Officials with German chemical titan BASF AG are hoping new grades of nylon, polybutylene terephthalate and other resins can help the company match its 10 percent 2004 volume growth rate in 2005.
``Volumewise,  has been a good year,'' European engineering plastics marketing director Kurt Hofli said in an interview at K 2004 in Dusseldorf. ``We're running at good capacity utilization rates and looking to expand in Asia.''
Asian expansion plans for Ludwigshafen, Germany-based BASF include adding 130 million pounds of PBT capacity through a joint venture with Toray Industries Inc. in Malaysia in 2006, Hofli said.
In nylon, BASF has launched three new grades of flame-retardant material, including a Underwriters Laboratories-rated 6/6 grade that is freely colorable.
``Our [nylon] strength in automotive continues to be in places like underhood applications, air intakes, motor covers and oil modules,'' added Hofli.
In PBT, a new rheology-modified grade flows twice as fast as conventional PBT. BASF officials said initial customer trials have resulted in cycle times being cut by 20 percent.
Elsewhere, BASF and British door maker Permacoat Ltd. have developed Permaskin, a door-laminating process that uses BASF's Luran S-brand acrylic styrene acrylonitrile polymer. A new grade of Styroflex-brand styrenic copolymer also was added recently for making packaging film with high resilience and strength.
Production for BASF's Ultrason-brand polysulfone and polyethersulfone also will be increased by 20 percent in Ludwigshafen by year's end.
Those materials are finding increased uses in headlamp units, vehicle cooling systems and aerospace components.
One side effect of higher raw material costs, however, has been the need for BASF to raise prices on many of its specialty plastics. This has caught some customers off guard, since many of these products debuted with high prices, which then lessened over time. Now, they're heading up again.
``It's very difficult for our customers to understand this and to pass the costs on to their customers,'' Hofli said. ``If you look at the last 10 years, the history was that prices were going down. Now we're to the point where it doesn't go on like that.''
Overall, BASF's plastics sales of 7.7 billion euros ($10 billion) in the first nine months of 2004 were 16 percent higher than in the same period last year. Plastics profit nearly doubled to 459 million euros ($598 million) in the same period.
Plastics was the largest of BASF's five segments in the first nine months of 2004, generating almost 28 percent of the firm's total sales.
``For the last four or five years, we've been focused on making internal progress,'' Hofli said. ``Now, we're more focused on product innovation again and we're getting nice results.''