ORLANDO, FLA. — New polypropylene compounds were in the spotlight for Asahi Kasei Plastics North America Inc. at NPE 2015.
The Fowlerville, Mich.-based firm showed new grades of its Thermylene-brand PP compounds in high-strength and bimodal long-fiber versions, as well as grades using 3M microsphere technology.
In a recent interview in Fowlerville, Asahi Kasei President John Moyer said the new products are designed to improve automotive lightweighting in both exterior and interior parts. The microsphere grades should be commercial by mid-2015, he added.
The automotive market brings in about 70 to 75 percent of annual sales for Asahi Kasei. North American sales grew 10 percent in its 2014 fiscal year, which ends March 31. Sales and volume should remain strong in fiscal 2015, Moyer said, as the North American auto market should again produce around 17 million vehicles.
“With lower gas prices, you're already seeing people buying bigger cars,” he said. “Americans have short memories.”
Moyer also updated Asahi Kasei's progress on opening a new plant in Athens, Ala. Ground was broken at the site in late September, but Moyer said that colder-than-normal winter weather has slowed down the pace of construction. Production is set to begin in early 2016.
The 100,000-square-foot plant will have 70 million pounds of annual compounding capacity and is being built at a cost of around $30 million. Asahi Kasei needs a plant in the region to supply the growing number of automakers who have established plants in the U.S. South.
“We need the capacity for growth, and from a cost perspective, having a plant there will help with logistics,” Moyer explained. “We can fill up that plant right now — we'll have no problem selling out.”
CPM Century Extrusion of Traverse City, Mich., has been awarded the contract to provide two twin-screw machines to the Athens plant. Century previously had supplied a twin-screw line to Asahi Kasei's plant in Fowlerville.
“We are proud to be chosen as a key growth partner to Asahi Kasei. We have worked very hard to build our capabilities to the level required to support them and other global leaders in the compounding industry,” said Century Extrusion president, Bob Urtel, in a news release.
When the Athens plant opens, production in Fowlerville is expected to slow down for a while, but Moyer added that the Fowlerville site should be up to full operating capacity by early 2017.
Looking beyond the U.S., Asahi Kasei has its sights on Mexico, where it now draws more than 10 percent of its sales. The firm opened a sales office there in 2012 and recently increased its number of sales reps in that country. Asahi Kasei now has to decide whether to buy or build in Mexico, but Moyer said the firm hopes to have production there by 2018.
The recent plunge in North American PP prices — which fell a total of 20 cents per pound in December and January — had devalued some of Asahi Kasei's resin inventory, but hasn't had much of a financial impact on the firm, according to Moyer.
Asahi Kasei is a unit of global manufacturing conglomerate Asahi Kasei Corp. of Tokyo. The unit ranks as one of North America's 30 largest compounders and concentrate makers.