After starting up the furnace in December, Owens Corning Corp. on March 9 formally announced the opening of a new composites plant on the outskirts of the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
The sprawling factory will serve China's booming market for composites, serving sectors ranging from automotive to wind energy to high-pressure piping.
The factory, according to Chairman and CEO Michael Thaman, represents one of the single-largest investments in the history of Owens Corning.
It also is the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly factory of its type in the world, he said at a news conference at the new facility.
We believe the plant we have built here is world-class, he said. It makes an important statement about Owens Corning's effort to support the very important composites market in China.
The Toledo, Ohio-based company now operates four glass-fiber-composites manufacturing facilities in China. In addition, there are five factories supporting the company's building materials arm.
Today China is the largest composites market in the world, said Arnaud Genis, group president of Owens Corning's Composite Solutions business. We started our first plant 15 years ago and we've seen tenfold growth in the last 15 years.
The plant, which employs around 280 and will serve China's domestic market, represents the first phase of construction on the site.
Land surrounding the plant has been set aside for expansion in the future. Genis said he expects double-digit growth in the next few years.
The new plant will be dedicated to the production of the company's patented Advantex glass formulation, a boron-free product with good high-mechanical strength, according to the firm.
The largest markets for the glass reinforcement in China, according to S.K. Han, vice president and managing director of Owens Corning's Composite Solutions Business in the Asia-Pacific region, are automotive, high-pressure containers and wood replacement in new buildings.
There will be 9 million homes built in China every year for the next few years, Han said.
The second area of growth, high-pressure pipes and containers, is strong in China and India, where rapid infrastructure growth has led to demand for replacing steel tanks and pipes with composite materials.
In the automotive market, composites can be used in structural parts and under-the-hood components, where their light weight helps to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.
The Advantex formulation also is a part of Owens Corning's energy-saving and environmental strategy. The process for making material uses less energy than other fiberglass materials and Advantex is boron- and fluorine-free. It also helps to reduce the amount of dust produced by 40 percent. Other energy-saving tactics can be found in the design of the furnace and melter.
The facility is extremely insulated, said Jean-Marc Sinkora, vice president and managing director of Owens Cornings OCV reinforcements business in Greater China. We recover heat absolutely everywhere.
Genis also emphasized the role that Owens Corning plays in China's growing alternative-energy market.
While the automotive market is the largest composites sector, the company also provides material for manufacturing the blades used in windmills.
We have been supplying the wind-energy market since 2000, Genis said. In its Beijing and Changzhou plants, Owens Corning also manufactures a product called Ultrablade, designed specifically to make larger and lighter blades.
This market aligns with China's pledge to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, Genis said.
We're here to service local demand, he said. This has been our recipe for success so far.