Look for tough market conditions in polycarbonate at least through the rest of this year. Longer term, however, the transparent engineering plastic could become a much better economic bargain. Short-term: PC prices are getting slammed by high costs for feedstocks such as phenol. Prices for products such as phenol used to have a very close correlation to prices of hydrocarbons such as natural gas. More recently, the lack of capacity to make the feedstock has created a new market dynamic—one that’s working against users. Bayer for example raised prices about 7 percent very recently.
Longer term, however, new capacity and slower growth rates could create a buyers’ market. Major capacity expansions in China are already being slowed by market worries. Also on the horizon is the SABIC acquisition of GE Plastics,. Bayer and GE Plastics are the market leaders in PC. SABIC’s interest in building PC capacity in the Al Jubail area of Saudi Arabia is well known. I visited the area 17 years ago when major new plastics plants were first coming on stream, and benefiting from deeply discounted hydrocarbon prices. Gas from the region previously had been flared.
The original Saudi plan for the newest project was to bring on line annual production capacity exceeding 4 million metric tons of petrochemical and chemical products by 2009 under the banner of a public company called Saudi Kayan, which is 35 percent owned by SABIC. Spain’s Tecnicas Reunidas was selected to build a 240,000 metric ton bisphenol-A facility and Daelim Industrial of Korea received a contract to build a 260,000 tons-per-year polycarbonate plant based on Asahi Kasei technology. It seems very unlikely that plan will proceed, even though contracts were awarded in February. Reason: GE Plastics has its own proprietary technology to make polycarbonate.
What impact will a new Saudi Arabian plant have on polycarbonate markets? Well, when I visited Al-Jubail Industrial City the Saudis promised they would not disrupt markets. And they did not. But there will be a major new player, bringing on significant capacity that is vertically integrated into the well. That will certainly have a major impact on the landscape.
Many of the new adhesives we're featuring in this slideshow are for use in automotive and other transportation applications. The rest of these new products are for a wide variety of applications including aviation, aerospace, electrical motors, electronics, industrial, and semiconductors.
A Columbia University team working on molecular-scale nano-robots with moving parts has run into wear-and-tear issues. They've become the first team to observe in detail and quantify this process, and are devising coping strategies by observing how living cells prevent aging.
Many of the new materials on display at MD&M West were developed to be strong, tough replacements for metal parts in different kinds of medical equipment: IV poles, connectors for medical devices, medical device trays, and torque-applying instruments for orthopedic surgery. Others are made for close contact with patients.
New sensor technology integrates sensors, traces, and electronics into a smart fabric for wearables that measures more dimensions -- force, location, size, twist, bend, stretch, and motion -- and displays data in 3D maps.
As we saw on the show floor this week at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing and co-located events in Anaheim, Calif., 3D printing is contributing to distributed manufacturing and being reinvented by engineers for their own needs. Meanwhile, new fasteners are appearing for wearable consumer and medical devices and Baxter Robot has another software upgrade.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.