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TPE production and use in the 1990s.

TPE production and use in the 1990s

Consolidation, acquisition and rationalization are three terms that will describe much of the activity among the various thermoplastic elastomer suppliers and the markets they serve throughout the 1990s.

The end of the 1980s gave a hint of the trend, as producers added product lines, sold product lines and pulled product lines from the marketplace.

Despite the realignment of the TPE suppliers, the materials will capture about a fifth of the 500-million-pound mechanical rubber goods market by the mid-1990s (ref. 1). The growth of TPE usage has been enormous and is expected to continue at a 10- to 12-percent annual growth. One recent study (ref. 2) predicts that consumption of thermoplastic elastomers in North America will be 463 million pounds in 1992 - an extremely conservative estimate at best.

Global consumption of TPEs, which combine the processing advantages of thermoplastics with the properties of thermoset elastomers, could hit 2.17 billion pounds a year by 1995. U.S.-based processors are expected to use a third of that total (ref. 3).

Growth in Europe also is expected, especially after the formation of the European Single Market in 1993 creates a consumer group 320 million strong. Monsanto Chemical already has taken steps to serve all of Europe by developing Dytron, a TPE targeted at the stringent specifications for wire and cable. Although introduced to processors there in late 1989, the material is not expected to find use in the U.S. until later this year.

Current TPE consumption in Western Europe is about 495 million pounds annually - about triple the level used in Japan. Japan, however, is expected to use about 672 million pounds of the polymers by 1995 (ref. 4).

Most of the global growth will come in three basic types of TPEs: elastomeric alloys such as Santoprene and Geolast; melt-processible rubbers such as Alcryn; and copolyester types similar to Hytrel and Lomod.

Nitrile rubber/polyvinyl chloride blends also will play a bigger role in the plastics and rubber industries during the 1990s. Already favored in Japan for many automotive applications, the blends are gaining momentum in the U.S. Goodyear, which several years ago introduced Chemigum P-83 powdered NBR for blending with PVC, recently began marketing P-90, which will add more versatility to NBR/PVC TPEs.

Another group of TPEs has formed in the past six months. Materials are based on non-traditional PVC resins and contain no nitrile rubber. Sunprene Inc., a joint venture between A. Schulman and Mitsubishi Kasei Vinyl, began producing Sunprene in the U.S. in December 1989. BFGoodrich unveiled late in 1989 its Flexel product line for wire and cable markets.

Other factors affecting the growth of thermoplastic elastomers include (ref. 5):

* Bulk delivery of pellets, which permits processors to meet possible future requirements of zero waste packaging in which no packaging material can be disposed of;

* Reduced energy requirements for making parts from TPEs because much more energy is needed to compression mold or transfer mold vulcanized rubber parts;

* Guaranteed consistency of pellets anywhere in the world; and

* Currently available database systems, such as Plaspec, that enable processors to locate the proper material - no such database exists in the rubber industry.

Realignment of the thermoplastic elastomer industry

The thermoplastic elastomer industry has undergone a shakeout that although moderate, was inevitable in the rapidly expanding industry.

Monsanto Chemical in 1989 continued to position itself firmly as the market leader while trying to expand the business to the size of an operating division within Monsanto. Its first move was the acquisition of the TPR line of olefinic TPEs from BP Performance Polymers, with the latter firm retaining a few grades specifically for wire and cable applications.

Monsanto then agreed in November 1989 to buy Bayer AG's Levaflex olefinic TPE business, planning to manufacture it at existing Monsanto plants worldwide because of the polymer's similarity to Santoprene (ref. 6). This acquisition and the one from BP will enable Monsanto to increase its TPE business by an additional 10 to 20 percent, boosting total TPE sales to more than $100 million annually and representing 25 to 30 percent of Monsanto's elastomer business in Europe.

By divesting itself of the olefinic TPE business, Bayer has positioned itself to concentrate on and expand its role in thermoplastic polyurethane markets. The company currently ranks behind BFGoodrich, whose Estane TPU garners about 55 million pounds of the 240 million pound global TPU market. BASF, the West Germany-based producer of Elastollan TPU, is adding 10 million pounds of capacity to its TPU production facility in Europe, making it the second-largest producer of TPU, just ahead of Bayer, which developed TPU chemistry in the 1950s.

Other companies have pulled back partially or entirely from the TPE market. Xenox Inc., which acquired Polipren S.r.L. in 1988 and began marketing SElecthane TPU in the U.S., has divested itself of the Italy-based company and stopped marketing the TPE in 1989.

Dow Chemical, which acquired the Estamid polyamide TPE product line from Upjohn Co. in the mid-1980s, pulled the product from the market in 1988 to do additional development work. Although it still is undergoing further development, Dow has opted to drop the trade name entirely to avoid conflict with a European-based product of a similar name.

Du Pont, which developed the first copolyester TPE chemistry and introduced Hytrel in 1974, has pulled from the marketplace its Duracryn olefinic TPE. The firm concluded it could not produce enough soft grades of the material to meet the needs of the elastomer industry.

In Europe, DSM N.V. has dropped its Kelprox TPE products following a lawsuit filed by Monsanto. Kelprox infringed on patents held by Monsanto. The firm, however, is developing another thermoplastic vulcanizate-type of product that does not infringe on the patents.

The elimination of some product lines has opened the market to new materials and additional grades of existing materials.

Monsanto in late 1989 introduced Vyram and Dytron XL. Vyram is based on natural rubber, while Dytron is an engineering TPE that can be cured further by radiation after formation of wire and cable. Both products are dynamically vulcanized.

The firm also expects to market TPE-3000 in 1990, a product aimed at butyl rubber markets that require air permeability resistance. The material is aimed at drug vial stoppers, blood collection tube stoppers, storage tank bladders and sporting goods bladders (ref. 7). This TPE has 60A and 80A Shore hardnesses, tension set of 10 percent and low temperature brittleness of -56 [degrees] C.

Monsanto plans a late 1990 or early 1991 introduction of its TPE 4000 products. They will function at continuous exposures up to 175 [degrees] C and are targeted for bearing seals, orings, gaskets, hoses and other products where superior high heat performance is required in air or oil environments. Only three elastomers - silicone rubber, fluoroelastomers and polyphosphazene - have better heat aging performance (ref. 8).

General Electric is expanding its role in the TPE market and has in the development stage products based on polyetherimide/siloxane and polycarbonate/siloxane chemistries. Wire and cable uses are among the potential applications for these TPEs in the early 1990s.

Among the new additions to existing product lines in 1989 were:

* Kraton GSK, an extremely soft product added to Shell Chemical's styrenic line, is targeted for automotive window seals, weatherstripping and other areas.

* Kraton G7812X, designed for high heat resistance, will withstand operating temperatures up to 150 [degrees] C on a long-term basis and 175 [degrees] C on a short-term exposure. It is targeted for automotive under-the-hood applications.

* Dow Chemical has added several sheet and film grades to its Pellethane thermoplastic polyurethane line and also has developed grades to meet the standards of the National Sanitation Foundation for food-handling applications.

* Dow also expects to introduce in 1990 or 1991 a blend of TPU with chlorinated polyethylene elastomers for dermal applications, with additional blend technology also being developed.

* Mobay added polyether grades to its Texin thermoplastic polyurethane family. The grades have a Shore hardness range of 50D to 70D. In 1990 Mobay will add a radiation-curable Desmopan, the TPU product line produced by parent firm Bayer AG.

* Du Pont increased the number of Hytrel copolyester TPE products by adding blow molding polymers that have higher flex performance than existing grades.

Automotive markets for thermoplastic elastomers

The automotive industry provided the first major market for TPEs in the 1960s and continues to be the area of most active product development.

There has been tremendous growth in TPE usage - automotive and otherwise - in the U.S. since 1959 when thermoplastic polyurethane became the first commercial TPE to be used. Less than a decade later the TPU was chosen for use in the manufacture of the "B" nose on the 1967 Pontiac Bonneville, a move that signaled major changes were forthcoming in automotive design.

The explosive growth continued in the 1970s with the advent of injection-molded exterior body parts. TPEs and other thermoplastics rapidly gained favor over rubber because of processibility, aging characteristics and paintability by paint systems then in use.

A 1986 study (ref. 9) pegged TPE usage at 8.6 pounds per car made in Detroit in 1986. This equates to nearly 70.6 million pounds for the 8.21 million domestic cars sold in 1986. The report suggested that the 7.53 million domestic cars actually produced in 1988 would contain 11.6 pounds each of TPE - or more than 87 million pounds. This compares with 613.8 million pounds of thermoset elastomers, natural and synthetic, used in 1988 for non-tire automotive applications.

The most frequent use of TPEs is in exterior applications, although interior and under-the-hood components will grow as an overall percentage during the 1990s.

However, copolyester TPEs such as GE's Lomod have replaced reaction-injection-molded polyurethane as a fascia material on some 1989 and 1990 model cars. Hytrel copolyester has found use in an auxilliary chassis spring, a market estimated to be 200,000 pounds annually, and in a bumper mount system that replaces hydraulic systems. The latter is a 150,000 pound annual market.

Another TPE, Dow's Pellethane TPU, was blended with acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) to replace an engineering thermoplastic in another fascia application that could be fully commercialized in 1990 (ref. 10). Mobay's Texin has carved a $300,000 market from neoprene in door striker sleeves.

Elastomers continued to lose automotive market shares in 1989 because product manufacturers switched to thermoplastic elastomers. Among these changes are:

* Clean air ducts previously made with EPDM or epichlorohydrin were converted to Santoprene elastomeric alloy, and the processing method was switched to low-cost blow molding.

* An EPDM-based rear window seal for pick-up trucks was redesigned for processing Alcryn melt processible rubber.

* Santoprene was chosen as the material to replace neoprene, polyurethane and copolyester TPE in some strut cover applications.

* Exxon Chemical continues to develop automotive applications for its olefinic Trefsin, introduced in 1988, in which the TPE is compatible with materials that previously were incompatible with available TPEs. No additional information is available on these developmental products.

An earlier trend in rack-and-pinion steering gear boots and constant-velocity joint boots was the replacement of neoprene with copolyester TPEs. U.S.-based car makers were expected to use 4.5 million pounds of copolyester in these applications in 1989, while Western European car makers have shunned the use of such products. The Europeans claim the TPE-based boots are inferior at the higher speeds encountered in West Germany and elsewhere.

A 1988 change to copolyester from nylon 11 for a cylindrical rebound bumper used in McPherson struts reduced rebound damping and entry noise by 33 percent. Combined original equipment and replacement market requirements for the 1-inch diameter bumpers equals 40 million units per year.

Elastomeric alloy-based deck lid weatherstripping is another potential major end-use application in the 1990s. A 55 Shore A foamable Santoprene developed in the late 1980s was projected to garner a market of up to 40 million pounds in 1991 for automotive, appliance and other markets. The deck lid, a composite Santoprene/rigid polypropylene design, would replace EPDM foam weatherstripping and reduce the part weight per foot by more than 50%.

Architectural markets for thermoplastic elastomers

The designing of components used in building architecture is a burgeoning market for thermoplastic elastomers in Europe and the U.S.

European builders have chosen Alcryn melt processible rubber for double glazing seals despite its cost premium vs. EPDM (ref. 11). The material's environmental resistance and ability to produce a white seal to match the window frame are among the reasons used for choosing the material. The TPE also has replaced EPDM in setting blocks, and it has taken market share from silicone rubber in a spacer that is compatible with silicone.

Alcryn has continued its surge into the architecture arena with a window seal used in residential construction. The polymer replaces flexible PVC in the design, which is a co-extrusion with rigid PVC.

In the U.S., Santoprene will replace worn neoprene glazing seals at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Climatron geodesic dome in St. Louis. The material most recently has replaced silicone rubber, EPDM and small amounts of chlorosulfonated polyethylene in expansion joints for commercial buildings.

Producers of solar collector tubes, which could be considered an architectural application, also have switched to thermoplastic vulcanizates from EPDM to improve chemical resistance and improve dimensional control.

Overall, the use of thermoplastic elastomers in construction is increasing at a rate of 25 percent per year. Monsanto alone expects sales of its TPE products to construction applications to hit $30 million annually by the early 1990s (ref. 12). Among the considered products are curtain walls, residential doors, skylights and window seals.

Medical markets for thermoplastic elastomers

Thermoplastic elastomers could capture more than 18 percent of the $3.1 billion U.S. medical goods market during the early 1990s.

Although GE doesn't expect to develop medical applications for Lomod copolyester TPE until 1991, Eastman Chemicals already has targeted Ecdel copolyester TPE for such products as intravenous delivery bags.

A silicone-modified styrenic TPE, marketed as a C-Flex, is expected to find use in five major applications that have a combined value of more than $500 million. These include: urology devices (a market pegged at $212 million), cardiovascular devices ($134 million), radiological components ($90 million), I-V drug delivery systems ($50 million) and nutritional feeding ($26 million).

In addition, other "hot" markets in the 1990s for thermoplastic elastomers are orthopedics, artificial organs, neurological devices and nephrological devices, which are used in the treatment of kidney disease.

Developments in 1989 indicated that Santoprene would replace natural rubber in some hygienic applications, although commercialization wasn't expected until late 1990. The TPE can be sterilized by steam autoclave, high-energy radiation or ethylene oxide.

TPEs are gaining favor in medical applications because they are "cleaner" than thermoset rubber products - they contain fewer residual chemicals from processing. They also are biocompatible and have a general inertness to blood, tissue and other bodily fluids.

Appliance markets for thermoplastic elastomers

Although market size forecasts are rare, the appliance market continues to find new uses for thermoplastic elastomers.

Trefsin olefinic TPE recently has found a market in gaskets for food-service appliances, which are looking for materials that are stain resistant and have a resistance to aging at high temperatures. Santoprene in 1989 received listing by the National Sanitation Foundation for the use of several grades under its Standard 14 for contact with potable water. The TPE also has replaced PVC and foamed EPDM in door seals for dishwashers because of its improved chemical resistance, better sealing characteristics and improved color compatibility (ref. 13).

Santoprene, TPR and Vyram, Monsanto's natural rubber-based late-1989 addition to its dynamically vulcanized TPE product line, have replaced metals and plastics in tool handle grips and housings. The company's three TPEs provide better aesthetic quality to the products, improve shock absorbing characteristics and permit one-piece construction of the appliance.

Finally, Ferro's Ferroflex, a thermoplastic olefin, found use in 1989 in a sander block housing.

The future for thermoplastic elastomers

The future looks bright for thermoplastic elastomers. Worldwide consumption will total more than two billion pounds annually by the mid-1990s, while the products will replace thermoset rubber in 15 to 20 percent of all non-tire applications by the year 2000.

Demand in the U.S. could hit nearly 800 million pounds by the middle of the decade, while in Japan processors will consume about 490 million pounds annually by 1995 (ref. 14). U.S. processors will by 1995 account for more than a third of the total global consumption of TPEs.

The different segments of thermoplastic elastomers will grow at different rates, although the composite growth should be between six and 10 percent per year through the mid-1990s. Elastomeric alloys will lead the pack, growing in market use by 20 percent per year, while copolyester-type TPEs will grow 10 to 13 percent annually. Styrenics will increase in use an average of five percent each year, while TPOs should exhibit nine percent growth. Polyamide TPEs also should show double-digit growth through 1995.

Thermoplastic polyurethanes are forecasted to grow between five and 11 percent annually through 1995, and Mobay expects to market a radiation-curable Desmopan TPU in 1990. Desmopan is made in West Germany by Bayer AG, Mobay's parent company.

While some overcapacity in TPE supply may exist, it will be limited to TPOs, styrenics and other lower-performance-property TPEs. Monsanto, for example, doubled production capacity in England in 1989 and expects to double its capacity in Pensacola, FL this year to meet future demands for its dynamically vulcanized materials.

My prediction is that moderate price increases will continue for thermoplastic elastomers as long as the processor can realize a cost savings in production compared with rubber or other plastics, while prices for engineering thermoplastics and commodity thermoplastics will decline through 1992. [Tabular Data Omitted]
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Title Annotation:includes related article on changes in the thermoplastic elastomers industry
Author:School, Rudy
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Keeping an eye on things.
Next Article:New foamed EAs and other technologies.

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