Russian WPC market is not yet large, but polymer processors` interest to this industry is extremely high
The International Conference "Wood polymer composites (WPC) 2011" took place at the Baltschug Kempinski Moscow Hotel on Monday, 19 September. ICMA San Giorgio was general sponsor of the event. WPC is rather new product for both Russian and global chemical markets. WPC is the polymer product filled by wood flour that has characteristics of both polymer and wood. The amount of output of these products is not big in Russia; WPC are not produced in commercial scales and in many cases facilities can be called pilot manufacture. Nevertheless the interest of the participants to the industry was unexpectedly high; more than 100 people took part in the event. All interested players of the industry are ready to take part in the development of the market: manufacturers of polymer and wood raw materials, processors of plastics, suppliers of equipment, representatives of scientific organizations and media. Presently, the development of the WPC market, as well as other polymer markets in Russia is spontaneous one. The example of other markets, like plastic pipes market, PVC profiles` market, polycarbonate sheets` market, demonstrates that it can be disintegrated on premium segment and mass production of surrogates. It would be extremely sad if young yet Russian WPC market shares this fate too. These both optimistic and alarmist thoughts were spoken out in welcome notes by CEO of Creon Sandjar Turgunov and CEO of Amipa Consulting, agent of ICMA San Giorgio in Russia and CIS Aleksey Avramchic.
Dmitriy Shuganov, CEO of Terradek told about the modern stance of the WPC market development. According to him, 97% of the market contain of decking, which is the most commercially successful product that can be made of WPC. But WPC is worldwide used also for production of automotives (interior panels), outdoor furniture, and building materials. The most part of WPCs is produced on the base of PE (83%), PVC and PP are used limitedly. In Russia the situation is roughly the same. The number of WPC producers grows rapidly. If in 2010 there were only four, that in 2011 there are about 15, the market volume is about 200 thousands square meters or 3500 tons of decking, market grows by 70-100 % annually. The manufacturing is exceptionally profitable. The cost of raw materials is 35-45 rubles per kg; herewith wholesale price is 70-100 rubles and retail price - 130-160 rubles depending on the production quality. According to Mr Shuganov, dealers are ready to work with margin of 30-50%, distributors - 15-30 %, thanks to their efforts, the market grows rapidly, however, market can get saturated very quickly and it`s required great efforts for its development. The majority of manufactures use low-productive Chinese extruders, which are not able to provide stable output and compliance with technology standards. Besides, the majority of the market players have only one extruder operational that makes the production inflexible. According to the reporter, on the future market players with annual production above 3000 tones and 2-3 European lineups will dominate. This will provide phasing Asian imports out from the market and increase of share of Russian companies, which now is no more than 60%. Overcoming "childish problems" requires the increasing of production culture, strict adherence to recipes and suppliers that will provide technical assistance in the development. Mr Shuganov called siding WPC as a new perspective product after WPC decking, but its production is not large yet.
Scientific adviser of the Research-and-development center "WPC" Galina Presman reported to the audience about the development of WPC production classifier and elaboration of quality standards. All of quality criterions are suggested to divide into base criterions and facultative criterions; important characteristics for final-users such as easiness of mounting, equipment and service life have to be included in these criterions. The guarantee service life of WPC products of economy segment is two years, for others service life is much longer. Products` samples are tested with Center`s own equipment. According to Mrs. Presman, the quality monitoring has revealed that production improved in 2011 due to increase of technical competence of manufactures. The key problem is the concentration of bonding agent, because with high concentration the product shape could be distorted while with low concentration the products can be short-lived. The most important characteristic for Russian conditions are soakage resistance and resistance to swelling of wood flour inside the product, because this can cause its destruction. For imitation of the winter in laboratory boiling method is used.
Selling director ICMA San Giorgio Silvano Zattra reported about the company and its products. The company was established in 1907, started polymer business actively in 1965, and in 1974 made the first WPC for automotive industry - decorative sheet panels that were cheaper than traditional products. In Russia equipment of the company works at Tolyatti and Nizhniy Novgorod car plants. Sheet panels for automotive industry have been the main kind of WPC products, that have been producing by ICMA equipment until 1995 when production of reusable WPC boxes was started. Mr. Zattra reminded the audience about basic technologies of extrusion - direct extrusion, single-screw extrusion, twin-screw extrusion, their advantages and disadvantages. Especially the reporter pointed out advantages of twin-screw extrusion with codirectional rotation of the screws, which the company offers to WPC manufacturers. Better components mixing and the fact that wood flour is injected directly into the melt through the side dosing device (batcher) that prevents thermal degradation of wood, are advantages of this kind of extruders. This kind of equipment became available on the market recently and several times more expensive than Chinese equipment and a bit more expensive than European one (600-700 thousands euro), but it requires no mixing and graining stages. The latter was highly estimated by customers in Russia. Two such lines with the capacity 1000 tones were installed and launched in 2011.
Development director of ICMA San Giorgio Karrado Moneta told more about advantages of equipment of the company for manufacture of polymers with natural fillers, including WPC. According to him, wood flour is not only and not the most effective filler, also natural fibers, straw and other materials can be used, but with developed wood processing in Russia the use of wood flour is more natural. Mr. Moneta reminded that components` mixing is the most important technical phase of extrusion that influences homogeneity properties and product quality. Also it is important to achieve the minimum possible size of the filler particles that can be achieved by increasing of rotation speed and narrowing of the flow in converging planes. Mixing parameters are determined by the angle of displacement of screw elements; company actively uses computer simulation of the extrusion process.
Alexandr Soloviev, CEO of "Novotop" that produces wood flour and pellets, reported about the production of wood flour in Russia and its characteristics for manufacture of WPC. Wood flour produces in Russia since 1950s; it was widely used as filler for small plastic details, component of linoleum and explosives. The last government standard was adopted in 1987, but there were no requirements for strength features of the products made of wood flour. According to Mr. Soloviev, characteristics of WPC are closer to wood construction materials than to plastic, and this has to be considered both in usage and production. For improvement of the products quality it`s better to use wood flour with small diameter of elements (200-400 microns, the government standard accepts 500), but this increases requirements of safety to prevent wood flour explosion. Excessive humidity also has negative influence, because steam hastens the corrosion of equipment and makes processing more expensive.
CEO of official Struktol distributor "Elogik", Vladimir Bezborodov told the audience about new adding components for WPC, particularly lubricants. They allow accelerating the extrusion, to reduce internal friction and deterioration of the equipment, and to improve adhesion of components. Traditional lubricants like calcium stearate being replaced by new generation mixes. The company offers lubricants that allow to accelerate extrusion in 1,5 times in comparison even with calcium stearate and excels cheapest alternatives such as wax. The reporter estimated the total market of adding components in 200 tons, while the company itself sells 30 tons. Consumption is growing quickly, and as the reporter predicted, will grow by 30% as minimum in 2012. Struktol is planning to increase the share of the market, and the reporter promised to inform about it next year on Creon conference.
The main topic of the report of Joseph Kuhler, technical director of Farbenwerke Wunsiedel, was the problem of WPC dyeing. The German company produces pigments for polymers, but it`s not clear if polymer pigments are suitable for WPC dyeing too. It`s also important to consider that the surface of WPC is often processed to make it antiskid. The color of WPC remains better if the coloring agent for wood is used, but in this case the primary discoloration starts sooner. If the surface is not going to be processed it`s better to use polymer dyeing agent. In this case the real reason of discoloration is not discoloration of dyeing agent, but mechanical disruption of the surface that is not able to reflect light properly. Presence or absence of UV stabilizer has no affect in this case.
Maria Belinskaya, the head of internet-project Drevoplastic.ru, told about world and Russian WPC market tendencies. According to her, North America still has more than half of the market, as the growth of WPC consumption in this region goes on since 1990s, first of all because of woodworker`s efforts. China is developing WPC industry as export one, trying to enter the American market. But the demand has dropped by 20% and is not restored yet because of the crisis and collapse of construction activity that decreased in 3 times. Global market is predicted to grow in 2,5 times by 2016, but the problem of products` quality will rise. In China, where the output is growing, PVC is used as polymer basis and as rice husks are used as filler; the production is growing with technology of direct extrusion by old equipment, which can not proof stable quality of products. European demand, 58% of which is generated by Germany, is unlikely to grow significantly in nearest future because of moderate activity in automotive industry. The situation in Russia is not certain because the market is not large yet and there are no reliable statistics. That`s also not clear, who will develop it because in Europe and USA it`s made by efforts of environment organizations that are trying to limit the use of wood and seek the ways of rational use of wood waste products. For Russia, which massively exports cheap wood, such logic looks strange.
WPC producers are not frightened by technological difficulties and uncertainness of the market perspectives; the amount of industry players is growing. Three companies at once told about new running lines of the WPC production. According to Radic Asfandiyarov, deputy chief of PVC resins production of Sterlitamak "Kaustic", the company is proceeding experimental production of WVC pellets based on PVC and offers it to processors for tests. PVC and wood flour is adding in the same shares; the capacity is 200 tons per month. Sergey Savosin, the main technologist of "Multiplast", told about new WPC production based on polyethylene in Tatarstan with production capacity 200 kg per hour. Fully automated equipment of ICMA is used on factory, which produces decking and joists, but beginning from the next year it`s planned to produce siding and trims too. Leonid Lyapkin, the head of Intervesp-Machines told about the launch of a new plant of WPC production on the South of Russia and showed the video of this event. The Chinese line with production capacity 100 kg per hour is much cheaper than European equipment and has minimal automation, but customer satisfied by its work. Thus, although the market WPC in Russia is just being formed, it has already started to split into premium and budget segments, and each of them brings a profit to investors.