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Recapturing and opening up the Japanese market

News International-French

22 Aug 2011

GRP has been losing ground in Japan these past years, declining from 479,500 metric tons (MT) in 1996 to 342,400 MT in 2004. At the same time, the market has remained fairly traditional, both for applications and for converting processes. There is still a lot to be done!

(Published on May-June 2006 – JEC Magazine #25)


Statistics can be harsh. Those concerning the market in Japan for composite materials are just that, as they show a sharp decline over the years since 1996. The trend appears to be reversing, though, with the recent upswing in the Japanese economy.


This should drive the composites market along with it – especially since demand for carbon fibre is strong and should remain so. Japanese companies appear to have a firm foothold in that segment of the market.


A dependent market


A quick review shows that the market for composite materials – in particular glassfibre- reinforced plastic (GRP) – developed steadily until 1996 and started to decline thereafter, just as steadily. Nothing has been able to slow its descent. True, the building & construction and housing equipment sectors account for over half of the market, meaning that it is considerably reliant on new housing projects. There is a clear correlation between the number of new buildings and GRP volume. The decline in the composites market is due to the economic recession, and not to a backslide of composite materials in their respective markets.



GRP volume. The decline in the composites market is due to the economic recession, and not to a backslide of composite materials in their respective markets.


The dependence on these two sectors steadily increased from 1988 to 2004. In 1988, building & construction and housing equipment accounted for 61% of GRP applications. This share climbed to 66% by 1996, and reached a record 70% in 2004.


At the same time, the market declined in terms of total volume, dropping from over 450,000 MT in 1996 to under 350,000 MT in 2004.


During the recessionary period that was affecting the composite market, the building & construction sector was able to pull out, slightly improving its volumes. In addition to new housing projects, this was due to the rehabilitation segment, and particularly to the not inconsiderable activity in duct systems, here taken more broadly to include sanitation and storm/ wastewater networks. And for the period observed (1988-2004), the transport sector’s share of the total GRP applications jumped from 5% to 8%.


An atypical market


Japan is a modern country with strong traditions and particularisms. This is also true of its composite industry. When it comes to application sectors, there are clear differences between the Land of the Rising Sun and the rest of the world. Percentagewise, there are considerable differences, especially in three sectors. Whereas in Japan, the share of the composites market is 7% for transport, 15% for building & construction, and 51% for housing equipment, the corresponding percentages for the rest of the world lumped together are 24%, 7% and 18%, respectively.


This dependency on a single sector creates an imbalance in the Japanese market, which suffers from it. The relative weak showing in transport is quite remarkable, especially since it is mainly Japan’s railway system that uses composites (train and underground). The automotive segment is keeping a low profile compared to what is observed, particularly in Europe.



Note that there is a slight difference between the 2003 figures for building & construction and housing equipment shown in the chart, and those for 2004 mentioned in the paragraph above. In both cases however, the figures do confirm the increasing weight of these two sectors.


In the area of processes, Japan also stands out for the prevalence of press moulding processes, including SMC /BMC, among others. These account for 45% of the volumes of GRP processed, compared to only 22% in the rest of the world, whereas closed-mould processes account for 4% both in Japan and elsewhere.


Here, we may be concerned only with the GRP market by volume, but the entire composites market in Japan is still developing rapidly. Companies like Boeing have turned over the manufacture of many high-valueadded carbon parts to Japanese companies.


These subcontracting agreements will drive the Japanese market upwards, i.e. to higher value and more state-of-the-art technologies. The aviation sector is not the only one capable of shifting the market. Demand is beginning to be felt in the fields of wind energy, fuel cell separators, pressure vessels, energy saving and vehicle parts.



Source: “GRP market trens in Japan”, Masayasu Takano, Marketing Manager, DH Material Inc, Con-Ex 2005, Tokyo, Japan.