Noble Polymers is gaining ground with its Forte-brand nanocomposites, aiming to have its second commercial application as well as an extrusion grade on the market by mid-2005.
Forte, a polypropylene-based nanocomposite, is used in the interior trim console of a vehicle that will hit the road in June, Noble business unit leader Tim Patterson said at Flexpo 2004, held Sept. 15-17 in Galveston.
Patterson declined to identify the vehicle, citing confidentiality agreements, but the console is noteworthy in that it is not being molded by Cascade Engineering Inc., the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based injection molder that owns Noble. The first commercial nano- composite use for Noble - which operates about 80 million pounds of compounding capacity and employs 23 in Grand Rapids - was a seat back molded by Cascade in September 2003.
Cascade currently consumes about 95 percent of Noble's compounding output - mainly soft, flexible thermoplastic olefins - but Noble eventually hopes to sell more of its product to outside customers, Patterson said.
The seat back commercialized last year had used 30 percent glass-filled PP, but had warpage issues, Cascade materials engineering director Taher Abujoudeh said. Forte eliminated warpage while offering better aesthetics and lower cost, he said.
Other nanocomposite projects in the works for Noble include office furniture - where it can replace 20 percent glass-filled PP - as well as heavy-truck exterior trim and speaker housing parts.
The nanocomposite business started out small for Noble, with modest sales of about 700,000 pounds in its just-completed fiscal year. But the firm already has new sales on the books equaling that amount, Patterson said.
To date, Noble's nanocomposite work has centered on injection molding grades. Its first extrusion grade is set to debut in June, Abujoudeh said.
Cascade placed 30th in a recent Plastics News ranking of North American injection molders, with annual sales of $200 million.