SHANGHAI — Even for a fast-growing market like China, 100 percent annual growth is an impressive number.
That's the magic number for Owens Corning Corp.'s 2013 sales of long-fiber-reinforced-thermoplastic (LFT) products in China, according to Yao Fangdi, China managing director for Owens Corning's composite solutions business.
"We expect to double our LFT sales again this year,” he told Plastics News in an interview in the leading glass fiber supplier's Shanghai office.
At Chinaplas, the company touted its Performax SE4849 roving for LFT-polypropylene, which offers opportunities to replace traditional metals in complex and often challenging structural and semi-structural automotive components.
China's thermoplastic composite market is expanding by about 30 percent per annum, Yao estimated, while the overall composites market records a mere 3-5 percent annual growth.
As a main end-market for LFT, the automotive industry in China continues to deliver strong growth. The industry's expanded efforts in weight reduction, fueled by the public's rising concern of air pollution, are helping thermoplastic composites to speed up market penetration.
An average car today uses at least 10 kilograms of LFT materials, Yao said. But a high-end car can contain four times, as the market adapts quickly to using the material in structural components.
Having established production in China since 2007, Owens Corning currently has the capacity to serve local customers' needs from plants in Yuhang (Zhejiang province) and Doudian (Beijing).
Like many other industries in China, the glass fiber industry has also been suffering from overcapacity, which leads to lower prices and inventory buildup.
Capacity expansion has slowed down, and some plants are being renovated, which decreases output for the time being, Yao said.
The key issue is to adjust and rationalize the existing capacity, converting thermoset composite capacity to thermoplastic composite capacity, he added. At present, Owens Corning is the only profitable glass fiber maker in China, he claimed.
The company's China R&D has been focusing on application development and localization. “Our team here serves to meet customers' specific needs by tailoring materials as well as helping them with the process,” Yao said.
Some global customer actually exports LFT parts that are made in China to Europe.
The Asia Pacific region will continue to be the growth driver of the global composite market, he noted.