Düsseldorf , Germany — By the end of next year, Dow Chemical Co. (Hall 8a/K48) will have opened four new polyethylene production lines on the U.S. Gulf Coast — and longtime company executive Jim Fitterling is looking forward to that opportunity.
“The old Dow would have looked at new plants as growth from a volume standpoint,” Fitterling said in an Oct. 19 interview at K 2016. “But now, no one is doing as much with new product innovations as we are.
“We know where this material is going before we start the plant,” added Fitterling, who serves as president and chief operating officer for Midland, Mich.-based Dow. “We’re working with large multinationals that are driving the packaging market. We’re making our decisions based on what they’re doing and building flexible assets.”
PE and related products made on the new Dow lines will be “at the more specialized end — not the commodity space,” according to Fitterling. This will include specialty materials sold by Dow under the Affinity, Engage and Intune trade names.
And although some market watchers have expressed concerns about the abundance of North American PE expansions — more than 6 billion pounds of capacity will be added next year, with more to come in 2018 and beyond — Dow officials aren’t pressing the panic button.
“No question there will be more exports, but our Mexican customers are looking for more product, and the U.S. is starting to come back,” Fitterling said. “It’s been a good year in the automotive space, and we’re seeing good things in packaging, consumer goods and hygiene.”
Regional PE expansions have been fueled by newfound supplies of low-priced natural gas feedstock. Fitterling said that Dow expects that advantage to continue. “Energy is competitive, and America is competitive again,” he explained. “The region is still going to be a long-term, low-cost supplier.”
In addition to the Gulf Coast, Dow’s Sadara Chemical joint venture in Saudi Arabia has begun ramping up PE production and delivered its first product to India in February. “Sadara and our Gulf Coast projects will enhance Dow’s global footprint to bring us closer to our customers,” Packaging and Specialty Plastics President Diego Donoso said in a news release.
Dow’s pending merger with fellow U.S. plastics and chemicals giant DuPont Co. is being reviewed by regulators in the European Union, Fitterling said, but is expected to be completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017. Some parts of both firm’s plastics and agricultural businesses may be divested in order for the merger to be approved.
“We’re looking at remedies to satisfy that,” Fitterling said.
At K 2016, Dow is presenting new applications under the theme of “The Face of Innovation.” The firm’s R&D experts, Pack Studios innovation centers, and Technical Services & Development leadership allow Dow to collaborate with customers to develop solutions that meet consumer preferences, Donoso added.
Officials said that Dow is working with Sino-Amaranth, a Chinese grass farmer, and China Sun Pharmaceutical Machinery Co., an equipment manufacturer in China. Through a collaborative innovation process at Dow’s Pack Studios innovation center in Shanghai, a new application was developed that elevated the bale silage industry in China, improving transportation, storage and nutritional value of animal fodder for farming.
For the field hockey tournament at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, an elite playing surface made of Dow resins was created to boost the technical skills of the players. The turf system delivered a high-performing and consistent field of play throughout the busy Olympic competition schedule, officials said.
In personal hygiene, Dow recently collaborated with machine manufacturer Windmöller & Hölscher (Hall 17/A57) to develop a new application that meets growing global demand for hygiene products that offer excellent mechanical performance and processability, along with improved skin health requirements and personal comfort. The result of the partnership was a new, ultrathin, blown machine direction orientation (MDO), breathable film for baby diapers made of Dow’s Dowlex PE resins.
For consumers looking for a soft touch experience, Dow’s PoucHug offers packaging makers a new solution to enhance shelf presence, functionality and conversion efficiency, officials said. It also provides the opportunity for a full polyolefin-based structure while meeting the growing trend for a more authentic, natural and premium look, they added. Dow’s new Agility-brand low density PE performance resins have been developed to challenge current packaging performance limits.
The new Agility family for the extrusion coating market brings performance benefits in output, mechanics, optics and flexibility, officials said. The materials expand Dow’s current family of Agility resins to make faster and lighter coatings, they added.
In 2015, Dow had annual sales of nearly $49 billion and employed approximately 49,500 people worldwide. The Company’s more than 6,000 product families are manufactured at 179 sites in 35 countries across the globe.