GE Plastics and Allen Extruders Inc. have teamed up to push polycarbonate sheet into new markets.
The firms have developed the Alextra family of PC sheet that they said provides new material solutions in the transportation, agriculture, recreation and marine industries. Alextra sheet delivers a Class A surface and long-term strength, according to the developers.
Key to Alextra is the coextruded capstock of GE's Lexan SLX, a weather-resistant PC resin. Lexan SLX, which constitutes about 10-15 percent of the sheet thickness, helps Alextra compete against thermosets like polyesters and reaction injection molded materials. The copolymer blend complements other PC resins in the sheet to impart toughness, weatherability, depth of color and recyclability, the companies said.
Chris Willis, GE Plastics industry manager for recreational vehicles and buses, said in a telephone interview that the first commercial application for Alextra is at a nonautomotive transportation company. The undisclosed firm began using it last fall. Several others are evaluating the sheet for transportation, industrial equipment and road construction products, Willis said.
GE Plastics had early success with Lexan SLX in nonauto injection molding applications and decided to apply it to extruded uses by marrying it with other PC resins, Willis said.
``We had an eager customer,'' he added.
Allen Extruders joined the effort, chipping in its extrusion expertise, said Allen Extruders Chief Executive Officer and President Sam Angell.
``We worked with GE, and from idea to commercial close was about nine months,'' Angell said.
Alextra performs well in thermoforming applications and in some cases a 14-inch draw is possible, the officials said. Willis said the sheet might need to be dried before it can be formed in conventional equipment, including in temperature-controlled and composite tooling. Small marks or scratches on the sheet surface are easily buffed out, he said.
Willis and Angell said it requires expertise to make Alextra sheet. ``The processing intellectual property resides in Allen Extruders,'' Willis said.
Allen Extruders does not have exclusive rights to making the sheet, but Angell said, ``We believe there are enough meaningful barriers to allow us to react to any competition.'' He said Allen dedicated a capital program to Alextra's development, but he declined to provide information about equipment or cost.
The sheet comes in three major grades. Alextra MV, the most versatile grade, outperforms ABS, the firms said. Alextra TS has increased stiffness with superior low- and high-temperature performance. The ET grade shows robust performance, such as low-temperature impact strength to minus 76° F, chemical resistance, low coefficient of friction, heat distortion temperature of 275° F and bondability.
``These combined characteristics produce a unique balance of aesthetics and performance, which can enable our customers to decrease system costs and offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to painted, in-mold-coated or gel-coated material systems,'' said Mike Ringquist, Allen sales manager.
Allen Extruders is selling Alextra sheet directly from its Holland, Mich., head office. It is available in a range of solid colors and can be matched to painted components. Sheet width ranges up to 100 inches and available gauges are from 0.06-0.5 inch. Lead times are three to four weeks, the company said.
Allen Extruders also extrudes a variety of ABS/PC, acrylic and polystyrene sheets on its five extrusion lines. It also offers laminating services. The firm logged 2005 sales of $42 million.