BASF AG has begun testing the waters in Mexico for a materials service that it hopes will catch on throughout North America.
The effort, dubbed Colorflexx, aims to convince plastics processors to color natural ABS resin themselves, rather than buy small, specialty lots of precolored materials.
The German chemicals giant introduced the concept in Europe last summer and already is extending it there to polystyrene resins.
It plans to use the roll-out in Mexico to gauge - it hopes by midyear - its likely success in the United States and Canada, according to Michael Haspel, BASF Corp.'s Wyandotte, Mich.-based market development manager for styrene copolymers. Haspel, interviewed April 28 at the Plastimagen Mexico 2004 trade show in Mexico City, is BASF's Colorflexx expert for North America.
``We're assessing the willingness to adopt self-coloring,'' he said. The practice is more widely accepted in Europe and among some segments in Mexico than it is in the United States.
BASF's motivation is largely financial, but it claims several benefits for processors. In a company newsletter, the firm cites the ``competitive pressure and small margins'' that rule the commodity resin markets, and says that as a result it is ``moving away from small-volume specialties toward standard products that can be manufactured efficiently and cost-effectively.'' The goal is to produce large volumes of natural-color styrenics and, via expert partners, help educate users on how to color materials at the presses in their own plants.
In Europe, BASF has five Colorflexx partners - masterbatch suppliers A. Schulman Inc., Albis Plastic GmbH, Clariant Masterbatches, and Ultra Polymers, as well as metering equipment supplier Colortronic GmbH. In Mexico, it is working with Schulman, Clariant and Colortronic, through its distributor there, Avance Industrial SA.
Andrea Kirsch, BASF AG's Ludwigshafen, Germany-based product manager for styrene acrylonitrile resins, is spearheading the Colorflexx project in Mexico until the end of May. At Plastimagen, where she was staffing a display at A. Schulman's booth, Kirsch touted the potential processor benefits of self-coloring.
She listed simpler logistics, due to the need to order just one natural material, plus small amounts of colored masterbatch; lower warehousing costs; the freedom to color match precisely to customer needs; and improved speed to market. The last task is achieved, she said, by shortening the lead time for color matching - in some cases from six to eight weeks for precolored material to just 10 days for self-coloring.
``We assure the same quality standards as with precolored material,'' she said. ``We offer technical service and support, and free equipment for up to six weeks'' to users who need it. Kirsch said the cost of equipment that processors may need to buy to color their own materials can be recouped in a year.
BASF, Mexico's sole domestic ABS producer, has phased out its precolored ABS in Europe already. Kirsch said, ``It's possible we may not offer precolored [resin] in Mexico in the future. We want to help our customers convert to natural resin.''