Oak Brook, Ill. — Plastics and chemical companies looking to innovate face the challenge of how to spot trends and use "disciplined capital management" to figure out which new materials to work on, said Burt Capel, vice president and general manager of Eastman Chemical Co.
"We've taken a really hard look at Eastman about our culture and our mission the last few years," Capel said in a speech at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Blow Molding Conference.
Material innovations can take years — and big money — to become commercial. Capel gave the example of Eastman's Tritan, introduced in 2007. He said Tritan was being developed years before health concerns about bisphenol A in polycarbonate.
"We created a new monomer system that allowed it to perform differently," he said.
Capel said Eastman started marketing Tritan to the housewares market, a tough, low-margin business.
"But my challenge to you is there is no market that is too difficult to try and do things differently," he told the blow molders.
Capel said the plastics industry needs to look at filling unmet needs. Eastman introduced Tenite, a cellulose acetate, in the 1930s. Today we'd call that a bioresin. Then it was an early thermoplastic back when thermoset resins were king.
"But now the unmet need, the undeserved need, is we need a cellulose-based bioresin that's economical," Capel said. So Eastman has developed the new Treva-brand of cellulose-based engineering bioplastic.