by Liz White, editor
Raw materials suppliers in the polyurethanes sector have been hard hit by the global economic downturn. At its lowest point, demand for their products slumped by up to 40 percent: it has now limped back to perhaps 15 or 20 percent below normal.
There are specific issues in the sector that make it difficult to match supply with demand if it changes suddenly.
Urethanes Technology International spoke to some of the industry’s major suppliers about these and other industry issues, at the 5-7 Oct meeting of the Centre for the Polyurethanes Industry in National Harbor, Maryland.
“The first thing is that they are very expensive plants to run, and you run plants to meet demand,” noted Tom Feige, Dow Chemical Co.’s product manager for polyurethanes in North America.
Demand is still weak versus 2008 and 2007, he pointed out, so “Dow is running plants at reduced rates. That’s been the case for a year and a half,” Feige added.
But Doug Warner, global business director for polyols with Dow Chemical Co. also noted: “We’ve been running our plants as hard as we can. We don’t make money if we don’t run plants … these are huge fixed-costs assets.” Jerry MacCleary, Bayer MaterialScience senior vice president and head of Polyurethanes North America made similar points: “When the market fell off 40 percent or so, we had these large chemical plants and we could not continue running them [at the same level].
“So we had to…