Plastic pipes industry in Russia turns into an exclusive club of large companies.
On Friday, 8 April Creon held the Conference "Plastic Pipes 2011" at the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski. Polyplastic Group and Tsentropolimer were sponsors of the event. Kirill Trusov, the Head of procurement and logistics management of Polyplastic told about current situation and prospects of plastic pipes industry development in his review report on PE pipes market of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Growth rates of plastic pipes market in many European countries are twice as much as those of GDP and exceed this indicator about 4.5 times in Russia. The only country with weak dependence is Kazakhstan which plastic pipes market is rising mainly due to strong government support of the construction industry in the recession period. In Russia the main growth engine of plastic pipes market is the replacement of water supply and wastewater systems and besides the National "image projects" like Olympic Games, Universiade, FIFA World Cup, APEC summit, and others. However, plastic pipes market was unable to return to pre-crisis figures in 2010. According to Mr Trusov, the total accumulated capacities are about three times greater than the volume of production. Market is highly competitive and it`s hard to deal on it with ordinary products. The major players which occupy about 70% of the market are aimed to diversify their activity. In particular, Polyplastic added production of flexible pre-insulated pipes for hot water and heating, pipes for sewage, pipes for trenchless repair and other new products for Russia to the traditional list of pressure pipes. At the same time according to Miron Gorilivsky, the head of Polyplastic, for foreign players even with advanced technologies it`s not interesting enough to work in Russia. That`s why they aren`t presented in country except Pipelife. Meanwhile imports share in certain areas of the market like interior heating and water supply pipes is about half of the total consumption.
Marat Baymukanov, Board Chairman of noncommercial partnership "Polymer piping systems" spoke about the Kazakhstan plastic pipes market. According to him, the lobby of steel pipes manufacturers is still strong in the republic. One of the objectives of the organization is to explain the safety of plastic pipes for drinking water supply. There are three major players on Kazakhstan pipes market: Kazakhstan Pipes Plant, which has two sites in Astana and Taraz, Russian Polyplastic` plant "Arystan" in Stepnogorsk and plant in Atyrau. Also, a lot of small companies are working on the market in each region but they often use cheap low quality raw materials and it affects their production. Large volumes of pipes from Russia, Turkey and other countries are imported to the republic, despite high transportation costs. The plastic pipes market is poorly developed in most Kazakhstan`s regions while nearly a half of the consumption accounts for Astana and oil-rich Western region of the republic. In both cases the Government`s investment and projects within the public-private partnerships play the key role, in particular in organizing of drinking water supply in rural areas.
Surface modification of plastic pipes, particularly fluoridation lets use them in hostile environment and expand their application field in industry. Eugeniy Bukharev, CEO of Mayak-93M told about experimental production of such pipes. According to him, pipes after fluoride treatment are 30% more expensive, but they, acquire unique characteristics which allow using them for example in equipping boilers and for other similar purposes.
Problems of using plastic pipes in hot water supply caused a stormy debate among the participants. Constantine Zvezdin, commercial representative in "Plastics" department of "Dow Europe" anounced numbers of Russian thermal networks wear and prices for their substitute. According to him, one third of heat supply networks in Russia are more than 25 years old, whereas only 20% have been laid over the recent fifteen years. The overall replacement cost is estimated at 400 billion rubles, but it costs will pay off in just 2.5 years, because now 10% of the heat energy is lost in the transit network. However, the conference participants noticed that the centralized hot water supply will go into the past and will be replaced with heating water on the site, because of the cold Russian climate and extreme loads of the network.
Ilya Pulner, chief engineer of Moscow United Energy Company, told the audience about MUEC has shifted 3.8 thousand km of pipelines using pipes of cross-linked polyethylene and stainless steel. There are totally 10.5 thousand km of hot water supply networks including 3 thousand main networks managed by the company. The main difficulty and reason of problems with plastic pipes is contractors` lack of experience in installation, especially in dealing with polymer and metal pipes line up. This causes damages and incidents. Alexander Klimovich, head of systems microclimate department of Uponor Rus presented the company`s production for hot water and heat supply, particularly, about using multilayer thermal insulation of pipes, including polyethylene foam. Alexander Gorshenin, independent expert of market, told the audience about technologies of trenchless pipeline repair by use of plastic pipes, which are enjoying increasing popularity. A pipe enters into the damaged pipe, extends along it and joins with an intact segment. Herewith the pipe for convenience can be entered in to the pipeline in folded state and then straightened up by steam. This method of recovery was mentioned by Sergei Skopintsev, head of process control of Mosvodokanal, which services 20 thousands km of pipelines. Plastic pipes share in this case are only 5 % yet because despite its advanced features, customers are still cautious about them and inexperienced contractors have problems with their installation. Michael Mordyasov, head of the pipeline systems and facilities laboratory at the Scientific Research Institute of Municipal Water Supply and Treatment encouraged the audience to focus solving these troubles. According to him, project organizations and especially regional organizations very often deny using PE pipes in water supply. It`s necessary to have an independent Centre for approval of such projects. That allows improving the culture of usage and quality of plastic pipes installation which are often stacked in unprepared trench without reinforcement and concreting with a flagrant violation of technology that leads to incidents.
The quality of plastic pipes plays important role in creating their positive and negative images. Kirill Trusov estimated, that nearly 12% of polyethylene used for pipes is not proper for it. So, every sixth polyethylene pipe in Russia comes from surrogate raw materials. Alexander Bychkov, CEO of "Plast Profile" told the participants about the plastic pipe`s quality. The company develops standard documentation, particularly for PVC pipes, and produces tubing for water wells. Mr Bychkov said that up to half of the total consumption for the polyethylene pipe materials production needs to be modified with pigments and masterbatches, in other way it is impossible to produce polyethylene pipes. Most producers do not have full-factory laboratories, quality control is not executed, and consumers (construction companies) care only about pipes` costs, not their longevity. The participants think that such stance of the market and institutional environment in the plastic pipe industry is extremely disturbing and dangerous, because pipes of surrogate raw materials are also used for gas supply. According to Miron Gorilovsky in Russia from 25 (11%) to 30 (13%) thousand tons of polyethylene pipes are produced from surrogate raw materials, in the Ukraine - every third pipe. Russian Rospotrebnadzor is the only authority, which can control the situation somehow. "Polyplastic" has an idea to direct its representatives to unscrupulous drinking water pipe producers with inspections.
The issue of surrogate raw materials wide use provoked a lively discussion among participants. Basically it is used by small companies who are unable to acquire standard quality polyethylene of pipe grades directly from producers or importers for financial reasons. So, they are forced to buy cheaper polyethylene of film grades: this is the only way for them to compete with large companies, which have lower costs because of the large orders from government agencies related to the gasification and municipal networks. Market barriers for new players are serious enough; the price of an entry ticket in the industry is around 20 million euro investment plus creation of favorable institutional environment for new producers. Those who do not have such resources can enter the market only via the "back door", using surrogate materials and providing no guarantee of product quality. But this does not save many small and medium-sized companies from going out of business: the number of market participants is getting lower and the market becomes less competitive. According to the head of Creon Fares Kilzie, if the market continues to move in the same direction, it will become an inert environment, with just 3-4 companies, with no growth and development.