It is not a big story, Zeon Chemical L.P.'s effort to find new uses for an old rubber. But it has a certain resonance to it in today's business climate.
The rubber industry-from chemical producers to synthetic rubber suppliers, from huge tire manufacturers to mom and pop rubber processing shops-like other basic industries is struggling. The reasons are quite transparent: the sluggish economy, price competition from abroad, customer demands, rising raw material prices, a host of other reasons. Take your pick.
Zeon faces that situation with its Hydrin epichlorohydrin rubber. Like all synthetic rubbers, epichlorohydrin has been around for awhile. It has special properties-namely heat, oil and fuel resistance-that gave it a nice niche in automotive products.
Zeon built its business organically and through the acquisition of B.F. Goodrich's operations years ago. And the material has maintained a fairly steady growth record. But for the past few years, the market for epichlorohydrin has slipped. Zeon didn't sit still.
The company noted its material has other properties that it hasn't touted, such as air and gas permeation resistance, dissipation of static electricity without conductive filler, and a flexible conductivity level that allows manufacturers to compound the elastomer and alter the conductivity level from highly conductive to insulating.
Zeon is using these and other characteristics as a ticket into markets completely different from its traditional automotive base. It now is touting epichlorohydrin for use in elastomeric gaskets, vacuum seals, air hoses, reagent gases, specialty electrical cables and static control devices.
Zeon is showing an old dog is capable of doing new tricks. That's a good example for other material and finished rubber goods makers.