GE Advanced Materials is backing up its new product innovation claims by opening a 6,000-square-foot-lab expansion in Exton and adding 10 new grades of LNP-brand specialty compounds.
``We're going to spend our technology dollars on providing our customers with differentiation,'' said Charlie Crew, president and chief executive officer of GEAM's LNP products unit.
Pittsfield, Mass.-based GEAM unveiled the $2.9 million expansion in Exton on Sept. 21. The project, which will create 10 jobs, includes two new injection molding presses and three new twin-screw extrusion lines to be used for product testing. The firm also has installed a Buss kneader and a rheometer at the site, which now covers 11,700 square feet.
``For a product developer, having extra molding and testing at one site is like being a kid in a candy store,'' LNP product development manager Anne Bolvari said at the Sept. 21 news conference.
LNP's new projects offer improvements in wear/friction, conductivity, thermal performance and structural performance, Bolvari added. They include:
* A stainless-steel-filled grade of Faradex-brand electro-conductive compounds. The new grade is based on polycarbonate.
* Two grades of Verton-brand, long-fiber-reinforced compounds, based for the first time on polybutylene terephthalate.
* A custom-colorable grade of Stat-Loy-brand anti-static compound based on PC/ABS.
* Six grades of Starflam X Gen-brand reinforced compounds based on various nylon resins. The new grades do not contain halogen or red phosphorus.
The Faradex and Starflam X Gen products previously were available to LNP customers in Europe, but are new to North America. LNP also reorganized its grades of Lubricomp and Lubriloy compounds used in gear applications. LNP global product manager Nitin Apte said these longtime LNP products are finding new uses in the Asian market.
The PBT-based Verton grades are lighter than metal and offer ultraviolet-light and corrosion resistance, according to Verton product manager David Cooper. Furniture designer Bernhardt Design of Lenoir, N.C., selected a Verton compound based on PC/ABS for its new satin-gloss-painted Orbit stacking chair. Mack Molding Co. uses gas-assisted injection molding to make the highly contoured chair, whose design and material choice eliminates the need for the traditional supporting spine used on more expensive wood-veneer versions.
Meantime, LNP plans to add compounding capacity at a GEAM site in Moka, Japan, by the end of the year, and at another GEAM site in Nansha, China, in late 2005. The unit expects double-digit sales growth this year after seeing flat sales in 2003.
LNP has invested about $35 million on new technology and related expansions in the two years since being acquired by GEAM parent General Electric Co. LNP generates about 30 percent of its sales - which totaled about $400 million last year - from products developed within the last five years, Crew said.
Longer-term, LNP expects its share of overall sales going into the automotive market to increase from 20 percent now to 25 percent by 2007. Conversely, the firm expects its combined stake in the electrical/electronics market to drop from 50 percent to 39 percent in that same period.
Crew said there are solid opportunities for LNP in the ultra-competitive auto market.
``Where we fit in the automotive industry are in areas that play to the needs of safety, weight and overall durability,'' he explained. ``Most people that want to leave the automotive market don't add a lot of value compared to the next guy. But there's still a lot of metal on each vehicle and a lot of structural programs where we can get the weight out.''
Overall, Crew and his team are working to develop LNP products that more broadly exploit the wear, conductive and structural aspects of their materials' performance, to help offset the trend toward commoditization of applications focusing purely on thermal performance.
LNP also is walking a line where it tries to maintain its own identity while benefiting from its many GE connections.
``We run 35 resins [at LNP], but GE supplies only five of those,'' Crew said. ``Our biggest resin purchase is nylon, which GE doesn't make.''
But at the same time, Crew, a longtime GE veteran, admits that membership in the GE club does have its privileges.
``We have much more of an impact with bigger customers because they see us at LNP as GE,'' he said.