NEW YORK — Despite losses in some U.S. automotive applications, polyurethane use in North America hit a record 5 billion pounds in 1996, according to a new study.
Preliminary results of the study were released July 24 by its sponsor, the Polyurethane Division of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., at a news conference at the division's New York offices. The study, conducted by marketing research firm Allegheny Marketing Group of Pittsburgh, shows PU use continues to grow.
``The polyurethanes industry is indeed healthy, I think very healthy,'' said Fran Lichtenberg, executive director of the Polyurethane Division.
U.S. figures indicate 4.61 billion pounds of PU were used in 1996, up 340 million pounds from 1994, the last year a market study was released by the division. In 1991, U.S. processors used 3.15 billion pounds.
Continued strength in the U.S. construction market boosted PU, the study found. Construction-related markets, especially rigid foam insulation boards, led all other end uses with 1.24 billion pounds.
Transportation (970 million pounds), carpet cushion (524 million pounds) and furniture (497 million pounds) accounted for the majority of PU domestic markets.
Though Canada's PU consumption was only about 10 percent of the U.S. total, automotive end uses make up a bigger piece of the pie, according to the study.
However, the study showed overall weakness in the automotive sector. Automotive reaction injection molding applications and flexible molded foam, including auto seating, shrank in output since 1994. In the U.S. market, auto RIM took the biggest hit, with a 15 percent decline in two years, falling from 133 million pounds of PU in 1994 to 113 million pounds in 1996.
Car model changeovers accounted for much of the loss, said Erin Kelly, marketing manager for urethane additives and specialty amines for Huntsman Corp. in Salt Lake City. Manufacturers replaced a number of models using RIM components to models without.
The PU industry is promoting new technologies to help win back automotive markets for RIM, said Jerry Fosnaugh, division chairman. He noted that new regulatory standards could help brighten RIM in the eyes of automakers.
``Structural RIM meets the new federal side-impact standards for car doors,'' Fosnaugh said.
Other efforts to maintain RIM presence in auto markets include ``regrind programs, finding new applications and identifying new colorant additives to help tint RIM materials,'' Lichtenberg said.
Other product areas where PU lost ground since 1994 include footwear and textiles, according to the study.
Those losses are ``largely explained by the shift to offshore manufacturing,'' Lichtenberg said.
The SPI is based in Washington.