GLS Corp. of McHenry, Ill., has struck its third material-development deal in the past year. This time, the specialty compounder is partnering with BASF Corp. to develop new compounds based on BASF's line of thermoplastic polyurethanes.
The deal ``rounds out'' GLS' thermoplastic elastomers, GLS marketing director Walt Ripple said in a recent interview in Akron.
The partnership allows BASF to expand further in markets such as consumer goods and overmolding applications where its TPUs traditionally have not had much presence, said BASF senior market development specialist Stephane Morin.
The products will be produced at the GLS McHenry plant and could be produced at other locations to meet demand, Ripple said. Mount Olive, N.J.-based BASF will provide TPU from its Wyandotte, Mich., site.
The compounds, sold under the Versollan trade name, offer improved soft-touch performance and processability over standard TPUs, officials said. The products also claim to reduce molding cycle times 20-30 percent. Versollan materials are expected to find uses in housewares, grips, knobs, buttons, power tools, small appliances, toothbrushes and personal-care items.
Ripple estimates the North American market for soft-touch materials at 40 million pounds annually, but said it is growing 8-10 percent per year.
``We're looking to go into markets where customers don't have a TPE now,'' Ripple said. ``In most applications, we'll be replacing a rigid plastic or metal, and in some we'll be replacing thermoset rubber.''
``Most people using a TPU are looking for better cycle times or adhesion or abrasion resistance,'' Morin added. ``This product is in between the high end and what [molders] are presently using.''
Recent slowdowns in the economy haven't affected the number of new application requests GLS has been fielding. Those numbers actually are increasing, Ripple said.
``Customers and designers are working harder to differentiate themselves with colors and textures,'' he said.
Per-pound prices for the high-performance compounds are expected to begin at $2. Two grades were commercialized in early October, with a third grade expected by the end of the year.
Earlier this year GLS partnered with GE Plastics to develop material systems involving GE engineering resins as substrates and GLS specialty elastomers as overmolded material. In late 2001, GLS and DSM Thermoplastic Elastomers announced they would work together to create specialty TPE alloys.
GLS ranks among North America's 30 largest compounders, with annual sales estimated at $130 million.