Atofina Petrochemicals Inc. has decided the middle is a good place to be - at least where polyethylene density is concerned.
The Houston firm is forging ahead in the metallocene PE market with its Finacene-brand medium density PE, growing its sales base this year and planning to introduce several new grades - including one aimed at frozen-food packaging - in 2003.
Since launching full-scale reactor production in Bayport, Texas, in late 2000, Atofina has introduced several grades of MDPE for the film and blow molding markets. European MDPE production began earlier in Antwerp, Belgium.
``We're trying to change the whole paradigm of what metallocenes can do,'' film marketing manager Rob Maes said in a recent telephone interview. ``These [MDPE] resins aren't for traditional film markets where metallocene [linear low density PE] or plastomers have been used. We're trying to position the product based on clarity and stiffness.''
Maes declined to release specific sales or production totals, but said sales are up significantly in 2002 compared with 2001.
Even though it's been a rough sales year for many plastic processors, Maes said the slowdown actually has led some processors to sample MDPE products.
``More people have time this year to look at product development because they're not sold out,'' he said. ``They're looking for a creative way to sell new products.''
Typically, Atofina's MDPE can offer downgauging of 10-20 percent when combined with low or linear low density PE in overwrap or shrink film applications.
In film for fresh-cut produce, MDPE can offer a variety of moisture-barrier and oxygen-transmission properties.
In the frozen-food arena, Atofina's MDPE provides improved cold impact strength and good stiffness, Maes said. The company's blow molding grades deliver especially good gloss, he added.
Another advantage, according to Maes, comes from the product's ability to be run on older LDPE and LLDPE film lines without making any adjustments to the equipment.
Atofina also has worked to introduce itself to the film community, which is more familiar with LDPE and LLDPE than the polypropylene, polystyrene and high density PE that make up the bulk of Atofina's plastic offerings.
``Our challenge is in developing a relationship with LDPE and LLDPE users,'' Maes said. ``There's been a lot of education and learning going on.''