by Angela Austin, Director, Labyrinth Research & Markets Ltd
According to data collated by Labyrinth Research & Markets Ltd, on behalf of Europur, and presented at the recent Annual Conference of EUROPUR and EURO-MOULDERS in Milan (7-8 June 2017), the total production of flexible polyurethane foam in the 28 EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey reached just over 1.7 million tonnes in 2016. Of the total flexible polyurethane foam produced, 1.24 million tonnes was polyether slabstock foam and 75,000 tonnes was polyester slabstock foam.
Among many countries, data also illustrated a positive growth trend in production, exports and consumption of foam containing products such as mattresses, upholstered furniture and vehicles. A comparison of production data for EU28 countries, Norway and Switzerland suggested a growth of 12.6 % in polyether slabstock and 3.2 % in polyester slabstock (in tonnage values).
Europur members reported a 10.2 % increase in the weight of foam produced in 2016 vs 2015. Europur members operate foam production plants at 50 locations in Europe, 3 in Turkey, 1 in Russia, 3 in Ukraine and 1 in Serbia. In total, Europur members produce 60 % of all polyether slabstock foam in EEA (European Economic Area).
The unexpectedly high growth in the weight of foam produced can be explained by a general increase in foam density. For example, a small increase of 5 % in foam density will result in a 5 % increase in tonnes of foam produced. When added to an underlying rate of 5-7 % increase in overall foam production due to positive economic conditions, the total growth in the tonnes of foam produced could easily reach 12 %.
Furthermore, although amounts remain small overall, there was an 18.2% increase in the tonnage of foam exported from the EU28 in 2016 compared to the previous year’s data and a 14 % decrease in the tonnage of foam imported into the area.
Additive suppliers also reported a general trend towards production of higher density foams among their customers. This trend this may be due to the need to make more foam with less TDI. The need to use less TDI has arisen due to significant price instability, an overall strong increase in prices and a relative shortage of material. In addition, there has been a trend towards a demand for more durable polyurethane foams to improve the quality image of the material.
The use of compression techniques to ship foam and mattresses has increased notably. This technique allows products to be shipped cost effectively over longer distances. However, to avoid damage to the foam, higher quality and therefore higher density foams are required, which may also be an explanation for the increase in production in weight.
Production data from CSIL reported a 2 % increase in the market share of foam mattresses. The total production of mattresses in the EEA, increased by 1 million in 2016 compared to 2015.
Upholstered furniture production has only increased by 2.0% in value terms, suggesting that prices have been suppressed, when compared to the growth of foam production. This may suggest that the rise in raw material costs have not been passed along the supply chain.