Polymer Industry Keep on Track, Despite Market Turmoils: The Future of Polymers

Author / Editor: Dominik Stephan* / Dominik Stephan

K2016, the leading fair and expo for plastics and polymers wants to set the industry’s new course between shale gas, feedstock fluctuations and the internet of things — New raw materials. Energy prices. Demand fluctuation: Business as usual is no option for the global plastics industry. The branche is nevertheless cautiously optimistic at the sector fair K — Industry 4.0, light-weight construction and recycling management still promise new perspectives.

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The Map of Polymers: Regional shares in Global Polyer Production
The Map of Polymers: Regional shares in Global Polyer Production
(Source: © cunico, © raeva/Fotolia.com; Grafik: PROCESS; Quelle: statista)

From light-weight building blocks through new materials right up to revolutionary recycling management concepts — the plastics industry is looking for new ways. In this context, alternative resources and feedstock are regarded with the same exited anticipation as the concept of the networked industry. And the market dynamic speaks for itself: 59 million tons of plastics were produced in Europe in 2014 — an increase by nearly 3.5 percent compared to 2012.

The prices for basic materials like polyolefins are slowly becoming attractive, especially since several major producers failed due force majeur related short-term production standstills in 2015. No one however wants to speak about a genuine upsurge — in general, cautious optimism seems to be in vogue.

Moderate Growth in Europe

The good figures could become a light at the end of the tunnel for the trouble-ridden and buffeted industry. Even the tiniest signs of hope are also absolutely essential, as polymer producers are still suffering under the solid decline in sales following the recession of 2008–2009 and the subsequent crisis in the Euro zone in 2012–13.

Additional Information
Hold Your Own with Innovations
A Talk with Werner Matthias Dornscheidt, President and CEO, Messe Düsseldorf

Mr. Dornscheidt, how would you rate the response from the global plastics and rubber industry?

Dornscheidt: he demand for exhibition space has risen again and all of the 19 halls at the Düsseldorf exhibition centre are completely booked up. More than 3,000 exhibitors from globally operating industrial groups to start-ups from all continents will take part, presenting their innovations.

What is so special about the K? Other events have large numbers of exhibitors too.

No other trade fair sparks off so many new ideas. Companies throughout the industry are working hard to make sure they present themselves in the best light with interesting innovations in October 2016. Only those who can offer new technologies that bring real benefits to their customers will be able to hold their own against strong competition. Another unique feature of K is its high degree of internationalism, both on the exhibitor and on the visitor side. This guarantees that trade visitors will find world-class products and services. And it gives the exhibitors the opportunity to meet industry experts from over 100 countries that they might not have been able to reach in other ways.

Will there be additional offerings providing insights into new developments and perspectives?

To mention just two: The special show in Hall 6 gives insights into how plastics can shape the future and solve tomorrow’s challenges. Topics like resource efficiency, lightweight construction, new materials and Industry 4.0, and even the controversial marine litter, will be addressed in panel discussions and presented in multiple media. While the special show is directed at industry decision-makers and the general public, the Science Campus is the meeting place for the scientific community. Here, institutions and universities present their latest research results in the complex field of plastics and rubber in dialogue with industrial users.

Marker researchers like Applied Market Information now predict an average 1 % growth per year up to the end of the decade. But how stable is this development given the background of the turmoil in the worldwide petro- and polymer industry?

Integrated Poylolefins Witness 'Historic' Margins

More and more players continue to throng the market: Asian and Mid-Eastern mega plant projects announced in the mid-2000s are going on-stream with time, while cheap shale gas is ensuring a boom in the US downstream sector. European polymer producers nevertheless continue to be optimistic. Mark Garrett, CEO of Borealis even speaks of “historical” margins in the integrated polyolefin industry.

A solid demand and delivery bottlenecks due to unplanned production interruptions would have converted the raw material into goods in demand, explains the manager. The reports of several European industry associations take the same line, which predicts a clear growth in the plastics processing industry in Europe. Even in the weakening Italian market, the plastics machine manufacturers’ association Assocomaplast is happy about a “clear upward trend”.