Bayer MaterialScience LLC's polycarbonate business is looking to offset a downturn in the traditional auto market with advancements elsewhere, as well as with better products for different kinds of vehicles.
``The overall auto market is down and we've felt it in our business,'' Bayer's Sam Stewart said during an Oct. 23 interview at BMS headquarters in Pittsburgh. ``But as we look at designs for the future, there will be more opportunities for design and integration.
``Weight reduction is tied in to a lot of opportunities in automotive, and we've also got similar opportunities in rail, transportation and aerospace.''
Stewart a 27-year Bayer veteran who has spent most of his career in the PC market, and now serves as vice president of sales and marketing added that PC auto window glazing ``has taken a while to catch on, but with the [high-priced] fuel situation, a lot more designers are taking it into account.''
``Using glazing in back-panel glass gives a lot more freedom in design, and that improves the sleekness of the vehicle as well as design flexibility. Designers finally are understanding that this can bring value.''
Low-gloss grades of Bayer's Bayblend-brand PC/ABS also are being used on auto interior parts where a shiny appearance is not wanted. Stewart explained that PC or PC/ABS can offer 10-15 percent savings on many auto parts.
``The Smart car [from Daimler AG] has taken off more than we thought it would,'' he said. ``The key is gearing up plants of automakers to produce those kinds of vehicles. We're going away from larger vehicles, and it's a real paradigm shift. There's a lot more activity in fuel-efficient, smaller, leaner vehicles.
``Design and part integration are some of our strengths, so we're taking a close look at what's out there,'' Stewart said.
Outside of the auto field, new PC ideas from Bayer are taking root in areas as diverse as solar energy and snowboarding. Photovoltaic cells are using PC in solar panels, while the snowboarding angle comes courtesy of the Makboard, a transparent snowboard made of Bayer's Makrolon-brand PC.
The Makboard, which is 100 percent recyclable, was designed by inventor Bob Canler and is being molded by A.L.P. Lighting Components of Niles, Ill. The product is 62 inches long and tips the scales at about 9.5 pounds. With a tri-hulled bottom, the Makboard is more stable than traditional boards when taking turns or going straight.
In telecommunications, Bayer PC is being used increasingly in metal insert moldings in cell phones and elsewhere to provide an overmolded look, as well as structural integrity, according to Stewart. The materials offer good chemical resistance to lotion, suntan oil, cosmetics or other materials that cell phones may come in contact with, while providing more design freedom.
The medical field also presents great opportunities for Bayer's PC, even in unexpected ways like new colors.
``Designer colors now are going beyond traditional white in medical,'' Stewart said. ``There's more home use. The market isn't all hospital-driven now.
``Medical is still really strong for us it's been growing 7-10 percent per year. We've seen activity in dialysis equipment, cardiovascular oxygen pumps and surgical instruments and in disposables like [intravenous] stents and blood meters for diabetes.''
Much of Bayer's color work in medical and other markets is done at a design lab opened in 2005 at a compounding site in Newark, Ohio.
``There are opportunities in the consumer area as designers become more aware of color as a real key differentiator,'' Stewart said. ``At the [Newark] lab, they can spend some time on it. We can give them a 50- or 100-pound bag of resin for what they're trying to do. There's still a need for that and customers still value it.''
Sustainability has surfaced at Bayer's PC unit in the form of post-consumer, flame-retardant grades of recycled Bayblend PC/ABS. The material is being used on laptop computer lids and housings for Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
The recycled content of the material can range from 10-30 percent. Water bottles supply the recycled stream for the product, but demand may exceed supply.
``Major [original equipment manufacturers] would like to see a closed-loop system for collection of their products,'' Stewart said. ``There needs to be a global initiative in terms of the supply chain.''
Current PC growth rates of 3 percent in North America and 5-6 percent globally are expected to continue for the near future.
``The challenge for us going forward is understanding where the market space is for polycarbonate,'' Stewart said. ``Our own challenge in this industry is continuing to look outside traditional areas, to where customers need design freedom and geometric possibilities.''