Compounder A. Schulman Inc. has commenced work on PVC replacement projects that could yield more than 6 million pounds of demand for its Invision-brand thermoplastic olefin by 2005. Fairlawn, Ohio-based Schulman also plans to begin production of long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic compounds next year.
Invision will be commercialized in armrests and door-assist handles this year and in 2003.
Schulman declined to identify which vehicles will use those parts.
Schulman's experience as a PVC compounder - it has been in that market since the mid-1960s - gives it an edge over other firms touting PVC replacements, according to Schulman technology Vice President Rengarajan Ramesh.
``We know [PVC] and are very familiar with the compounding process,'' Ramesh said in a Jan. 14 interview at the company's product technology center in Akron.
In finished-part costs, Invision can offer savings of 24-27 percent over other potential PVC replacements such as styrenic block copolymers and thermoplastic vulcanizates, according to Jane Maselli, interior systems marketing manager at Schulman's automotive marketing center in Birmingham, Mich.
The material also can adhere to most polyolefin substrates, rather than pulling away as PVC does in similar applications. Maselli said that helps to lower finished-part costs by simplifying the tooling needed to mold the components, since complex ribs are not needed to hold the components together.
Schulman, one of North America's largest compounders, also is targeting Invision as a PVC replacement in toys and office furniture and for replacing other TPEs in consumer and industrial uses such as small appliances.
Invision is produced in Bellevue, Ohio, at a plant that Schulman operates in a joint venture with Mitsubishi Corp. of Tokyo. As demand for Invision increases, Schulman can convert existing PVC compounding capacity at the site over to Invision, Ramesh said.
In LFRTs, Schulman plans to launch production later this quarter at its Nashville, Tenn., plant. Schulman's LFRTs, to be made in nylon and polypropylene versions, will have different formulations than those disputed in a long-running LFRT patent war between compounders LNP Engineering Plastics Inc. and RTP Co., according to Ramesh.
``We see LFRTs as a culmination of a number of things we can do,'' he said.
Schulman's initial LFRT efforts will be aimed at the automotive and recreational equipment markets, where much of the $100 million global LFRT market is located.
On the financial front, Schulman showed some improvement in the first quarter of its 2002 fiscal year, which ended Nov. 30. In the quarter, Schulman earned more than $5 million, although sales declined more than 18 percent. By comparison, the firm lost almost $1 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2001.
For its 2001 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, the company reported sales of $975 million, down almost 6 percent from the previous year. A. Schulman's 2001 profit of $13 million represented a drop of 53 percent from fiscal 2000.