London – The sustained high and rising prices of diisocyanates could affect the future growth of the global polyurethane industry three key players warn.
In telephone conversations on 19 and 20 June, spokesmen for Recticel, Vita Cellular Foams and Foam Partner all confirmed that clients are looking for cheaper alternatives to polyurethane in existing and new products where they are available.
MDI and TDI have been tight for some time and prices have been rising consistently for between 16 and 18 months, the firms said, and added that product has been on allocation, in relatively well-supplied Europe.
Olivier Chapelle, managing director of Recticel said: ‘The rise is completely unprecedented in amplitude and speed.’
This view is echoed by Jon Cheele, managing director – UK at Vita Cellular Foams: ‘We’ve been back in our records,’ he said, adding ‘we’ve never seen anything like this duration. We’ve seen these quantum of increases, but we’ve never seen these absolute prices before. We have found six-month spikes, six-month drops but nothing goes over a year.’
All the companies interviewed have been able to supply customers during this time by using the spot market to make up for shortfalls of diisocyanate as their suppliers allocate production.
Cheele said that product specifications are changing, people are using less dense foam where possible or switching to other materials some times in an emotional response to the relentless price increases.
‘What worries me most of all,’ Cheele continued, ‘is that the industry supplies a lot of entrepreneurial furniture and bedding manufacturers, many of whom have just had enough and are saying after the fifth or sixth increase that “we are sick to the back teeth of this”.’
Chappelle said his firm has had to ‘regretfully pass on prices to our customers as forcibly as are being passed on to us.’
There is a ‘very real potential risk now’ that the high prices for isocyanate will begin to harm the future growth of the industry, Cheele added.
Chapelle agreed: ‘customers in different segments are working on substituting polyurethane for materials with less volatility. They cannot afford this volatility.’
Bart ten Brink, ceo FoamPartner said: ‘It’s not the price increases, it’s availability and the long lead times. They [our customers] consider PU to be a less trustworthy material than before while the supply along the value chain is not guaranteed or secured. In the mattress market, people are moving away from PU towards box springs and latex again. It’s hurting.’
The trend will become clearer when consumer industries introduce new products which are currently made using polyurethanes: ‘You will gradually see a shift and this will harm the industry,’ he said.
‘People have alternatives which are just as good as polyurethane, and they will switch,’ ten Brink warned.
He added: ‘I hope that the series of incidents will conclude and that will normalise the diisocyanate markets in terms of availability and pricing.’