Nylon shortage threatens global auto production, French suppliers say
GPA, the association of French automotive plastic parts suppliers, has warned of an impending global crisis due to the shortage of key nylon materials.
In a Friday statement, the GPA said the ongoing nylon shortage could put the automotive industry in “serious difficulty” and urged car makers to find alternative solutions.
Describing it as a “structural problem”, GPA said the shortage is mainly rooted in the low supply of the a chemical that goes into nylon production known as adiponitrile -- currently produced globally at only five global locations spread over France, Japan and the U.S.
“Numerous plastics manufacturers … have interrupted their production of [nylon] and imposed quotas on their customers,” said GPA, noting the increasing number of force majeures by leading material suppliers.
The type of nylon in question -- called nylon 6/6 -- is specified by carmakers for its technical properties, and according to GPA President Luc Messien, the process to approve new materials make it very difficult to find alternative solutions in the short term.
The material is used in an increasing number of applications, in particular in electronics, and the shortage has driven a 40 percent increase in prices since the beginning of the year.
Nylon 6/6 is highly resistant to high temperatures, making it suitable for under-the-hood applications such as air supply systems, filtration and cooling systems, and in other interior parts including pedals and door handles.
In response to the tight supply, the GPA statement called on plastics manufacturers to “quickly open new production lines and to secure their supply chain.”
“Today, only 55 percent of Europe’s [nylon] production capacity is available. At the same time, current demand requires an increase in the production capacity. Hasn’t the time come to speed up investments in Europe and renovate the existing lines?” said Armelle Dumont, managing director of the GPA.
Parallel to that, the French association has urged automotive suppliers to find “alternative solutions” despite all the complexities.
Finding an alternative is complex as any new material's specifications should match those of nylon 6/6. Such materials are often even scarcer and more expensive.
In addition, the process to approve new materials take a very long time.
To address the latter issue, Dumont has called on carmakers to help by shortening their approval processes.
"These shortages of materials mean that supplies to certain members of the GPA will dry up at the start of 2019, a situation that could put the complete production chain in peril,” Dumont warned.
European plastic suppliers have seen nylon prices rise by $1,729 per metric ton in the last 18 months.
“They are the victims of an unsustainable scissors' effect brought on by the rise in the price ... the quotas and their customers’ refusal to pay for a part of these price hikes,” GPA concluded.
Nylon supplies were intially hampered in Europe due mainly to strikes at Butachemie, which is the only European supplier of ADN from its plant in Chalampe, France.
And in August, Belgian materials supplier Solvay SA said its nylon activities were temporarily impacted by the severe drop in water levels along the Rhine river following a drought in Central Europe.
German chemicals giant BASF SE also announced two force majeures for all its nylon polymers in January and June, as it had to shut down a key plant in Seal Sands, United Kingdom, due to an "unexpected failure" of a site utilities unit.
Plastics News Europe is an affiliate of Automotive News.
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