In 2009, the effects of the ongoing global financial downturn, which have impacted virtually every market sector, continued to be felt in most segments of the composites industry. But, as some economic indicators late in the year showed growth and improvement, innovation and new product development were again on the rise in the composites industry.
A market study released by the JEC Group (Paris, France) sized the total worldwide composites market at 8.6 million metric tonnes (19 billion lb) with a value of about $92 billion (USD) or €62 billion. The study predicted that the worldwide composites market's growth will average 4 percent per year for the next three years (2010, 2011 and 2012), with the highest growth rates and the greatest bulk of overall growth occurring in Asian markets.
According to the most current figures compiled by market research specialist The Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland, Ohio), demand for reinforced plastics in the U.S. will reach 3.6 billion lb (1.6 million metric tonnes) in 2013. Glass fibers will remain the dominant reinforcement material, but carbon fiber and nanomaterial reinforcements will show greater rates of growth. Thermosets will remain the predominant resin type used in composites, but will be outpaced slightly by thermoplastics in terms of growth rate.
The effects of the credit market crisis and severe stock market losses in late 2008 and the recessionary growth statistics and continuing global financial uncertainty of 2009 have taken their toll on the manufacturing sector. In the first weeks of 2010, the negative effects of the downturn on the U.S. home resale market and residential construction starts, and the severe fall off in sales of watercraft, automobiles and trucks sales still linger. The impact these economic conditions will have on the proliferation of composites technologies into these markets is, therefore, difficult to predict. Here, in Part I of our annual Industry Overview, SB has gathered the best available information on the major markets served by the composites industry (see the individual market reports listed in "Learn More," at right).
Horizons in sight
Although “promising” applications in the composites industry tend to remain out on the horizon — never quite within reach — the future, overall, bodes well. Aerospace and wind power gains this decade have proven that, for the composite materials supplier and the composite component manufacturer alike, persistence pays. Continued trends toward automation and other innovations that have streamlined composite manufacturing methods. Advances in mold and curing process science and a wealth of new material forms are making composites more user-friendly — not to mention more cost-effective. These developments are encouraging greater use in existing markets and making composites more attractive to potential users in new markets, particularly in the industrial and consumer products sectors. Further, greater availability of key materials, such as carbon fiber, and the resulting stability in their procing, will encourage OEMs to take prototypes into production.
While the current recession poses a short-term deterrent to expansion in some markets, the composites industry is no stranger to economic ups and downs. Proponents of composites, whose products’ true value is seen in lifecycle cost analysis, have always taken the long view. As they already know — and the growing number of their satisfied customers are finding out — those sometimes-distant horizons are always within reach.