TOKYO -- Toray Industries will add production capacity for polyolefin foams in the U.S. by January 2018, to meet growing demand for the material used in auto interiors.
The Japanese maker of fibers, textiles, plastics, and chemicals will invest 4.5 billion yen ($43.3 million) to install equipment for 3,000 tons of additional annual capacity at its plant in Virginia. This will increase Toray's global capacity for polyolefin foams by 40% to 11,000 tons a year.
Polyolefin is a class of high-performance plastic. The foam is lightweight, has good insulation properties, and is easy to shape.
In the U.S., where drivers like interior materials with a feeling of solidity, there is a growing demand among automakers for polyolefin foams. The material now is used mainly for the door interiors of pickup trucks, but Toray anticipates a widening of demand to include instrument panels.
Toray makes its polyolefin foams by heating sheets of the resin while they are floating in an alkaline solution. Compared with the processes used by rival makers, this allows the component to be shaped more accurately to specified dimensions. For instrument panels with their many gauges, the shapes are complex and automakers want to use materials that can be molded as designed.
The company also makes the material in Japan, but it established production in the U.S. to respond quickly to local needs. Toray has set goals of supplying materials for a wider range of cars and broadening the applications beyond door interiors.
With the expanded production, Toray expects its polyolefin foam-related sales to reach 15 billion yen in 2019, which would be a 50% increase over 2015.
Those revenues account for less than 1% of Toray's total sales. But the company makes an array of materials, including carbon fibers and air bag fabrics, and is keen to deepen its relationships with automakers and bolster its business in vehicle materials.