Foam is taking market share from rubberised coir and cotton in mattresses Report by Liz White, editor
Flexible polyurethane foam was the first PU sector to take off in India and is still expanding fast. Slabstock production in 2011 will be about 100 kilotonnes (IPUA), with high growth.
Flexible foam has seen growth of 10-15 percent for the last five years, said Springfeel director Sameer Malhotra.
At new foamer Prime Comfort Products (P) Ltd, Krish Patel put growth in the sector at 15- 20 percent a year. Patel also said that, "Compared to China, volumes are low, but growth is high." As a result, India has a lot of scope for PU growth, Patel commented.
At mattress maker Shree Malani, the foam division is growing at in excess of 25 percent a year, said the group's Uttam Malani.
And growth for six-year-old Somany Foam is running at 20 percent a year, said RSP Gupta, Somany's senior vice president.
As a supplier of TDI to India's flexible foam sector, Dow has some insight into trends. Looking at comfort foam, "Overall I would say there is 14-15 percent growth in the mattress sector," said Dr Mahesh Gopalasamudram, director of Dow Formulated Systems in India.
And as PU foam mattresses have "a relatively small market share up till now, say 10 percent, this could definitely grow," said Malhotra.
This small share in India's mattress sector means the opportunity for flexible foam to grow is still "very significant," said Steven English, global vice president of Dow Polyurethanes.
Foam is taking share from coir and cotton, as cotton prices are very high, English commented, noting that "PU is there, while cotton shoddy is not available."
Coir and cotton mattresses have the largest use currently: "A lot of people still sleep on coir, and spring mattresses are also growing," said Malhotra. Spring construction requires some foam to cover the springs, so this also stimulates PU use.
The rising popularity of spring mattresses was also noted by Uttam Malani, of mattress and foam maker Shree Malani. He also pointed out that it is not only cotton where prices are high: rubberised coir is also becoming expensive as rubber prices soar. His company also makes coir mattresses, which Malani said are still very popular in India.
"The main thing right now is getting PU foam mattresses better known," said Patel, of ;e Comfort It's a good time to do this, and advantage of the surge 1n prices for coir and cotton, Patel emphasised.
Foamers UTI spoke to identified a trend towards greater demand for high quality foam. For example, Ufoam Pte Ltd has a strong emphasis on high-quality foam, without use of fillers, said Sarangapani, joint managing director. In this context. he said, India is changing, and becoming more quality conscious.
Consumers are increasingly willing and able to pay for good quality products, he said.
Viscoelastic foam mattresses are a typical product that such spare cash is increasingly being used for, said Sarangapani.
High quality equals good sales
Most of the flexible foam companies UTI spoke to agreed with this view. Shree Malani's good sales are "a lot to do with the quality of the foam made," Malani said. There was a time, he said, "when a lot of low-quality foam was on the market, but now it is better."
Malani said there is a trend by the big manufacture rs to make own-brand, premium products - and also offer lower quality types.
As Prime Comfort marketing executive Prince Kumar Singh pointed out, "Flexible foam is a price-sensitive market Customers want high quality but low price - and everyone always wants a discount.
Malani made another point: "Most of the market is still highly disorganised." It has big suppliers BASF, Bayer, Dow, with very complex sophisticated technology, but he feels the industry has not caught up.
"There are a lot of practices in foam which are probably not good for the industry - filled foam, density and thickness variations," he said. This only happen when the business is disorganised," Malani noted. "Once the industry gets more aware and organised, these will not happen," he said.
One issue is the percept ion in India that PU foam generates heat, said Malhotra. "So the PU sector has a lot of work to do to break this myth," he said.
Springfeel is in Chennai in the south of India, where competition is not so strong. In the north, which is much more highly populated, competition is higher, both from other materials and other PU suppliers, said Malhotra.
Of course, he noted, the south is also a smaller market. But overall the foam and mattress market is growing, Malhotra said.
He feels per capita consumption of foam in the north would be slightly higher. "I think manufacturing industry in the north is more highly developed," he added.
Ufoam may add a line
Growth is good for pioneer flexible foamer Ufoam Pie Ltd of Hyderabad, said Badrinath Sarangapani, joint managing director.
Ufoam has four plants are around Hyderabad and one in Uttar Pradesh. close to Delhi. The company makes flexible foam and some rigid foam for domestic and industrial uses. The company also converts foam into mattresses and supplies furniture foam.
Ufoam's sales this year will be Rupees 60 crore ($13.5 million), and it has the potential to double that figure rapidly, said Sarangapani.
Ufoam has potential to grow still, with a lot of avenues for expansion, and Sarangapani said he sees 2011/2012 as a good period for the firm.
The company has two foaming lines in Hyderabad: one is a Hennecke line, running since 1959, and the other is a locally made flat-top one, where UFoam is not totally satisfied with output and quality, Sarangapani said.
Ufoam is assessing new equipment, in order to add another foam line. One change it needs to make is to be "more aggressive in marketing its products," said Sarangapani.
Wide scope at Springfeel
Twelve-year-old Springfeel is one of the bigger foam makers in South India and one of the top four or five in India, said director Sameer Malhotra.
The company is based in Chennai, in the south of India, and makes polyether based slabstock foam using a Maxfoam 600 from Cannon Viking, and cutting machines from Fecken Kirfel, said Malhotra.
Springfeel can make foam in densities from 9 kg/m3 up to 120 kg/m3 for rebonded foam.
"We cater to the furnishing, clothing, mattress and packaging sectors, and acoustics are also very important," said Malhotra.
The company also produces some specialised laminated foam for automotive headliners and car seats. It also makes viscoelastic foam and antistatic types for special uses in the electronics sector - in components for laptops, and electronic measuring devices, Malhotra said.
Springfeel also makes a lot of foam for sound-proofing of generators, "a large outlet for the company in India," he commented.
It is an approved supplier for the major Swedish furniture group IKEA, supplying both regular and FR foams to meet US and UK fire standards Malhotra said. '
IKEA has no stores in India, only warehouses, and assembles furniture/beds via third parties.
These are then exported as IKEA products to the US and Europe.
"There was talk of IKEA opening a store in Bangalore, but so far it has come to nothing," Malhotra said. As a low-cost store, IKEA could definitely have an impact in India, he said.
Malhotra said, "We are right now not thinking of a new plant, but do aim to add processing capacity," in terms of more cutting machines.
Springfeel may also move into more value-added products, which could involve branded mattresses, he said. It may also focus more on viscoelastic and high resilience foam, as well as push sales into the automotive sector.
New on the (foam) block
Greater Noida-based Prime Comfort is one of the newest flexible foam makers in India. The unit was set up in November 2010 by Praduman Patel. a former executive with Sheela Foam Pvt Ltd/Sleepwell, said his son Krish Patel.
While the firm is new, Patel said his father is very well known: "his knowledge is exceptional." Patel senior,"set up a new firm, and plans to do in five years what Sheela did in 25," his son said.
Prime Foam currently sells 300 tonnes a month, but market growth is good, and production may reach 600 tonnes a month soon, Patel said.
Setting up the operation has cost about Rupees 40-50 crore ($10-15 million).
The company makes a range of foam: including shoe-lamination foam for customers such as Nike or Adidas, and also has scope for flame lamination foam for the automotive sector. It can produce noise-reduction foam for acoustic parts and makes flame-retardant polyester foam. The group also makes laminated foam for clothing -leather jackets and motorcycle helmets
Prime Comfort has a top-of-the-range Hennecke slabstock plant, with a 32-m Baumer looper, Patel said. Currently PrimeComfort only foams for one to two hours a day, and has very strict procedures for fire and safety.
The company employs 60 to 80 people, making foam sheeting, and cutting to shape for cushions and mattresses - but it does not make mattresses.
Patel said the company may add another foam unit after a year, and possibly add another after two or three years more. That's the aim: "Three in three years." he- added.
Since the first line is in the North, "we may add one m the south and then decide where the third one should go, depending on demand," he added.
Prime Comfort is selling only in India now but will look to export some products, mostly the ' specialty materials, Patel said. Bedding foam is a commodity and a lot of people can make it, Patel observed. "Polyester foam is more difficult."
Mattress maker starts foaming
Mattress maker Sree Malani set up its own foam-making operation about ten years ago, using a Hennecked batch plant, to supply its mattress making.
The company then “realised there was a big demand for foam,” said the group’s Uttam Malani.
“We started getting more serious about foaming… and now have a plant for foam only, near the mattress operation,” in Hyderabad, he added.
For three years, Shree Malani has been making fire-resistant and laminated foams, supplying furniture and automotive customers. Turnover in foam has reached Rupee 50 crore ($11.3m), with the mattress division’s turn over at nearly Rupee 100 crore.
The company has one Hennecke foaming line at its 100 000 ft2 (9290m2) site, and has added a long-block handling system, a long slitter and all kinds of cutters in tow expansions, Malani said. Sree Malani also has two mattress plants in Hyderabad. The mattress group bought all its foam equipment from Europe, with a couple of less critical machines from Taiwan, he added.
Shree Malani also makes coir mattresses, and is commissioning a spring unit, which will be up and running by April, Malani said.
The company targets making 3 kt foam this year (ending March) and 4kt the following fiscal year, he said.
Shree Manali’s five-year plan allows it to add more cooling racks and sheds. It is also looking at a different model where it manufactures closer to markets, Malani added.
Looking at its foam operation, Malani said the unit is large, but volume is still medium-sized and plans to grow. “Ours was only the second Hennecke unit in India after Sheela in Nioda,” he said, noting that Shree Malani decision was seen “with some suspicion by the industry – but I think we have justified it now.”
Rapid growth for Somany
Flexible foamer Somany Foam, based in Haridwar, 150 km North of Dehli, is only six years old, but is experiencing 20 percent growth a year and has achieved turnover of Rupee 40 crore ($9m) said RSP Gupta, Somany’s senior vice president.
Sales are growing at rather a high rate in value than in volume, since the Indian market is growing so well, Gupta said.
Somany has a single foaming line making foam of 10-60kg/m3 density. It also makes rebounded foam of 140kg/m3, which Gupta said is in high demand.
Somany is also a converter, turning its foam into mattresses and pillows as well as supplying foam to furniture makers. It also offers laminated foam and supplies its products all over India.