What Works Best?

Discover the formula for successful new product development in pilot laboratory trials.

Equistar Chemicals LP, a $5.9 billion chemical company formed in 1997, is one of the world's largest producers of ethylene, propylene, and polyethylene resins, with more than 3,000 employees and 16 manufacturing facilities along the US Gulf Coast and in the Midwest. Its facilities have a combined annual capacity to produce more than 11 billion lb of ethylene and more than 5 billion lb of polyethylene, along with other specialty products such as ethyl vinyl acetate.

So it's not surprising Equistar's Technology Center, a three-building complex located in Cincinnati, OH, operates what associate scientist Richard Sylvester calls “one of the finest pilot lines around.” The company's 260,000-sq-ft pilot lab is used both internally, to develop polymers and conduct quality control checks on raw and extruded materials, and by customers for new development trials, which are conducted by Equistar's own lab technicians.

“It helps us develop new products and maintain quality by checking how our products perform,” notes Sylvester. “We have to know how our resins work and how they will perform on our customers' equipment. It also helps our customers develop new products, which is very important. It helps them answer questions like: ‘What kind of resins should we be using? Should we coextrude or single extrude?’ We can find out what works best before they put it on their larger equipment. We're pretty much equipped to handle anything our customers need.”

Running a pilot lab is nothing new to Equistar, which installed its first lab line in 1968. Today, Equistar's pilot lab operates four pilot lines: a Battenfeld Gloucester seven-extruder blown film line that can combine up to seven layers of material; an Alpine three-extruder blown film line for combining three layers; a four-extruder Welex sheet line that can combine up to seven layers of material; and a three-extruder cast film line — a Black Clawson line with Egan extruders — that can combine up to five layers.

The lab houses coextruded blown, sheet, and cast film lines and blow molding and injection molding equipment. It also can extrude such specialty products as cables and wires — even pipe.

Its original laminating line included a 4.5-in. Beloit (now Innovative Machine Corp.) extruder, which has since been expanded with 2.5- and 3.5-in. Black Clawson extruders. It also utilizes a Beloit laminator, Beloit turret winder for converting flexible packaging, and an Egan surface winder for paper and paperboard. The line includes two Weiss burners for flame treating, a chemical priming station with a Harris & Bruno enclosed doctor applicator, and three Enercon bare roll treaters. It can operate at top speeds of 3,100 fpm for film and 1,800 fpm for boardstock.

Using Eurotherm drives for instrumentation and temperature control, and an NDC gauging system to control tension, the Beloit line can coat and laminate films 40 ga and up and other substrates from tissue paper to kraft and liner paper to scrim, foil, and paperboard to 32 in. wide.

Plasma Treating Capabilities
The lab's most recent addition is an Enercon Plasma 3 treater that, for the first time, allows Equistar to post-treat films, foil, paper, and paperboard. Billed as “the world's first atmospheric plasma treatment system for the optimal treatment and functionalizing of web surfaces,” the Plasma 3 reportedly can treat films, papers, foams, wovens and nonwovens, fibers, metals, and powders at speeds to 1,000 fpm.

What makes the Enercon Plasma 3 treater unique, says Sylvester, is it utilizes a very low flame and a unique combination of gases that deliver high treatment levels without destroying the surface. “It gives you treatment levels that normally cannot be attained by other systems, either flame or corona, which can damage the surface of the polymer if you try to attain those types of dyne levels,” notes Sylvester. “You can also take it one step further and use it as a pretreater. It's really been a great addition to our capabilities. We really do have one of the finest pilot labs around.”

Equistar Technology Center

11530 Northlake Dr.
Cincinnati, OH 45249
513/530-4000; equistar.com

Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co.—PFFC-ASAP 306.
Gloucester, MA; 978/281-1800; bge.battenfeld.com

Hosokawa Alpine American—PFFC-ASAP 307. Natick, MA; 508/655-1123; halpine.com

Welex Inc.—PFFC-ASAP 308. Blue Bell, PA; 215/542-8000; welex.com

Black Clawson Converting Machinery—PFFC-ASAP 309. Fulton, NY; 315/598-7121; blkclawson.com

Davis-Standard Egan—PFFC-ASAP 310. Somerville, NJ; 908/722-6000; davis-standard.com

Beloit/Innovative Machine Corp.—PFFC-ASAP 311. Birmingham, AL; 205/856-4100; innovativemach.com

Weiss Corp.—PFFC-ASAP 312. Indianapolis, IN; 317/636-4488

Harris & Bruno Machine Co.—PFFC-ASAP 313. Roseville, CA; 916/781-7676; harris-bruno.com

Enercon Industries—PFFC-ASAP 314. Menomonee Falls, WI; 262/255-6070; enerconind.com

Eurotherm Controls—PFFC-ASAP 315. Leesburg, VA; 703/443-0000; eurotherm.com

NDC Infrared Engineering—PFFC-ASAP 316. Irwindale, CA; 626/960-3300; ndcinfrared.com

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