China's first thermoplastic polyurethane production facility completed by a multinational company began operating recently.
The plant, called Noveon Specialty Chemicals (Shanghai) Ltd., is a fully owned subsidiary of compounder and resin supplier Noveon Inc., a unit of specialty chemicals maker Lubrizol Corp.
The Shanghai plant, which began operating in July, provides manufacturing and laboratory testing capabilities.
The plant is on equal scale with Noveon's U.S. and Belgian facilities, according to Timothy Madden, business director in Asia, although the capacity is undisclosed.
The equipment was designed by Noveon engineers and sourced globally.
Madden said the plant will need few employees because Noveon has installed full computer process controls.
Noveon has reserved about 14 acres for the Shanghai subsidiary, including its TPU plant, and future expansions are planned.
The operation will serve as the firm's Asia-Pacific base, officials said.
Madden said the plant will sell 50 percent of its TPU products in China, and the rest to other Asia-Pacific countries.
Target applications are film and sheet, wire and cable, fabric coating and specific injection molding applications, Madden said.
Key customers will include ``the famous sport-shoe manufacturers,'' he said.
Noveon's expansion in China is motivated by an Asian demand shift from ``more commodity-oriented products to higher-performance materials,'' Madden said. U.S. and European customers entering Asia is also a factor. Meantime, local Asian firms are ``stepping up their quality and performance standards,'' he said.
The Asian market for PU materials is growing 7-9 percent annually; the rate is projected to reach 11-13 percent in China, according to a Noveon news release.
Noveon currently operates three factories in Asia: in Shanghai; Seoul, South Korea; and Seremban, Malaysia. The firm also has labs in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, and an office in Guangzhou.
Lubrizol Corp. of Wickliffe, Ohio, acquired Brecksville, Ohio-based Noveon Inc. for $1.8 billion about a year ago.
Noveon employs more than 3,500 worldwide and generates yearly sales of about $1.1 billion.