Some major changes are taking place in the thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) industry.
At the TPE Topcon industry conference held by the American Society of Plastics Engineers in Akron, Ohio, market analyst Bob Eller said: "The shift in industry focus to Asia is one of the biggest factors affecting TPE in the current environment."
But Eller believes there are other influencing factors.
He added: “Some TPE markets in Western countries are maturing. The prices of these markets are becoming more commoditized and the degree of customization is declining, which provides market opportunities for small companies and poses a tough price challenge for quite saturated TPEs. ."
“Now TPE is gradually diversifying into two parts, commodity TPE and special TPE. This brings opportunities to custom TPE compound manufacturers with custom material grades. The goal is to target higher value applications such as airbag doors.”
Eller's remarks may not be heard by North American TPE producers. For a long time, these companies have advertised their products as high value-added specialty materials, which is not the same as commodity TPE.
However, Eller also mentioned a more positive side, he believes that TPE has huge growth opportunities around the world. For example, the thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV) used in every car produced in China is only 4.4 pounds, while India is lower, only 3.3 pounds. The world average is 5.7 pounds.
Eller is the owner of Robert Eller Associates Inc. in Akron.
New markets for TPV and other types of TPE include weather strips, hoses and belts, as well as elastic fibers and films.
Eller said: "The higher performance of [thermoplastic polyurethane] is now available on the market. In addition, with the expansion of the [styrene block copolymer] chemical family, various new processing techniques make the combination of soft/hard surfaces and foam / Solid structure is possible."
Looking ahead, Eller said that Asia's emerging TPE composite manufacturing companies may have an advantage over Western competitors, even though Western companies have gained a foothold in automotive applications. At the moment, cars still account for 35-40% of the TPE market. He explained that despite the growing demand for TPE in the US auto industry, the rest of the world has greater growth potential.
Eller said: "Western companies should specialize in special TPE when opening the Asian market, not what products are sold. The global TPE life cycle curve is changing its shape. This apparently higher curve is more diversified and competing. The number of producers will be more."