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US ETP business has good growth potential until 2010

The demand for engineering thermoplastics (ETP) in USA is projected to grow at 3.5% pa to reach 2.5 mln tons (approx) by 2010. This growth is an evident improvement over the previous 5 year period from 2000 to 2005. This turnaround has primarily been driven by resurgence of the electrical and electronics sector, one of the largest outlets for ETP, and by increasing per vehicle usage in the large motor vehicle market. The continued drive to replace metal and other materials with lightweight, cost-effective, high performance plastics will also aid advances in ETP. However, gains for engineering plastics will be moderated by increasing market maturity and competition from lower-cost commodity polymers such as PP.

In value terms, engineering plastics demand through 2010 is estimated to record sales exceeding US$10 bln. Value gains will be driven by strong growth in higher-cost specialty polymers, although prices for most individual polymer grades are expected to decline from peak levels recorded in 2005. The largest ETP by volume, ABS, is expected to grow at a much slower rate. ABS demand will suffer from competition from PP in low-end applications and other engineering polymers in more demanding markets.
Polycarbonate (PC) and polyesters (PET) will offer the best growth prospects among higher-volume resins. PC demand will be fueled by solid gains in business machines, medical products, and skylight and glazing applications; as well as the increasing use in blends with other polymers. Slowdown in the optical media (CDs and DVDs) market, however, will inhibit demand for PC, and rising overseas production will cap export opportunities.

PET/PBT will benefit from expanding applications in motor vehicles, while demand for liquid crystal polymers (LCP) will be driven by a strong electronics market. Polyacetal will also experience below-average gains due to market maturity in several key industrial and automotive applications.

Overall, demand for smaller-volume engineering resins will advance at a substantially faster pace than the large-volume ETPs. Polyphenylene sulfide, polyimides and polysulfones will command gains, steered by increasing usage in high-temperature applications such as electrical connectors and under-the-hood motor vehicle parts. Good growth prospects are in the pipeline fluoropolymers in wire & cable coatings and industrial components sector. Market penetration of these resins will be a disadvantage to metal, ceramics and thermoset polymers. However, the high cost of these polymers (from US$12-60/kg) will limit their use to fufill specialized performance needs where their cost can be justified.

Electrical and electronic products and motor vehicles were the dominant markets for engineering plastics in 2005, combining to account for 60% of the total demand. In the forthcoming 5 year period, electrical/electronic markets will see the fastest growth, driven by increasing global demand of business machines and other electronic equipments, although slower advances in appliances and optical media will alleviate gains.

Above average growth for engineering plastics is also expected in consumer markets, particularly in medical products, and glazing and skylights in a growing market for nonresidential construction. While demand in motor vehicle markets will proceed more slowly, the use of engineering resins on a per-vehicle basis will grow by 12 pounds in the period until 2010.

The engineering plastics industry is highly concentrated in a few hands, indicating the significant financial investment required to achieve competitive economies of scale and develop proprietary technologies. ETP producers, who have customarily focused on internal sources of growth and product development; could also weigh the option of acquisitions and divestitures to expand their geographic reach or streamline product portfolios.
GE Plastics and DuPont were the two leading suppliers of engineering plastics in 2005, accounting for 42% of the market share. A strong second level of companies comprising BASF, Bayer, Ticona (Celanese), Solvay and Dow Chemical, jointly controls 30% of US demand. Acquisition of GE Plastics business by Sabic will catapult Sabic into the global ETP business league.