There was a new kid on the styrenic block May 28 when Septon Co. of America launched North American production at a 26 million-pound-capacity styrenic block copolymer plant in Pasadena, Texas.
Septon, a division of Japanese chemical maker Kuraray Co. Ltd., expects to run the plant for a six-week trial, while providing sample material to customers. The plant will be restarted in early August and should be running at 90 percent of capacity by the end of next year, said Septon sales and marketing director Tom Bell.
``Even with Tropical Storm Allison hitting the area, we're only a week behind, and that's over an 18-month construction period,'' he said in a recent interview in Akron.
Septon's hydrogenated SBCs - a type of thermoplastic elastomer - are expected to compete with similar materials produced by market leader Kraton Polymers LLC in automotive, appliance and consumer goods applications. Septon has been marketing its imported SBCs in North America since 1992.
To date, most of Septon's sales have been to compounders such as GLS Corp., Multibase SA and Teknor Apex Co., which then specialize Septon's SBCs for individual markets and customers. Septon has no plans to enter the compounding arena, said Bell.
``[Resin-making and compounding] are two completely different markets,'' he said. ``We're going to stick to resin production.''
Septon's SBCs offer good heat resistance, weatherability and oil absorption, which will allow the material to compete against ethylene propylene diene monomer-type synthetic rubber, as well as thermoplastic vulcanizates, said Bell, who spent 11 years with DSM Elastomers before joining Septon last year.
The firm's high-vinyl-content SBCs are expected to compete with PVC in medical applications such as intravenous and blood bags. Septon will continue to import its vinyl SBCs, with no plans to produce them in Pasadena.
North American sales of Septon-brand SBCs and of Hybrar-brand high-vinyl SBCs totaled $30 million in 2001. New grades of Septon are in the pipeline that will allow more compounding and polymer modification opportunities. A technical center at a nearby Kuraray facility is set to open late next year.
The 50-employee Pasadena plant was built at a cost of $70 million. Its capacity is 33 percent larger than Septon's other SBC plant, in Kashima, Japan.
Plans are in place to double the size of the Pasadena site in 2005 if Septon's commercial goals are met. The firm now is targeting the asphalt modification market and plans to be more aggressive in moving its SBCs into adhesives and sealants. Septon recently gained approvals for several lubricant-based applications, Bell said.
In spite of being a relatively high-end product - with a list price around $2.50 per pound - Septon's SBCs have not suffered as much economic fallout as other plastics have, Bell added.
``We still see this market growing, in spite of economics trends,'' he said. ``It might be only 3 percent instead of 5 percent, but it's still growing.''
``Throughout the whole recession, we've seen fairly strong consumer spending, but low capital spending. That works out for us, because a lot of our products are tied into consumer spending."