The economic war for thermoplastic elastomers is over, and the Far East has won, according to a market analyst.
``The battle essentially has been fought, and North America has lost,'' said Robert Eller, president of Robert Eller Associates Inc. of Akron, Ohio. For example, China now holds huge market shares for products using TPEs, ranging from cameras and DVD readers to mobile phones and laptop computers.
Certain governmental pressure and developments in technology could impact the shift of manufacturing, but the deed is pretty much done, said Eller, one of the speakers at the recent Rubber Manufacturers Association Elastomer Products Group meeting in Tucson.
Eller should know. His company recently issued a report on the subject, ``Specialty Thermoplastic Elastomers ... Markets, Economics, Intermaterials Competition and Industry Structure in China.'' It follows a similar study issued a year ago covering Europe and North America.
In an interview after his speech, Eller said TPE customers originally moved production to China to capture low labor costs.
``But recently, I think the focus has shifted, and they want to get in on the growth of the Chinese market,'' he said. ``The population of China is 1.3 billion, and of that there are 300 million or so newly empowered, or newly wealthy customers. So the China market domestically is growing very rapidly.''
The China report is extensive and had a long and difficult birth, Eller said. When his company initially went to that nation, ``the Chinese just laughed, they wouldn't talk to us. We lost a lot of money for a couple of years.''
It's different today. ``Now they see the kind of work we can do. We go at it professionally,'' he said.
So how does Robert Eller Associates get the information for its reports? ``Every possible way we can,'' said Eller, who directed plastics consulting studies at Arthur D. Little Inc. in the U.S. and Europe and was general manager of Multibase (USA) before founding his firm. He also has 10 years of lab experience.
Eller said he and his analysts - who all are engineers and chemists - do exhaustive research and conduct interviews by phone and in person. ``Our methodology is never to ask anyone what we think is a stupid question, meaning something we could have gotten some other way.''
The company does studies for single customers, as well as multiclient reports. Sometimes it trades bits of information it has extrapolated from its research, although nothing proprietary. ``People don't tell us secrets,'' he said.
He said the China study - conducted by himself, Roger Young and a team of analysts in that nation - is the product of some frank, open discussions, which aren't typical in China.
``They kind of respect us and are willing to talk to us. There's no one else like us there,'' he said.
Information on the TPE and other reports and how to purchase them is available at the firm's Web site, www.robertellerassoc.com.