ROMULUS, Mich.—Materials firm APS Elastomers is responding to a tight North American market for thermoplastic polyurethanes by increasing its supplies of that material. It also is considering adding its own U.S. TPU production unit.
Romulus-based APS has positioned itself to provide its Zythane TPU material to the North American market and help small and medium manufacturers to get through these difficult periods, officials said in a Feb. 19 news release.
In a Feb. 21 phone interview, APS co-owner Stephane Morin said that his firm is ordering larger amounts of TPU from suppliers in Asia and Europe that make the material to APS's own specifications.
"By having multiple sources, we can take advantage of pricing and technology," he added. "We can work with some suppliers that do injection molding grades [of TPU] and others that do extrusion grades."
BASF Corp. has declared force majeure on Elastollan-brand TPU made in Wyandotte, Mich., twice in the last eight months. Most recently, it did so on Jan. 30, as cold weather on the U.S. Gulf Coast affected production of MDI, a TPU feedstock, at a BASF location in Geismar, La.
Market sources said Geismar's operating problems also affect the TPU production of Huntsman Corp. which also sources MDI from that location. APS distributes a small amount of TPU for Huntsman, Morin said. Sources also said that supplies of TPU made by market leader Lubrizol and by Covestro also are believed to be tight.
"MDI is short worldwide," Morin said. "We have customers asking us for orders in sizes that are bigger than what we supply."
TPU demand currently is strong from the automotive, industrial parts and wire and cable sectors, he added. APS expects its TPU sales volume in pounds to grow 30 percent this year. The firm also distributes thermoplastic vulcanizates and other types of thermoplastic elastomers for Chinese TPE maker Polymax Elastomer Technology, as well as producing its own TPE-based custom compounds on a twin-screw extrusion line in Romulus.
APS has no minimum order size. That policy and its focus on customer service has led the firm to carry more inventory than many distribution firms, according to Morin. Keeping large inventories "is the opposite of what some companies do, but we feel that's what we need to do for our customers," he said.
Looking ahead, APS is exploring a possible TPU production unit in the U.S., potentially with a business partner. A new TPU unit "would be a big project, but we're looking into it because of how our demand is growing," Morin said.
Morin founded APS in 2009 along with co-owner Roger Huarng. Both men had extensive experience in the TPU field.