Volume 85 Issue 28 | p. 26
Issue Date: July 9, 2007

Bracing For 'K'

Producers, suppliers ready wares for triennial plastics showcase
Department: Business
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Ride On
A converted railroad roundhouse in Düsseldorf was the site for Bayer's pre-K event.
Credit: Patricia Short/C&EN
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Ride On
A converted railroad roundhouse in Düsseldorf was the site for Bayer's pre-K event.
Credit: Patricia Short/C&EN

IT SEEMS LIKE only yesterday that the last K Show was held in Düsseldorf, Germany. But that was three years ago, and now K 2007—K stands for kunststoffe, the German term for polymers and synthetic resins—is rapidly approaching.

Already, plastics producers and additives suppliers are gearing up for the show, held every three years in October. June and July become a hectic blur for company marketers, as press conferences abound and journalists who cover plastics troop from one company event to another.

Three of the first companies off and running this year were polymer producers Lanxess and Bayer and polymer additives supplier Ciba Specialty Chemicals.

For Lanxess, K 2007 will be its first K show as an independent company. Lanxess did have a stand at the 2004 show, albeit adjacent to Bayer, from which it spun off in 2005, and separated by an ominously high wall. Performance rubber and engineering plastics make up more than half of Lanxess' sales, so K, which is close to the company's home turf of Leverkusen, is an important showcase.

A couple of the company's high-profile new product offerings are in the automotive sector. For example, Lanxess' Lustran Polymers business is rolling out a coatable nylon and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) blend for auto-body parts that was developed jointly with BMW. Because the plastic can withstand temperatures of up to 200 oC, it can handle the drying step in the cathode-dip-coating process used in the automotive industry.

The blend will first be used on the BMW 3 Series, but interest has been broad, says Hans-Joachim Kogelnik, head of the Lustran business. "Numerous projects are already running" with other car makers, he said.

After the press conferences, Lanxess said it would sell the Lustran business to Ineos over the course of the next two years (see page 8).

Lanxess' semicrystalline polymers business is targeting other sections of the car. The new Citroën C4 Picasso is sporting injection-molded structural inserts made of the firm's glass-reinforced Durethan nylon. "These inserts increase the stiffness of the body and absorb impact energy in the event of a crash," said Hubert Fink, Lanxess' head of semicrystalline products, at the company's New York City press conference. Fink added that the inserts have helped the C4 Picasso achieve Europe's highest crash-test rating.

The automotive market is huge, but as Ian Paterson, head of marketing and innovation at Bayer MaterialScience, complained at his company's press conference, the conservatism of automakers makes it tough to break in with new products. He acknowledged, for example, that penetration of polycarbonate into car window applications has been slower than the company originally expected.

On the other hand, another industry that jumps at the chance to try new materials is sporting equipment. Bayer's carbon nanotube unit, Baytubes, is supplying the nanomaterial to several manufacturers who are testing it for use in reinforcing composite baseball bats and hockey sticks. Applications such as these will help the company launch a 3,000-metric-ton-per-year pilot plant for the nanotubes by 2011. Over the long haul, he said, thermal and electrical conductivity properties may be a bigger selling point for the tubes than structural strength. "An engineer could probably find 50 applications for these things before breakfast," Paterson said.

In another sporting goods development, Lanxess' Pocan, a high-tech combination of polybutylene terephthalate and glass fibers, is hitting the bull's-eye—in archery. The material is now being used in the form of an ergonomically designed grip and arrow guide for sports bows made in France.

Bayer's presentation emphasized the penetration of traditional markets with materials that have enhanced properties. In transportation, for example, the company's urethane foam is part of a new railroad track bed system being tested in Germany this summer. Similarly, glass-fiber-reinforced urethane railroad ties are replacing the wood ties that support Japan's Shinkansen high-speed trains.

Also on display at K 2007 will be solar systems and modules, enabled by Bayer's urethane insulating foam. And urethane-based holographic optical data storage devices are currently being test-marketed, Paterson said.

Whatever polymer producers introduce or emphasize at the K Show, Ciba marketers want the wares to be colorful. And if the color is red, so much the better. Ciba plans to show a variety of pigments and additives designed to enhance plastics' appearance, functionality, performance, and processing efficiency.

Two of the introductions involve pigments. At K 2007, Ciba is launching a new generation diketopyrrolopyrrole pigment, Cromophtal DPP Red TFP, designed to give a "hot" red effect, particularly to polyolefins and polyvinyl chloride. The pigment could be combined with a Ciba clarifier for colorful transparent products or with Ciba's new Xymara pigments, which are designed to give a wide range of effects to plastics, including pearlescent, satin, and metallic finishes.

Overall, companies exhibiting at the K Show are keen on emphasizing the new—not an easy task for an industry as mature as plastics.

This is perhaps why Bayer marketing officials in Germany chose an old railroad roundhouse that has been converted into a shopping mall for vintage and rare cars as its venue to show off the polymers it will be emphasizing at K 2007. Many of these polymers are being tested in visionary new concept cars. A few of these futuristic vehicles were on display, parked in the midst of several hundred autos, vans, and trucks dating from as long ago as the early 1900s.

 
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