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Engineering plastics seen as offering expansion possibilities

The demand for engineering thermoplastics in the coming years will continue to grow above GDP, with much of this increase in demand arising from Asia. That was the prognosis offered by Willy Hoven-Nievelstein, director of engineering polymers at BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany), during a special symposium conducted by extrusion equipment and materials handling maker Coperion Group (Stuttgart, Germany) late last year.
“Transportation, electronics/electrical applications, and packaging will fuel global growth [for engineering thermoplastics],” said Hoven-Nievelstein. “Standardization of plastics will increase but the value differentiation will become more important at the same time.” He is somewhat pessimistic about the development of new polymers and says if these are brought to the market, they will only be successful in niche areas.
From BASF’s point of view, total consumption of polyamide (PA), polybutadiene terephthalate (PBT), and acetal (POM) will jump from 4.04 million tonnes in 2005 to 7.2 million tonnes 10 years later. Demand for engineering plastics in automotive products should be especially strong in coming years, said Hoven-Nievelstein. Sales of automobiles in Asia, excluding Japan, are expected to see 7.8% yearly growth from 11.5 million vehicles in 2005 to 16.8 million units in 2010. That would bring units sold there up to just short of the number predicted for sales in Western Europe (17 million in 2010) as sales growth there lumbers at a 0.6%/yr rate. By 2010, Hoven-Nievelstein predicts global automobile sales will be about 72 million units compared to 63.6 million in 2005,and notes a new Detroit-in-the-East is developing from western and Japanese/Korean transplants in Poland, Czech Republic Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania. These transplants are a potentially high growth market for engineering plastics.
Europe’s top playing card remains its technology development and research but Eastern and Central European markets will show more market dynamics than Western Europe, he says. Regulations such as REACH and RoHS that place limits or bans on certain materials, such as some additives, could also prove harmful if processors decide to transfer work outside Western Europe.
Hoven-Nievelstein sees stagnating engineering plastics demand in NAFTA countries and more production shifts to other parts of the world. Asia will continue to be an engineering resin driver with China taking the bulk of these polymers. Challenges in that country will be quality and technology issues, management, and sourcing qualified staff. Hoven-Nievelstein says India could be a significant newcomer in this market to directly challenge China but it is too early to call.
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