Europur: European flexible PU slabstock foam market report 2019
At the annual conference of Europur and Euro-Moulders, Angela Austin, Director of Labyrinth Research and Markets Ltd., and Patrick de Kort, Regulatory Affairs Manager of Europur, presented the market report 2019 for the flexible PU foam industry (covering the year 2018). The statistics were compiled with production data provided by member companies and aggregated in compliance with competition law. For the rest of the industry, and to interpret the data, interviews with 80 experts from 65 industry organisations took place.
According to Europur, the data shows that the total production of flexible polyurethane foam in the 28 EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey reached 1.7 million tonnes in 2018. Of this tonnage, 388,000 tonnes was moulded foam, down from 410,000 tonnes in the previous year and 1,318,400 tonnes was slabstock foam, a decrease of 58,406 tonnes. Of the total flexible polyurethane slabstock foam produced, 1.24 million tonnes was polyether slabstock foam and 75,217 tonnes was polyester slabstock foam.
For slabstock foam, the decrease in production appeared to be due to a number of factors, but the most consistent reason reported by foamers was the switch from high quality high-resilience (HR) and visco-elastic (VE) grades to lower density foams by end-users in the mattress and upholstered furniture industry. The high level of price volatility of diisocyanates appears to have resulted in a shift towards the commoditisation of polyurethane foam as a comfort material. For example, a decrease in density of only 1 kg/m3, from an average of 28 kg/m3 to 27 kg/m3 would account for most of the decrease in polyether slabstock foam production. Several foam plants closed in 2018, removing an estimated 30,000 tonnes of capacity, and there was some replacement of foam with springs, polyester fibres and other materials.
Production of upholstered furniture, mattresses and vehicles was more or less stable across the EU as a whole, but there were some strong variations by region.
Further volatility in the price of isocyanates was evident, with high prices persisting throughout the first half of 2018, followed by a sharp fall in the second half of the year due to weaker demand and increasing supplies. Although foamers feared a loss in business due to the widespread replacement of high-priced polyurethane foams with lower cost alternative materials, this could not be determined from end-use market data.
Overall, many foamers have adapted to changes in the market structure by exporting more product using compression technology, developing higher value products, engaging with e-commerce suppliers and creating new markets for products such as acoustic insulation for the construction industry. But the concrete situation of individual producers has been hugely variable in 2018 depending notably on where the company is located, on what types of foam it produces, on whether the company was mostly producing foam for own consumption or selling foam on the market and on whether the company or its clients serve the booming e-commerce market.