Friedrichshafen, Germany — Spanish ABS maker Elix Polymers SL has set up an office and warehouse in Michigan, with eyes on the North American automotive and appliance markets.
The company announced the U.S. foray at the Fakuma trade show, held Oct. 13-17 in Friedrichshafen, as it launched new grades of resins, including high-heat polymers for the auto industry and wood-plastic composites that can be both injection molded and 3-D printed.
The Tarragona, Spain-based firm became an independent company in 2012, after European regulators forced its divestment from petrochemicals giant Ineos as a condition of Ineos and BASF merging their styrenics businesses into Styrolution Group GmBH.
It's been three years of transition, going from being a production plant within a much larger group to an independent company, responsible for its own development.
Elix was bought by private equity firm Sun European Partners LLP, part of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sun Capital Partners Inc.
“It was really a challenging time,” said Operations Director David Castañeda. “We made a trip from a pure production plant to a company like it is now.”
The vast majority of its roughly 100,000 metric tons of production a year are sold in Europe, but as part of the transition the firm earlier this year opened a warehouse in Flint, Mich., because it sees opportunities in the North American market.
Carlos Muller, director of business development, said it's looking at across the NAFTA region: “There are very interesting automotive and appliance applications in Mexico.”
The U.S. market is currently less than 1,000 tons for the company, but it would like to grow it to about 5,000 tons in several years, Muller said.
At Fakuma it was showing several different new materials, including a high-heat, low-emissions ABS grade that does not use alpha methylstyrene as a co-monomer.
It said it's based on “breakthrough AMS-free chemistry” and suitable for automotive interior and exterior applications, with a 90 percent reduction in emissions.
Elix said it's gotten approval from one major car maker for the new material, and is working closely with others.
“The unique combination of AMS-free technology, improved processability and weight reduction make this new range an attractive option for processors,” said Fabian Herter, industry manager automotive, in a press release. “We believe this new range is a major step forward and provides and attractive and better alternative.”
The company also showed a material “tailor made” for BMW for use in injection molded glove box compartments in various Gran Turismo models: “It is a nice development where we are supplying the OEM directly, not a Tier 1,” Muller said.
Elix was also introducing a natural fiber reinforced material, which can be both injection molded and 3-D printed.
The resin, which contains up to 30 percent wood fiber, is targeted at auto and furniture applications. At its booth, the firm was displaying a small 3-D printed lamp made from the resin.
The material was developed with financial support from the EEA Grants and Norway Grants, the first time a European ABS producer was given such a grant to help develop “new sustainable ABS materials and composites,” Elix said.
The grant programs are funded by the governments of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein and are aimed at “reducing economic and social disparities” within the European Union, according to the EEA's website.