High-performance plastics on the upswing in China
The slow but steady transition of China’s plastics industry from a commodity-based model to one driven by research and intellectual property was evident at the China International Engineering Plastics Industrial Innovation Conference.
Conference attendees ranged from multinational heavyweights like material giant DSM, to smaller players in China’s burgeoning engineering plastics scene.
Demand for engineering plastics will only increase in the future, said DSM Engineering Plastics Asia Pacific President Ivo Lansbergen.
“If you want better fuel efficiency, you better make sure the temperature in your engine compartment is higher,” Lansbergen said. “Because then you have better combustion. And if you have a higher temperature, then you need materials which can withstand those higher temperatures.”
Surface-mount technology, used widely for today’s ultra-thin, ultra-light consumer electronics, also requires plastics that can withstand high heat, Lansbergen said. “You just can’t use a standard resin or polymer anymore. You need a polymer that can actually withstand these [higher] temperatures.”
Typical of the many Chinese firms that also pursuing high performance plastics was Ningbo Materchem Technology Co. Ltd. Technical manager Chen Bo said sales reached 150 million yuan ($24 million) last year, and it’s experiencing double-digit sales growth.
Chen has a doctorate in polymer materials — one of six on Materchem’s 100-strong workforce.
He said the company’s nylon modifiers improve mechanical performance at both high and freezing temperatures. Modifiers that reduce the volatility of polypropylene targeted at applications that require no odor, such as auto interiors, medical supplies and food packaging.
Like many mainland companies, it has an eye on the foreign market. “We export to India, Canada and Thailand. We entered the English market just this year.” Still, exports represent only 5 percent of Materchem’s sales.
Another mainland company focused on high-performance nylon is Dongguan Epone Nylon Science & Technology Co. Ltd., founded in 2004. All of last year’s sales — 50 million yuan (about $8 million) — were from domestic customers, primarily to the automotive and electronics markets, said general manager Liang Xiaoli.
Liang, who spoke through an interpreter after giving a presentation on nylon components in car engines, was optimistic about his firm’s outlook. “Even though the auto industry in China is slowing down, the volume [of sales] is still very large,” he said.
Manufacturing nylon parts is faster and cheaper than manufacturing similar metal parts, Liang said.
“We’re going to do more research on nylon that is more durable and can resist higher temperatures,” he said.
The show attracted a smattering of foreign firms such as Vietnamese masterbatch maker Polymer Asia Technology Producing & Trading Co. Ltd.
“We’re here to try to understand the fast-developing Chinese market and to catch up on new technologies in engineering plastics around the world,” said General Director Kim Quy Nguyen.
“Most of our customers are in Vietnam, but do export to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. We began exporting to the United States last year,” Nguyen said.
Founded in Ho Chi Minh City in 2002, Polymer Asia posts annual sales of $30 million and has 170 employees, Nguyen said.
The China International Engineering Plastics Industrial Innovation Conference, held in the inland industrial hub of Chongqing, was co-sponsored by the China Plastics Processing Industry Association (CPPIA).