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Japan is struggling to reach the production levels it had ten years ago, with figures still lagging by more than 100,000 tonnes. At the same time, the market has become more technical as regards both application sectors (automotive & rolling stock especially) and processing technologies.
(Published on January - February 2008 – JEC Magazine #38)
The composite market in Japan is dragging its feet, at least in terms of volume. This can be explained by the many production plants that have relocated, particularly to China. In parallel, the market has grown in value with increasingly sophisticated applications and processes.
Furthermore, Japan is still the champion when it comes to carbon fibre, a product with high added value.
A market on the mend
Though the market expanded over the 2003-2006 period, rising from 337,400 to 359,000 tonnes, the results are not completely satisfactory. The market actually experienced a slump at the end of 2006 in relation to 2005 during which volumes reached 364,000 tonnes.
And we must remember that the market topped 479,500 tonnes in 1996. With 118,400 tonnes in 2006, the residential market, i.e. mainly bathtubs and bath units, represents about a third of the overall market. This means that the composite market still has close ties with this sector and that market dynamics greatly depend on new housing construction programmes.
This market progressed well over the 2003-2006 period seeing that it produced 97,300 tonnes in 2003.
The automotive & rolling stock industry represents the other sector that has expanded volume-wise, rising from 24,200 to 38,700 tonnes, whereas the boat, industrial and miscellaneous goods markets have remained stable.
Several sectors losing momentum
Conversely, three sectors are pulling the market down with their inexorable decline: septic tanks, tanks & containers, and construction. The first sector dropped from 48,100 tonnes in 2003 to 44,200 tonnes in 2006. Other than in 2005, this sector continues to decline every year. For the same period, the second sector fell from 26,800 to 24,700 tonnes. Last of all, the construction sector dropped from 50,700 tonnes in 2003 to 43,600 tonnes in 2006.
It is also worth pointing out that the first two sectors produced 107,100 tonnes and 42,400 tonnes respectively in 1996. The drop in volume is significant. The “miscellaneous applications” sector is also declining, which also means that composites are having trouble finding new outlets or applications outside traditional markets.
Processes: a slow-changing sector
Over the same 2003-2006 period, the use of processes experienced a slow but logical change, i.e. hand lay-up and spray-up fell from 37% to 31%, which is almost 2 points less per year. At the same time, moulding compounds gained 5 points. SMC and BMC have been dominating the Japanese market for a long time and this trend is expected to continue. This is related to growth in the automotive & rolling stock sector as mentioned earlier on.
Overall, composite applications in Japan are expected to follow the EU and US market trends.
The 52nd FRP Conference & Exhibition, that took place on 15-16 November 2007 in Tokyo, was a good reflection of the trends of the Japanese composite market these past few years. This annual event organised by the Japan Reinforced Plastics Society (JRPS) welcomed 200 composite professionals this year.
Frédérique Mutel, JEC Group’s CEO, opened the session with a conference entitled “Main dynamics of the composite industry”.
Other than the quality of the conferences, the high technical level of the subjects discussed highlighted the specificity of the market. The most represented sectors were transport (automotive and rolling stock) and building & construction. The first sector is booming while the second is producing considerable volumes. The topical cross-disciplinary issue of recycling was discussed at great length.
From an exhibition viewpoint, the environment sector was well-represented by a dozen or so stands, with special mention going to the ECO Solution Company, a composite waste collection and treatment centre. The Yamaha Company drew attention to its swimming pools partially made of recycled composite materials, while the Global Energy Company introduced its small-size, high-efficiency wind turbines suitable for domestic or collective purposes.