Bluestar continues to grow site, portfolio

24 May 2017 | Source from Rubber & Plastics News

YORK, S.C.—Bluestar Silicones USA Corp. continues to expand both its manufacturing capabilities and its product portfolio.

The firm is getting ready to add new bulk tankers and some additional reactors at its 260,000-sq-ft. York facility in the coming months. The firm currently operates three tankers at the site. Christopher York, Bluestar's North American president, said the number of tankers and reactors still is being determined, but the expansion will increase its bulk handling capacity by an estimated 300 percent.

The firm also secured additional land surrounding the site for future projects.

Financial details were not disclosed. The firm has 160 employees in the U.S. and has added about 35 since the York facility opened in June 2012.

Photo by Chris Sweeney, Rubber & Plastics News
The clean room operations at Bluestar's York, S.C., facility.

"We're making business growth decisions and capital investments in both equipment and human capital," York said. "I have my own mantra about double-digit improvement in anything we do. We have a footprint here that's primed to be a differentiating factor in this marketplace that has not seen major change, and that's what I mean by double digit improvement. We're in a position where we want to grow, and we've been growing at better than double digits. This next investment is the next iteration of how we continue that, optimize it and create even more flexibility for us."

On the product front, the firm unveiled several new silicones at the recent MDM West show in Anaheim, Calif. These included new developments in its liquid silicone rubber and high consistency rubber lines, and a new range of soft skin adhesives for wound care, scar care and transdermal patches.

"Our approach is differentiating ourselves from the competition with silicone solutions with a personal touch," said Karen O'Keefe, Bluestar's business director for elastomers. "It's really impactful because what we've come to realize is service, partnerships and support are not in the industry like they used to be, and customers crave that. They want a solutions partner to help them with the silicones chemistry and expertise. The OEMs and molders are not necessarily experts in the materials, so they rely on the material suppliers to bring that expertise."

Photo by Chris Sweeney, Rubber & Plastics News
Bob Waitt, marketing manager for Bluestar Silicones' U.S. medical market, poses at MDM West.

Bob Waitt, marketing manager for Bluestar Silicones' U.S. medical market, said that on the HCR side, the firm's line of silicones now ranges from 20 to 80 Shore A hardness. He added that the firm sees interest from medical device makers both on the LSR and HCR side, and the firm added an 80 Shore A grade to its LSR portfolio that enhances processing time and physical properties.

Bluestar also released multiple soft skin adhesives that span a range of tact level and viscosity. Waitt said the newest addition, RT Gel 4645, is a self-adhesive gel that can bond to polyurethane film without any surface preparation.

The adhesives also are used as aides with any sort of wearable technology, ranging from a fitness tracker to a medical device that monitors vital signs.

"OEMs want to combine a lot of different technologies," Waitt said. "More and more people are starting to combine thermoplastics, electronics and silicones, and they're looking for different ways to do that."

Typically, Waitt said manufacturers must prep the polyurethane using a plasma or a primer to enhance the surface energy to get it to bond to the silicone. NT Gel 4645 eliminates that step and, in some situations, the preparation can be done in-line.

Photo by Bluestar Silicones
Bluestar uses this safety dojo to train employees at its York, S.C., site.

"That extra step is a pain point for the industry when dealing with polyurethane as the substrate," O'Keefe said. "This is a breakthrough to help eliminate that step and coat directly onto the polyurethane to improve efficiencies and cost."

The firm also has an ongoing partnership with Graham Engineering, where Graham provided an American Kuhne 1.5 inch Ultra RS silicone lab extruder, housed at Bluestar's York facility, which includes state-of-the-art clean rooms and enhanced quality systems.

Waitt said the firms have talked about expanding the partnership to look at other technologies beyond health care, mentioning other extrusion applications like wire and cable.

"It helps us better understand our materials," Waitt said. "It enables us to train customers on how to process the materials without interrupting their production. They can learn about silicone materials and the application and extrusion process on the back end."

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