The Old South spawns new materials

DN Staff

May 19, 1997

12 Min Read
The Old South spawns new materials

In the region where Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia lie, a scenic rolling landscape attracts thousands of tourists each year. However, if you look deep into the hills and valleys of this region you will discover a hidden material trove. Open the treasure chest, and here's what you will find: Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, TN; Marion Composites, Marion, VA; Alltrista Zinc Products, Greenville, TN; Amoco Polymers, Alphretta, GA; and M.A. Hanna, Suwanee, GA. And this metals/composites/polymers Pollyanna has a lot going for it.

Material-making paradise

This reporter's Technology Tour had its origins in Kingsport, TN. There, sprawled along the banks of the Holston River are some 500 buildings that make up the 1,200-acre Eastman Chemical complex, said to be the largest one of its type in the world.

If you like a job where you can vacation at company campgrounds, join in square dancing at the company gymnasium, and go to free movies at the company theater, this chemical compound is the place to work. There hasn't been a sweeping layoff at the company in nearly 50 years--even during the late 1980s and early '90s when Eastman Chemical's then parent, Eastman Kodak Co., was cutting the work force by 40,000. To top it off, Eastman Chemical won the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1993.

With this as a backdrop, it's little wonder that the company turns out pioneering polymer products that attract loyal customers. Some of these include:

  • EastacrylTM acrylic polymer.

  • Eastalloy(R) alloyed polymers.

  • Eastar(R) PETG and PCTG copolyester.

  • Eastapak(R) PET polyester.

  • Estoflex amorphous polyolefins.

  • Spectar(R) polyester/copolymer.

  • Tenite(R) celluosics (thermoplastic olefins).

  • Thermx(R) synthetic resins, copolyester plastics.

Eastman Chemical is equally proud of its technical support to customers. A recent entry into this support network is the company's World Wide Web site ( that allows users to communicate directly with technical service representatives via e-mail.

Called Eastman Link, the new service directs technical service questions to subject-matter experts in appropriate product groups. "Many sites require users to go through a webmaster when directing inquires to the company," explains Tom Deaderick, Eastman technical service representative. "Our link is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Corresponding through the Internet is often preferred by overseas customers."

The site also features a material search engine that helps users find the exact plastics products for the application. "Rather than designing our site solely on Eastman products and our organizational structure, we designed it to provide customer-oriented information," adds Carol Kinsey, Eastman Webwizard. "This user-friendly approach means the user does less searching to find the exact product that meets the specs."

The Performance Plastics section of the web site contains a technical data sheet, design guides, press releases, and other product information. General information about Eastman on the site also includes financial and employment information.

Keeping armed forces alert, sheltered

Travel east about 60 miles on Interstate 81 and you arrive at the quaint little community of Marion, VA. Just off the Interstate nestles Marion Composites, a bustling company that has an impressive history in developing crucial defense materials.

In fact, for more than four decades when it was still a part of Brunswick Corp.'s defense business, Marion Composites has developed advanced composites technology for the aerospace industry. This experience encompasses aircraft, missile, and ground-based radomes; aircraft control surfaces; engine nacelle components; inlet plenums; fairings; equipment-bay doors; primary helicopter structures; pylons; fuel tanks; and shipboard reflectors. Commonly used materials include: graphite, glass and quartz for laminates, as well as toughened epoxies, low-void condensation polyimides, and cyanate esters for resins. Honeycomb and foams encompass closed-cell thermoplastics for sandwich structures. In addition, ceramic slip casting and cocuring are employed, along with oven and autoclave curing.

The Marion team complements a complete designing, tooling, engineering, manufacturing, testing, and products support facility for prototype or production of these advanced composite structures. Fabrication methods include prepreg lamination, filament winding, autoclave/oven curing, compression molding, sandwich bonding, ceramic processing, and CNC contour machining. The ISO 9001-certified facility is also MIL-Q-9858 approved and its Nondestructive Inspection (NDI) ultrasonic operations are recognized by the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program.

However, one of the company's newest products is also one of its best moneymakers--shelter systems, particularly a relocatable hospital for battlefields, disaster scenes, or other emergencies. Not only does the system provide complete integration of operating equipment, it includes support subsystems, environmental controls, and power generation capabilities.

As a relocatable mission facility, a shelter must be designed with the structural integrity to withstand environmental extremes and man-made threats. For example, a Marion shelter system can overcome temperature extremes that range from -65 to 125F. Some are hardened to provide protection to the crew against small-arms fire, chemical/biological contamination, nuclear blast effects, and high-altitude electromagnetic pulses.

The operating room shelter is only one part of a relocatable hospital system. Other shelters might include X-ray, pharmacy, patient examination, post-operative recovery, central material supply, and an eight-bed ward. To provide a complete 50-bed system, the shelters are supplemented with tents to serve as added support facilities.

A mint of a company

Head south on Interstate 75 for about 60 miles after you hit the Tennessee border, and you will soon reach Greenville, home of Alltrista Zinc Products Co. Its history lies in producing lids used with the famous Ball Mason Jars. However, Ball spun off seven of its divisions in 1952, including Zinc Products, into Alltrista Corp. The division's motto could very well be "a penny made is a penny earned." Each year it turns out millions of penny blanks for the U.S. mint.

Another major group of customers for Alltrista is battery makers. In fact, the firm is the sole source supplier of battery cans to such producers of zinc/carbon batteries as Rayovac and Eveready. Other key products include: automotive trim, electrical fuse strip, and architectural materials.

Zinc's unique anti-corrosion properties and durability have made it an ideal successor to more expensive or less capable metals. For example, zinc inhibits rusting making it ideal for use on ships, bridges, and coastal structures. It's in this latter capacity that zinc excites Ed Tejsa, vice president of marketing & sales, about the material's expanding uses.

Steel reinforcement (rebar) in concrete is generally protected from corrosion by a stable oxide film on its surface. This film is formed by the chemical reaction between the highly alkaline concrete porewater and the steel. Corrosion is negligible until the protective layer becomes saturated with chloride ions or by carbonation, thus lowering the pH of the concrete.

Typically, corrosion develops as a result of wet-dry tidal cycling of saline water. It can be found on piles constructed of concrete with low resistivity and/or high permeability. Because the solid corrosion products occupy a much larger volume than the parent metal alone, internal stresses are created, leading to cracking and delamination along the plane of steel.

Alltrista believes it has found an economical solution to this problem in its LifejacketTM protection system. The galvanic protection technology has as its base the installation of two-piece, snap-together jackets lined with expanded zinc mesh. Each jacket assembly comes with a minimum of eight non-conductive standoffs per face. These standoffs secure the zinc mesh in place, while achieving the optimum position of the jacket in relation to the piling.

Each half shell is e-quipped with a presoldered No. 10 AWG copper strand lead wire with HMWPEinsulation. All soldered connections are double-coated and sealed with coal tar epoxy or other materials approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The jacket assemblies are packaged and shipped directly to the job site ready to install.

Various configurations of the galvanic zinc anodes have been successfully used to provide cathodic protection in the tidal zone of steel-reinforced concrete structures. Studies conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation have shown that the zinc anodes configured in the simple fashion of the Lifejacket system can provide long-term cathodic protection. These systems represent an attractive alternative to conventional cathodic protection based on their low installation and maintenance costs, ease of installation in the field, and by their reliable, self-regulating performance.

Engineered for success

Continue south on Interstate 75 another two hours and you arrive at Alphretta, GA, home of Amoco Polymers. The engineering plastics producer plays a key role in parent Amoco Corp.'s sprawling petroleum and chemical business activities. In fact, the group lays claim to being the second-largest polypropylene producer in the world.

On the polypropylene menu are: AcctufTM Impact Copolymers, with a balance of impact and stiffness properties, and AccproTM Enhanced Polymers, specialty products with high heat deflection temperature (HDT) and improved thermal aging stability.

On the engineering materials front are resins based on sulfone, amideimide, polyester, and polyphthalamide formulations. Among them:

  • Udel(R) polysulfone, a tough, rigid amorphous thermoplastic.

  • Mindel(R), a series of modified polysulfones that combine hot-water resistance and dimensional stability.

  • Radel(R) sulfone polymers with improved toughness and a 400F/204C HDT.

  • Amodel(R) polyphtalamide, semi-crystalline engineering polymer that bridges the cost-performance gap between tradition thermoplastics (polycarbonates, nylons, polyesters, and acetals) and higher-cost specialty polymers (liquid crystal polymers, polyphenylene sulfide, and polyether imide).

  • Xydar(R) liquid crystal polymers that exhibit high strength at extreme temperatures and have an inherent resistance to virtually all chemical, weathering, radiation, and burning.

  • Torlon(R) polyamideimide that has an HDT above 532F (278C) and resists creep, wear, and chemicals, but can still be injection-molded.

  • Kadel(R) engineering thermoplastics with a proprietary formula that features an HDT of 619F (326C) and low smoke and toxicity properties.

Amoco doesn't provide these resins without an assist to the customer. Any sale includes strong sales service and technical support. This includes a team of engineers, chemists, and technicians that can provide expert advice on material selection, technical training, and product testing.

The company can cite many leading-edge applications that have developed because of this technical service/resins combination. For example, UITC Armament Corp, Portsmouth, NH, incorporated Amodel PPA in its Night Stalker laser-sighting products to help them deliver "bullseye" accuracy; while Aquabound, a Surrey, British Columbia, equipment designer, fashioned a lightweight, long-lasting, easy-to-assemble yak paddle from the same material; and United Technologies Automotive, Dearborn, MI, realized savings of 20% in labor costs and 35% in weight by switching to Amodel PPA for its ABS pump and motor assembly.

Painting a colorful future

Journey a short distance from Alphretta and you arrive at M.A. Hanna's Color Technical Center in the bucolic setting of Suwanee, GA. Here, technicians continuously test the performance characteristics of new resins.

The work involves studying the interrelationship of pigments, resins, and additives under melt conditions; duplicating the customers' processes to understand their dynamics; anticipating new technological challenges; and developing new products to fill existing and future needs. The result, says Benjamin D. Berkman, vice president of market development programs: "A range of technical capabilities that address the most rigorous customer requirements on a timely, thoroughly individualized, and cost-effective basis."

The center is part of the M.A. Hanna Color operations, which, in turn, is part of the fast-expanding M.A. Hanna Co., headquartered in Cleveland. Businesses within the fold include: North American Plastics (comprised of M.A. Hanna Color, M.A. Hanna Engineered Materials, M.A. Hanna Resin Distribution, Compounding Technology Inc., and Southwest Chemical); International Plastics (which includes Wilson Color, Th. Bergmann, Victor International Plastics, M.A. Hanna Asian operations, Hanna Su Xing joint venture in China, and Hanna de Mexico); M.A. Hanna Rubber Compounding; and Cadillac Plastic.

What issues forth from this diversified organization are proprietary or custom-formulated materials. For example, a color concentrate developed for the Chrysler Neon, which eliminated the need to paint the bumper to match the car, won M.A. Hanna Color an award from the Society of Plastics Engineers for the "Most Innovative Use of Automotive Plastics for Exterior Applications."

Such success has only spurred M.A. Color to introduce several new product technologies developed through the Color Technical Center. One, EDGEGLOTM colorants, are designed to enhance the color along the edges of plastic and places where the surface is etched. A second, PPROTINT, is a line of light-fast, non-bleeding color concentrates that maintain the clarity of clarified polypropylene. The colorants contain no dyes and often have better light stability when compared to competitive products. With such trailblazing research, it seems likely that M.A. Hanna will be the recipient of many more awards.

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