Engineering resins maker Ticona has remained busy in the research lab even as it continues to ramp up manufacturing capabilities in Asia.
Company officials at the recent Chinaplas show in Shanghai were eager to talk about what they called the next generation of acetal copolymers, achieved by modifying the material's molecular backbone.
The result is Hostaform S 9364 - a resin that doubles weld-line strength and boosts impact resistance by 50 percent over conventional acetal materials, all without sacrificing key properties, according to John Caamano, global business line director for the firm's Celcon- and Hostaform-brand acetals.
At the same time, Ticona, a business unit of Dallas-based Celanese Corp., quietly announced it plans to build an acetal production plant in Asia in the next three to five years, and said it is in the planning stage for a plant that will make Vectra liquid-crystal-polymer thermoplastic resin in the region. The company provided no further details on either of the facilities.
Ticona also provided updates on a pair of its previously reported manufacturing expansions in China, including two new plants in Nanjing that are part of Celanese's complex there.
The company's Celstran long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic manufacturing unit began production in March and expects to have seven operating units running by mid-2009, according to Wilfried Jobst, Ticona's commercial director for Asia.
He also said the firm's GUR-brand ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene facility is on schedule to start production in July.
``Completion of the Celstran LFRT unit is a milestone for the Nanjing complex,'' he said, ``because it gives Ticona its first wholly owned manufacturing facility in Asia.''
Jobst said Ticona, which makes its Asian headquarters in Shanghai, will employ more than 70 across the region by year's end, with employees based in 10 Chinese cities. Its new customer application-development center in Shanghai is scheduled to open formally by the end of May, though it already has been running computer-aided-engineering and mold-flow software for about six months.
``We're working more closely with designers now,'' Jobst said, pointing to some particular automotive part designs in Ticona's Chinaplas booth as tangible evidence.
``We're doing in a few years here what it took us 40 years to do in Europe and the U.S.,'' he said.
But Ticona officials most wanted to discuss their new impact-modified acetal, or POM, as the resin is commonly known outside of North America.
Caamano, who is based at the firm's headquarters in Florence, Ky., explained that the product represents the first time Ticona has modified the POM molecule, rather than change its properties by using additives.
He termed the result - which took two years to develop - a ``step change in impact resistance'' that provides stiffness but allows flexibility. Possible uses include automotive window lift systems, clips, fasteners and conveyor belts.
Caamano said the firm currently is making the product in the United States and Europe, and shipping it to Asia, but it will begin producing the grade at its new Nanjing compounding facility. Ticona rolled out five new grades of Hostaform acetal at K 2007, but chose Chinaplas to announce this new material.
``This was a good opportunity for us to say that Asia is where it's happening,'' he said.
Ticona developed acetal copolymers and began producing them in 1964 in Germany. Today it manufactures more than 440 million pounds of the material and claims to control, with its affiliates in Asia, 40 percent of global capacity.
As part of a globalization process, Caamano said that ``Hostaform will in the future be used as a worldwide product-line brand name for our polyacetals, and new grades will only be marketed under this name. The only exception to this is that polyacetal sold under the trademark Celcon will continue to be available regionally, but will no longer be marketed globally.''