Sustained growth in the industrial sector and the growing utilization of high-performance plastics in some applications are the major factors driving the Latin American engineering plastics market.
Plastics are cost-effective, versatile, and lighter than competing materials, which can result in cost savings in many applications, particularly automotive parts. While the economic downturn and rising raw material prices challenge the market, new application avenues, advancing technology, and new entrants bolster growth. Differentiating the product offering and providing optimized performance are the two major focus areas for participants in this space.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.chemicals.frost.com), Latin American Engineering Plastics Market, finds that market earned revenues of over $1,855 million in 2008 and estimates this to reach $2,514 million in 2015. The study covers engineering plastics resin markets including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyamide (PA), polycarbonate (PC), polyoxymethylate (POM), polybutylene terephtalate (PBT), and polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) across Mexico, the Andean region, Brazil, and the Southern Cone.
"Engineering thermoplastics are sold in much lower quantities and are thus more expensive per unit weight than commodity plastics; the applications are more specific and niche products are constantly required by the end-users," say Frost & Sullivan Research Analysts Alessandra Lancellotti and Johanna Duenas. "The Latin American market for engineering plastics is considered to be in an early mature stage, as the market has already many possibilities to grow through new applications."
In Latin America, the main end-user for engineering plastics is the automotive industry, followed by the electronics sector. The automotive sector registered impressive growth rates in Latin America during 2008 - 14.5 percent in 2008 for Brazil, representing 6.0 percent of the Brazilian GDP in 2008, and 8.0 percent in Argentina - which bodes well for the thermoplastics sector.
Despite the fact that engineering plastics have extensively replaced metals in Latin America, the focus on metal replacement is still a prominent factor influencing market dynamics. End-users are applying engineering plastics instead of commodity plastics for products that require better materials performance.
"The automotive and electronics segments are constantly seeking new ways for product improvement, for instance, replacing polypropylene (PP)," observes Duenas. "Commodity plastics have been supplanted by ABS, which is priced lower than other engineering plastics and has enhanced properties for greater performance."
However, the high cost of engineering plastics presents a risk as applications that do not require high-performance materials will chose commodity polymers instead of engineering polymers due to the competitive price. During 2008, oil prices had climbed to $150 per barrel, heavily affecting the engineering plastics market. Latin America imports a sizeable portion of plastic resins and increasing prices encouraged substitution by commodity materials. Thus, cost reduction will be at the crux of the short-term strategy for the engineering plastic market participants in the region.
"Companies are aiming to reach new markets and applications in the medium and long term, so as to not be so dependant on the automotive industry," says Lancellotti. "However, technical developments and partnerships to develop a new application can take anywhere between six months to two years."
Innovative applications can expand the range of markets where engineering plastics are applied, unleashing prospects for penetration in diverse markets. Participants must be attuned to the subtle nuances of the market, identify the needs of major consumers, and work toward finding newer, more potent solutions to ensure business progression.