AKRON, OHIO — Global growth in thermoplastic elastomers is expected to continue at a rate of 5-9 percent annually through 2000 and into the next century, with adhesives, sealants and coatings continuing to be the largest sector in that expanding field, according to industry officials who spoke at a technical conference Sept. 30.
Rudy School, an assistant sales manager with R.T. Vanderbilt Co. Inc. of Norwalk, Conn., gave an overview of TPE growth potential and applications at ``Thermoplastic Elastomers: The Flexible Alternative,'' a conference co-hosted by the Thermoplastic Elastomer Special Interest Group and the Akron section of the Society of Plastics Engineers, held Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Akron.
As the TPE industry approaches the $3 billion mark in sales, its recent 7 percent annual growth rate is outpacing the 4 percent growth rate of the global plastics industry, School said.
Continued interaction with the automotive market will be key to the advancement of TPE, School added, as that industry's TPE consumption has climbed from 194 million pounds in 1992 to a projected 274 million pounds in 1997, in uses such as bumpers and air bags.
TPE consumption for bumpers alone is expected to reach 314 million pounds in 2000.
The medical products sector also could see sizable growth from its current 4 percent share of the North American and European TPE markets. TPE use in medical tubing, intravenous bags and other applications could fuel a 10 percent annual growth rate in this area, School said.
Vivian Malpass predicted styrene block copolymers will continue to be the largest TPE volume category, with annual demand increasing to 660 million pounds by 2000.
SBC products offer excellent weatherability and high oil and filler loadings, according to Malpass, a consultant with Tek-Mark International, based in Hudson, Ohio.
SBC-based alloys will continue to dominate in very soft applications and find new applications through pre-coloring and improved scratch resistance, Malpass added.
Shell Chemical Co. of Houston is the leading SBC manufacturer in a field that also includes Fina Oil & Chemical Co. of Dallas and Phillips Chemical Co. of Bartlesville, Okla.
Olefinic TPEs — thermoplastic olefins and thermoplastic vulcanizates — are seeing more demand from the automotive, appliance, industrial rubber goods and construction markets and are expected to see the most rapid growth of the various TPE categories. Although TPOs are competing with TPVs in auto bumpers and fascias, TPVs continue to displace thermoset rubber, PVC, ABS and nylon in other automotive, electrical and manufactured rubber applications, Malpass said.
Engineering TPEs, such as thermoplastic polyurethanes, thermoplastic copolyesters and thermoplastic polyamides, are expected to see more moderate growth in more demanding applications that require durability and high-temperature use, according to Malpass.