News | May 19, 1999

New Dow High-Impact Polystyrene Provides Better Structural Properties

Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI), has introduced a new family of high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) resins with a better balance of properties for uses as diverse as appliances, consumer electronics, and packaging.

Dow expects the new Styron A-Tech HIPS polymers to replace some or even most of its existing Styron polystyrene line, and to firm the polymer's position as a low-priced alternative to acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and other expensive thermoplastics used in durable and consumer goods.

Dow is betting its new generation of Styron A-Tech polystyrene resins have what it takes to make it in such high-end applications as refrigerators and consumer appliances. The new resins permit previously unavailable combinations of gloss, toughness, and flow.

"Our first Styron A-Tech grades deliver improved flow, gloss and toughness," says Dow global polystyrene market manager Jeff Denton. "In the past, you had to take your pick of two out of the three. The improvements can be very significant. For example, we've more than doubled the flow rate while retaining the same levels of gloss and toughness.

"Styron A-Tech represents a technology that we will use to deliver products for a wide range of polystyrene applications," Denton continues. "We will build up the product line over the next six to nine months. The products will be very different, with properties — such as gloss, toughness, flow, stiffness — designed to maximize performance in specific end-use applications."

Dow has already launched the first member of the family, Styron A- Tech 1120, in Europe. Target markets include refrigerators and injection molded housings with high gloss and good toughness. A second grade, Styron A-Tech 1110, will follow shortly in North and South America. Optimized for regional markets, it will have less gloss and more toughness than 1120. Potential uses include refrigeration, lawn and garden, toys, small appliances, and other injection molded housings.

"Many of these markets would normally gravitate against ABS," says Denton. "Some Styron A-Tech grades will be fairly similar to ABS in terms of toughness and other properties. While polystyrene can't achieve equal gloss, it can come very close to high-gloss emulsion process ABS. In some applications, it's going to be a very close fit."

Dow has traveled this route before with its AIM polystyrene resins, which are tough and glossy. AIM resins, says Denton, remain niche products. "AIM didn't allow us to do consumer electronics and other high-volume markets," he explains. "The new technology allows us to change more than just gloss and toughness, and to compete in very large, existing polystyrene markets."

Dow is mum on Styron A-Tech technology, though Denton says it does not use new catalysts. "It's a combination of polymerization science, impact modification knowledge, processing, and overall manufacturing effectiveness. It's covered by a number of patents, some of which are pending, others which have been issued." He says existing Dow plants throughout the world can manufacture the resins.

Pricing will vary with resin grade. "You'll see some resins priced very close to what you'd call traditional high-impact polystyrene pricing, while others will be more expensive.

"We're looking to upgrade workhouse and high-performance polystyrene resins," he continues. "We want to deliver better value across the board. This technology will replace some grades. We believe they will be replaced through customer preference because performance will make existing resins obsolete."

With 3.9 billion lb/y capacity and plants in North America, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, Dow is the world's largest polystyrene producer. The $18 billion company is also basic in styrene feedstock.

For more information: Jeff Denton, Global Market Manager, Polystyrene, Dow Chemical Co., 2040 Dow Center, Midland, MI 48674. Phone: 517-636-5841. Fax: 517-638-9601.

By Alan S. Brown