Compounder Polymax TPE is citing reshoring customers as a reason for adding new production capacity and adding a new medical product grade.
A new lab-scale extrusion line will be in place by the end of the second quarter, Vice President Tom Castile said in a May 11 interview with Plastics News. The equipment already is on-site at Polymax's headquarters and production site in Waukegan, Ill.
Once up and running, the new line will be able to fulfill smaller orders of 3,000 pounds or less, Castile said.
The new work is in addition to an expansion that Polymax completed last year. That $1.5 million project almost doubled the firm's annual production capacity.
New equipment was installed in Waukegan in July. The expansion increased Polymax's annual production capacity to almost 18 million pounds. The firm primarily makes compounds based on styrenic block copolymers (SBCs) and related alloys.
Polymax also recently has expanded two lines of medical-grade thermoplastic elastomer materials used in products related to the COVID-19 crisis. A soft medical grade will be made in the U.S. for the first time.
Polymax is owned by Polymax Elastomer Technology Co. Ltd. of Nantong, China. The firm also operates a compounding plant in Nantong. Although Polymax is based in China, Castile said the firm is majority-owned by U.S. taxpayers.
Since February, Polymax has actively been increasing production of medical-grade TPEs. One of the grades is used in an aspirator part.
With growing demand for medical-grade TPEs, Polymax has increased its focus on making TPEs for face masks. TPEs have been identified as a substitution for traditional materials used to make face masks, such as silicone and latex, officials said.
In a news release, Castile said that Polymax "can meet the demanding needs" respirators and other PPE applications used to treat COVID-19.
"Our ability to also provide custom TPE solutions without the typical high cost associated with these solutions has been important for many molders as they continue to develop and introduce new products," he added. "The COVID-19 crisis has quickly created an urgency to source TPE products domestically."
Castile said May 11 that as production work has returned to the U.S. from China, Polymax has seen different types of reshoring.
"Some of it is firms that have been sourced in China or elsewhere looking for a new supplier," he explained. "And some of it is because of increased demand from hospitals and health care systems for domestic products.
"COVID-19 has been the spark for the new demand. We can't ship some materials fast enough," he said.