Within weeks, Gujarat Fluorochemicals Limited Americas (GFL), from its small metal building on US 77, will begin mixing, shaping and shipping its “G-flow” compounds to processors, who will use it to manufacture an untold number of products.
GFL’s base product — Inoflon — is a plastic-like substance more widely known by its Dupont brand name, Teflon.
But Inoflon and GFL’s G-flow-brand of blended compounds have far more applications than coating frying pans. And the businessmen pushing this product feel its potential applications are huge.
“It’s one of the most unique chemicals ever invented,” said Dave Kaufmann, operations manager for GFL Americas. “It’s got a variety of good attributes, and we don’t even know all of its applications yet.”
Inoflon Its scientific name is “polytetrafluoroethylene,” or PTFE, a granular resin that is produced by GFL in India and shipped to the Port of Houston. At the Rockdale location, they’ll take the powdered resin and blend it with other substances to form a compound.
“We don’t even know all its applications or what our customers are using it for,” Kaufmann said. “Some of our customers have used it for parts for the semiconductor, pharmaceutical, transportation, chemical, and oilfield industries.”
The PTFE in an expanded substance is used in the popular Gore-tex fabric, which is breathable, yet still wicks away water. That’s because PTFE allows in air molecules, yet doesn’t allow larger water molecules.
PTFE is an interesting substance in that it doesn’t melt and flow at high temperatures like a polymer — it doesn’t show a normal liquid state. It is a solid and as it is heated goes through a brief gel-like state and eventually turns into a gas.
Visiting the Rockdale site last Thursday was Sumit Das, export manager of international business for GFL. Das has spent the past 18 years traveling to 40 different countries and has a wide range of experience in international marketing.
“The plant produces the virgin PTFE in the Indian state of Gujarat, on the western side of the country,” Das said. “That state is a big chemical industry industry hub for the globe.”
Interestingly, the substance was discovered by accident at DuPont laboratory in New Jersey in 1938. Scientist Roy Plunkett was working with compressed refrigerant gasses when he discovered a white, waxy substance in a cylinder. The solid form became known as PTFE.
Inoflon can be worked at from -260 degrees Celsius to over 260 degrees Celsius. It also has UV and chemical resistance, good elongation properties and low flammability.
Kaufmann, with his jack-ofall trades background, came to manage GFL through sheer enthusiasm for the product and the will to take up the operations management for blended compounds and new sales in North America, South America and Mexico.
While work ing at anot her company based in Houston, Kaufmann came across a sample of the Inoflon product. He tested the product and was more than a little impressed. He began consulting for the company in 2008 and traveled to India last year to meet with GFL officials and discuss the blending operation in Rockdale.
Since that time Kaufmann and Das have been working to set up a Rockdale-based office. One of the company’s global warehouses is in Houston.
“If the plan is successful, we’ll increase capacity,” Kaufmann said. “We are just going to build it block by block. Depending on how successful it is, we could move into ot her technolog y areas.”
K auf ma nn’s k nowledge in polymer science, electrical engineering, as a machinist, as well as marketing and technology experience, have shaped him for the job. (He even did a stint as a professional baseball scout, profiled several years ago in this newspaper.)
“I left college to work full time and soon became intrigued with the polymer industry,” he said, “I’ve had a lot of different types of experiences needed for this industry and I am really excited about what GFL would like to do in the United States.”
Plenty of U.S. companies are partnering with Indian industrialists. India now boasts the second largest number of engineers and software designers and other global companies are attracted by its affordable labor for practically any industry.
The country’s investments in its own education and technology have paid huge dividends over the past two decades. Its access to high-speed data lines means Indian employees can work for U.S. companies as efficiently as though they were in an office next door. IBM, Oracle, Adobe and Microsoft, to name a few, have Indian operations, Das noted.
GFL is part of the $2-billion-ayear INOX, a group of privately owned companies involved in industrial gases, refrigerants, chemicals, engineering, renewable energy and entertainment.
It’s a little early to say, but where Rockdale was “Aluminum town,” it may yet become “Inoflon town.”