Although major producers are increasing capacity by 33 percent, polycarbonate resins are expected to continue to be in tight supply in 1996 and beyond. Capacity increases will not be completed until 1997, suppliers point out. By that time, they add, growing demand will have eaten up much of the increase.
The major producers - Bayer Corp., GE Plastics and Dow Chemical Co. - expect demand to continue to surge at levels of 10-12 percent per year.
Because PC is versatile and in demand all over the world, executives in North America said they consider the global market, not just domestic markets.
However, Bayer's Peter Mueller points out that it is difficult to accurately predict growth in demand for engineering thermoplastics, especially PC. Mueller is senior vice president for plastics marketing for the Polymers Division of Bayer of Pittsburgh.
``Traditional growth rates and growth curves do not apply,'' Mueller said in an interview at his Pittsburgh office Dec. 15.
These materials have not reached maturity in their existing markets, he said.
More importantly, the huge number of applications developed for PC are spawning further new applications that were not conceived of as recently as two years ago, he said.
``It almost is like the space program,'' Mark Witman, vice president for Bayer's polycarbonate business said in the same interview.
``You can target a narrow application, but everything spins off around that application, making a huge market and industry,'' Witman said.
Mueller and Witman also cited new applications such as automotive glazing.
``There was a breakthrough in coating technologies in 1995 that allows us to broaden the uses of polycarbonate in glazing and films,'' Mueller said.
Suppliers hope the technology will permit the use of PC as a high-strength, low-weight alternative to glass for automotive glazing, opening a potentially huge new market.
Jeffrey Immelt, vice president and general manager for the Americas for GE Plastics, agreed with Mueller that PC is seeing growth thanks both to new applications and existing products. Immelt spoke in a Dec. 12 telephone interview from his office in Pittsfield, Mass.
While the companies will not discuss specific production capacities, industry analysts say GE's current expansion program will increase capacity by 46 percent by the end of 1996 to give it worldwide annual capacity of 1.2 billion pounds.
Meanwhile, Bayer has completed debottlenecking and expansion of its facilities, and can produce 635 million pounds of PC annually. Dow also completed expansions and has the capacity to produce 325 million pounds. That figure includes shared capacity at a joint venture in Japan.