Increasing demand for soft-touch materials is prompting Septon Co. of America to add 13 million pounds of annual capacity for styrenic block copolymers in Pasadena, Texas.
The expansion began in August and is set for completion in early 2007. Pasadena-based Septon opened the $70 million, 50-employee plant in 2002. The new work will create five new jobs.
Septon, a division of Japanese chemical maker Kuraray Co. Ltd., saw sales climb 5-10 percent last year and expects that trend to continue, sales and marketing manager Tom Bell said in a recent phone interview.
``Demand is definitely growing, and we want to be in a position to support our customers for the long haul,'' Bell said.
Septon takes a somewhat unique approach to the thermoplastic elastomer market in that it only sells its products to compounders - such as GLS Corp. and Teknor Apex Co. - and not to end users. Bell said the firm has no plans to move into compounding because it doesn't want to compete with customers.
On the applications front, Bell said consumer nondurables continue to lead the way. Septon's customers are using SBCs in power tools, toothbrushes and small appliances. Sports water bottles are another recent success for soft-touch products, even though Bell admitted that five years ago he never would have thought such an application would catch on.
The automotive market also holds potential for Septon in airbag covers and instrument panel skins. In some of those applications, Bell said SBCs are being combined with thermoplastic olefins.
Bell added that North American sales of Septon-brand SBCs - as well as of Hybrar-brand high-vinyl SBCs imported from its plant in Kashima, Japan - have increased since the company last reported sales of $30 million in 2001. He declined to offer specifics.
Septon opened a technical center with a compounding lab and testing equipment in Pasadena last year. It shares the center with Kuraray subsidiaries Kuraray America and Eval Co. of America. The firm also added about 9 million pounds of annual Hybrar capacity in Kashima last year.
The Pasadena plant was in the path of Hurricane Rita, but Bell said the facility was ``unscathed.'' The plant shut down Sept. 21 as a precautionary measure, but was restarted Sept. 27 after raw material supplies were restored.