Wood-plastic composites seeing rising growth market in U.S. and the Far East

The wood-plastic composite (WPC) market is experiencing rising market growth, particularly in the United States and the Far East, as cost-efficient machinery concepts with high line speeds and output rates, and new applications are stimulating the global WPC industry. That was the conclusion by battenfeld-cincinnati after the recent 10th annual Wood-Plastic Composite Conference, held Nov. 3-5 in Vienna, Austria, organized by Applied Market Information (AMI), UK.

What is true for plastics processing in general is equally true for WPC processing specifically: with up to 80%, the material costs take up the largest share in overall production costs. With the aim of reducing these costs, a trend toward more co-extrusion applications is currently emerging in the industry; simultaneously, the demand is rising for low-cost fillers such as rice husks, mineral fillers or recycled fibers. There is, at the same time, an increase in demand for cost-efficient machinery concepts to reduce the overall costs, especially for the main product line of decking profiles, for concepts which offer high production and also ensure high-end product quality, according to battenfeld-cincinnati.

The push for greater material savings is being realized by the production of hollow profiles rather that solid profiles, and the use of recycled materials to reduce material costs is as much an issue in the industry as is the use of biologically based and/or biodegradable materials. The AMI WPC Conference covered all of these topics, which are current concerns of the industry.

battenfeld-cincinnati also focused on equipment demonstrations on these trend topics in cooperation with WPC compounder Beologic NV (Belgium), a complete line producing a hollow WPC profile consisting of PVVC filled with 50% rice husks, and equipped with a fiberEX 93-34 D parallel twin screw extruder tailor-made for WPC processing, reaching an output of 380 kg/hr - a performance on par with PVC profile production.

A second line on which a WPC profile based on a biopolyester resin was made, was equipped with an alpha 45 single screw extruder that reached an output of 40 kg/hr. On both lines demonstrated at the AMI conference, materials from Beologic NV were processed. PVC-rice compounds not only constitute a low-cost alternative to wood-plastic compounds, but rice husks have the vital advantage that they contain no lignin, and consequently the color of the finished product fades much more slowly.

Sonja Kahr, the company's WPC product manager, commented:"Today, we offer suitable solutions for all applications in the WPC industry and, above all, solutions tailored to fit every individual application. In our product portfolio, we have single screw extruders or conical twin screw extruders to produce small technical profiles, while for high outputs we offer parallel machine models which, with their 34D processing length, provide every possible option for direct addition of colorants, degassing and flexibility in plasticizing. Both machine concepts can be optimally combined for co-extrusion applications."

According to a market report released by the Freedonia Group in June of this year, U.S. demand for WPC will rise 9.8% from its current $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion in 2018. Decking will remain the largest application and will grow the fastest, based on alternative lumber's minimal maintenance and long service life, and will outpace plastic lumber.

battenfeld-cincinnati noted that new applications for WPC were also displayed by Rehau and Plastic.WOOD directly beside the extrusion lines shown in production in the company's technical lab. While the German profile manufacturer Rehau presented a PVC sun-shade system made of WPC in an aluminum frame, the Italian company Plastic.WOOD showed various injection molded products, such as tableware and chairs made of WPC.

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