Polymer foam goes global

19 November 2015

There are strong globalisation trends in the polymer foam industry, particularly in the field of construction insulation foams where the leading companies such as Dow and Armacell have built production plants worldwide, and a similar pattern can be seen in the automotive suppliers industry, while across packaging there is a move towards worldwide supply too with companies buying up and incorporating suitable local businesses in order to gain market share. In each region there are different standards and regulations, for example the fire retardancy tests vary between Europe and North America for insulation. A whole range of foam manufacturers will be represented at AMI’s international Polymer Foam 2016 conference, to be held on April 5-6 at Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, USA. The Managing Director and R&D lead at Armacell will be speaking in New Jersey in April 2016 on construction foam properties and Songwon will outline the additive selection and use of the latest polymeric flame retardant for XPS.

Foam materials are seeing a renaissance as all areas of industry look to improve production economics by reducing the volume of resin required, plus the added bonus of light-weighting, which reduces transport costs for all types of application and also reduces fuel consumption in vehicles. There will be a paper at the conference from Volvo focused on lightweight material development for heavy duty trucks. The profiles around automotive glazing are extruded elastomeric foams: ExxonMobil Chemical has developed new formulations for EPDM in this application. Automotive interiors and thermal management is another automotive application and Michael Sproule will talk on this topic from his extensive background in a division of Ford, which became Visteon and is now owned by the South Korean company Hanon Systems.

The challenge is to get the foam processing right and controlled for each material type and for each component shape. ZOTEFOAMS is the world leading manufacturer of crosslinked block foams and is currently building new plant in Kentucky, the Director of Technology and Development will be speaking on foam technology at the AMI Polymer Foam 2016 event in NJ in April. Cabot Microelectronics uses foams and in one recent project worked on the microcellular foaming of thermoplastic urethane (TPU) and styrene maleic anhydride (SMA) blends. The University of Toronto leads the field in physical foaming technology and Professor Chul Park has looked at many aspects of foam including a study of bubble nucleation in high pressure molding. Injection molded parts may need to be adapted for the material flow in structural molding. Milacron-Uniloy produces specialty low pressure injection molding (LPIM) machinery for manufacturing large structural foam parts. Trexel has a chemical foaming agent that enables light weight injection molded parts with an aesthetically acceptable surface.

Chemical blowing agents are more suitable for certain types of polymer and physical blowing agents are preferred for other applications. There are a wide range of processing options including thermoforming and extrusion. Reedy Chemical Foam has new kinetic nucleating agents to maximize the cell distribution in foam extrusion and Coperion has twin screw technology for use in the production of both physical and chemical foams. Bead foam processing requires different technology such as that supplied by Erlenbach. There is extensive research going on to produce beads from alternative materials: the University of Bayreuth has developed a new generation of bead foams based on PBT. High performance polymers have higher temperature processing requirements and need skilled experts to develop the foaming technology. Evonik has conducted research in this area and has performance materials for applications such as sandwich foams. The range of options is expanding as polymer companies enhance the portfolio of polymers for foam and equipment suppliers upgrade their offering of machinery.

There is a great driver towards sustainable sourcing and the Biopolymer Network in New Zealand has developed a bio-based foam as a potential replacement for polystyrene. In the polyurethane field there are new environmentally-friendly precursors and Novomer has developed CO2-based polyols. The largest polyolefin producer in China, Sinopec, has tested the foaming performance of a new polypropylene compound with high melt strength incorporating halogen-free flame retardants.

There are opportunities available to join leading experts to debate foam manufacturing, markets and performance at AMI’s Polymer Foam 2016, April 5-6 in New Jersey, a key centre of plastics manufacturing in the USA.

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