INSIGHT: K 2010 will showcase change in plastics

25 October 2010 14:35  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS)--The plastics industry is a growth sector with a bright future, say the organisers of the huge K Fair opening in Dusseldorf, Germany, which runs from 27 October until 3 November.

Every three years, K (for kunststoff, the German for plastics) rolls into town. The seven-day plastics and rubber exhibition attracts thousands of exhibitors, from the mainstream plastics makers to processing machinery manufacturers of all types. Many thousands of people visit stands spread across hectares of exhibition space.

The fair this year is likely to show just how vibrant the sector is despite the ongoing impact of the credit crunch and recession. Plastics production 2008

Data from the exhibition organisers show that 245m tonnes of plastics were produced worldwide in 2008 (see image). They are projecting global plastics consumption growth of 4.1% until 2015.

Annual per capita consumption of plastics will rise to 140kg in Europe and to 36kg in Asia by the end of the forecast period, they add.

But operators in all segments find themselves in the midst of a period of great change. Significant new sources of supply are entering the market.

Established polymer producers are trying to carve out niches in more sophisticated polymer applications. Major battles are being fought to defend market positions while forays are being made into emerging markets that offer the best prospects for growth.

The mainstream polymer producers are well placed, having staged a remarkable recovery from the downturn. In Europe alone last year polymers output slumped by 17%. At the low point it was down 33%. But the climb back was made swiftly, driven by a massive rise in demand for virgin polymer from China and the stimulus given to its fast-growing manufacturing industries, to construction and to consumer demand.

Domestic polymer demand in Europe, North America and to a lesser extent in Japan has recovered but is constrained by ongoing weakness in these regions’ automobile industries and in construction. A slow trajectory for growth out of the recession will influence polymer dynamics for years to come.

But by keeping stocks low and balancing supply to demand, producers have been able to pass on higher oil-based raw material costs and buoy margins. The pressure, clearly, has been on processors that, while having to absorb higher input costs, have until relatively recently been faced with only lacklustre demand.

Europe’s plastics converters have been taken by surprise by the recovery over the past nine months, according to a media report last week. And processors across the EU have found it difficult at times to fulfil supply contracts because of tight raw material supplies.

Given the nervousness surrounding the European, US and Japanese economies, the outlook for plastics producers and for processors is far from comfortable. Upstream, the overhang of expected new polyolefins production capacity in the Middle East casts a cloud over the business. Other major plastics segments are facing shifting supply demand balances while suppliers rationalise and regroup.

While the K show should be able to present the positive view of plastics - the way in which these materials will be able to help nations globally tackle vitally important issues of health, welfare and climate change - the undercurrents in the business run strong.

Yet “current trends are very encouraging for raw materials producers, machine manufacturers, and processors,” K 2010 Exhibitors' Council chairman Ulrich Reifenhauser says. "It will take quite some time to get back to 2008 levels,” he adds, but there is more activity across the sector, with companies investing in new projects and pushing innovation hard.

Innovation may be showcased at K but underpinning the exhibition is the resilience and ingenuity that has brought exhibitors back to the event time and again.

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By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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