Plastindia targets the auto industry

The seventh edition of Plastindia, an exclusive expo on the latest in the plastics and polymer industry held at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan last fortnight, saw close to 1,500 companies showcase their latest products and materials, many of them of specific interest to the automotive industry. The six-day event also saw a number of industry experts from leading plastics and compounds manufacturers debate on complex technological issues pertaining to the plastics industry, besides displaying their

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 17 Feb 2009 Views icon1792 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Plastindia targets the auto industry
The seventh edition of Plastindia, an exclusive expo on the latest in the plastics and polymer industry held at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan last fortnight, saw close to 1,500 companies showcase their latest products and materials, many of them of specific interest to the automotive industry. The six-day event also saw a number of industry experts from leading plastics and compounds manufacturers debate on complex technological issues pertaining to the plastics industry, besides displaying their latest innovations.

Plastindia, which has been ranked by AC Nielson-ORG Marg as the second best plastics fair in the world, featured over 20 country pavilions and was spread over 800,000 square feet in 25 halls and 15 hangars. A number of conferences saw experts and representatives from the global business fraternity discuss a range of issues. Among the major participants with a strong foothold in the automotive industry were BASF, Lanxess India, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Mitsui and Breyer among others. Many companies from China, Taiwan, Japan, Austria, Germany and UK also participated.

Most exhibitors were confident about the huge growth opportunity present in India over the next few years. With the domestic per capita consumption set to double by 2012 and an expected investment of nearly US $80 billion, India is set to dominate the world’s plastic scenario soon. Addressing an Indo-US plastic industry summit, Kamal Nanavaty from the Plastindia 2009 National Advisory Board, said: “Plastics have witnessed a huge demand in roads, railways, power, ports, airport, communications, water irrigation and packaging.” He maintained that US $80 billion worth of new investment will take place in Indian plastic industry over the next four years. Considering the per capita consumption of plastic in India is 5kg compared to US (109kg), Brazil (32kg) and China (29kg), the potential for growth is very high, he said.

Arvind Mehta, president, Plastindia Foundation, remarked that the Indo-US summit was a pioneering initiative by Plastindia. For India, USA is a key market and it continues to be the number one export destination with exports touching close to US $350 million in 2007-08, he added.

“The market demand will present historical opportunity for penetration, particularly of plastics and chemicals, into the end-product markets such as automotive, packaging, construction and health and personal care. This will be concentrated in developing nations like India, where the growth has been rapid and billions of people require access to growing quantities of energy,” said John R Verity, vice-president, Polyolefins Global Business Unit, ExxonMobil Chemical Company.

Auto industry wakes up to plastics

Plastics manufacturers at the expo unanimously agreed that the slowdown in the auto industry has created an opportunity for the plastics industry to put forward its case. “What we see in this current scenario is an opportunity. We now realise that customers are now more open to solutions which we are bringing in. We also see the drive for cost reduction is increasing and throwing up a number of opportunities for metal replacement. We see this trend both in the four-and two-wheeler industry. There is an increasing awareness and acceptability of plastics as they are getting proven in complex and critical applications,” said Vikas Vij, head - sales and marketing, DSM Engineering Plastics India.

DSM Engineering Plastics is a part of the Netherlands-based DSM Group and one of the world’s leading suppliers of engineering thermoplastics with a broad portfolio of high-performance plastics. These materials are used in a host of components for electrical, electronic, mechanical and extrusion applications.

“The automotive market is a crucial segment for us. There are many new materials being developed that can reduce vehicle cost. We have recently commenced production at a new 20,000 tonnes per annum compounding facility in Ranjangaon near Pune, the largest for any engineering plastics. We will be making two flagship products — Arnite and Akulon — and adding other polymers in the future. Our clients would be typical Tier 1 companies which would be buying the material from us, making automotive components and supplying them to OEMs. We also supply materials like polymer Stanyl which goes inside the timing system of a car. These are primarily used in critical applications where wear and friction is important and where high temperatures are prevalent,” said Vij.

Though DSM produces only the granules, it gets involved directly with the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers at a very early stage, helping them design a product in plastic. “A conventional tensioner used to be a metal and a rubber. We have converted it into a single-piece injection moulded plastic solution meeting all the requirements and bringing down costs. To support this, we have started a Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) centre in India which supports advanced engineering requirements. So we are doing both the flow and the designing part of it wherein we work with customers right from the drawing board stage,” he added. DSM is now looking at finding the next level of solutions that it can offer to automotive OEMs. Recently it launched a Stanyl product which has long term temperature resistance of up to 220deg C. “This means a number of metal products in a vehicle can be replaced by thermoplastics, which in turn can substantially cut down costs by 30 to 40 per cent,” Vij said. BASF keen to innovate Hermann Althoff, group vice-president, engineering plastics Asia-Pacific, BASF South East Asia Pte Ltd, is also optimistic about the increasing role of engineering plastics in the automotive world.

“Not only are we displaying our new materials here but new applications also. All car producers are trying to make cars lighter. There is a big potential to use metal substitutes in car exteriors. The quality requirement is very high and they need to be paint-able in the paint booths where temperatures are very high. Our product fulfils this kind of requirement,” he said.

The downturn in the vehicle industry, he noted, is an opportunity for companies like BASF. “Car producers realise that in such bad economic situations they need attractive models to attract customers. In turn customers want more fuel efficient cars that are also clean on emissions. All this requires innovation. We believe that engineering plastics can provide a lot of solutions. Much of our developments are to replace metal. Cars are becoming light-weight because of this replacement. Engineering plastics can also reduce production costs. For example, a seat shell that we have displayed here is made of engineering plastic. A number of car seats today have metal structures and it takes around 22 different parts to assemble a seat. But in this case it is one-shot injection moulding and the entire structure can be produced at 25 percent lower cost. These seats meet all safety and comfort requirements and all crash test requirements,” he added.

BASF is constructing an engineering plastics plant in Thane with a capacity of 9,000 tonnes per annum. It will primarily cater to the automotive industry as also the electronic and other industries that use engineering plastic parts. BASF has also set up a technical centre nearby. This unit, which specialises in CAE, is also working on projects outside India. “Our technical centres in the US and Germany have started providing jobs to the centre in Thane, thanks to the skills of our software engineers. We have started with five engineers, who have been trained at our centres abroad. We will be ramping up this number soon,” said Althoff. The soon-to-be-marketed Tata Nano uses considerable high-performance plastics, some of them from BASF. The company's Ultramid reinforced engineering plastic is used for its plastic air intake manifold, which is produced by Tata Visteon. Using Ultramid instead of conventional aluminium leads to about 40 percent weight savings."

ExxonMobil Chemical guns for growth

Chemicals and plastics major ExxonMobil Chemical Company was another high-profile participant at Plastindia. According to Simon J Holmes, global marketing manager, Specialty Elastomers Business, the company’s focus in the automotive industry is on the use of polyolefins which are light weight and would improve the fuel efficiency of cars.

“We have materials that are used in bumpers and door panels, among other parts. What is interesting is to know where some of them are going next. Let’s take an inner door module where some of the metal parts are being replaced with fibre reinforced polypropylene. This provides a complete seal. When you look at these components, it is all about fit and noise and rattle reduction. This will be done in a single moulding. So the ability to take this polypropylene and put some soft polypropylene-based seals around is a great way for the industry to meet the problem of noise reduction,” he said.

Holmes noted that during such times when the automobile industry is experiencing a downturn, innovation will be key when it comes to reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Exxon sources its products into India from its billion-dollar facility in Singapore which produces polypropylene, polyethylene and elastomers. It also has specialty compounding plants in Europe and America.

The share of the automotive business in elastomers is as high as 50 percent but in other products it is around 10 percent. “But the automotive industry tends to drive technical innovation. It is a relatively large industry and has technical demands. As we introduce more plastics into cars, we reduce their weight which is an essential driver of vehicle fuel efficiency. Plastics like polyolefins are completely recyclable. So there is a cost and environment benefit all the way through the supply chain in working with these parts. The other is engineering simplifications. The ability to take 10 components and find ways to mould them into two is an innovation that leads to better performance. Year on year, plastic penetration in cars is increasing, which is due to the improved performance standards of plastics,” said Holmes.

Overall, the six-day Plastindia 2009 expo proved to be an ideal meeting place for buyers and sellers wanting to enhance their business prospects in the Indian marketplace, which is at present a massive opportunity for companies in the plastics business. Plastindia has grown dramatically over recent years and it is now seen as the second most important plastics show in the world after Kunstoffe in Germany.
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