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Du Pont refocuses engineering TP R&D efforts.

Du Pont Refocuses Engineering TP R&D Efforts

Positioning itself for the 1990s, Du Pont Co., Wilmington, Del., has been undergoing an intense self-examination, re-evaluating its product lines and businesses as part of an effort announced earlier this year to cut $100 million from the annual costs of its Polymer Products Dept.

Contrary to speculation that Du Pont might soon be shedding some product categories, the company plans to retain all its existing engineering thermoplastic lines, focusing on its traditional resin strengths while markedly scaling back research and development on new polymer technology, according to Edgar S. Woolard, Jr., Du Pont chairman and chief executive officer. He summarized the current status of the company's internal restructuring in a recent interview with PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY.

Woolard said Du Pont does not plan to sell any of its current engineering thermoplastic resin lines, although several--including its liquid-crystal polymer (LCP) and polyarylate offerings--have undergone a major re-evaluation in recent months in the level and pace of R&D investment. He said Du Pont has achieved "about 60%" of its cost-cutting goal in Polymer Products, most of it coming from a payroll reduction of 100 persons. The balance of the cost reductions will come from additional internal streamlining and "fine-tuning," according to Woolard and several other Du Pont executives interviewed.


Du Pont's agenda for the coming years includes concentrating on its familiar, established engineering TP families offerings--nylon and acetal in particular, but also including PET compounds, fluoropolymers, and TP elastomers. Comments by Woolard and other Du Pont officials indicate the company plans to strengthen these lines by improving quality and cost-competitiveness, while placing less emphasis on inventing new polymer technology. Du Pont executives also stress the internal nature of this restructuring, keeping the changes virtually invisible to their customers, in terms of product quality and customer service.

This conservative approach of Du Pont coincides with the 1990s strategy outlined by the majority of domestic engineering thermoplastic producers, polled earlier this year (see PT, June '90, p. 72). Their view is that research to bolster established thermoplastic lines and alloy existing resin families will take precedence over developing all-new polymer molecules in this decade.


Woolard, citing a specific example of this ongoing restructuring, said Du Pont already has made "substantial cuts" in its research investment for Bexloy K-550, the glass-filled PET alloy designed for automotive body-panel applications, which formally was unveiled earlier this year (see PT, April '90, p. 20). He noted that Du Pont was forced to make this re-evaluation in light of the tepid pace of automotive applications for injection molded thermoplastic body panels (see PT, Sept. '89, p. 84).

John Von Wald, business manager, new initiatives for Du Pont's Automotive Products unit in Troy, Mich., amplified Woolard's remarks, saying research investment in Bexloy has been cut by about 50% during the last 18 months. Despite this scaling back in research, it's believed Chrysler Corp. will employ Bexloy K-550 as a fender material on a 1993 platform, although neither Du Pont or Chrysler will confirm this application (see PT, Sept. '89, p. 89).

Du Pont also has pulled back from R&D on its Bexloy M polyarylate for injection molded body panels. Though the program is not altogether dead, little or no active R&D effort is being expended on it currently, according to a company spokesman.


Jeffrey Lipton, v.p. of Polymer Products, says the change in focus has been implemented during the last two years, following the realization that Du Pont was "spreading itself too thin" and needed to focus its R&D efforts.

A good example of the changes being cast by this new approach is Du Pont's development of Arylon polyarylate (the same resin used in Bexloy M), a material that has been placed "on the back burner," according to William D. Foglesong, Jr., formerly technical director of engineering polymers (see PT, June '90, p. 79). Though Du Pont says it has no plans to shed this resin line, Lipton admits that the company has pulled back on efforts to develop the amorphous TP polyester as a blow molding material to compete with polycarbonate.

"We were spending lots of research dollars in an area we didn't know well," he says of the polyarylate program. As a result of its restructured philosophy, he says Du Pont turned to its more familiar nylon technology for a blow molding material, and earlier this year introduced Zytel FN (flexible nylon) 726, a grade of nylon 6 alloyed with ethylene copolymers and acrylic rubber (see PT, March '90, p. 55).

Development efforts on Du Pont's new LCP line also are being reviewed, with two grades commercialized and a third under development (see PT, April '90, p. 97). Lipton says a new thrust for Du Pont in LCPs will result in formulating a low-price grade rather than developing a "me-too" line of products. Lipton states that Du Pont has no intention of selling off its LCP technology.


Despite this re-evaluation of R&D priorities, Du Pont has continued to add to its existing engineering TP product lines. Recent product introductions include commercial introduction of nylon 1212, which was formally unveiled this year (see PT, March '90, p. 55). At last year's K'89 Show in Dusseldorf, Du Pont unveiled a new type of fluoropolymer known as Teflon AF, a high-clarity, amorphous resin designed for coatings and molded parts (see PT, Jan. '90, p. 109). A Du Pont official last year also revealed new product and technology thrusts for its Delrin II acetal, which include a uv-stable grade to retain gloss, a glass-filled grade with enhanced dimensional stability, and research on a blow molding grade (see PT, Nov. '89, p. 61).

PHOTO : As part of its overall restructuring strategy for research investment, Du Pont has made substantial cuts in its Bexloy K-550 program, due to the sluggish pace of applications for TP injection molded automotive body panels.
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Title Annotation:thermoplastic
Author:Gabriele, Michael C.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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