Guangzhou, China — Nylon 6/6 powerhouse Ascend Performance Materials is looking at growth in China's packaging and automotive markets as it continues to cope with the tightening market globally for its wares.
At Chinaplas, held in mid-May in Guangzhou, company executives also outlined some initiatives in product development in the country, like in the fibers market, as they acknowledged the challenges in their supply chain.
“Lead times have been getting longer,” said Scott Rook, vice president of nylon commercial operations at Houston-based Ascend. “Particularly over the past six months, for us as well as others, demand and capacity have been pretty closely matched.”
One reason: tight supplies of adiponitrile, a key ingredient in nylon 6/6 production. Ascend makes its own ADN. But there are only four factories worldwide that make ADN, and all are running at full capacity, Rook said.
Over the next five years, the world is going to add about 175,000 tons of ADN capacity if the nylon 6/6 market is going to continue to grow at its current rate of 3 percent per year, Rook predicted.
Ascend also showed off its softer side at the show, with new applications in fibers and textiles.
“We have some very interesting things going on in textiles,” Rook said. “Our team has been working very aggressively over the past year specifically developing textile fibers in China.”
For years, antistatic fibers made from Ascend's nylon 6/6 resins have been woven into carpets. More recently, fibers made with the company's resins have been used in safety clothing for industries, such as chemicals, in which static sparks can be dangerous.
And it is finding that apparel makers are attracted by the abilty of antistatic nylon 6/6 fibers to resist pollen, dust and lint and reduce wrinkles, Rook said.
Ascend is also eyeing China's fast-growing food-packaging market.
Films made with the company's resins are “40 to 50 percent tougher than current grades on the market,” Rook said.
Alternatively, customers can use a thinner film that is as strong as conventional film wrapping, he said.
The puncture resistance within nylon 6/6 makes it useful for meat packaging by preventing bones from piercing the film, Rook said. That's a big attraction in China, where meat is traditionally sold on the bone.
Ascend continues to stockpile its Asian warehouses from its plant in Pensacola, Fla., the worldís biggest nylon 6/6 plant, Rook said.
Basing production in the United States makes economic sense, where electricity is relatively cheap, thanks in part to low prices for natural gas. Transoceanic shipping costs are competitive, too.
“It's cheaper for me to take a container of material [from Pensacola] and deliver it to Shanghai than it is to ship it to Detroit,” Rook said.
Sixty percent of nylon 6/6 produced worldwide is consumed by the automotive industry, also a key focus for the company.
Ascend believes its J-series of materials, which are heat-stabilized to withstand 155° C for turbo-charged motors, have growth potential in China.
“We believe that five years from now, 60 percent of the cars in China will have a turbocharger,” Rook said.
More nylon is being used in auto air bags, too.
Last, year, India — another big Ascend market — began requiring one bag in each vehicle be made in the country. China regulators require two, but customers are demanding more, Rook said.
Stable, heat-resistant nylon is also used in the extensive electronics found in today's cars, including connectors and cables. As the popularity of electric cars accelerates, automakers will demand sturdy, chemical-resistant battery trays, Rook said.