Biz Briefs

Business briefs from Ashland Performance Materials, 3B, Hackwell Group, Sigmatex and Technical Fibre Products.

Ashland Performance Materials (Dublin, Ohio) announced Feb. 10 the formation of a strategic alliance with Acell Srl (Milan, Italy) to foster North American market development for Acell’s sheet molding compound (SMC)-based sandwich panel processing technology. The Acell foam and processing technology offer fabricators an opportunity to compete in new applications that require panel technology, such as entry doors, exterior sheathing for commercial buildings or residential roofing. The panels can be tailored in any number of ways to meet weathering, strength, insulation and fire-resistance requirements. Under terms of the alliance agreement, Acell will partner with Ashland to identify new customers and market opportunities in North America.

The Braj Binani Group (Kolkata, India), completed on Feb. 1 the acquisition of 3B-the fibreglass co. (Battice, Belgium), reportedly for €275 million ($370 million USD). 3B has production capacity of 150,000 metric tonnes/yr (330.7 million lb/yr) in Belgium and Norway, and it reportedly will build a new production plant in Tunisia with an annual capacity of at least 50,000 metric tonnes (110.2 million lb). The goal of the acquisition, says Binani, is to create a vertically integrated fiberglass company with state-of-the-art technology and innovation capabilities and continue 3B’s focus on wind, thermoplastics and performance-composite markets. The fiberglass acquisition follows another Binani buy on Jan. 27, 2011, when it signed a merger agreement with Composite Products Inc. (CPI, Winona, Minn.), known for inline compounding and molding of long fiber-reinforced thermoplastics.

European production of wood-plastic composites (WPCs) has grown rapidly over the past five years. The annual production total in 2010 had already reached 193,000 metric tonnes (nearly 425 million lb). A new report by WPC industry consultant Hackwell Group (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, U.K.) forecasts continued growth through 2015, to almost 360,000 metric tonnes (793.7 million lb) per annum. That figure represents an average yearly growth rate of 13 percent but also indicates that growth will slow compared to that seen from 2005 through 2010 — a slowdown attributed to continuing difficulties in European economies. According to the report, decking is by far the largest WPC application category, having captured 75 percent of the nonautomotive output, but the arguments for using WPC in other applications are strong. Much of the predicted growth is still expected in other construction applications, including siding or cladding, fencing and window applications. Moreover, Germany, France and Belgium are among the most significant European locales for WPC production. Injection-molded products have been successful in diverse end-uses, including paper manufacturing applications and musical instruments, as well as vehicle and shoe parts, while various other processing technologies have been adopted in the automotive sector, which consumes 30 percent of the output. Furniture components offer considerable potential for WPC in the medium term, and a number of products already have been successfully marketed. In addition to those originating in Europe, WPCs imported from the U.S. and Asia have become increasingly important, particularly in the construction sector.

Luxury automaker Bentley Motors (Crewe, Cheshire, U.K.) and Sigmatex UK Ltd. (Runcorn, Cheshire, U.K.) recently completed a research and development program to study the difference in fabrication costs between a composite solution and a known aluminum solution for construction of an automotive structural element. In the study, a sample A-pillar node was fabricated by means of two composites processes. One process employed the Bentley automated fiber deposition process, producing an impregnated preform that was finished in a compression molding press. The other method involved the Sigmatex One Piece 3D weaving process with subsequent resin infusion. In this study, the technically superior composite solution was produced using the 3-D woven preform and the resin infusion process. The study calculated the cost savings realized from the process, when compared to processing costs for the aluminum pillar, at €5/kg for this automotive application. The study, the companies say, demonstrates that 3-D woven preforms can be cost-competitive in automotive applications even in low-volume manufacture of parts with complex shapes.

Technical Fibre Products (Kendal, Cumbria, U.K. and Schenectady, N.Y.) has established the site of its new U.S. headquarters in Schenectady. According to a report published Feb. 17 in The Business Review (Latham, N.Y.), the move consolidates company operations formerly located in Newburgh, N.Y., Cincinnati, Ohio and Connecticut, creating 30 jobs and filling a vacant building in the Schenectady suburb of Rotterdam. The report says the company is spending $3 million (USD) to retrofit the building and install production lines for its high-performance, nonwoven veil products, fire-protection products and metal-coated fibers.