SABIC is committing to meeting demand in the fast-growing Ultem polyetherimide (PEI) market and is expected to make a decision “very quickly” on a major capacity increase.
Those statements were made by Ernesto Occhielo, who took charge of the SABIC specialties business when it was formed Jan. 1 as part of a sweeping reorganization that included the closing of the headquarters offices in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, established by GE Plastics.
SABIC acquired GE Plastics in 2007 and ran it as SABIC Innovative Plastics until its two volume products—ABS and polycarbonate—hit hard times of slack markets and weak pricing. The “commoditization” of those two plastics was one of the drivers in last year’s shakeup. ABS and polycarbonate are now part of SABIC’s petrochemical business unit, which includes polyolefins.
The Specialties business includes high-performance plastics like Ultem PEI, which has experienced growth rates “significantly above” global gross domestic product (GDP), said Occhiello. A supply crunch in Ultem began to surface about 18 months ago as customers in several markets embraced the plastic’s optimal basket of properties, including thermal and mechanical.
Occhiello told The Molding Blog that leadtimes remain extended despite capacity enhancements in SABIC plants in Mount Vernon, Indiana, and Cartagena, Spain. Occhiello would not indicate the potential geographic location of the anticipated new Ultem capacity.
In an interesting development, Occhiello said that the Polymer Processing Development Center—one of the jewels remaining from the GE Plastics acquisition– will remain open and, in fact, has added new “Centers of Excellence” in additive manufacturing and composites. SABIC had said last year that the PPDC may close, with R&D moving to upstate New York.
It’s not a surprise that Occhiello liked what he saw at the PPDC. He is the former Chief Technology Officer at SABIC and had been based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Occhiello is also a former technology executive at Dow Chemical. He said there also will be emphasis on research collaborations with technical groups around the world. He specifically mentioned institutes in China and Germany. SABIC will also aggressively pursue new high-end technology through acquisition. Recent examples include carbon nanotubes and carbon composites.
Occhiello’s office is in Amsterdam, and he said operates Specialties as a “virtual” business.
Occhiello was interviewed following a SABIC press confetence on the opening day of K 2016.