Projections for solid growth during the next 20 years in Asia's aerospace market, even factoring in a slumping market from the economic crisis, are drawing some plastics firms to look for opportunities there.
Several American, Japanese and Hong Kong firms came to the Asian Aerospace International Expo and Congress, held Sept. 8-10 in Hong Kong, hoping to tap into the Asia Pacific market or reinforce their position in the aviation supply chain. The expo bills itself as the world's largest show focused strictly on civilian aircraft.
Projections for Asia are tough for aerospace suppliers to ignore.
American airliner maker Boeing Co. told a conference at the expo that Asia Pacific could surpass North America as the biggest aircraft market in five or six years and will be the single-biggest region for aircraft purchases over the next 20 years, accounting for 36 percent of the total.
That looks attractive to firms like American sheet extruder Kydex LLC, which has been targeting the aircraft business in recent years.
Kydex said its aircraft business is down 30-40 percent globally in the last year, mirroring a sharp drop in sales at the mainly Western aircraft component makers it services. But the company is still looking for growth in China and Asia for its proprietary sheeting products, President Jim Medalie said.
That's in part, he said, because there are only a handful of plastic materials that can meet the flame, smoke and toxicity requirements of the two biggest commercial airliner manufacturers, Boeing Co. in the United States and the European conglomerate Airbus.
Bloomsburg, Pa.-based Kydex's material is used in thermoformed components for seats, food service trolleys and other cabin parts. Medalie said sales have been helped by a focus on first- class and premium seats, where factors like matching the seat color exactly to the airline's brand colors are very important.
There certainly has been a delay in some of the projects, but I think the premium seating is so important to the airlines from a marketing perspective that ... some of the carriers that are late to come to market with premium seating are anxious to complete that, Medalie said. We think [the market is] coming back in 2010. We have a lot of interest, a lot of calls, and a lot of follow- up on projects.
This aircraft show has been much busier than we expected, he said. We were concerned it would be slow.
Ronn Cort, Kydex's international business manager, said the company recognizes Asia is a long-term prospect where gains may not come quickly, but he said the firm is pleased that some domestic Chinese airline companies are starting to buy its material. They want our best materials. They don't want to go cheap, he said.
Medalie said the company is considering establishing a sheet extrusion factory in Asia for aircraft and other markets like medical in the next three years, if it can build volume.
Ultimately, we need to manufacture in Asia, he said.
Another American firm that came to the aerospace show, plastic cutlery maker Sabert Corp., said it wanted to explore whether there were opportunities for its higher-end, metalized plastic tableware to replace stainless-steel cutlery in airlines.
We think we can reduce the weight for the airline company and also reduce the [use] of fuel, said Crystal Wu, marketing manager for Sabert's Zhongshan, China, factory. That is why we see the potential.
Sabert, based in Sayreville, N.J., opened its Chinese injection molding and thermoforming plant three years ago, she said.
This was the firm's first aerospace show in Asia, so it does not know how the market will react. But the firm's American and European operations have exhibited at aviation expos there before, she said.
The trade show also drew a consortium of small Japanese firms called the Manten Project that hopes to crack into the aerospace market. The group includes injection molder and metals processor Shonan Design Co. Ltd.
Kanagawa, Japan-based Shonan, which has five injection molding machines, said sales overall are down 30 percent from 2007, as the automotive and electronics industries have slumped, so the company is looking at aerospace as a new market.
The firm believes it can apply skills it has gained making parts for high-performance Formula 1 racing cars, and making working prototypes of concept cars and new consumer electronics, said Shinji Nakajima, director of aerospace sales.
Copyright 2009 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.