Meler reflects on the global situation of thermoplastic adhesives (Part I)
The situation of scarcity of raw materials and unpredictability in commercial relationships fills the future with uncertainty. In this geopolitical and economic context, we spoke with several experts from the sector who gave their opinion on the delicate industrial environment in which Meler finds itself.
The televised speech by Putin on 24 February sparked a new world order. The collateral effects of the conflict have not only altered logistics routes at a global level but have also increased stress on markets that had already been disrupted in recent years due to the pandemic. All sectors are facing serious supply problems and difficulties due to the rise in energy prices. In this context, Meler looks to its clients and partners to try to find a way out of this situation together.
The thermoplastic adhesives market: between energy dependence and scarcity of raw materials
The COVID-19 crisis stalled global logistics during the first half of 2020, but during subsequent months, demand grew unstoppably. This unexpected reaction of markets, in addition to the scarcity of raw materials, led to price competition all over the world. Hot-melt adhesives have not escaped this situation—let’s find out why.
Hot Melt: Composition
Martín Pastor, Doctor of Physics from the R&D Department of Focke Meler, reminds us that hot-melt adhesives are made up of one or more chemical substances as a base and a series of additives selected to improve their adhesive properties.
The ethylene and vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer is probably the most widely used in the formulation of hot-melt adhesives. An example of an EVA-based hot-melt adhesive composition may contain:
- around 30% EVA copolymer (to offer strength and resistance)
- approximately 30% resin (to improve wetting and adhesion)
- 30% wax/mineral oils derived from petroleum (to reduce viscosity and control resistance to heat)
- The remaining 10% to make up the 100% varies, including additives such as flame retardant, antibacterial and UV protection agents…
Many of the base polymers used in the manufacture of thermoplastic adhesives are obtained from natural gas and petroleum. Therefore, the price and availability of Brent crude oil directly affect the price and global supplies of hot-melt adhesives.
Dr Jorge López, purchasing manager at Euromel (Argentinian partner of Meler), shares his expert view of what has happened in recent months: “In addition to the problems caused by the pandemic, vinyl acetate was already recording significant increases since 2020 due to the closure of several petrochemical plants. Many companies in the sector began to operate in a situation of force majeure, imposing selective sales to clients whose products or demands guaranteed better margins. A visual scenario: In just nine months, the scarcity of raw materials on the market caused the ex-works price per kilo of PSA to increase from €1.70 to €3.60.
Our Argentinian partner closely follows the reports of ICIS, an independent body that undertakes weekly monitoring of the evolution of the ethylene and vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer market dynamics. The large producers of EVA are located in Asia and the Middle East, and as ICIS indicates, the use of this adhesive in growing sectors with products of greater added value, such as footwear in Asia and the renewable energy industry in China, has renewed the competition for copolymers used in the manufacture of hot melts.
“It is a struggle in terms of production processes”, states Luis Guerra, Sales Manager of the Asia-Pacific region for Meler. “Scarcity is driving investment in R&D—the way production is carried out is being reconsidered. End users need greater flexibility and the incorporation of new technologies with traditional applications.”
Luis gives an example of this struggle of processes: EVA films for the manufacture of solar panels, where production has been on the rise for years, have been gaining ground in the adhesives sector.
“As a company specialised in the application of adhesives, we have already reacted to these new needs imposed by the situation of the market. We have done this, firstly, by assisting our clients in their production changes and, secondly, by developing versatile products, such as Raptor Infinity: the new electric applicator capable of creating continuous patterns, compatible with a large range of adhesive viscosities.
The aim is to give the end user greater flexibility to work seamlessly with the different adhesives available, increasing the range of products that can be used with the same applicator. This feature is unique to Raptor Infinity and is one of its competitive advantages over traditional applicators. It is a clear example of our commitment to solving the current problems of our clients”, states Luis Guerra.
This article was created with the collaboration of several specialists from the adhesive application sector, whose involvement and interest make them key players in the delicate industrial environment in which Meler finds itself. Our intention is to offer our clients and partners ways to assess the impact of this context on their business. Therefore, we will continue to offer updated and useful information for the sector.