Compounder Nylon Corp. of America (Nycoa) and injection molder Cascade Engineering Inc. have struck development deals with NaturalNano Inc. to commercialize nanoenhanced plastic materials.
``Nano is kind of the buzzword for a lot of companies right now,'' Nycoa President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Shepard said in a phone interview. ``But we're seeing real benefits from it.''
Manchester, N.H.-based Nycoa has produced its NanoTuff line of compounds since 2006. Nanotechnology allows for improvement of materials at the molecular level. NaturalNano's Pleximer- brand plastic additives can be used in existing compound formulations.
Nycoa and NaturalNano are hopeful the product can be in commercial production by the end of the year. NaturalNano already has made nylon-based and polypropylene-based Pleximer in semicommercial runs equaling hundreds of pounds.
At Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Cascade, Pleximer could be used in new compounds and parts for automotive and other industries.
Pleximer has ``the potential to substantially improve the design and safety of the everyday products people use,'' said Fred Keller, Cascade's chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a news release.
Cascade's 2006 sales were estimated at $260 million, placing it No. 24 among North American injection molders in Plastics News' recent industry ranking.
NaturalNano, based in Rochester, N.Y., received $3.25 million in private equity funding earlier this year to develop Pleximer, which is intended to make nylon, polypropylene or other resins lighter and more flexible than current composites.
The type of nanotechnology used by NaturalNano has a different morphology than the type currently used by Nycoa. The NaturalNano methods might have benefits in improving structural applications in sporting goods and other products where a strong, lightweight material is needed, Shepard said.
Pleximer uses halloysite nanotubes instead of the carbon nanotubes used in most nano-based materials. The halloysite elements are much less expensive than carbon and, unlike carbon, they don't require exfoliation before being used in plastics processing, NaturalNano's Cathy Fleischer said in an e-mail.
``Plastics is a near-term commercial opportunity for nanotech, as there is currently a need for stronger, lighter, less expensive materials,'' said Fleischer, who serves as the firm's president and chief technical officer.
Nycoa posted sales of about $30 million in 2006. First-quarter sales were up about 10 percent, thanks to a number of new products, Shepard said. Nycoa also has added some research and development personnel this year. The firm increased production capacity by about 10 percent in 2006 and now can produce about 25 million pounds of nylon resins and compounds per year.
NaturalNano is a small technology firm launched in 2004. The firm - which holds more than 20 patents in the nanotech field - posted sales of $15,000 in 2006.