Industrial Problem Solving with Thermoplastic Semi-Finished Products

Industrial Problem Solving with Thermoplastic Semi-Finished Products

Kaylie: Hi, welcome, and thank you for joining us in today’s AGRU America podcast. Today, we will talk about how industry end users can use AGRU thermoplastic semi-finished products to help develop solutions to overcome manufacturing bottlenecks.

Joining me today is Cody Miles. Welcome, Cody.

Cody: Thank you Kaylie.

Kaylie:Let’s start by talking about our end user. Could you describe their industries?

Cody: Certainly. I’d say our target end user for thermoplastic semi-finished products are likely companies that produce specialty chemicals for pharmaceuticals, water purification, advanced electronics, and the food industry.

Kaylie: So, the Dow, DuPonts, Bayers, BASFs, and ExxonMobils of the world?

Cody: Yes, exactly.

Kaylie:What kind of industrial challenges can we help them solve with these products?

Cody: I think the goal in most forms of manufacturing is to maximize the output efficiency, often by overcoming bottlenecks. There are industrial processes, for instance, that rely on the use of corrosive or volatile chemicals that can deteriorate equipment over time and force maintenance. Our products offer solutions in these areas.

Kaylie: Can you give a specific example of an industrial process that was improved with thermoplastics?

Cody: We published an article describing a copper refinery last year that was experiencing a bottleneck in their process to reclaim precious metals from the refinery waste solution.

Kaylie:I remember we discussed this case. The reclaiming process involved gathering nickel sulphate from the waste solution, right?

Cody: Exactly. The temperature of the solution needed to be raised to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for nickel sulphate precipitation. A side effect of this process is a buildup of corrosive vapors that require venting.

Kaylie: Ventilation became the bottleneck.

Cody: Right. It turns out that the original lining in the ventilation pipe frequently cracked and leaked, requiring regular maintenance—essentially a complete shutdown of a production line every two to three months. To solve this problem, the lining was replaced with PFA sheets, which resulted in no production downtime for more than a year.

Kaylie: That’s a very impressive result. Would you say thermoplastics are particularly useful for industry end users interested in the containment or storage of corrosives?  

Cody: Yeah, I think that’s an accurate statement. On the storage side, consider the industrial process of creating hydrochloric acid. Toward the final step in the process, end users have to store a concentrated grade of the acid that can prove challenging especially at elevated temperatures.

Kaylie: OK, let’s say we have an industry end user who has identified a problem in their process. How do they go from identifying the problem to solving it with thermoplastics?

Cody: Admittedly, not many of our end users know about our products as a solution in these applications. In the copper refinery example, for instance, the solution was actually proposed and implemented by one of our fabricators, Electro Chemical Engineering and Manufacturing. Though there have been cases when an end user finds us after exhausting all other options. Our goal in recent years has been to work on better industry outreach.

Kaylie: What happens when an end user does reach out. How do you help them make a decision?  

Cody: We really take our tagline, the Plastics Experts, to heart; we realize that there is rarely a one-size-fit-all solution to any problem. Instead, we attempt to break down the problem with our customers by going through the chemical composition of the media they are working with, the temperature ranges, and what containment or storage options they’ve tried using in the past.

Kaylie: So, from there you can get sort of a snapshot of the problem and how to deal with it.

Cody: Exactly. We’ve run hundreds of tests on how our products perform under various conditions and tabulated that data so that we can better walk our customers through their options.

Kaylie: Can you give a summary of their options?

Cody: Sure. We generally start with semi-finished products made of polyethylene. This resin offers a good starting point in terms of chemical resistance and durability across a respectable temperature range. It is ideal in dealing with media like phosphoric acid with temperature ranges up to about 140°F.

Kaylie: Would you say PE semi-finished products are the starting point in this category?

Cody: Yes, polyolefins are a good starting point.

Kaylie: What are some options at the higher end and what sets those products apart?

Cody: I’d say the next step up would be PVDF or ECTFE. These products are ideal in a wider range of environments, including those with nitric acid, and can deal with an even wider temperature range. We refer to these as our semi-fluorinated polymers.

Kaylie: Let’s say a customer comes with a situation where they have to contain a unique corrosive, say something like aqua regia, do we have a product for that?

Cody: Yes, we do! At the upper end of the spectrum we have PFA and FEP. These fluoropolymer materials can remain stable at temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and are resistant to extremely corrosive compounds, including aqua regia. While our FEP products are limited to lining laminates, the other materials are also available as sheets and round bar.

And when it comes to high-purity applications, PFA has shown superior performance.

Kaylie: What makes PFA useful in high-purity applications?

Cody: PFA is considered a neat material, which means it’s pure and made without any additives or solvents. The real benefit in high-purity applications is that across PFA’s full performance spectrum no foreign chemicals will leach out since none were used in its manufacture and it all has excellent chemical resistance across a wide range of temperatures.

Kaylie: How do these products contribute to a complete solution?

Cody: We believe the best solutions are created by combining excellent products with best-in-class service. We leverage our expertise and experience to identify optimal product solutions. Then, we lean on our broad network to put our customers in touch with the right fabricator, distributor, or installer to make their finished product.

Kaylie: Thank you for joining me today Cody. And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. We hope that you’ve found this podcast informative.