Birdsboro, Pa. — Arkema SA is expanding production in North America and Asia-Pacific.
Citing projected growth around the world in the sports, consumer electronics and automotive markets, the firm will expand its thermoplastic elastomer capacity at its site in Birdsboro, produced under the Pebax brand.
The company also will expand its site in Zhangjiagang, China, to increase production of its Rilsan brand polyamide, also targeting the sports, consumer electronics and automotive markets.
Financial details were not disclosed, but Erwoan Pezron, Arkema's global group president for technical polymers, said both expansions will total several million dollars. Both projects are projected to begin by the end of 2016 and be complete by the third quarter of 2017.
“Our goal is to be much more flexible in our manufacturing assets so we can be more reactive to customer needs,” he said. “(The expansions) will help us follow the demand of our customers in a number of growth sectors. We'll have more supply chain flexibility and be able to serve the region from the region.”
Birdsboro employs 60. Pezron said once the expansion is complete, the site will have the capability to produce up to 4,000 tons of Pebax. He cited two primary reasons for the added capacity. First, it is in line with Arkema's strategy to serve its regional customers from facilities all over the world. Second, the executive cited that some of the firm's U.S. polyimide business is showing solid growth, highlighting the medical device, construction and automotive markets.
Pezron said Pebax brings advantages in lightweighting, processing, elasticity, toughness, flexibility and transparency. Many of these grades are made in the U.S. Arkema operates 34 production plants in the U.S., with two focused on technical polymers.
Its site in Kansas City, Mo., produces fluoropolymers, and Birdsboro is the only facility in North America that manufacturers Pebax.
Pebax is used in running shoes, ski shoes, baseball cleats and other sportswear; laptops, smart devices, wearable technology and electronic packaging; and for automotive interiors and airbags.
“There is a good demand for bio-based elastomers, which we bring to the market under the Pebax brand,” Pezron said.
The firm's Zhangjiagang plant employs 165, and Pezron said the expansion will add up to 5,000 kilotons of production per year. Arkema operates eight facilities in China with two focusing on technical polymers. Its site in Changshu produces fluoropolymers and co-polyamides with Zhangjiagang focusing mainly on Rilsan.
The facility will serve other Asia-Pacific countries in addition to China, with Pezron citing Japan, Indonesia, India and Korea, among others.
Rilsan differs from Pebax in that it is used in more rigid sports parts, sportswear or textiles. It also can be a shoe component or bicycle part and is found in tennis racquets. In automotive, the compound is used in fuel lines, cooling systems, emission control and replaces metal to make vehicles lighter and fuel efficient. Like Pebax, Rilsan also has uses in smart devices and laptop parts.
“There is really solid growth in Asia for our specialty polyamides, particularly for our bio-based grades,” Pezron said. “For us, serving our customers from Asia is a very strong strategy for our technical polymers business. We see growth in China for automotive, sports and electronics markets by double digits.”
The Rilsan brand will turn 70 years old in 2017.
“We've developed so many applications and different kinds of grades for Rilsan that it's been a nicely growing product for us,” Pezron said. “And there's still a lot to come, especially in automotive with its tendency to replace metal. We see that there is good demand for this type of high performance polymer.”
Arkema is a global specialty chemicals company that operates in five business segments—Technical Polymers, Industrial Specialties, Coating Solutions, Performance Additives and adhesives through its Bostik SA subsidiary. The firm employs about 19,000 in nearly 50 countries with 2015 sales of about $8.59 billion.