High Performance Films

Published - Jan 2000| Analyst - Charles Forman| Code - PLS039B
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Report Highlights

  • The high-performance films market is made up of six major resin classes: polyesters (almost exclusively PET films), nylons, polyolefin-based films such as EVOH and PVdC, polycarbonates, fluoropolymers, and polyimides. Also, we discuss and forecast markets for an additional category of newer films, most of which are still developmental; we call this last group "definable other" performance films.
  • The total market in 1998 is estimated to be about 1.1 billion pounds, which is forecast to grow to almost 1.4 billion pounds by 2003. The value of this market is multibillion dollars; based on the prices of bulk resins it is about $1 billion in 1998 and more than $1.4 billion in 2003. Since films, whose prices vary widely even when fabricated from the same polymer, cost on average two to three times the price of the base resin, the actual dollar value of the performance films market is probably more like $3 billion today and up to $5 billion in 2003.
  • Polyesters, the dominant performance films, find use in most applications markets and are virtually alone in such end uses as magnetic media and photo/reprographic films. Their market of 825 million pounds in 1998 should grow to about 968 million pounds in 2003.

INTRODUCTION

Plastics, in many forms, have become, in the years since World War II, ubiquitous in developed nations, most of all in the United States, the largest producer and user of polymer products in the world. Synthetic polymers are made and used in many forms, from synthetic fibers to molded products such as bottles and other rigid shaped articles, to foam mattresses. Oftentimes the same polymer chemistry can produce products with entirely different properties and uses. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a good example; it first became well known as a synthetic fiber (e.g., DuPont's Dacron® brand), but is now also used extensively as a blow-molding bottle resin (most soft drink bottles are made of PET) and a performance film for photographic and magnetic media.

In this BCC report we study and report on one versatile group of polymer products, high-performance plastic films. The noun film is defined (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, 1985) thusly:

"1. A thin skin or membranous coating. 2. An abnormal thin, opaque coating on the cornea of the eye. 3.a. A thin covering or coating (as a film of dust on the piano), or b. A thin, generally flexible transparent sheet, as of plastic used in wrapping or packaging. 4. A thin sheet or strip of flexible cellulose material coated with a photosensitive emulsion, used to make photographic negatives or transparencies. 5.a. A motion picture. b. Motion pictures collectively; the cinema. 6. Computer Science. A coating of magnetic alloys on glass used in manu-facturing storage devices."

The films covered in this report are included in definitions 3.b, 4 and 6, although technology has progressed so rapidly in the years since this edition was published that the "cellulose" in definition 4 is already obsolete, as is the restriction for coatings on glass in the computer science definition No. 6.

The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, Fourth Edition (1989), defines film in terms of the word's usage in scientific applications:

"A flat section of thermoplastic resin, a regenerated cellulose derivative, or other material that is extremely thin in comparison to its length and breadth and has a nominal maximum thickness of 0.25 millimeter."

This definition fits the physical characteristics of the films we discuss in this report. The nominal maximum thickness of 0.25 mm is equivalent to 10 mils or 0.01 inch, which is normally considered in the trade to be about the thickness at which a "film" of most materials becomes a "sheet."

A word on film thickness units. Both English and metric units are commonly used, the latter around the world. In addition, in the U.S. film thickness is commonly also expressed in gauge. In film technology, gauge is a measurement of film thickness, where one gauge unit equals 0.01 mil or about 0.25 micrometer (micron). Perhaps the easiest way to remember the relationship between these unit systems is that 100 gauge film is 1 mil or 25 microns thick.

STUDY GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

Goals and objectives in this study:

  • To give an overview to high performance polymer films and their major end-use application markets.  Each of six major polymer films or film families are discussed and analyzed in detail: polyesters, nylons, polyolefin-based performance films, polycarbonates, fluoropolymers and polyimides. In addition, we discuss several novel and/or developmental films in a final category which we call “other and developmental” high-performance films; these are mostly newer, still relatively small volume films which are attempting to find a place in the competitive marketplace.
  • To discuss, analyze, and forecast markets for performance films by material types, with sections devoted to each of our classes of performance films. This includes both the six major resin types and several developmental, newer film materials for which we were able to estimate markets.
  • To analyze and forecast the markets from the viewpoint of eight major applications markets for performance films: automotive, electrical/ electronic, magnetic media, packaging, photographic/ reprographic, and release films. In addition, we have estimated the U.S. markets for film in an additional “definable other” category which encompasses several other markets such as aerospace/aircraft, building/construction clothing, hot stamping films, indus-trial membranes, office products, pipe thread sealing tape, and signs/dis-plays.
  • For both the materials and applications market analyses, to provide market volumes (in millions of pounds) for base year 1998 and forecasts for 5 years to 2003. For markets by materials we also present estimated base-line market values in constant 1998 dollars predicated on average base (bulk, large volume) resin prices.  Average annual growth rates (AAGRs) are calculated for the 1998-2003 forecast period.
  • To discuss current and new developments in resin and film technology, including some basic information on the chemistry and manufacture of the plastic resins used to make performance films, film fabrication technology, competitive processes and products, and current research and development.
  • To discuss some important factors in the structure of the high-performance plastic films industry, including film fabricators, converters and distributors, product differentiation and substitution, marketing, pricing, and some international aspects of the business.
  • To examine environmental and regulatory considerations which affect perfor-mance films, and their impact on products and markets. These include disposal problems, film recycling, biodegradability, and federal laws and regulatory processes.

To list and briefly profile many of the most important suppliers to the high-performance plastic films industry, including suppliers of plastic resins (many of whom also fabricate films but some of whom do not), and specific film converters and distributors.

REASONS FOR DOING THE STUDY

High-performance plastic films have become an important niche market in the much larger plastic films industry. High-performance plastic films are specialty products that sell at premium prices because they can do jobs that commodity films cannot do. Their use is driven by the specific applications for which they are aimed.

Although the volumes of high-performance plastic films used are small when compared to those of commodity films, the value of this market is disproportionately high. This occurs because high-performance plastic films are, as noted, specialty items that command higher prices, most of them in excess of $2.00 per pound and many with prices of $5.00/lb and even higher. Commodity plastic films, like polyethylene films, are, on the other hand, produced from cheap (really cheap at this time) commodity PE resins that sell for less than 50 cents per pound.

Also, the high-performance plastic films market is a global one, with many foreign-owned firms, such as Bayer and ICI of Europe and Japan's Kuraray and Toray, active in the U.S. market. Industry leaders have worldwide marketing (and some-times manufacturing) capabilities, held either independently or via joint ventures with local companies.

BCC did this study to provide a comprehensive reference for those interested in and/or involved in these products and their use. This is a wide and varied group of companies in many different industries which both make and use high-performance plastic films, process technology and equipment designers and marketers, politicians of all stripes, and the general public; all are touched in some way by high-performance plastic films. We have sorted through and condensed information from a large amount of literature and other reference materials to compile this report.

CONTRIBUTION OF THE STUDY AND FOR WHOM

Because of the size and diversity of the materials and products used in high-performance plastic films, this report should be of interest to a wide group of organizations and individuals, people who are involved in the development, design, manufacture, sale and use of these films, as well as government officials and the general public. BCC feels that this report will be of value to technical and personnel in the following areas, among others:

  • Marketing and management personnel in companies that produce, market and sell high-performance plastic films.

     

  • Companies involved in the design and construction of process plants that manufacture both the basic film resins and high-performance plastic films themselves.

     

  • Companies which supply, or want to supply, equipment and services to high-performance plastic films companies.

     

  • Financial institutions which supply money for such facilities and systems, including banks, merchant bankers, venture capitalists and others.

     

  • Personnel in end-user companies in a wide range of industries, ranging from aerospace to photo film and food packaging.

     

  • Personnel in government at many levels, ranging from the federal to state and local authorities, many of whom are involved in trying to ensure public health and safety.

SCOPE AND FORMAT

This BCC study covers in depth many of the most important economic, technological, political, regulatory and environmental considerations in U.S. markets for high-performance plastic films. These products are made from several different types of materials and in different designs.

Our study includes key technologies (and new technologies), the markets, and key player companies which make up the U.S. performance films market. This is a study of activities and markets in the United States; however, because of the global nature of this market and its materials and products, we touch upon some international aspects as well.

BCC's scope includes those plastic films that we (and the industry) consider to be "high-performance." These are all thermoplastic materials with the possible exception of polyimides, which are usually technically considered to be "pseudo-thermoplastic."

High-performance films may be defined in any of several ways: by volume, price, performance, end-use markets, resin types or a combination of two or more of these characteristics. For this study, high-performance films are defined as those which fill a unique or special place in the marketplace and which meet a market need that cannot easily be filled by some other film or product. A performance film is thus identified by its properties, cost and performance. In general, this means thin gauge, mostly extruded or solution cast polymer sheets, most of which meet the following criteria: list price close to or greater than $2.00/lb; continuous use temperatures above 100ºC; major end uses other than packaging; and thicknesses at or below 10 mils (30 mils or less for polycarbonate film).

Thus, in general, to qualify as a performance film, one must meet certain minimum criteria, among them:

  • It will be expensive, with list prices greater than $1.00 per pound and usually closer to $2.00/lb or greater. As noted above, some films cost $5.00 per pound or considerably higher. At this time, many base grades of the largest volume performance film, PET, are selling for more like a dollar a pound in a time of overcapacity and low markets in Asia; this will probably change in the future as Asia recovers and supply and demand come more into balance.
  • It will be thin gauge, with thicknesses usually 10 mils or less for most resins. In certain cases, most often with polycarbonate films, thicker films are formed, up to 30 mils in thickness.
  • It has special performance characteristics, such as the ability to be used at high temperatures above the boiling point of water, high strength and/or wear resistance, etc.
  • It finds significant applications other than in packaging. This is a key criterion, for packaging films are the major end use for many commodity resins, especially polyolefins such as polyethylenes.  However, packaging remains a major application for some performance films, both for polyesters and for films with good barrier properties such as EVOH and nylon. In this case, it is excellent performance which allows much sophisticated new packaging—primarily for foods—to allow extended shelf life. Thus, this type of packaging truly utilizes the “high-performance” nature of these films.
  • The film will be made from a specialty thermoplastic polymer, formed into sheets by a variety of different processes.  Most film is fabricated by extrusion casting (flat film or die extrusion), but some are solvent-cast.  Polytetra-fluoroethylene (PTFE, DuPont's first Teflon® brand product) cannot be melt-processed and extruded like conventional thermoplastics and requires special techniques such as “skiving” (peeling thin layers of film from a solid slab), paste extrusion, or dispersion casting. New fabrication techniques include coextrusion into increasingly popular multilayer structures which combine the advantages of several resins.
  • The performance film will usually have good high temperature resistance and can be used continually at temperatures above 100ºC.

High-performance films are generally fabricated (or converted) in relatively small volumes, and often are priced more on the basis of value to customers than on a manufacturing cost basis. Decisions regarding inclusion or exclusion of a particular material or product are of course somewhat arbitrary, especially when they are based on one's definition of a term such as "performance." BCC's definition of what constitutes performance excludes commodity films (primarily polyolefins), and includes the most important current and developing specialty plastic films.

The focus of this study is on six broad classes of films which cover a variety of resins, plus one catchall "other and developmental class" of smaller volume, often still experimen-tal films. These are:

  • Polyester films, primarily those fabricated from polyethylene terephthalate or PET; we use PET interchangeably with polyester throughout this report. These are the largest volume films, used primarily for photographic/ reprographic films and magnetic media such as tapes and disks.  We include PET films as performance films; some in the trade consider PET a commodity thermoplastic, and in many of its uses, such as in blow-molded soft drink bottles, it has become a commodity.  We include them because, despite usage approaching a billion pounds per year, most applications are not in packaging, and most are high technology uses such as for magnetic tapes and other media.
  • Nylon films, primarily cast and oriented nylon 6 and 6/6. Nylon films find primary application in food packaging for their strength and good barrier properties.
  • Polyolefin-based films, five of which are used in significant volume: ethylene-vinyl alcohol (EVOH), ionomer, polymethylpentene (PMP), polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC), and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) films. EVOH films are growing rapidly in packaging applications, especially in barrier films for food packaging. Ionomer films also find major application in food packaging. PMP films find use primarily in packaging and in electrical applications. PVdC is the older food and pharmaceutical barrier film, now losing market share to EVOH and the fluoropolymer PCTFE. PVOH is the best oxygen barrier film known, but because it is water soluble finds limited use, and much of this use takes advantage of its solubility.
  • Polycarbonate films, which find primary use in the graphic arts; for example, in instrument panels and other automotive end uses, signs and nameplates.
  • Fluoropolymer films, made from PTFE and seven other fluoropolymers: chlorotrifluoroethylene-vinylidene fluoride copolymer (PTCFE or CTFE-VDF), ethylene-chlorotrifluoroethylene copolymer (ECTFE), ethylene-tetra-
    fluoroethylene copolymer (ETFE), fluorinated ethylene-propylene copolymer (FEP), perfluoroalkyl-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer (PFA), polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), and polyvinyl fluoride (PVF).  Five resins—PTFE (the largest), FEP, PTCFE, PVDF and PVF—dominate the market, finding use in a variety of applications.
  • Polyimide films, high priced films used primarily in small volumes in electrical/electronic applications such as in printed circuits, wire and cable wrapping, and motor/generator insulation. Polyimide films include several types of polyimides made from monomers such as pyromellitic dianhydride and biphenyl tetracarboxylic dianhydride.
  • Finally, what we call “other and developmental” films, a catchall classification for a number of newer films which are trying to find their place in the market. For several of these films which have some current uses we can estimate their markets; these include liquid crystal polymers (LCPs), polyethylene naph-thalate (PEN), polyketones (primarily polyetherether ketones or PEEK films), polysulfones (PSO, PES and PAS), polyetherimide (PEI), and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS). In addition, there are a few high performance films that are so new, or whose uses are so small, that we cannot estimate their markets at this time; these include polyarylates, thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), poly-trimethylene terephthalate (PTT), benzocyclobutene (BCB), and cycloolefin copolymer (COC) films.

We consider all these types of plastic films to be "high-performance" films. Some others in the trade try to differentiate between the larger volume films, like polyester, nylon, polyolefin-based and polycarbonate films, and the more exotic fluoropolymers, polyimides and developmental films. They call the whole family "specialty films," with the higher volume group called "engineering" films and the others true high-performance films. Since all these films meet out criteria for high performance, we use this term to describe them all.

This report in segmented into sections, of which this Introduction is the first.

The Summary encapsulates our findings and conclusions, and includes the sum-mary market table. It is the place where the busy executive can find the major structure and findings of the study in summary format.

Next is a section on background and overview of the high-performance plastic films industry. We introduce the film resins and the films themselves, suppliers and endusers, pricing, and a brief overview of the major markets.

Next come two sections, the heart of the report, which analyze and forecast U.S. markets for high-performance plastic films. The first market analysis section is devoted to markets segmented by the various types of films, the second by major applications. In each section we start each part with our market table or tables, then discuss the materials, markets and factors that led to the construction of our market analysis.

The Technology section is next, with subsections devoted to plastic resin and film manufacture, film fabrication, and some new developments.

Next is a section devoted to the structure of the high-performance plastic films industry and some competitive factors within it that help explain its dynamics. We look at film producers, both integrated and nonintegrated, converters and distributors, product differentiation, marketing, pricing and international aspects. All of these are factors in the overall dynamics of the industry.

This is followed by a discussion of environmental and regulatory factors which affect the high-performance plastic films industry. These include some ongoing environmental issues such as film disposal and recycling, as well as government regulations over the industry.

Our section devoted to high-performance plastic films supplier firms is next, with brief profiles of many of the most important players in this industry. This includes companies that make only basic film resins, those that fabricate films (some firms do both), and those that distribute and market them.

Finally, we end the report with a glossary of some important terms, abbreviations, acronyms, etc. used in the high-performance plastic films industry and related technologies.

Some topics and materials discussed in this report, especially in the technology section, are not included in our market forecast tables. These include the newest and least developed films noted above under "other and developmental" films.

For consistency in style and format, trade names are indicated by capitalization and the ® symbol throughout the report; generic names are in lowercase script. Hence, we speak of DuPont's Teflon® brand of fluoropolymers but of polytetrafluoroethylene as a generic polymer. In many cases, particular film resins are called by uppercase letter acronyms derived from their long chemical names, such as PTFE for polytetrafluoroethylene or PMP for polymethylpentene.

We estimate demand data for our base year of 1998, and forecast for 5 years to 2003. Markets are analyzed and projected in both volumes in pounds and in constant 1998 dollars. The 5-year growth rates are all compounded (signified as average annual growth rates, or AAGRs). Most final market figures are rounded to the nearest million pounds or dollars.

However, because of the low market volumes for some classes such as fluoropolymer and polyimide films, we present their volumes in 0.1 million (100,000-pound) segments; this more detailed presentation does not imply greater precision in the numbers but is used simply to give a better idea of the magnitude of these smaller markets. Because of this rounding, especially in smaller markets, AAGRs may not exactly agree with market numbers.

METHODOLOGY AND INFORMATION SOURCES

Extensive searches were made of the literature and the Internet, including many of the leading trade publications, and well as technical compendia, government publications, and information from trade and other associations. Much product and market information was obtained from the principals involved in the industry. Other sources included directories, articles and Internet sites.

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