For BMS, Russia is continuously making good progress; the company inaugurated a new systems house near Moscow in 2012, Wolff said. For Europe as a whole, BMS expects the market to grow only slightly in 2013, supported by the increasing usage of polyurethanes in insulation. The company is preparing for future demand however, with increases in isocyanate capacity. The chemical giant received approval from the city of Cologne for its 300 kilotonnes-per-annum TDI (toluene diisocyanate) plant in Dormagen, Germany in January, and it plans to increase MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) capacity at its Brunsbüttel, Germany site from 200 kpta to 420 kpta. Wolff also noted further capacity increases through debottlenecking of MDI plants in Baytown, Texas and Shanghai.
Tooling and equipment company Frimo Group GmbH expects stability in Europe in 2013. It celebrated its 50th year in 2012 by expanding its product range, and developing a flexible plant concept for making seat cushions for passenger cars, according to Armin Daniel, technical director for PU equipment and machinery. Several of these PURe floor systems are under construction and will come into operation in 2013.
Lotte, Germany-based Frimo claims to be the market leader in tooling for semi-rigid PU, and has been making strides in mixing and metering equipment in recent years. The majority of its business, about 90 percent, is in automotive. “[In 2013], we see Europe on a constant level for automotive products such as instrument panels and interior trims,” Daniel told UTI in a 4 Feb written statement. Daniel added that Frimo sees growth potential in areas such as seat-cushion production and carpet backfoaming, “as well as with the implementation of equipment using innovative process technology along with PUReLiner (release-agent-free foaming) or silicone skin (Dummyhaut).”
Looking to Asia, Daniel said Frimo expects fast growth in the Asian market, “where we have already localised our standard PU tooling and machinery equipment in our Shanghai-based production facility.”
However, in 2012 chemical companies noticed a slowing of growth in China. Dow Chemical Co. ceo Andrew Liveris noted in a 31 Jan news release that in the second half of the year, the company saw “significant deterioration in the markets we serve, particularly in China.”
Wolff noted that for BMS “growth of demand was lower than predicted,” in China but that business developed fairly well in south-east Asia as a whole.
For automotive acoustics company Autoneum, sales in China were impacted in the last quarter of 2012 by the decline in sales to Japan, which it said was “a consequence of political tensions between China and Japan.” The company did not give 2013 outlook in its 1 Feb interim annual report.
However, for BMS Wolff noted that he expects China to “regain strength, in particular for insulation applications,” in 2013 and BMS has prepared for this momentum by setting up a new systems house with a focus on insulation in North China.
He added that India continues its “almost unrestricted growth,” while Webster agreed that markets such as India and the Middle East were becoming a “bigger and bigger part of the overall picture.”
For Dow’s Performance Materials business, which includes polyurethanes, it reported price and volume declines in Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America in Q4 2012. However double-digit volume gains in polyurethanes drove sales growth in North America.
The company also noted in its annual report that there was a decline in propylene oxide / propylene glycol sales, driven primarily by lower prices in all regions.
Liveris said the company “enters 2013 squarely focused on driving earnings growth,” and that its investments in Sadara and the US Gulf Coast will help achieve this.
Growth in Americas
In the Americas, Wolff said the US did well for Bayer last year, while in Brazil, the market is expected to remain on a high level of growth, “which will be supported by the forthcoming sports events in 2014 and 2016” – the World Cup and the Olympics respectively. In response to a question on whether Brazil would become the new powerhouse of the global economy, he noted this would be too optimistic.
Daniel added that for Frimo, South America offers “high market potential” for 2013. He also noted that Frimo expects the US to grow further in the coming year. The company’s US subsidiary, Frimo Inc., told UTI last year that it sees strong potential in the non-automotive market, with plenty of room for growth in the equipment market – metering machines and spray heads for example.
Lee Salamone, director of the US Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, spoke positively about the future of the US market, telling UTI in a 6 Feb email that the building and construction market is expected to be an area of growth for polyurethanes in 2013.
“Recent reports show a positive outlook for the housing market in the US and energy building code updates may increase demand for energy-efficient insulation materials like polyurethanes,” she said. CPI steering committee chair Gerry Podesta added, “The industry also has an opportunity to provide innovative solutions and help meet energy-efficient goals that remain a priority in many sectors and uses.”
CPI, part of the American Chemistry Council, is due to release its Polyurethanes End-Use market survey at its September 2013 technical conference in Phoenix, Arizona. This biannual survey offers “a more complete look at the industry’s recent past and provides valuable insight into what is driving changes in polyurethanes markets.”