ORLANDO, FLA. — 3M Advanced Materials Division plans to build another U.S. facility and is working with material providers Asahi Kasei Plastics and BASF Corp. to find even more uses for its glass bubbles.
“Tennessee will be our biggest plant in the world. We have a need for more capacity than we currently have, and it will make our full range of products, not only [for] plastics but all industries,” said Douglas Rowen, global business director for bubbles at 3M Advanced Materials.
He said the company expects the new plant to open by the middle of 2016. He did not disclose its size, but noted that it will significantly boost the company's capabilities.
The 3M Advanced Materials unit also has production facilities in Cottage Grove, Minn.; and Guin, Ala.; as well as in South Korea, France and Brazil. The company has expanded its application labs in recent years and has sites in Germany, South Korea, Brazil and St. Paul, Minn.
Rowen said 3M aims to make it easier for companies to use the bubbles in lightweighting applications.
That's why, he said, it is important that Asahi Kasei Plastics and BASF are mixing the bubbles into some of their offerings.
“We've been working with glass bubbles since 1960,” Rowen said. “Some may think it is a new material, but for us it is a way to make it easier. A lot of our focus is how to make it simpler,” he added.
Louis Lundberg, global business manager for specialty additives for the division, was showcasing a variety of glass bubble uses in the booth.
At NPE 2015 in Orlando, he showed sheet molded compound body panels with IM16K glass bubbles made by Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Continental Structural Plastics Inc. for the 2014 and 2015 Corvette Stingray. Continental is using a polyester-based Class-A SMC that reduces its density by nearly 40 percent with the use of the glass bubbles.
Both he and Rowen also pointed to glass-filled polypropylene using materials supplied by Asahi Kasei and BASF to make hockey pucks. Lundberg noted that besides cutting back on the weight, they also improved the stability of the material.
A third example showed tiny phone camera modules made by Fillmax AMP. In this case, the appeal of the bubbles was to provide a stable platform, though their light weight is important, too.
Another use was for an automotive oil pan that added the bubbles to Trexel's MuCell technology and that provided about a 14 percent weight reduction. That application used a BASF Ultramid nylon.