PolyOne Corp. may have found a bridge over its troubled waters in the form of Catize, a polymer-based additive that can extend the life spans of coatings used on bridges, stadiums, water towers and other exposed metal surfaces.
Catize recently was honored with a 2004 NorTech Innovation Award from the Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition. Catize was one of 25 products, processes and services recognized this year, according to coalition spokesman Ben Keller. To win an award, an entry has to be unique for its industry, solve a specific problem and help its company's bottom line, Keller said.
Catize uses an inherently conductive form of polyaniline, a specialty plastic, and zinc to create a paint or coating that prevents rusting, according to Roger Avakian, chief technology officer with Avon Lake-based PolyOne.
The technology originally was developed by NASA's Kennedy Space Center to create coatings for space missions. It then was acquired by GeoTech Chemical Co. LLC of Tallmadge, Ohio, which licensed the technology to PolyOne. Geo Tech and PolyOne worked together to fine-tune the product before commercializing it in late 2003.
By using PolyOne's Teslart-brand polyaniline in the coating, Catize creates a lighter-weight, lower-density coating that is easier to apply and requires lower zinc loadings than standard coatings, Avakian said in a June 18 interview at PolyOne's headquarters. The material can stretch the life of a coating on a bridge or similar surface as far as 30 years. On agricultural and earth-moving equipment, a coating using Catize can last 10 years, Avakian added.
Catize also can reduce the number of coats needed when applied, can allow use of a broader palette of pigments and can lower the amount of surface preparation needed before a coating is applied.
PolyOne is working with XIM Products, a specialty coatings maker in Westlake, Ohio, to find ways to use Catize and PolyOne's Teslart-brand inherently conductive polymers on plastic auto parts. The electrostatically dissipative nature of Catize could make it appealing to automakers for use in exterior parts.
Catize is produced and sold in a powder form. The product also can be made by using inherently conductive polymers other than polyaniline. PolyOne makes its Teslart polymers in Avon Lake, but Avakian declined to say where Catize is produced.
PolyOne officials have been in contact with a number of potential major customers for Catize, including paint and coatings makers Sherwin-Williams Inc., PPG and RPM Inc.
The U.S. corrosion-control market represents an opportunity ``in the hundreds of millions'' of dollars for PolyOne, said Avakian. It's an opportunity that the company hopes to cash in on as it recovers from a three-year period (2001-03) that it would like to forget. In that span, a soft economy and overcapacity resulted in a loss of more than $175 million, as well as the closing of more than a dozen plants and the elimination of more than 900 jobs.
Yet, officials resisted the temptation to cut the firm's research and development budget. PolyOne's R&D spending actually increased more than 20 percent, going from $15.1 million in 2001 to $18.5 million last year. Its 2004 R&D budget is expected to exceed the 2003 total, said investor relations director Dennis Cocco.
``Other than global expansion, R&D is the second most important avenue for us to grow as a company,'' Cocco said. ``Technological innovations and new technology are extremely important to our growth. Even with as much [budget] cutting as we've done, we didn't reduce that area.''
PlastOne-brand concentrates represent another recent technological advancement for PolyOne. The materials can reduce cycle times from between 5-17 percent and also can reduce scrap and improve aesthetics. PlastOne materials were commercialized in early August and are being aimed at markets for auto interiors, thin-wall covers, lids and other extruded parts.
Avakian - who joined PolyOne predecessor M.A. Hanna Co. in 1999, after a career of nearly 20 years with GE Plastics - pointed out that Catize meets all three criteria PolyOne has established for new products. It's marketable, allows PolyOne to differentiate itself and it can be done long-term.
``From a technological standpoint, [Catize] is something we can build from,'' he said. ``It's got global growth potential.''