PE Films: a 1% rise in Europe

The PE film industry consumed over 7.4 million tonnes of polymer in 2016. Polyethylene film accounts for 80% of film products manufactured in Europe. The polyethylene film industry in Europe has continued to grow at a steady rate over recent years. Despite trends to use more linear and metallocene materials enabling film producers to make thinner films, the volume demand has continued to rise to reach over 7.4 million tonnes of polyethylene materials consumed for film extrusion in 2016, a 1% rise on the previous year.
Germany, the leading country for polyethylene film extrusion in Europe. has seen its film extrusion industry pretty much maintain its status throughout the financial crisis and the subsequent Eurozone crisis with demand in 2016 finally surpassing pre-crisis levels. In contrast Italy, which previously had been the largest market for the production of PE film, film extruders have struggled to regain volumes since the financial crisis with the market still 24% smaller than it was in 2007.
Linear grades of polyethylene, including metallocenes are now believed to account for the majority of feedstocks used by film extruders.  AMI estimates the split of demand amongst film extruders as 44% for LL grades, 43% conventional LDPE and 13% HDPE/MDPE.
AMI’s directory of Polyethylene Film Extruders in Europe provides detailed information on over 1,200 polyethylene film extrusion sites in Europe. For more information, contact Cathy Turbitt, from AMI.

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Market Growth for BOPP films

imageA modest improvement in margins, along with continuing steady growth helped to lift investment confidence in the BOPP film industry last year – but not in China. After years when 60-70% of new capacity was being installed in China, the focus is now shifting to new markets and those with the highest growth potential. Over the next two years new manufacturing will be established in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas along with new lines for many of the industry’s more established players. This though will also drive the need for rationalisation of old capacity. The situation looks particularly risky for Europe’s less profitable players where the addition of new players in Poland and Russia is likely to drive the need for upwards of 100,000 tonnes of capacity to go if Europe is to return to the 80% utilisation rate achieved in 2010. This is the equivalent of 4 or 5 lines or potentially one or two producers.

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Plastics Processing in Africa

AMI (Applied Market Information Ltd.) has published its first database of plastics processors in Africa, containing contact and product information on 776 processing sites. The African plastics market accounts for around 8 million tonnes of polymer and demand is expected to grow at around 8% per annum until 2018 making it a region of interest.  This database covers 10 plastic converting processes – including mainstream moulding, extrusion and compounding processes – over 19 countries.
 
The largest share of the end-use market is accounted for by processors serving the food packaging industry at 50% while production of plastic pipes is another important sector accounting for almost 20% of demand due to the infrastructure needs of this developing continent. As expected, 97% of plastics processed in Africa are commodity polymers with PE being processed at 82% of the sites listed.  PP is the second most used resin (44%), followed by PVC which is processed at 23% of the sites listed.
 
More than half of the sites listed in this database carry out injection moulding with household products the most common product group. 35% of injection moulding sites listed manufacture household items. These companies differ in size, scale and the products they make but one common point is that the vast majority are trade moulders. Almost 80% of both injection moulders and blow moulders are custom moulders with relatively little proprietary or in-house moulding being carried out as yet.
 
The vast majority of processors are either privately owned or part of African-owned groups.  Nampak of South Africa, Sona Group of Nigeria, Flame Tree Group of Kenya and Group ENPC of Algeria are among the major groups operating multiple processing sites. International groups have invested in Africa and largely consist of European automotive or packaging groups in North Africa, a region offering low overheads, a readily-available workforce and an advantageous geographical position for exporting to Europe. The AMI database also includes the details of the African production sites of leading international manufacturing groups such as Nexans Group of France, El Sewedy Group of Egypt, Bericap of Germany, CFAO Group of France, Clariant International AG of Switzerland and EXCO Automotive of USA. 
 
image_thumbThe database covers 19 countries with South Africa housing the largest number of plastic manufacturing companies in the continent. It accounts for nearly a quarter of the sites listed and possesses a more technically advanced manufacturing sector as well as stronger logistical services. Egypt has the second highest concentration of  plastics manufacturing whilst Morocco and Algeria in North Africa also have well developed plastics processing industries.  Kenya in East Africa has an established plastics sector and Ethiopia continues to develop as a significant base for major regional processing activities. In West Africa, the region is dominated by Nigeria.

AMI Conference on Polyolefin Additives

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Polyolefins lead the global commodity plastics markets in volume, applications and diversity of functions. Noru Tsalic of AMI Consulting will outline the market trends at the next AMI international conference on Polyolefin Additives and compounding 2015, which will take place from 20-22 October 2015 at the Maritim Hotel in Cologne, Germany. 

Polyethylene pipes are gaining sector share in construction, agricultural films are transforming the production potential in arid regions, polypropylene packaging is preserving foodstuffs and minimising waste and in automotive manufacturing the use of polyolefins as metal replacements is reducing weight.  The different properties of polyethylene and polypropylene materials are obtained by careful selection of resin, additives, reinforcement and processing methods.  A. Schulman is reviewing how to compound polypropylene to tailor properties and Lummus Novolen Technology has studied how to obtain advanced features in PP.  There are now many larger scale uses of PP compounds, particularly in automotive and Leistritz Extrusionstechnik has new equipment for upscaling the compounding process, while Automatik Plastics Machinery has top of the range pelletising technology. 

Polykemi in Sweden has developed a talc-reinforced PP for light-weighting in the automotive industry.  For interior applications Sinopec has studied additive formulations to minimise VOC emissions in PP and for exterior uses Croda has focused on additives to provide scratch resistance.  Kaerntner Montanindustrie provides functional minerals which can also be used to improve scratch resistance, alongside warpage reduction and reinforcement.  There are several new mineral developments this year including a new pyrophillite from Trinity Resources based in Canada.

AMI’s Polyolefin Additives 2015 conference brings together industry experts to debate the optimal compounds and resins for a wide range of applications from cables to packaging films. Kabelwerk Eupen will be describing the latest developments in flame retardants and Cytec will be looking at stabilisers, which are critical in construction products.  Borealis Polyolefine will be examining how to manage the optical properties of transparent films by careful compounding.  Polymeric additives like ionomers can improve compounds, such as the products from Cray Valley and Arkema. There is a particular focus this year on stabilisation, which ensures durability and extended performance: BASF has reviewed stabilisers for specific uses, Dover Chemical Corporation has new advanced alkylphenol-free polymeric phosphite stabilisers and Addivant has new solutions for LLDPE materials.  From Asia, Songwon has high performance stabilisers, while Everspring Middle East will give another perspective at this international event.

Sustainability is key to the future of the plastics industry and this year there is a paper on the compounding and performance of recyclate from Quality Circular Polymers (QCP), which is a new polyolefin recycling start up company in the Netherlands.  European legislation requires that increasing amounts of materials are recovered from end of life products including packaging, electrical goods and vehicles, so this is a hot topic.

For more information about the Polyolefin Additives 2015 conference, click HERE.

Polymer Foam conference

imageThe next AMI Polymer Foam 2015 international conference features top foam producers and experts from around the world and takes place from 2-4 November in Cologne, Germany. The use of foam technology is growing rapidly across all fields of plastics processing and Professor Volker Altstaedt will review the state of the art in thermoplastic foam production to kick off the conference.  The major applications of foam include construction from wall panels to pipes and flooring; furnishing; automotive components; marine and wind blade composite structures (where the foam is provided by expert companies such as 3A Composites/Airex); and protective packaging.

Polymer foams provide beneficial properties such as heat and sound insulation: Armacell and Techno Nicol are leaders in the field of construction foams, while BASF Polyurethanes has a new high performance insulation board material.   There are other advantages of foams such as cushioning and impact resistance, weight reduction and cost reduction due to reduced material usage.  Foams can be manufactured on many different types of equipment from extruders to injection moulding machines and steam chest moulding, and techniques vary from structural foam moulding to bead processing and sheet extrusion.

In the automotive foam arena Valeo Thermal Systems has used foaming for cycle time reduction and lightweighting. Meanwhile Faurecia Interior Systems has worked on optimizing the morphology of a stiff hybrid injected foam insulator.  There has been an ongoing research project between automotive companies and Mecaplast, which has focused on foaming visible parts.

There are innovations in materials for foams, which yield better properties for improved cellular structure. In terms of polyolefins, SINOPEC in China has produced a copolymer for use in expanded PE beads and Total in Belgium has new high melt strength LDPE for performance foams.  Foam recycling is becoming established too with companies like Schmitz Holding taking on postindustrial XPE scrap.

There is a lot of interest in making packaging from bio-based and biodegradable materials.  Inde Plastik Betriebs has produced foam trays from modified cellulose acetate and Macro Engineering has carried out studies to optimise the equipment required for tandem extrusion of heat resistant PLA foam for hot-fill packaging.

In addition, there are developments in chemical blowing agents and nucleating agents, with some ideas for the replacement of azodicarbonamide including some endothermic chemical agents from Reedy Chemical Foam & Specialty Additives. At AMI’s Polymer Foam 2015 Clariant Masterbatch will review the current status of chemical blowing agents and nucleating agents in the polymer industry and Imerys will highlight a new nucleating agent.

On the polystyrene foam front, Dow has developed a low density microcellular PS foam.   PS beads are commonly made with a pentane blowing agent and now there are alternatives, with a better environmental footprint.  For example, SABIC has obtained good results in foaming PS using water. 

Control of foam structure determines the properties and quality of the resulting products. Professor Perez at the Cellular Materials Laboratory has studied how to improve performance by creating nanoscale cellular structures. The twin-screw extruder supplier Coperion has developed technology for both physical and chemical foam methods of manufacturing and Promix Solutions focuses on the overall control of the foam process.

Fr more information on the AMI Polymer Foam 2015 international conference, click HERE.

Growth in the PE film industry

The demand for PE film has continued to make a slow, steady recovery since 2010. The recession of 2008-2009 saw polyethylene film production drop by 10% and output is still some half a million tonnes below the peak level of 2007. Recovery and growth are no longer based solely on tonnage. With downgauge processes and linear an metallocene grades, it is possible to make and to use thinner films for the same applications.
According to AMI (Bristol, UK), in its recent  tenth edition of the Directory of Polyethylene Film Extruders in Europe, in 2013, for the first time ever, the consumption of linear and metallocene grades by film extruders exceeded the usage of conventional LDPE grades. This trend is here to stay, with AMI forecasting that the use of metallocenes materials in film extrusion will grow at a rate of 3 or 4 percentage points above that for the industry as a whole as more and more extruders develop products using them.

Film extruders have been steadily increasing their use of linear and metallocene resins to adapt to consumer demands, which helps to explain the good growth rates in stretch and shrink film production.   Shrink and stretch films, used to protect goods in transit, each accounted for 1 million tonnes of polyethylene film production in 2013. AMI’s directory shows the importance of this sector with 52% of plants involved in the production of stretch film or shrink film for collation or pallet wrapping.  This trend is reflected across Europe with Germany taking the lead, where 61% of film extrusion sites are producing shrink and stretch films.  The leading producer of stretch film, the Italian group Manuli Stretch, operates one of the largest plants for stretch film in Europe in Schkopau, Germany.  image

Consolidation and restructuring continues to be a major feature of the film extrusion market. The Coveris Group brings together the PE film operations of Britton Group, Veriplast, Unterland and Kobusch. Nortdenia is now part of the Mondi Group and RKW’s took over Hyplast.

Trends in agricultural films market

The European market for agricultural film has been experiencing steady growth over the past decade exceeding half a million tonnes in 2013, according to the report Agricultural Film Market in Europe 2014 [click for more information], recently published by AMI Consulting. Spain and Italy are the largest markets overall, accounting for almost 40% of demand primarily driven by their intensive horticultural activity where large quantities of greenhouse and mulch films are used. In contrast, Northern Europe with vast areas of grass land is a major producer of animal fodder and has significant consumption of silage films both silage sheet and stretch wrap.image

Silage film which is forecast to grow by just over 1% a year over the next five year period is going to be driven primarily by booming biomass production, demand for increasing quality of fodder and reduction of spoilage, increased number of dairy cows, increasing nutritional intake per cow, silage being increasingly fed to horses and haylage being also increasingly baled and wrapped.
Consumption of conventional mulch film in tonnage terms is forecast to decline slightly over the next five years as a result of the relative maturity of the market, shrinking of the area for crop cultivation and the need for the reduction of post-use plastic waste (by downgauging or by using biodegradable films instead).
Market trends for greenhouse film demand are very similar to mulch films as both types of films are increasingly used in combination. The European market is a mature one and with one season films being gradually replaced by films lasting up to 5 years, in tonnage terms the market has seen a decline and the process is expected to continue for the next five years.
The market is increasingly driven by value rather than volume. In order to increase market share in an oversupplied market, film companies will strive to develop innovative customised high performance thinner multilayer films and as well as look at opportunities for further consolidation. Some of the most recent major takeovers include RKW acquiring Hyplast and Biofol Film, ITW Mima’s industrial films business being acquired by the US-based Carlyle Group, Morera & Vallejo acquiring the bankrupt TPM group in Spain and Unterland being acquired by the Britton Group now rebranded as Coveris.  

The relevance of agricultural film

In order to feed a global population which is expected to top 9 billion people by 2050, food waste needs to be eliminated, distribution of food improved and food production increased. At the same time agriculture faces challenges due to changing economic and environmental trends including climate change, biofuel expansion, slowing agricultural yields, rising meat demand and ever increasing calorie intake from a growing global middle class. It is estimated that by 2050 about 70% of the global population will be urban, compared to 50% today.
Although the population increase in Europe is going to be only marginal, European agriculture will continue to play its part in global food production, while simultaneously fighting for its existence in the face of competing pressures for land use. The agricultural sector is forced to produce more food of increasing quality on less land within a shorter space of time using less resources, while generating minimum waste.  Extending the growing season and increasing yields per hectare of land have been and will remain the main drivers for the use of agricultural films.  In addition, plastic films protect the crops, which has direct implications on the crop’s quality.  Films can also improve a farm’s efficiency by reducing the amount of chemicals, water and energy used.

In addition to its consultancy work in agricultural films, AMI also organises the annual global conference for the agricultural film industry. The next Agricultural Film Conference will be held in Barcelona, Spain on 15-17 September 2014. For more information on this conference, contact Jenny Skinner (click to email).