Elix starting new chapter under Chinese owner

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Photo by Caroline Seidel Carlos Mueller, left, and Fabian Herter from Elix Polymers at Fakuma 2018.

Spanish engineering plastics specialist Elix Polymers SL says it is starting a new chapter in the company's 40-year history under new Chinese ownership.

The supplier of ABS polymers and products started off as part of Germany's Bayer AG, moved along to Lanxess and Ineos and since 2012 has been owned by private equity firm Sun European Partners LLP.

On Oct. 16, Sun European Partners announced that it was selling the business to Beijing-based Sinochem International (Overseas) Pte. Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.

In an interview at Fakuma, Elix Business Director Carlos Mueller said the takeover was somewhat aligned with the company's strategy to target growth in Asia.

"We are now being integrated into a major chemical group. Since our start, we were very much focused on the European market and then grew in the NAFTA region, particularly the North ​ America and Mexico.

"And for the next step, we agreed a few years ago to target Asia, and China in particular," Mueller explained.

The company has already established some sales in China, exporting materials from its production plant in Tarragona, Spain.

According to Mueller, the development of Elix in Asia will now take a new turn, with a stronger focus on China and supply to the Chinese automotive industry.

While Sinochem is a major chemicals player, it does not currently have a strong petrochemicals operation and is particularly focused on agricultural and other sectors.

"As far as we know, they are not really involved in plastics production and are right now only trading [the material]. This is their first big investment in production," he added.

There are, however, some plans — albeit in very early stages — for Elix's growth in China, including the possibility of a compounding unit.

But the priority, according to Mueller, goes to increasing the utilisation rate at the company's production base in Tarragona, where Elix has a nameplate capacity of 180 kilotons per year to produce polymers and compounds.

"We are not underloaded, but we have free capacity and we can increase production in Tarragon first," he said.

The company has been debottlenecking at the facility and invested in an extruder last year. It also announced a 4 million euro ($4.6 million) expansion of its ABS powder production facility in June, which will come on stream by next year.

At Fakuma, Elix is displaying plating grades for high-visibility car parts and high-heat ABS for demanding applications in the automotive industry, where the company sees strong potential for growth.

Despite its heavy focus on the automotive parts, Elix also supplies materials for consumer applications in home appliances and medical industries.

The company is debuting its chemical compliance grades at the show to address regulatory demands for food contact, according Fabian Herter, industry manager for automotive.

"These include toys, cosmetic containers and products that come into contact with food, such as coffee machines," he further explained.

Additionally, the company has been offering special ABS materials for additive manufacturing.

The grades, according to Herter, are optimised in terms of processability and can be used particularly for prototyping and medical applications.

The materials can be used in fused filament fabrication or fused deposition modeling 3D printers.

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