Düsseldorf, Germany — If you think you've been seeing more black plastic products than ever before, you're right. And you'll soon see even more.
Cabot Corp., one of the largest specialty black concentrates and compound producers in the world, is investing in new capacity to expand production for plastics formulations for conductive compounds and masterbatches for engineering thermoplastic applications.
Making the expansion announcement at K 2016 in Düsseldorf in October was particularly important, said Adrian Baker, Cabot's commercial director of specialty compounds for the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
“We want to tell our customers in Europe first,” Baker said.
The additional line is expected to be up and running “by this time next year” at the existing Pepinster, Belgium, facility. The addition will more than double current production for conductive compounds and engineering thermoplastic applications, but at less than 10 percent of current overall volume across Europe, Dubai and China, the move is not as much about tonnage as it is about serving customers — particularly in Europe, Baker said.
“I think of it more of an expansion of capability than an expansion of volume. Our business is heavily focused on polyolefins, and we really need to increase our capabilities in engineering thermoplastics,” he said. “At the moment, we've got some capability but limited capacity, and we really want to grow it.”
After more than 30 years in the carbon black business, Cabot is an expert in how its concentrates react with resin and how to get the best properties out of both. But some capacity limitations mean customers sometimes end up going elsewhere for masterbatches, mixing or more. The coming expansion will give customers deeper in-house Cabot options over toll compounding.
“Cabot is the only global integrated carbon black and black masterbatch producer. As such, we are uniquely positioned to engage with our customers to understand their specific requirements and deliver formulated solutions to meet their needs,” said Aaron Johnson, Cabot's vice president for specialty compounds for Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Americas.
Europe also has the highest customer demand for additives for conductive plastics additives and engineering thermoplastics, Cabot execs said, with Asia close behind. Conductive plastics for automotive applications continue to grow with that market's lightweighting trend, replacing metal with plastics but without static buildup and its fire risks, along with industrial safety products like static-free trays for electronics manufacturing. The personal fitness tracker and relate markets are also a conductive plastics demand driver. Experts estimate a 5 percent growth rate for conductives, though “my personal opinion is that it's growing faster than that,” Baker said.
“Carbon black isn't the easiest to make,” he said. “It is unique, it makes us unique and being more deeply integrated makes us better able to serve our customers.”