Keeping up with trends in colours and finishes is a major undertaking for colourants, additives and masterbatch manufacturers.
Other challenges impacting on suppliers of such products are material availability and price volatility, along with changes to national and international standards and constantly evolving consumer preferences.
On top of this companies continue down the path of technology development. US masterbatch producer Cabot has introduced a range of conductive concentrates to help processors develop more conductive applications. Adam King, marketing manager for Cabot, says: “Breakthroughs are getting more rare but the effort towards lighweighting, cost reduction and sustainability in packaging, automotive and other industries continue their relentless march.”
He adds this is driven by the industry demand for increasingly more conductive plastics. As a result Cabot has debuted a range of conductive concentrates. King says: “Conductive concentrates offer a lot of flexibility to help lower costs and incorporate recycled resins, and they are increasingly used for various types of conductive plastics. They allow plastic converters, as well as compounders, to use a single product for different polymer types and applications at the same time. This improves their flexibility to create their own innovation; for example, enabling them to use recycled polymer for the formulation. In addition, using just one product may reduce their storage costs.”
Another key area in which Cabot has been focusing on is preparing for the new Reach regulations which have stricter requirements on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). King says Cabot has taken the lead in offering high purity carbon masterbatches to meet these.
Meanwhile, Switzerland-based Sanitized has developed a new silver ion technology, Sanitized T 11-15, as an alternative to the traditional silver technology. The antimicrobials producer says its new product offers a durable hygiene function for all-day freshness and is effective against bacteria, micro-fungi and yeast. The T 11-15 also opens up further fields of application than with traditional silver technologies.
The new technology was developed by Sanitized since a biocidal product cannot be made available in the European Union unless either the substance supplier or the product supplier is included in the Article 95 list for the “Product Treated” to which the product belongs as from 1 September 2015.
Sanitized products are used in the UK by producer of kitchen sinks Carron, flooring producer Forbo and glove producer Midas.
At the same time Sanitized has appointed Stefan Müller as new global head of sales for polymers and textiles, taking responsibility for the worldwide sales of antimicrobial products. Müller says: “I want to make the benefits of the Sanitized ingredient brand more available to the manufacturers of textile and polymer products.”
Meanwhile, Suffolk-based colour masterbatch producer Broadway has its eye on growth in a totally different sector. It sees the significant rise in the use of 3D printing as opening up another revenue stream. Nick Barber, the firm's operations director, says: “3D printing gives a significant boost to the plastics industry, not just for fast prototyping, but allows for the more inexpensive manufacturing of prosthetics, automotive parts and technical mouldings. Couple this with the need for coloured filaments to produce these parts and the industry benefits all round with increased potential in all sectors.”
In 2015 product development and innovation played a major part in the strategic path taken by companies in the colourants, additives and masterbatch sector as did, unexpectedly, the supply of materials, causing price and lead times to rise. King says: “We experienced a rollercaster year in polymer supply particularly in polyethylene, which made on-time delivery a challenge industry-wide. The force majeure events earlier in the year affected polymer pricing availability and there was strong domestic demand throughout the year due to currency effects, higher import duties and other factors.”
Barber reports a similar experience to PRW concerning the influx of force majeure enforcements during the early part of the year, which had a profound impact on supply for all sectors. He says. “This led to excessive lead times in some specific cases as well as harsh price increases for raw materials. Some clients were forced to take different grades of materials, resulting in machine set up time increases and more waste. In the plastics manufacturing industry everybody ends forced into the same boat – it is just unfortunate that sometimes the end-user does not see it that way and has to stick to its schedules to fulfil their orders come-what-may.”