Cleveland — Raw material price increases and an up and down construction market are among the challenges facing PVC compounders in 2019.
Executives with three major PVC compounding firms tackled those topics and more at the Compounding World expo May 9 in Cleveland. The panel was moderated by senior project consultant Sylvia Tabero of host AMI Consulting.
Price increases on raw materials other than PVC resin have caused "turbulence in the industry and with customers," according to Matthew Kuwatch, marketing and business development vice president at Aurora Plastics LLC in Streetsboro, Ohio. He added that transportation and freight costs have increased in 2019 as well.
Because PVC compounding can be tied to the weather-dependent building and construction market, firms such as Westlake Chemical Corp. have expanded their presence in other markets, said Donald Williamson Jr., North American compounds director for Houston-based Westlake. Westlake's expansion efforts have included the acquisition of global compounder Nakan of Reims, France, late last year.
On the technology side, Mexichem Specialty Compounds of Leominster, Mass., is helping PVC compounds push boundaries in temperature and stability, according to Gautam Nivarthy, vice president and general manager. Lightweighting also is creating opportunities for the firm's materials, he said.
At Westlake, Williamson said that new uses for PVC compounds in 3D printing are being developed. Kuwatch said that Aurora is looking at increased heat resistance and darker colors for its materials, and making advances in cellular foam technology.
To attract new employees, Williamson said that Westlake is offering more university-level internships and is promoting the features and benefits of PVC. Aurora began offering internships last year. "Universities are big opportunities," Kuwatch said.
Mexichem's Nivarthy said that improving the image of PVC and of plastics in general also would make recruiting easier. Plastics firms "think of ourselves as all differentiated product lines," he added. "We'd do better as an industry if we emphasized what we do for society."
And processors' decisions between in-house or outside PVC compounding continues to be a two-way street. Kuwatch said that Aurora has seen some customers moving away from compounding their own PVC, while Nivarthy said that Mexichem has seen movement in both directions.
Williamson had a different perspective, since Westlake provides both PVC resins and compounds. "We're vertically integrated, so although we'd like [in-house compounders] to outsource, either way works for us."