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.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.