2015 has been a challenging year for materials suppliers and distributors, with oil prices remaining low and currency fluctuations on imports into the Eurozone driven by the euro/dollar rate. Polymer producers and suppliers say the latter has impacted on the supply and demand balance in Europe, and in turn has led to increased volatility for polymers, the consequence being material shortages suffered by some sectors.
Heinrich Lingnau, A Schulman senior vice-president and general manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), says the most notable highs and lows in polymer distribution for the industry have been the material shortages during the Spring of 2015 which impacted the whole sector and “in particular our direct customers, the plastic converters”.
He adds that A Schulman saw growth in demand with a vehicle production in the UK being the highest since 2008 (almost 1.6 million units in 2014). “The trend we see via our sales, and from a product development standpoint, has been an increased demand for scratch resistance, lightweighting and greater range of colours.”
Lingnau continues: “Although 2015 is not over we already believe that imports to the European Union will be lower than in 2014, as the market has lost its attractiveness during the current year. Non-European producers have sold their products to other regions of the world.
Mike Boswell, managing director of Leicestershire-based polymer distributor, Plastribution, also believes supply issues have been a key feature of the plastics materials market in 2015. He says: “In addition to the obvious direct implications of polymer producers declaring force majeure on supply, there is a broader knock-on effect resulting from polymer processors trying to secure supply from alternative sources with the consequence that material becomes increasingly difficult to obtain.”
Boswell adds that while to some extent distributors such as his firm, were able to deploy their extensive stocks to mitigate the situation, “the availability issues experienced in this year have been an extreme challenge”, and left many customers frustrated “despite the cost and effort we have gone to”.
He adds that while the industry hoped the severe circumstances it has encountered this year would not be repeated in the near future polymer buyers needed to recognise and react to the fact that the UK market is increasingly dependent on imports from outside Western Europe, and that distributors who are willing in partnerships with plastic processors are part of the solution.