The recession may have prompted Kraton Performance Polymers Inc. to scrap plans for the time being to build a wholly owned thermoplastic elastomers plant in Asia, but company officials at Chinaplas stressed the Houston-based firm's commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and said it will move into expanded office space in Shanghai by mid-May.
The company, through its operating subsidiary Kraton Polymers LLC and related units, has been selling its engineered polymer materials in Asia for 45 years. It began its marketing push into China in 2004 via a local sales office, and in 2007 opened its Shanghai innovation center, according to Lothar Freund, vice president of technology for Kraton Polymers.
Kraton, which describes itself as the world's largest maker of styrenic block copolymers, began developing plans three years ago to build a plant in Asia to make hydrogenated SBCs, Freund said at his firm's Chinaplas booth, but then the recession hit.
The firm pulled back, but now has put together a team to explore the option again.
Within three to five years, we expect to have HSBC capacity in Asia, he said. He declined to specify a likely target location, but did indicate the search would include, but not be limited to, mainland China. He said Asia now accounts for about 20 percent of Kraton's global sales.
Currently, Kraton makes SBC resins at five sites globally its flagship plant in Belpre, Ohio, as well as plants in Germany, France, Brazil and a joint venture in Japan.
Freund, who arrived at the April 21 Chinaplas news briefing straight from a Frankfurt flight that had been delayed for days by the volcano ash problems, offered some insights into recent and current market conditions.
Freund said the recession started in the fourth quarter of 2008 and by mid-2009 Kraton had lost 40 percent of its business, in volume terms. Third-quarter 2009 saw signs of recovery, and last year's fourth quarter actually posted gains over 2008's first quarter. In all last year, he said, Kraton saw its volume slide by 17-20 percent. The decline in Europe started later than in the United States and Asia and, consequently, Europe has been slower to rebound.
But Freund said Kraton's diverse portfolio with more than 800 products that serve a range of end markets has helped to temper the economic downturn's impact on his company.
Kraton used Chinaplas to introduce its Nexar-brand permeable membranes and coatings in Asia, after launching the line in North America at last June's NPE2009 show in Chicago.
Nexar polymers are engineered to control moisture in such applications as athletic apparel, sleeping bags, tents, military uniforms and biochemical garments, as well as water purification and industrial separation processes. The first two grades MD9200 and MD9150 are available in solution and membrane forms.
Freund also highlighted some of Kraton's other existing products, including those for use in wire, cable and medical (positioned as PVC alternatives), personal care (elastic nonwovens that use a bicomponent fiber technology) and protective films (implementing coextrusion technology to produce adhesive polymers for surface protection).
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