Update on the European composites market

The glass fiber-reinforced plastics (GFRP) market is much more difficult to quantify than it has been in recent years, says a study released in September by AVK - Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe e.V. (Federation of Reinforced Plastics, Frankfurt, Germany).

The glass fiber-reinforced plastics (GFRP) market is much more difficult to quantify than it has been in recent years, says a study released in September by AVK - Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe e.V. (Federation of Reinforced Plastics, Frankfurt, Germany). Dr. Elmar Witten, the group’s managing director and report author, says the difficulty is attributable to significant differences among production-volume predictions issued by various market players. Uncertainties about medium-term macroeconomic development (e.g., levels of national debt) and the increasingly complex global network of supplier/buyer markets made it more difficult to assess the European market in isolation.

AVK’s market analysis, limited to countries for which suppliers of raw materials provided figures in response to a survey, compared this year’s figures with those from 2010. The report shows that the overall annual production volume of GFRP has grown moderately and is now at a level similar to that reported in 2008 — 1.049 million metric tonnes (2.31 billion lb). However, not all of the unexpectedly strong growth in volume in 2010 can be attributed to production. In part, the figure reflects increased warehouse stocks, and surveyed entities agree that this strong growth won’t be sustained through 2011.

The continuing upswing in demand in the automotive and electronics sectors undergirds continued growth in the production of parts from thermosetting sheet molding compound (SMC) and bulk molding compound (BMC). In recent years, SMC parts reportedly have accounted, by far, for the greater part of this production, and their share of the total is growing. Generally, growth of approximately 7 percent is expected for SMC and BMC in 2011, with a predicted production total of 267,000 metric tonnes (588.63 million lb). Demand for short fiber-reinforced thermoplastics is growing continuously, particularly in new automotive applications. With an average glass content of 30 percent in the total production volume, short fiber-reinforced thermoplastics are expected to reach annual production of more than 1 million tonnes (nearly 2.21 billion lb) and achieve double-digit growth this year.

Hand layup has stagnated, but sprayup production is headed back up toward the reported 2008 level, at 98,000 metric tonnes (216 million lb). However, these so-called open processes have the lowest growth in the GRP market as a whole. Their share of total production fell during the past few years from more than 30 to 25 percent. Yet open processes are likely to remain strong because they typically require a small investment in machinery and are extremely adaptable to individual specifications.

The future appears bright for resin transfer molding (RTM). Year-on-year growth was slightly above average, and the 2011 total of 120,000 metric tonnes (264.55 million lb) exceeds by almost 12 percent that reported in 2008. AVK says RTM will see growing use in automobiles.
AVK reports that the market for GRP pultrusion profiles and panels weathered the recession relatively well and continues to show above-average growth, thanks to the commercial-vehicle market. But production remains relatively low, totaling 128,000 metric tonnes (282.19 million lb).

In the area of pipe and tank components, sewer renovation with trenchless pipe-relining technologies continued to deliver above-average performance, growing above 2008 levels. In contrast, the production of pipes in Europe continues to lag behind that seen in other regions.
Witten says that European GRP production for 2011 can be broken down as follows: 35 percent each for transportation and electronics, 14 percent each for the construction and sports/leisure, with the remaining 2 percent listed as “other.” The production of automotive composites is still rising in several European submarkets, and it is posting above-average growth figures in China, India and Russia.

The strongest growth in composites production is in Germany and Italy. In Germany, this is driven by its still-prospering automotive sector while in Europe as a whole, declines have marked the first half of 2011. Markets for electronic applications also are growing, at the moment, in Germany and Scandinavia. In southern Europe, the decline in construction apps is the major growth deterrent. Above-average growth in Eastern Europe for 2011 is due primarily to the larger number of countries included in the study (see chart footnotes). Reportedly, the global GFRP picture is as follows: Europe and the U.S., 25 percent each, with Asia at 50 percent. Growth is stronger in China, India and Brazil than in North America or Europe. Asian processors will increasingly take over GRP manufacturing for the European markets. The full report is available free at the AVK Web site: www.avk-tv.de