Undaunted by a disappointing 2001, engineering resins maker Ticona has added capacity for liquid crystal polymers and ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene since early June.
In Shelby, N.C., Ticona added about 4 million pounds of annual Vectra-brand LCP capacity, pushing the site's total to more than 13 million pounds. The firm is considering further expansion for 2005.
In Bishop, Texas, a 60 million-pound-per-year plant opened to produce Ticona's GUR-brand UHMW PE. A smaller plant in Bayport, Texas, was closed to pave the way for the Bishop opening.
Global LCP demand dropped about 30 percent last year as demand in the telecommunications market sank, but sales for each month in 2002 have been successively higher, Vectra global business manager Mariellen Turano said by telephone.
``Our customers are basically supplying companies like Cisco and Lucent with injection molding, so when businesses cut way back on their telecommunication tools, it affected us directly,'' Turano said.
The change has required Ticona to work on other market opportunities. In spite of the drop in sales, Ticona has not slowed development of new high-heat LCP grades for use in lighting, cookware, circuits and connectors. Some of the new grades currently are available, while others will be commercialized in early 2003, Turano said.
New LCP grades for use in film and packaging for circuit boards and similar applications also are in the works, she added.
The global LCP market remains in oversupply now, with operating rates below 50 percent. That situation prompted Ticona to scale back the Shelby expansion, which originally was to increase capacity to at least 18 million pounds. That move now may be made in 2005, depending on market demand.
The UHMW PE picture also has its challenges, as industry profitability dropped last year as customers worked off inventory and overall manufacturing activity dropped, according to GUR global business director Bob Engle.
Sales of UHMW PE into the water filtration market have held up well, even though materials-handling uses and ski/snowboard activity has been soft, the latter due to weak snowfall the past two winters.
Based on anticipated growth rates, the new Bishop plant - along with a similar facility in Oberhausen, Germany - should meet Ticona's market demand into 2008, Engle said. Typical GUR applications include bulk containers, truck linings and marine dock fenders.
``We're seeing the beginning of the economic recovery in the [United States],'' he added. ``And we haven't seen other polymers enter to compete with UHMW PE. The combined performance properties of this material are very difficult to achieve.''
Ticona, based in Summit, N.J., is the technical polymers business of German chemicals giant Celanese AG. Ticona posted sales of about $690 million last year, representing about 15 percent of Frankfurt-based Celanese's total sales.