CLEVELAND—Lehigh Technologies, pioneering manufacturer of micronized rubber powders, is rapidly expanding both its applications and its business, according to Glenn Denstaedt, technical director for tire and industrial rubber for the Atlanta-based company.
“We're currently working on a couple of applications,” he said at the International Elastomer Conference in Cleveland.
The use of silica-silane reinforcements for tire treads is one area of opportunity for Lehigh's MRPs, Denstaedt said.
“MRPs are already found in that application, but we're trying to expand that,” he said.
MRPs in sidewalls are another potential and very promising growth area, Denstaedt said.
“Tire companies are very careful about sidewall formulations,” he said. “Cracks, flex fatigue and ozone resistance are all major issues for sidewalls.
“When we've put MRPs in sidewalls, there's been a significant improvement in crack prevention—especially in the fine particle sizes—and flex fatigue.”
Lehigh is expanding its development activities in that area, especially in discovering the optimal level of MRPs in sidewall rubber formulations and optimal particle size for that formulation, Denstaedt said.
Lehigh needs offsite testing for static ozone resistance, he said, and the firm has just sent materials to Akron Rubber Development Laboratory for evaluation.
Sixty-five percent of Lehigh's MRPs go to tire-related applications, according to Denstaedt. But the company needs to find a good blend of applications for industrial markets as well, he said.
“We have been working to blend MRPs with asphalt, polyurethanes and plastics,” he said. “Traditionally we use a large particle size with these blends. It gives us a nice balance of product, and we're very far advanced in this area.”
One of Lehigh's most successful partnerships in this area is with Rheopave Technologies L.L.C., Denstaedt said. Since April 2014, the companies have combined Lehigh's MicroDyne MRPs and Rheopave's suspension additives to provide the asphalt industry with a product that reduces costs, boosts performance and improves performance of rubber-modified asphalt, Lehigh said.
Lehigh's current MRP market in Europe is “relatively good,” Denstaedt said. “We obtain material from Europe, process it and send it back,” he said.
However, that is about to change. Lehigh opened a sales office in Barcelona in June 2015, and it plans to open a factory in Navarra, Spain, in early 2016.
A plant in Southeast Asia, the exact site yet to be named, is scheduled for 2017, according to Denstaedt.
“Beyond that, our expansion will depend on our markets,” he said. “I could see us doing something longer-term in China. We have had requests from customers to manufacture in China, because exporting to China would be impossible.”