Sabic Innovative Plastics US LLC will begin producing polypropylene compounds at its plant in Bay St. Louis, Miss., early next year.
Pittsfield, Mass.-based Sabic IP will begin making standard PP compounds for the automotive market, and other sectors as well, in the first quarter of 2011, officials said at an Oct. 5 news briefing in Wixom, Mich. Sabic held the event at the offices of Exatec, its polycarbonate-window-glazing business.
Long-fiber grades of Stamax-brand PP compounds then will be added at Bay St. Louis in the third quarter of 2011. Official said the addition of PP compounding at a site already used to compound ABS and various engineering resins will create new jobs and result in the installation of new equipment, but they declined to provide details.
The addition of the PP-based products will expand what Sabic IP has to offer to the automotive community, according to automotive Vice President Greg Adams.
Designers are more comfortable with what polypropylene can do, and the characteristics of polypropylene have been improved, Adams said. It's had a cascade effect.
Sabic's addition of PP compounding shows its commitment to providing lightweight material for the auto industry, PP automotive business unit director Leon Jacobs said at the event.
Polypropylene and engineering thermoplastics account for more than 60 percent of automotive plastic applications, he added. Now we can offer both, and offer our customers a balanced choice.
Standard PP compounds made in Bay St. Louis will be targeted at automotive fascias, interior and exterior trim and instrument-panel components, while the Stamax compounds can be used in front-end modules, door modules and instrument-panel carriers.
Sabic has had some Stamax production in North America since 2009, when it bought the RheMax line of compounds a competing product from RheTech Inc. of Whitmore Lake, Mich. RheTech has been toll compounding Stamax for Sabic at a plant in Fowlerville, Mich.
Stamax has been commercially available in Europe since the early 2000s. Sabic added capacity for the product at a plant in Genk, Belgium, earlier this year. PP compounded in Bay St. Louis will be sourced from Sabic resin plants in other parts of the world, as well as from other suppliers. Stamax has proved effective in replacing steel in semi-structural parts, Jacobs said. The material can be produced in several grades including impact-modified and talc-filled.
At the Oct. 5 event, Sabic officials also said they have high hopes for the recently announced collaboration between Exatec and Ulvac Technologies Inc., a Japanese specialist in mass-production vacuum technologies. Ulvac will manufacture mass-production systems using its vacuum equipment experience and Exatec's plasma coating technology.
The deal will advance plasma coating, said automotive product marketing General Manager Dominic McMahon.
This will mean true mass production and true large-scale manufacturing for our customers, he said, adding that the equipment systems will be commercialized over the next three to four years.
McMahon also touted the benefits of PC windows in emerging electric and hybrid vehicles. By offering better thermal management than glass, PC can increase the range of electric and hybrid vehicles by 4-5 percent, he said.
The lower thermal conductivity [of PC] allows the vehicle to maintain its interior temperature more easily, McMahon added. It reduces the load on the [heating, venting and air-conditioning] system, and that conserves energy, which translates into fuel savings.
PC windows posted good results in electric and hybrid vehicles under an Arizona test that had high air-conditioning use and a Minnesota test involving high interior heat use.
If you step back and look at the various propulsion technologies being discussed, they all benefit from less weight, Adams said. That means a good future for plastics.
Looking at the broader automotive market, Adams said he agrees with industry projections that show North American car and light-truck builds could climb from 8.5 million last year to 11.5 million by the end of 2010.
We all went through the decline of the '08-'09 period, so those projections will be a big advantage, he said.
Even in the downturn, Adams said Sabic IP continued to invest, bringing on new technologies at Exatec. Customers continued to invest as well, although Adams said they've become more selective in their spending.
Another auto industry production move lowering the overall build number per vehicle also could lead to increased plastic use, according to Adams, by reducing the financial advantage that fenders and other steel parts gain from larger volumes.
Exatec technology is being used in parts of the Corvette and Honda Civic, and on a bus shield application in North America.