In addition to the acquisition of a 70% stake in Microtec, a biocompound producer, an Italian group Sirmax has also invested in a second plant in Poland, and in plants in India and the USA
by Laura Guarnieri
In the context of a 2019-2021 strategic plan centred on geographical and portfolio diversification, the Italian group Sirmax is certainly going all out to pursue a circular economy approach. This is what emerges from its recent investments in new production capacity and takeover operations that challenge the currently difficult macroeconomic situation and the crisis of key sectors such as the automotive industry.
Sirmax bets on bioplastics
After entering the world of post-consumer plastic recycling through the takeover of SER – Società Europea di Rigenerazione in Salsomaggiore Terme (Parma, Italy) in January 2019, and then going on to build a new recycling plant in the United States, Sirmax has now decided to branch out further and enter the biopolymer sector through the acquisition of a 70% stake in Microtec (Mellaredo di Pianiga, Venezia, Italy). Founded in 2012 by Diego Lombardo (who, it has been confirmed, will stay on at the helm of the company), Microtec’s initial purpose was to formulate bio-based and compostable compounds for bags and flexible packagings; three years later it began producing granulate and gaining expertise in the formulation of compounds based on starch biopolymers, copolyesters (PBAT) and, more recently, polylactic acid (PLA) as well. It currently has a workforce of 20 and a turnover of 19 million euros, generated by processing 8,000 tons of product per year in a 5,000 m2 site.
A 20 million euro investment
This project will see Sirmax investing 20 million euros, which will cover both the purchase of its majority stake (the other 30% will continue to be held by the company’s founder Diego Lombardo), as well as the planned expansion of the plant’s production capacity. This will entail the construction of a new building adjacent to the existing one. As a result of this operation, which includes the installation of two new Coperion lines, which will join the existing four, the company’s production capacity is set to double from the start of next year: output will increase from the current 8,000 tons to 16,000 tons per year, while the site’s surface area will increase from 5,000 to 17,000 square metres over the coming three years. But, in actual fact, the new plant is designed to accommodate up to ten compounding lines, with a production potential of 40,000 tons per year, adjustable according to the demand for biopolymers.
Disposables and new applications
Through its stake in Microtec, the Sirmax Group, the first independent polypropylene compounder in Europe, will ensure the resources necessary to develop, in terms of both capital and synergies with regard to raw material purchasing and commercial coverage. The Microtec range traditionally consists of bioplastics for flexible applications, and the aim is to expand this by adding the bio-based and biodegradable compounds for semi-durable and durable applications. These last, constitute the core business of the Italian group: a longstanding supplier of the automotive and household appliances sector, but also present in other areas such as consumer goods, ranging from sports articles to eyewear.
«The synergy between the expertise of Sirmax and the know-how of Microtec will allow us to develop bio-based materials for traditional application areas, such as the automotive and household appliance sectors» commented President and CEO of Sirmax, Massimo Pavin during the press conference organized to announce the acquisition. He went on to remark that the group would thus be able to add disposable products for large retailers to its range of applications, an important move in view of the stringent EU regulations that will be in force from 2021. «The aim is to respond to new market needs by identifying innovative solutions that support the circular economy» he said.
Investments in the USA and India
The acquisition of the stake in Microtec is part of a Sirmax three-year investment plan worth 80 million euros plus other contributions and government aids. The sum will be equally distributed between two plant expansion projects – in Mellaredo (Venice) and the SER site in Salsomaggiore Terme (which will see its recycling capacity increasing from 18,000 to 40,000 tons per year over the next three years) – and the creation of a new facility for recycling polypropylene from post-consumer waste (14,000 tons per year) which will be located in North America, and run by the newly established subsidiary SER North America (see box above).
The second Polish plant, currently being completed, will also be used for the formulation of TPEs – launched last year in Fakuma, these will be marketed under the Xelter® brand – and new long fibre-refinforced polypropylene composites for metal replacement applications (Isoglass® LFR), due to be previewed at the K2019 fair in Düsseldorf.
The Group also has plans for India, where it already has a joint venture with Autotech. Following the expansion of the Valsad (Mumbai) plant, this year will see the start of a debottlenecking project at the Palwal (Delhi) site, the aim being to increase the group’s production capacity of compounds in India from 20,000 to 40,000 tons per year. These investments should see the turnover of the Italian group increasing from the 300 million euros recorded in the financial year 2018 (+15% on 2017) to 385 million this year, in pursuit of a mid-term target turnover of around 600 million euros by 2024. The workforce in Sirmax’s Italian plants is also on the increase: 30 people have been taken on in the past two years, largely new graduates.