BASF Corp. has completed a 10 percent capacity increase for thermoplastic polyurethane production in Wyandotte, Mich.
The new production, which came on line in May, is needed to meet customer demand and allow BASF to continue with its ``mass customization'' strategy. That approach lets BASF make specialized products for pneumatic tubing, hydraulic hoses, sheet, film and other markets on large-scale or standard equipment, according to Elastollan-brand TPU product manager Stephane Morin.
The capacity addition was done through a debottlenecking and did not represent a major capital investment, Morin said during a recent interview at the Plastics News office in Akron. BASF, based in Florham Park, N.J., does not disclose exact capacity numbers for its TPU line.
BASF also recently introduced Elastollan Light brand TPUs to the North American market. The products, which have been available in Europe since 2002, include a blowing agent that provides good cell uniformity and that can reduce density by as much as one half. The grades are aimed at the footwear market and at overmolded handles for pliers, scissors and other hand tools.
One brand-new commercial offering is an Elastollan TPU line for the elastic nonwovens market. The new grades, commercialized earlier this year in North America and Europe, provide more elongation than polyester and are being aimed at such uses as medical and filtration webs.
Elastollan LoTac is another new product, launched this year for film applications or extrusion coatings that require a low coefficient of friction. The new grades also offer good adhesion, low tackiness and transparency. LoTac was developed in Wyandotte and is being produced there as well.
Halogen-free flame-retardant grades of Elastollan also have been added to BASF's North American lineup. The grades are considered to be more environmentally friendly and can be used in tubing and wiring applications. The materials previously had been available only in Europe and are produced at a BASF plant in LemfÃ¶rde, Germany.
BASF operates a TPU polymerization line and several single-screw and twin-screw compounding lines in Wyandotte. Morin said a major expansion of the site is ``at least a couple of years down the road,'' even with TPU sales growing at a 6-8 percent annual rate. BASF plans to launch its first Asian TPU production as part of a new polyurethane complex in Shanghai, China, in 2007.
Product demand growth has continued even though BASF has raised prices about 5 percent in the last year to handle higher costs for raw materials, transportation and energy, Morin added. Sales in North America and Asia were slower than expected in the first half of 2005, but have picked up since then, he said.
Chemicals giant BASF AG of Ludwigshafen, Germany, ranks as the world's largest TPU maker. Its North American arm trails only the Noveon business of Wickliffe, Ohio-based Lubrizol Corp., in the TPU business in North America.