by products that are less than 5 years old. That number currently is at 14 percent, but was as low as 8 percent when the initiative was launched five years ago, Swogger said.
Although cuts were made to the combined Dow/Union Carbide R&D staff after the firms merged last year, plastics still account for 1,500-2,000 of Dow's 6,500 R&D employees. Dow will continue to operate Carbide R&D facilities in Bound Brook, N.J. - as well as a polyolefins pilot plant in South Charleston, W.Va. - although staffing levels have been reduced at those sites, Swogger said.
Plastics-related projects in Dow's R&D pipeline include:
* Improve efficiency in painting auto parts made from conductive polymers.
* Produce multilayer fabrications of materials to reduce auto weights.
* Develop enhanced grades of polyethylene and PP - made via Insite-brand, single-site catalyst technology - for the wire and cable market.
Elsewhere, Dow recently completed $1.3 million in improvements to its polyurethane development laboratory in Freeport, Texas. The project included installation of new robotics and automation equipment. The equipment can accept tools and molds from customers' sites and produce parts using technology found in customers' plants.