ANTWERP, BELGIUM (Sept. 6, 1:45 p.m. ET) — Specialty chemicals company Lanxess AG is investing 15 million euros to expand glass fiber capacity at its plant in Antwerp.
The Leverkusen, Germany-based company announced the project on Sept. 5 in Antwerp. The firm said the project is the latest in a series of investments — some previously announced this year — that total 90 million euros.
The projects new polyamide compounding facilities in the United States and India, as well as the expansion of upstream production facilities for caprolactam (35 million euros) and glass fiber, both used in its semi-crystalline products (SCP) business unit, in Antwerp.
Since breaking away from Bayer AG in 2004, Lanxess has increased caprolactam capacity to 220,000 metric tons per year from 50,000 metric tons per year. The company repaired its glass furnaces in 2010 — and will do again in 2013 — to increase annual capacity by 10 percent to 66,000 metric tons.
One third of the caprolactam and glass fiber products are sold to external customers and the other two-thirds are used by Lanxess itself in its PA and polybutylene terephthalates compounds.
The company is considering investing in a compounding site in an unspecified South American country but Chief Operating Officer Werner Breuers said that the company has yet to make a final decision.
In terms of existing plants, Lanxess is investing 10 million euros each in plants in Hamm-Uentrop, Germany, and Wuxi, China, to increase capacity. In Wuxi, Lanxess has added a third line to increase compounding capacity to 60,000 metric tons per year, up from 20,000 metric tons per year in 2005.
Breuers said the market for high-tech plastics was worth 7 billion euros in 2010 and that the market for high-tech plastics in cars is expected to grow 7 percent to 2020. Automotive applications is an important market area for Lanxess, accounting for around 50 percent of sales of semi-crystalline product compounds (20 percent go to electrical and electronics applications).
One recent automotive innovation was frontends, made from a glass fiber-reinforced PA6 and metal hybrid, which are 40 percent lighter than conventional all-steel front ends.
Hartwig Meier, head of semi-crystalline products and application development, said there are now 60 million hybrid front ends on more than 70 car models, including the new 2011 Mercedes Benz A- and B-Class cars.
The company has also developed an all-plastic front end for the new Audi A8 car, comprising formed polyamide composite inserts made from continuous fiber reinforced “organic sheet.”
Responding to an enquiry about whether the present euro crisis will have a negative effect on Lanxess business, Breuers said that Lanxess overall sales had increased by 40.8 percent to 7.1 billion euros in 2010 and by 23 percent in the second quarter of 2011, thanks to both “strong” pricing and volume growth. This “strong operational performance” is still ongoing and “there are still no reasons to revise expected growth downwards,” Breuers said.