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European GRP production experienced significant growth in 2003 and 2004 and appears that thermoset moulding compounds will follow this trend.
These comments were made by Dr Uwe Bültjer, Director of the German Composite Federation (AVK-TV), at the AVK-TV press conference on 28 September in Baden-Baden, Kurhaus.
Plastics reinforced with natural fibres are increasingly gaining in importance with wood-fibre thermosets, in particular experiencing steady growth. Apart from wood fibres, hemp and flax are particularly important reinforcing fibres for lightweight materials. It is difficult to assess the production quantity of natural-fibre-reinforced plastics since there is only a very fine distinction between polymers reinforced by natural fibres and those which only contain natural fibre products as fillers. Therefore, AVK-TV is attempting, together with the Nova-Institut GmbH, Hürth, to come up with definitions for natural-fibre-reinforced plastics to enable a comparison of the market development of this class of material with that of glass-fibre-reinforced plastics.
Overall, Bültjer envisages a positive future for the GRP market. For example, AVK-TV has forecast a growth rate of 2.1% for the current year and expects an 2.5% increase in 2005. Prices of raw materials put pressure on the GRP industry.
The second half of 2004 will be characterised by steep rise in the prices of raw materials. This is partly due to the increase in oil prices, and partly because the bulk demand for chemicals produced in particular from benzene such as styrene and adipic acid has run up against the capacity limits. For example, the manufacturers of unsaturated polyester resins have already signalled the second round of price increases for this year. In particular, the suppliers of GRP parts to the automobile industry have little scope for passing on the price rises and hence are finding that there is increasing pressure on their profit margins. Although it is true that the sustained positive development in the truck market could defuse the tense situation somewhat, parts manufacturers will not be able to avoid putting up the prices of their products.
Although 2003 was characterised by a further decline in the production figures for thermoset moulding compounds in Europe from 2.3% to 130 000 t, this is no longer true for all product lines. For example, the output of urea resins stabilised while phenolic resins suffered further setbacks. This may be mainly explained by the still ailing construction industry and, until last year, the penetration of the European market by moulded compounds of Asian origin.
This year, things once again seem to have taken a turn for the better for thermoset moulding compounds, since imports from Asia have fallen off greatly and exports (which were significant in the past) to these countries have picked up again. We will have to wait to see if this is a stable trend reversal. “The decisive factor for future development will be the economic situation of the building industry– and the prospects are not exactly rosy” cautions Bültjer in order to curb excessively optimistic expectations.
On the other hand, however, there does appear to be a rosy future for special moulding compounds, ie non-standardised moulding compounds. Output figures for such products reached approximately 15 000 tonnes in 2003 and AVK-TV expect further growth rates of 5 % a year.
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