Polymeric Foams, BCC Research
- June 2015
- 225 pages
- BCC Research
Identify the polymeric foams industry, the changes found in this major segment of plastics production.
Know about the most common and popular commercial polymeric foams and their applications, their technologies and competing plastic foams.
Know about the market estimates and forecasts for plastic foams of several kinds in many different important markets such as construction, transportation and packaging.
Identify polymer foam markets by applications.
The U.S market for polymeric foam was nearly 7.9 billion pounds in 2014. This market is predicted to reach nearly 8.1 billion pounds in 2015 and nearly 9.3 billion pounds in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.8%.
The polyurethanes segment reached nearly 4.4 billion pounds in 2015. This market is expected to grow to nearly 5.1 billion pounds in 2020, with a CAGR of 3%.
The polystyrene market was nearly 2.3 billion pounds in 2015. This market is expected to grow to 2.4 billion pounds in 2020, with a CAGR of 2.4%.
STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
In the roughly four years since BCC Research’s last study on the polymeric foams industry, the changes we found in this major segment of the plastics production and
processing industry were more evolutionary than revolutionary. Products and markets change as technology and society change, but aside from continuing work on finding
newer and better foam blowing agents, the products and processes to make them are pretty much the same. Polymer foams find their primary applications in consumer
products, such as cushioning for furniture and automobiles, thermal insulation for construction and packaging, and similar end uses that are driven by the business cycle.
As the business cycle has turned upwards again after the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, these products are again getting attention and sales.
Most of the markets for plastic foams are the same ones that have existed for years. In recent years some newer markets have also developed, such as cross-linked polyolefin
foam in leisure and sports goods and foamed PVC in house siding, windows/doors and other construction shapes. A more recent development is work on foams made from
biopolymers and biodegradable polymers, work done in concert with efforts to reduce the country’s dependency on petroleum and natural gas, the feedstocks for the plastics
that are currently foamed. The focus of this study is on conventional plastic foams, those made from synthetic chemical feedstocks; foams made from newer bioplastics
are outside our scope and are the subject of other studies and reports.
Polymers are foamed for cost and performance advantages. Foamed plastics are lighter than nonfoamed articles made from the same resin; they require less resin and
therefore achieve lower material costs. Equally or more important, foamed plastics have properties different from nonfoamed ones, properties that often are
advantageous and not attainable with nonfoamed plastics. The insulating and cushioning qualities of the gas bubbles in a foamed article are obvious attributes, but
less obvious is the fact that a foamed article is often stronger than its nonfoamed analog. Thus, structural shapes and forms, such as piping and wall siding, can be
stronger when foamed, even though this may seem counterintuitive.
Markets are driven by different forces. Market drivers in recent years that have caused the most significant changes have often been environmental and public perception
Such issues have included:
Consumer safety issues, ranging from fire resistance and flammability to concerns over the use of plastics that are often thought to be (almost always erroneously)
health hazards (especially carcinogens).
Solid waste disposal and recycling, a political ‘hot button’ of the 1990s that recently has gained more speed with calls for bans on plastic bags, is not a concern of this
Atmospheric protection, caused about by concerns and actions taken regarding blowing agents used to produce foamed plastics. This concern has taken on greater
importance more recently because of global warming.
Because of concerns over the earth’s ozone layer and global warming, chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) foam blowing agents were banned, and their first group of
replacements, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), are also scheduled for phase-out over the near future, with a total ban by 2030. The most important CFC-replacement
foam blowing agent, HCFC-141b, has been banned since 2003. HFCs, the nonchlorine-containing compounds that were thought to be the final replacements for
CFCs, have also come under attack, not as destroyers of the ozone layer but as “super greenhouse gases,” many times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the
atmosphere. Volatile hydrocarbon blowing agents are under increased control as air-polluting VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
Our goal in this study and update is to describe the most common and popular commercial polymeric foams and their applications, their technologies, competing
plastic foams as well as those made from other materials, and future industry trends.
Market estimates and forecasts are made for plastic foams of several kinds in many different important markets such as construction, transportation and packaging. The
polymers and applications covered are introduced below under “Scope and Format” and are discussed in greater detail in later chapters of this report.
REASONS FOR DOING THE STUDY
Polymer foams touch our lives every day. Some applications are unseen, such as the insulating sheathing on our houses and inside our refrigerators, while some
applications are in visible end uses, such as foamed seat cushions and foamed polystyrene hot cups used for fast-food coffee. These products are important items in
the economy, and because of the environmental issues previously noted, represent an interesting dynamic of twenty-first century American society.
The plastic foam industry is a major segment of the American plastics industry, historically accounting for about 10% of total commodity resin consumption until the
“Great Recession” of 2007-09 caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. Demand for the consumer products that use a lot of foam, like automobiles and construction,
then dropped significantly in the recession and are only recently getting back to former levels. This recovery is led by the simple fact that foamed products have many
advantages; for example, those used for insulation and protective shipping reduce energy consumption and product damage and thus lead to lower manufacturing costs,
less waste and other desirable results.
BCC Research first performed and has updated this study to provide a comprehensive reference for those interested and/or involved in these products; these professionals
comprise a wide and varied group of companies that make and use polymer foams, as well as process technology and equipment designers and marketers, politicians of all
persuasions and the general public. The information in this report has been gleaned and condensed from a large amount of literature and other reference materials in the
course of its compilation.
CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY AND INTENDED AUDIENCE
This report is intended to assist those involved in several different segments of the U.S. industrial and commercial business sectors, primarily those professionals whose main
interest is in thermal insulation (construction, appliances and the like), comfort cushioning (furniture, auto seats and other uses), transportation (other automotive
parts, such as protective cushioning and bumpers), as well as packaging applications.
These professionals include those who are involved in the development, formulation, manufacture, sale and use of foamed polymers and polymer foaming processes; and
those in ancillary businesses, such as processing equipment, additives, and other support chemicals and equipment (e.g., process and product-development experts,
process and product designers, purchasing agents, construction and operating personnel, market staff and top management). This report will be of great value to
technical and business personnel in the following areas, among others:
Marketing and management personnel in companies that produce, market and sell polymeric foams.
Companies involved in the design and construction of process plants that manufacture polymeric foams, and those that service these plants.
Companies that supply chemicals, equipment and other materials to plastic foam producers and users.
Basic research personnel in academia, government and industry.
Financial institutions that supply money for the above-mentioned facilities, including banks, merchant bankers and venture capitalists. Such institutions need to identify
and know areas of potential trouble, as well.
Personnel in end-user companies and industries; these are a wide ranging group of companies in industries as varied as automobile manufacture and healthcare
Personnel in government at many levels, not only at the federal level (such as the Environmental Protection Agency), but also state and local health, environmental and
other regulators who must implement and enforce the laws regarding public health and safety.
SCOPE AND FORMAT
This BCC Research study covers in depth many of the most important technological, economic, political and environmental considerations in the U.S. polymeric foams
industry. It is basically a study of U.S. markets, but because of the global nature of polymer and packaging chemistry, it touches on some noteworthy international
activities, primarily those that impact the U.S. market such as the significant number of foreign firms that operate on U.S. soil.
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, the polymeric foams covered in the scope of this study are the older conventional foams made from synthetic plastics produced
from chemical and petrochemical feedstocks. New foams made from the growing bioplastics industry are outside our scope.
All market estimate figures are rounded to the nearest million pounds, and all growth rates are compounded and signified as percent compounded annual growth rates
(CAGR%). Because of this rounding, some growth rates may not agree exactly with figures in the market tables, especially for differences in small volumes. All market
figures are at the manufacturer’s or producer’s level.
This report is segmented into nine chapters, beginning with this Introduction. Chapter Two, the Summary which follows, next encapsulates our findings and conclusions, and
includes a summary major market table. Here, the busy executive can find the major findings of the study in summary format.
Chapter Three is an Overview to the industry, starting with an introduction to the petrochemical industry that is the source of polymers and the plastic resin industries
that make the resins that go into polymer foams. Polymeric foams are introduced and each of the major foamed plastics and their principal foam structures are discussed.
The chapter ends with a discussion of some competing foam materials, thus introducing the reader to the field of polymers and foamed plastics and foam
Chapter Four, Polymer Foam Markets by Material Types, is the first of our market analyses, estimates and forecasts. It discusses and forecasts markets for foamed
plastics by type. These include three classes of major commodity thermoplastic resins used to produce foams: polyolefins (primarily polyethylenes and polypropylene),
polystyrene and PS copolymers, and polyvinyl chloride and copolymers. The largest foamed polymer group, the thermosetting polyurethanes (PURs), comprise the major
focus. Some specialty foams are included, as well as market estimates and forecasts for plastic foam blowing agents and PUR raw material isocyanates and polyols.
Chapter Four begins with an overall market analysis, estimate and forecast for the major types of polymeric foams for base year 2014 and a five-year forecast from 2015
through 2020. Each type of foam is then described in more detail with a discussion of important applications and more-detailed market forecasts.
Chapter Five is our second market analysis chapter, Polymer Foam Markets by Applications. It discusses, estimates and forecasts markets by polymer foam
applications. Applications have been categorized into seven specific major groups:
Appliance thermal insulation.
Building/construction, primarily insulation and PVC profiles/shapes.
Electrical/electronics, with the largest market in acoustical and noise-control foams.
Furniture and furnishings, mainly comfort cushioning.
Packaging, both functional and product protection.
Transportation, primarily cushioning.
A group of other applications, ranging from sports equipment to shoe insoles and powder puffs, ends the chapter.
Chapter Six, Technology, starts with a review of some basic polymer chemistry, manufacture and properties of plastics used in producing plastic foams and then
progresses on to conventional foam technologies. Some new polymer foam technologies are covered, including new blowing agents, polyol technology and
microcellular foams. A discussion of polymer recycling technology rounds out this chapter.
Chapter Seven, Industry Structure and Competitive Analysis, covers the structure of the polymeric foams industry and emphasizes the major domestic producers and
suppliers, as well as trends in the industry. Some international aspects of the business are also discussed and analyzed, including the global nature of the polymer foam
industry, major foreign-owned supplier companies that operate in the U.S. and trends outside the U.S.
Chapter Eight, Environmental, Regulatory and Public Policy Issues, discusses items of increasing importance to the polymer foams industry. Several of the most important
environmental and regulatory considerations are linked, since governments around the world seem to have decided that regulations are the best means of achieving
environmental ends such as saving the earth’s ozone layer and reducing greenhouse gases. Getting agreement on international cooperation and action is another matter.
The last narrative chapter is Chapter Nine, Company Profiles, which lists many supplier companies that BCC Research considers to be among the most important and/or best
representatives of the polymer foam business.
Finally, this report ends with an Appendix containing a glossary of some important terms, abbreviations and acronyms used in the chemical, polymer and polymer foams
REPORT SCOPE AND NOTATION
Some topics and materials covered in the text of this report are not specifically broken out in our market estimate and forecast tables. A good example is microcellular foams,
an exciting technology that is steadily getting more applications. Since the technology is used to foam the same resins, commercial applications are already included in
Copyrighted and trademarked trade names are capitalized. Generic product names are lowercase, with the exception of common chemical acronyms, such as MDI and TDI,
and plastics such as PE, PP, PVC and PUR. Chemical formulae are sometimes used to abbreviate compounds, such as NaCl for sodium chloride (table salt).
METHODOLOGY AND INFORMATION SOURCES
Searches were made of the literature and the Internet. These included many leading trade publications as well as technical government compendia, and information from
trade and other associations. Much product and market information was obtained from the principals involved in the industry. Corporate profile information was obtained
primarily from the individual companies, especially the larger publicly owned firms.
Other information sources included textbooks, directories, articles, and industry websites.