CHICAGO (June 28, 3:25 p.m. EDT) — For Kraton Polymers LLC, a new identity fits like a polyisoprene rubber glove.
The Houston-based firm, which ranks as the world's largest styrenic block copolymer maker, is spending $15 million to double capacity for polyisoprene rubber latex in Paulina, Brazil. The material, which is toll-compounded in Asia before being sold to customers, is being used to replace natural rubber in surgical gloves.
That initative is part of a refocus on innovation at Kraton, which already has yielded seven new commercial products in the last nine months, Chief Executive Officer George Gregory said during an interview at NPE in Chicago.
“Innovation is going to allow us to go to market quicker,” Gregory added. “It's going to be our competitive advantage.”
Kraton also has debuted an SBC grade that can be used along with polyolefins in bicomponent fibers. The new grade, now being sampled by customers, can be used in nonwoven material through a spun-bond process. Potential applications include industrial and consumer wipes and disposable textiles such as surgical drapes and gowns.
Kraton officials remain undecided about the location of their Asian plant, which is set to be operational in 2009. Gregory said engineering already has begun on the plant — and a business team is being assembled — but he added that Kraton “is six to 12 months away” from announcing a site.
The firm is considering several sites in China and elsewhere in Asia for the 66 million-pound-per-year plant. SBC growth in China has been estimated at about 14 percent annually and 8 percent worldwide. Kraton holds a 30 percent share of the $3 billion global SBC market, but has a smaller position in China.
Kraton posted record sales of almost $1 billion in 2005, and saw sales increase 10 percent in the first quarter of 2006. The firm's annual sales have increased more than 45 percent since 2002. Kraton also showed a $14 million profit in 2005 after posting a loss in 2004.
In pounds of volume, Kraton has averaged 4 percent growth in the past five years, although Gregory said volume growth has been 6-7 percent in core segments. Volume in 2005 totaled almost 800 million pounds.
As part of its new identity — which includes a new logo — Gregory said Kraton “will be identifying core markets while shedding and de-emphasizing others.”
Texas Pacific Group of Fort Worth, Texas, bought Kraton for $770 million in late 2003, two years after Ripplewood Holdings LLC bought the business from Royal Dutch/Shell Group.