Canadian Plastics

Compounded gains

By Michael Legault   



North American compounders are on a mission to offer their customers more cost-effective, customized and comprehensive product lines and services. In order to meet this ambitious objective, a number o...

North American compounders are on a mission to offer their customers more cost-effective, customized and comprehensive product lines and services. In order to meet this ambitious objective, a number of companies have invested in new equipment and launched new strategic business arrangements, directly or indirectly affecting Canadian operations.

Colortech Inc. recently acquired the color concentrate business of Eastman Chemical Company. Colortech, a subsidiary of Polyplast Muller GmbH, has sales offices and manufacturing operations in Brampton, ON and Morristown, TN. The Brampton plant manufactures all of the company’s color and black concentrates, while the Morristown facility produces only whites and additives.

Colortech’s acquisition, which excludes equipment, primarily relates to extrusion coating concentrates, according to Gary Arinder, Colortech vice-president sales.

“We’ve been developing and marketing extrusion coating concentrates for several years, but this purchase moves us ahead into the North American market in a significant fashion,” says Arinder.

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Ingenia Polymers and Clariant Masterbatches Division have announced a joint NAFTA region marketing agreement. The intent of the alliance is to provide customers in the film, packaging and construction industries with an expanded line of high-volume concentrates, including white and custom colors.

“This is a plus for both companies,” says Lyle Hoegy, account manager at Ingenia’s sales offices in Toronto. “It allows us to offer a full slate of products to the customer, and our high-volume capabilities helps Clariant’s cost efficiency.”

Ingenia has manufacturing plants in Brantford, ON, Calgary and Houston, TX. The company specializes in size reduction and custom compounding of high-volume (truck load and above) polyolefin- and polystyrene-based masterbatches. Hoegy says that prior to the alliance with Clariant, if a customer asked for a masterbatch in a non-white color, Ingenia would often have to decline the order. The agreement has also given Ingenia the flexibility to fill small-volume orders.

“It’s opened up doors that were closed to us previously,” says Hoegy, who reports that both companies have already seen a positive affect on sales from the alliance. “It takes time to develop something like this to its full potential. We’re both big companies, but we’re already seeing the benefits.”

In another development, Clariant has recently invested $1 million for capital improvements at its facility in Delta, BC. Clariant purchased the facility from Quality Colours earlier this year. The investments include upgrading of production machinery, laboratory extrusion equipment and the installation of a new color matching computer system. The computer system will tie the Clariant Delta facility into the company-wide color-matching network.

Ampacet Canada is building a new 72,000 sq. ft. facility in Delta, BC. Production is scheduled to begin sometime in the spring of 2004. The plant will have five extrusion lines, four of which will be capable of accommodating custom colors. The lines will be used to make custom compounded masterbatches from a variety of resins, including PP, PC, PS, PET and others. Colorings agents at the plant will include dyes, as well as pigments.

Aiming for market share: new products, initiatives

“We’ve seen a pick-up in business since April,” says John Wilkie, general manager, DSM Engineering Plastics. “We expect 2004 to be a good year based on the orders we’re getting.”

DSM’s Stoney Creek, ON facility is equipped with four single-screw extrusion lines and one twin-screw extruder. The plant now specializes in the production of high-end polypropylene compounds customized for a variety of applications, such appliances and electronics.

“We used to do a lot of nylon and other materials,” says Wilkie. “The focus on polypropylene has allowed us to concentrate on one product and get good at it.” He reports that the single-product focus has also resulted in reduced set-up times and improvements in line operation.

DSM’s Stoney Creek facility has implemented a program for Manufacturing Excellence. The program, which DSM has adopted as a corporate-wide policy, aims to “eliminate the waste of variability” by incorporating best practices from all DSM facilities. The program, which uses identical key performance indicators to measure the performance at each plant, has already paid off, according to Wilkie.

“Our operating efficiency has risen by 2.5 to 3% over the last year, to about 77%. Also our on-time delivery has improved to 99.85%, compared to 98.5% a year ago.”

Ampacet Corporation has introduced a Total Bottle Cost Reduction (TBCR) program designed to optimize processes and speed time to market of packaged consumer brands. The program is structured to address specific elements of bottle/package design and production, such as bottle construction, molding process optimization and color innovation.

On the color side, Ampacet will help a customer analyze how colors and special effects can be combined to produce a package that grabs the eye. This service supports new brand launches or the repositioning of current brands. As well, the company can aid a blowmolder or injection molder replicate colors and texture from other materials, such as cloth or metal, into a plastic medium.

In one specific example, Ampacet worked with a blowmolder to reduce coloring costs in a three-layer bottle. The molder was using 4% blue color in all three layers. This bottle was replaced with a bottle using 4% blue in the inner and outer layers, and a 3% opacifier and 1% blue in the middle layer. The change reduced total bottle cost by 33%, which translated into $170,000 of savings per year.

At Ingenia, several new products have been introduced. One is a new processing aid for reducing melt fracture in LLDPE blown film products. The processing aid, a fluoropolymer, was originally co-developed by DuPont Dow Elastomers and 3M. Ingenia worked with the two companies to incorporate it into a LLDPE masterbatch, IP-1121. The fluoropolymer improves die wetting and throughput by creating a polymer/polymer interface in the die, rather than a polymer/metal interface.

“The added benefit of this processing aid is that the active ingredient can be reduced by 50%, compared to processing aids which rely on older technology,” says Ingenia’s Lyle Hoegy. “This means there is less contamination of the film product, and less cost.”

Ingenia is also launching a new line of high-performance opacifiers. Hoegy says the opacifiers will be more cost effective than TiO2, as well as deliver a more brilliant white.

In a market that never stands still, Canadian compounders are doing their best to move new products and services into the hands of prospective customers.

Rolling out the service

A number of companies have launched services this year designed to make it easier for processors to develop color and material solutions for the market.

Clariant Masterbatches Division opened a number of ColorWorks Design and Technology Centers to serve the needs of molders in the NAFTA region. The ColorWorks centers, located in McHenry, IL., Manhattan, NY and Holden, MA, function as collaborative meeting places for designers, specifiers, marketing specialists and brand managers to quickly develop color and technical solutions for new products. ColorWorks services include color consulting and evaluation, material selection, tool and part optimization and rapid prototyping.

“The product launch cycle is filled with complicated layers of design, material, production, tooling and manufacturing issues,” notes Bo Lejon, Clariant Masterbatches’ global head of marketing. “A key advantage to ColorWorks Centers is the ability to anticipate and meet a variety of these challenges ay the design stage, avoiding these hurdles later on in the process where the mistakes are tremendously more costly.”

Ampacet’s Cost Calculator program is designed to help identify where customers can save money in day-to-day injection and blow molding operations. Introduced at NPE, the Cost
Calculator program takes a customer’s machine and process data and calculates production costs and potential savings brought about by process modifications. These modifications include switching to more cost-effective pigments, changing to higher loaded concentrates or changing the formulaation of a multi-layer container or part.

The programming can be done on-site, at a customer’s injection or blowmolding plant.

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