160 experts from the WPC industry, as along with newcomers from all over the world, came to Vienna on 26-27 February for “Wood-Plastic Composites 2013”, a conference organized by AMI Consulting. The world’s top two companies, Trex (Ronald Kaplan, CEO) and Timbertech (Paul Bizzarri, Vice President of Innovation), presented the latest trends on the American WPC market. Kaplan focused on the security and economic aspects of steel deck framing. Clients buy steel under-constructions to benefit from the 25-year warranty, its superior durability over wood, safe construction, class-A fire rating and flat surface.
Bizzarri gave a speech about dynamic market changes and customer preferences for traditional and capped composite decks and vinyl products. He also gave some insights into the product lifecycle on the American market, which is currently in decline. The professional channel accounts for around 70% of the North American market. The North American housing market does actually now seem to be recovering, and the whole decking market including WPC decking is growing. Market growth can be expected to reach 5-7% p.a., and North American customers are focusing on local producers rather than Asian importers, according to Bizzarri.
John Nash of AMI Consulting gave a presentation about the European market. Along with environmental and market insights, he also shared his ideas about investment considerations and marketing requirements. The market was stable throughout 2011 and 2012, but average growth of 9% p.a. in volume can currently be expected in the EU. Decking continues to be the most frequent field of application for WPCs in Europe; solid profiles are rising compared to hollow ones.
Contrary to common belief, WPC production is very cost-intensive. It requires an investment of €2-4 million to build a WPC production site. The North Americans focus more on branding and spend at least 6-7% of their revenue on it, whereas European producers spend only 1-3% of their revenue on branding. A lack of marketing activities can be blamed for the low public profile and acceptance of WPCs in Europe and the industry will need to focus on this in the future!
German polymer producer REHAU was represented by Harald Zodl (Manager of Competence Center WPC), who talked about premium WPC decking in Europe and detailed the raw material costs of different composite formulations. The relative amount of polymer varies depending on the polymer used. Whereas a PVC-based compound requires a 50% polymer share, polyolefins work with 40%. The amount of polymer and the specific polymer price will determine the final product pricing range. The proportion of additives may be quite moderate, but raw material prices in this area are very high, and thus have a significant impact on pricing.
The price and the carbon footprint depend on the quantity of recycled fibres used in the final product. For example, WPC decking made of fully recycled raw materials reduces the carbon footprint from 1.38kg CO2/kg to 0.27kg. Zodl described European quality labels such as VHI, TÜV, PEFC, FSC and the upcoming EN standard for WPCs. These labels can help raise consumer awareness and acceptance, as Europeans still appear sceptic about WPCs. Zodl also presented REHAU’s newest innovation – the use of edge banding in terrace decking.
Frédéric Lefranc (Purchasing Manager Outdoor Products at Wolseley France) was the first speaker in 11 years of European WPC conferences to offer the audience with insights from the point of view of a WPC distributor. He experienced a rise in the WPC share of total decking volume (m²) from 5% in 2005 to 25% in 2012. The profit margin on WPC products makes WPCs more attractive to wholesalers, as it is about twice as high as the margin on tropical wood. The market is also very competitive and is characterized by elastic prices, as there are various suppliers for wholesalers to choose between.
Belgium-based compounder Beologic´s CEO Marc Thometschek gave evidence of the growth possibilities for natural fibre and WPC compounds in injection moulding. He confirmed slower growth in the decking market last year. Beologic has expanded its production facilities to Sweden and is focusing on new natural fibre composites at this new site. Thometschek shared insights into the utilization of environmentally friendly raw material development in PE and PP, although 80% of WPC the compounds Beologic sells are currently PVC-based.
Beologic introduced a new Bio-OK label for bio-based products (where the bio-based share is measured according to the ASTM 6866 standard and C14 measurement method). The is certified by the Belgian agency Vincotte. To be eligible for certification, materials must come from partially or completely renewable sources; they include biopolymers. A ranking system using 1 to 4 stars indicates the product’s bio-based content. One star represents 20-40% content bio-based origin, two stars 40-60%, three stars to content of between 60% and 80%, and finally four stars (the highest ranking) corresponds to content of over 80% bio-based material. This label has been available since 2009 and has now been extended to WPCs.
The trend in WPC production seems to point towards the use of not only wood but also various natural fibres and different kinds of polymers. Apart from technical profiles, WPC has recently also been used to produce injection-moulded equestrian obstacles, shoe soles and walking sticks. Other production methods are also in development, for example hybrid injection which can be used to form edges for particle boards. Thometschek also spoke about rotomoulding and foaming.
The event’s main sponsor battenfeld-cincinnati was represented by chartered engineer Sonja Kahr. She illustrated the historical development of WPC in Europe, concentrating on changes in solid and hollow profile decking. She focused on the various differences between solid and hollow decking, e.g. weight, transportation costs, regrinding, difficulties with calibrating, cover caps, design and cutting flexibility. She also provided some insights into the challenges machine manufacturers face with moisture levels in full profile production. The event concluded with a demonstration of the latest “Innovation fiberEX114” high-performance extruder, which has a production capacity of 220-250 kg/hr.
This was followed by a social gathering, at which the international experts were able to network and talk about their experiences. The event provided newcomers with a solid overview of the WPC industry and offered experts a fresh stimulus, as well as giving participants a taster of the upcoming major German WPC conference in Cologne (http://www.wpc-kongress.de).
About Asta Eder Composites Consulting
Dr. Asta Eder is the author of a number of studies on the WPC market, including a market survey entitled “WPC Market in Southeast Asia 2011”. This survey takes a close look at the Southeast Asian WPC market and gives a comprehensive and concise overview of data, trends and market players in on the WPC market there. Find out more at http://www.wpc-consulting.eu/discussion.html
Dr. Asta Eder, 2013-05-13.