Martin Color-Fi Inc. has acquired exclusive rights to a chemical additive that may expand its already sizable presence in the automotive fabrics market.
The additive, when applied to polyester fiber, protects the color on headliners, seat covers and carpeting, keeping it from fading in sunlight.
The Edgefield-based company's fibers are used in approximately one-third of all automobiles produced in the United States. The automotive market accounts for the biggest portion of the company's business.
Wednesday's announcement might not mean new jobs right away, Martin Color-Fi's leader said, but its improved fibers, which will be marketed under the name ColorGuard, will enhance the company's competitive position.
"We do expect this to significantly impact our growth in our automotive market segment," said Stephen Zagorski, president and chief executive officer. "It's another indicator we're a company that has reinvented itself out of Chapter 11."
Martin Color-Fi is the only company authorized by the chemical's maker, Swiss-based Clariant Corp., to use the additive in automotive segments.
Martin Color-Fi filed for bankruptcy protection in November 1998. It was purchased last year by Philadelphia-based investment firm Dimeling, Schreiber & Park. The deal allowed the company to restructure and negotiate for the settlement of outstanding debt.
The nearest Martin Color-Fi plant - in Trenton - will not immediately be involved in production of ColorGuard fibers. Instead, initial manufacturing will begin at the company's Sumter, S.C., plant.
"We have enough idle capacity to meet the initial demand," Mr. Zagorski said. "In our Sumter plant, we have 10 spinning lines, and we're presently running only six."
In the process, polyester pellets are combined with the additive pellets and the results are extruded and spun into staple fiber that is packaged into bales. Companies that manufacture automobile carpeting and fabrics purchase the fibers to create their products.
Mr. Zagorksi said the company might introduce the additive into its other product lines.
"This exclusivity does not prohibit us from using the same technology in other applications," he said.
The agreement specifically covers the automotive market segment in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Martin Color-Fi is a leading producer of dyed and natural specialty staple fibers used in industrial and home furnishings, floor coverings, apparel and construction markets. The company also produces polypropylene and nylon staple fiber in addition to yarn, pigments and additives.
Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.