Vinyl window extruders face several threats - including higher resin costs, overcapacity, a maturing market, more consolidation and imported profiles - but window veteran Darwin Brown sees good times ahead for plastics in construction, thanks to decking and railing.
``Consumers' acceptance of polymer-based construction products, both in residential and commercial applications, continues to increase every year,'' Brown said at Plastics News Executive Forum 2004, held Feb. 1-4 in Summerlin.
Brown retired effective Feb. 1 as chief executive officer of Deceuninck North America. He will continue to be an adviser to the company, which includes Dayton Technologies LLC and Vinyl Building Products LLC. Brown had worked at Dayton Technologies in Monroe, Ohio, for more than 20 years.
He recalled the explosive growth enjoyed by vinyl windows throughout the 1990s.
``The window business continues to be a good business. On the other hand, it's not the business it used to be, because the market has gotten very close to maturity,'' he said. The past few years, vinyl windows have grown only about 2-3 percent a year, he added.
Some window segments are growing more quickly, such as double-hung and bay windows.
Brown said the market for wood composite decking and railing is growing rapidly - but at the same time is attracting many new players. ``It's a very, very competitive marketplace,'' he said.
Some smaller companies are undercapitalized and lack good distribution, Brown said, predicting a shakeout. ``We're not sure of their staying power.''
Dayton Technologies is expanding its southwestern Ohio plant to extrude composite decking and railing for Alcoa Home Exteriors Inc.
Michael Hutfless, chief operating officer of Deceuninck North America, co-presented with Brown at the forum. He said the window extruder began looking for new markets in 1999. Officials decided Deceuninck's strength was in extrusion, not marketing and distribution, so it inked the deal with Alcoa, its former parent company.
Brown said other new markets are promising for plastics, including trim boards and accessories made of cellular PVC. Front doors, still dominated by wood and steel, are an emerging vinyl market, as is coated and laminated vinyl flooring that looks like wood. He predicts those markets will become as common for vinyl as windows and siding.
Brown said window producers are facing pricing pressures from domestic competitors that have cut their prices, and new windows coming from China. The answer, he said, is to reduce manufacturing costs while maintaining quality. Very automated window fabrication plants - Deceuninck's customers - have to use high-quality, precise profiles, he said.