By  on June 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- Anticipating increases in the global polyester staple market, Wellman Inc. plans to boost capacity of that fiber by about 300 million pounds over the next five years as part of a company-wide $500 million investment program.

The polyester production hikes, some of which have already begun, are at Wellman's four U.S. facilities, as well as its plant at Mullagh, Ireland.

Last year, Wellman produced about 1 billion pounds of polyester fiber.

Wellman officials said it was too early to tell exactly how much of the $500 million would be earmarked for the polyester business, but Jim Casey, president of the firm's fibers division, said, "It will be the lion's share."

Wellman had 1993 sales of $842.1 million, $655.2 million coming from fibers.

The increases are as follows:

Production at the Palmetto polyester staple facility in Darlington, S.C., which produced about 455 million pounds in 1993, is expected to increase by about 105 million pounds.

The company's partially oriented yarn plant in Fayetteville, N.C., which last year made 95 million pounds, will increase production by about 70 million pounds. That figure includes a recently completed 30-million-pound expansion program Wellman began there last September.

At the Johnsonville/Marion, S.C., sites, which work in tandem to produce recycled polyester staple and nylon staple fibers, about 80 million pounds will be added to the 1993 output of 245 million pounds of recycled polyester.

At the Ireland facility, Wellman International Ltd., 45 million pounds of polyester staple fiber will be added to the plant's 1993 output of 130 million pounds.

"In accordance with expected economic growth, we believe that the U.S. will continue to see greater gains in the polyester fiber market, and Wellman is positioned to take advantage of this," said Casey. "We also believe that as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, there will be more opportunities for our domestic mill customers to successfully expand their business in Mexico," he said.

In addition to the fibers division, the money is also earmarked for expansion of Wellman's PET bottle resin business for the packaging industry. The company said capacity will exceed 400 million pounds by 1998, compared with 50 million pounds in 1993.

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