Rhodia SA is bumping up its nylon operations with a new plant in South Korea and a new nylon/ABS alloy aimed at replacing other resins in automotive interiors.
The Lyon, France-based company opened its $16 million compounding plant April 23 in Onsan, South Korea, giving it closer access to the company's raw material stock and easy access to seaports for material export.
``It significantly extends the strong position we have built in the Asian market over the past 10 years and it gives a clear signal to our industry partners that we are pursuing, and intend to fully support, long-term business relationships,'' said Jean-Claude Steinmetz, president of Rhodia Engineering Plastics.
The Onsan plant, with an updated compounding process, replaces an older facility near Seoul. It also boasts a 20 percent higher capacity than the older unit.
At the same time, the company is launching worldwide the new Technyl Alloy brand first commercialized with South Korean automakers.
The Rhodia material is not the first nylon/ABS to hit the market, but the company intends to push it further than previous blends, beginning by taking aim at automotive components now using a polycarbonate/ABS blend.
``We have seen very little of this type of product in the marketplace up until now,'' said Chad Waldschmidt, North American automotive director for Rhodia plastics.
The firm also has introduced a new range of halogen-free and red phosphorous-free flame-retardant nylon blends to meet environmental restrictions, aiming their use at the electrical and electronic equipment industry.
Working solely in nylon, the company has reason to push the new alloy more than competitors that may have had a wider range of resins to offer. The alloy came about because of customer demands for a part with improved quality and manufacturing together with light weight and dimensional stability with a low-gloss surface.
The alloy's first commercial use is in automotive air vents produced in South Korea. The vent's louvers demand stringent dimensional stability out of the mold, which the nylon can provide, Waldschmidt said.
But through the product development for the vent, Rhodia has a real opportunity to bring its product into an automotive interior climate typically limited for nylon-based materials. Future sales targets include instrument panel substrates and center consoles along with door handles and a variety of functional components demanding heat and chemical tolerance nylon can provide, but still capable of being decorated for surface appearance.
Strong customer reaction to the blend could give nylon a new foothold in the automotive market, where the material has had problems moving beyond its traditional uses under the hood and in structural systems, noted analyst Ben Smith of Chemical Market Associates Inc. in Houston.
``[Nylon] has made some real breakthroughs in terms of air-intake manifolds, but it's not really growing in terms of pounds per car,'' he said.
Even glass-filled parts once reliant on nylon are looking to less-expensive resins, Smith said. To win placement, Rhodia's blend must beat existing materials on price, quality and processing.
``They may be able to do it, but they've got to have the right incentives,'' he said.
For now, Rhodia plans to make the nylon/ABS blend at the new Onsan site and export to any region adapting it, but it can expand production elsewhere as needed, Waldschmidt said.