ARNHEM, The Netherlands - Akzo Nobel Coatings started operations at new coatings plants in Houston and Dongguan City, China.

In Houston, the company said its new Marine & Protective Coatings business unit facility is a technologically advanced production site that manufactures heavy-duty marine and structural-steel coatings. The $17 million project, built in phases while production continued, includes six new computer-modified manufacturing lines for thin-film products and seven lines for high-build epoxies, four new packaging lines, and a small-batch area.

Other operational features include advanced equipment for reduction of solvent emissions and hazardous wastes and efficiencies designed to substantially cut product-manufacturing losses, the company said.

Guy Sullaway, vice president of Operations-Americas, said increased batch-size flexibility at the plant will allow the Marine & Protective business "to respond more quickly to changing demands by matching batch sizes more directly to customer orders, something which will greatly improve our customer service levels in North America."

The Marine & Protective Coatings business is a major producer of protective marine paints and yacht coatings with sales of 670 million euros in 2000, Akzo Nobel said.

In China, Akzo Nobel continued to expand its presence in the Chinese coatings market with the opening of a wood coatings plant that will supply products for the nation's rapidly growing furniture-manufacturing industry. The new site is located in southern China between Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Rudy van der Meer, the member of Akzo Nobel's Board of Management responsible for coatings, said the Dongguan City site and a coatings plant opened in September at Suzhou represent key moves in the company's expansion program in China.

"It is one of Akzo Nobel's strategic goals to increase our market share in the Asia Pacific region, and China is a key market in this area," van der Meer said.

Akzo Nobel currently operates 10 production facilities in China involving the company's coatings, chemicals and pharmaceuticals segments. The company said its total sales for all businesses in China have quadrupled over the last five years, to 300 million euros annually.