A shortage of polyamide (PA) 66 is putting manufacturers of plastic parts for the automotive industry in serious difficulty, according to French industry association Groupement Plasturgie Automobile (GPA). Furthermore, the price of this material has increased by more than 40% since 2017.
|Cylinder head covers commonly employ polyamide 66.|
It is a structural problem according to GPA. Only five sites worldwide produce adiponitrile, one of the components required for PA 66: One in France, one in Japan and three in the United States. Numerous resin manufacturers, who declared force majeure, have interrupted their production of PA 66 and imposed quotas on their customers.
“This material has been registered by carmakers for its technical properties, and the processes to approve new materials make it very difficult to find alternative solutions in the short term,” explains the GPA President Luc Messien. This material is used in increasing numbers of applications, in particular in electronics, while it is becoming scarcer at the same time.
PA 66 is resistant to high temperatures, which is the reason why it is used in parts inside the engine compartment, such as air supply systems, filtration and cooling systems, and in other interior parts, from pedal units to door handles. Plastic automotive component suppliers are asking plastics manufacturers to quickly open new production lines and to secure their supply chain.
“Breakdowns in the supply of PA 66 are due mainly to the fragility of the supply chain. Today, only 55% of Europe’s PA 66 production capacity is available. At the same time, current demand requires an increase in the production capacity. Hasn’t the time come to speed up investments in Europe and renovate the existing lines?” asks Armelle Dumont, Managing Director of the GPA.
Finding alternatives is a complex matter, because the replacement materials must meet the same functional specifications. The materials that meet this condition are often even scarcer and more expensive. What’s more, the processes to approve new materials take a very long time.
“We are asking the carmakers to help us, in particular by shortening their approval processes. These shortages of materials mean that supplies to certain members of the GPA will dry up at the start of 2019, a situation that could put the complete production chain in peril. We regret this situation, but we do not have a solution for the time being,” states Dumont.
Automotive plastic part suppliers (Tier 1s and Tiers 2s) that use PA 66 have seen the price of this material rise by €1,500/tonne ($1725) in the last 18 months. They are the victims of an unsustainable scissors effect brought on by the rise in the price of PA 66, the quotas and their customers’ refusal to pay for a part of these price hikes.
The GPA is an organization representing manufacturers that design and build components, modules and systems made of plastics and composites for the automotive industry.