Global PU Industry

Polyurethanes (PU) are some of the most versatile polymers in existence today and are available in various forms, ranging from flexible or rigid foams to tough elastomers. This leads to their usage in a wide variety of consumer and industrial applications such as thermal insulation of buildings, refrigerators, household furniture, automotive seating, shoe soles, etc. PU can be broadly classified Foaming and Non-foaming applications. Rigid PU foams are used primarily as an insulation material in construction and refrigeration applications, whereas Flexible PU foams are used mainly as a cushioning material in transportation, furniture, bedding, carpet underlay, and packaging. Thermosetting elastomers and thermoplastic elastomers are main types of PU elastomers, of which thermosetting hold the larger market share.

The Global Market

   2010    2016
   PU Market    13,650 kilo MT    17,946 kilo MT
   Revenue    US$33,033 million    US$55479.68 million

Region Wise -

Over 92% of the global polyurethane demand comes from North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe. North America and Western Europe are mature markets and are expected to grow passively whereas Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and South America will be the regions to watch for PU boom in the coming decade. The clear front runner is the Asia-Pacific region with the healthy Chinese and Indian markets. Middle East has been witnessing robust growth over the past few years. Continued input in terms of investments in polyurethane production and support by way of encouraging regulations has largely contributed to market growth in the region.

Industry Wise

The furniture and interior industry dominates the polyurethane market closely followed by construction industry in the overall market scenario. Electronic appliances and automotives, however, are the fastest growing market for polyurethanes. Footwear, coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers are also other areas that have a wide spread use of PU raw materials.

Furniture/Bedding represents the largest end-use market for PU foams. An ageing health conscious population is driving significant changes in the bedding industry. Mattresses are categorized as innerspring, foam, water, and air-filled, among which foam mattresses are likely to witness a booming growth. PU foam plays a significant role in the construction of mattresses due to its effectiveness in relieving pressure points.

Polyurethanes are used in automotive interiors and exteriors extensively. In addition to the foam that makes car seats comfortable, bumpers, interior "headline" ceiling sections, the car body, spoilers, doors and windows all use polyurethanes. Polyurethane also enables manufacturers to provide drivers and passengers significantly more automobile "mileage" by reducing weight and increasing fuel economy, comfort, corrosion resistance, insulation and sound absorption.

Usage of PU in footwear provides high abrasion-resistance which are perfect for hardwearing shoe soles, with excellent long-term mechanical properties. Within the shoe sector, polyurethanes are found in a wide range of footwear types from sports and trekking boots to business and fashion shoe soles, without limiting design potential. In major appliances, rigid foams are used for refrigerator and freezer thermal insulation systems. Rigid polyurethane foam is an essential and cost-effective material that can be used for meeting required energy ratings in consumer refrigerators and freezers.

Polyurethane coatings can enhance a product's appearance and lengthen its lifespan. Polyurethane adhesives can provide strong bonding advantages, while polyurethane sealants provide tighter seals. Polyurethane elastomers can be molded into almost any shape, are lighter than metal, offer superior stress recovery and can be resistant to many environmental factors.

Industry Challenges

The volatility in crude oil prices, causing fluctuating prices of MDI and TDI, has been a key factor hampering market growth. The global economic collapse reflected directly on the end-user markets of construction and automotive industries plunging the demand for polyurethane foams across the globe. This predicament shook the large manufacturers into minimizing capacity to reduce the blow and small manufacturers to shut down production units permanently.

Subdued consumer spending, slowdown in new housing starts, decline in automotive production, and increase in the volume of PU substitutes contributed to a significant decline in PU production. The much needed reprieve in the face of such adversities comes in the form of increasing concerns about energy conservation with the market expected to register growth. On the other hand, growth of end-use industries such as construction and electronics is expected to drive polyurethane demand in the next five years. The shift towards low-cost and long-lasting materials and rising significance of energy efficiency in appliances and buildings is expected to feed, grow and strengthen the PU market.

Key product innovations were introduced in order to tackle the declining demand for flexible polyurethane foam in the automotive, furniture and bedding industries:

Furniture/Bedding: The main impetus behind this decline is the decrease in furniture production due to lack of consumer demand and availability of other substitute materials. Factors such as the reduced cost of lower density foams, thinner mattresses, and customers requiring faster delivery times for mattresses than other furniture delivery (2 -5 days), have helped protect the industry from imports.

Transportation: As the automotive sector resounds with the calls for more economic and innovative vehicles, the PU foam supplied becomes more and more sophisticated. Polyurethane foam used in automotive seating has trended toward becoming thinner, while density is increasing, offering more cabin space above the seat and allowing the required amortization of vibration. The decline in molded seat foam is related to the general downtown in automotive production.

Global Players

Global polyurethane market is largely dominated by a handful of large companies in terms of production capacity. Competitive factors determining the player market presence include price, quality, and assortment of products and services.

The Ever-changing Industry

The industry continues to change with some mature markets and new ones opening up. Spray polyurethane foam continues to see an increase in demand in the residential and industrial applications. Renewable chemicals and energy efficiency are the topics of interest. Polyurethane also is being used for effective wound dressings, pharmaceutical delivery media, reliable drug delivery, comfortable mobility aids and hygienic hospital environments. Improving quality of life is redefining market evolution as well, such as new comfort levels in golf cart seating for the growing number of elderly.

Though purchasing new property and housing has slowed down considerably, expenditures on remodeling and repairs have increased. This development is largely responsible for the growing demand for spray polyurethane foam as internal wall insulation and the slower than expected decline in CASE products like elastomers used in thermal breaks in insulated windows, solar panels, wooden floor and turbine blade coatings, adhesives and sealants, and the steady demand for one component spray foams.

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