The new face of the North American plastics industry is emerging as companies that are focused on plastics. One of the first large companies to divest its plastics portfolio was Monsanto back in 1997 when Solutia was created. Monsanto made a decision to focus on agricultural biotechnology. Solutia filed for bankruptcy in 2003 in the midst of a major manufacturing slowdown and emerged from bankruptcy early this year. The company believes it is now stronger and more competitive than at any time in its history, hopefully setting a positive tone for other plastics orphans. Solutia posted a first quarter profit of $1.4 billion, compared to a loss of $8 million for the same quarter in 2007 because of reorganization gains. Revenues were up 40 percent. What’s important from a design engineering perspective is that Solutia, a major nylon producer, is developing new products and expanding capacity. Vydyne GW350 was announced in April and is said to offer superior toughness and elongation. Solutia is also increasing nylon 66 capacity by 140,000 metric tons. Solutia’s plant in Pensacola, FL is the world’s largest integrated nylon manufacturing facility. Solutia operates five nylon-making plants in the U.S., while its sales to Asia are growing rapidly.
Several major companies have divested part or all of their plastics portfolios in recent years, ranging from GE Plastics and Dow to Bayer. When the spin-offs become standalone companies, such as Solutia, they may face trouble raising capital in tough credit markets, such as the one we face in 2008. In fact, Solutia had to file suit against three banks that had balked at providing the company with capital needed to exit bankruptcy. Solutia needed the funds for operations and won the lawsuit.
It’s important for companies like Solutia to survive and thrive, particularly when they are producing products with a limited supply base.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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