Unravelling Polymers

The Definitive Blog on Polymers by Poly Fluoro Ltd.

PTFE Pricing Update – The Post-COVID Scenario

Over these past two years, virtually no supply chain in the world has been immune to the vagaries of price fluctuations. The initial onset of the pandemic did not immediately result in inflationary pressures. This was possibly a combination of caution on the side of the suppliers of raw materials combined with the uncertainty that demand would persist across industries. However, once the dust somewhat settled, it became obvious that demand was still robust. Not only that, the general climate since 2021 has been one of exuberance, with the result that prices of PTFE have experienced a steady uptick month-on-month.

It should be noted that while PTFE prices have seen an upswing of anywhere between 25-40%, price escalations for other polymers have been even more pronounced. For POM (Polyacetal), for example, the price moved from a low of ~US$1.75 in 2019 to ~US$4.35 today – as staggering 2.5X increase. Other plastics such as ABS, Polypropylene, and PVC have seen similar jumps, if not as pronounced.

 
  Virgin PTFE+15% Glass

PTFE+40% Bronze

Apr-10 360 510 750
May-10 360 575 750
Jun-10 360 575 750
Jul-10 375 575 750
Aug-10 390 575 750
Sep-10 475 575 750
Oct-10 500 575 750
Nov-10 525 600 825
Dec-10 525 675 825
Jan-11 650 700 950
Feb-11 725 775 1000
Mar-11 750 850 1050
Apr-11 900 900 1100
May-11 925 900 1100
Jun-11 925 950 1100
Jul-11 1200 1250 1350
Aug-11 1200 1250 1400
 

Today, while price revisions continue to be sprung at the beginning of each month, it is probably wise to take stock of the pricing pressures presently at play and understand how the next 12 months might look. Broadly, there are four levers impacting the climate of PTFE pricing.

1. The war in Ukraine

Perhaps the most significant event over the last six months, the war has had multiple ripple effects across various economies and industries. If we look at the impact on PTFE, the effects are threefold:

  1. PTFE resins from Russia are well accepted and widely regarded as being of good quality. However, the war has forced many European nations from cutting ties with Russia and the subsequent shortage of Russian resins has put pricing pressures on PTFE raw materials.

  2. The resulting hike in oil prices pushed up the costs of shipping, forcing many processors to buy locally. This has put tremendous pressure on resin manufacturers. In India, Gujarat Fluorochemicals – who have monopoly on indigenous manufacture – have been operating at capacity. Orders that would otherwise have been available ex-stock now take 3-4 weeks to be dispatched. At the same time, MOQs have increased, as the focus shifts to pushing out as much of a given grade as possible before moving to another grade.
    (It should be noted that PTFE does not directly get impacted by oil prices. Many clients assume that as it is a polymer, its fate is somehow linked to oil. However, PTFE is made via an entirely different process and as such does not get impacted when oil prices fluctuate).

  3. The energy crisis created by the war in Ukraine – both for oil and natural gas – has caused steep escalations to the cost of production in Europe. This has, in-turn, made the manufacture of PTFE resins very costly and even with the higher shipping costs, it has made sense for them to import materials from India and China. This added displacement in demand has put the bulk of the pressure for supply on Indian and Chinese manufacturers, pushing prices up as a result.

2. Capacity expansion

COVID ensured that any major additions of capacity would need to be put on hold. However, the subsequent spurt in demand found many raw material suppliers struggling to meet their target timelines. Since 2021, the addition of capacity within China has seen many resin manufacturers step out and start re-building their dealer bases in India.

In India, the entry of SRF into the PTFE resin space remains a very significant event. While initial reports suggested they would be production ready Q3 2022, the present status seems to indicate that they may hit the market only by Q1 2023. Either way, the resulting jump in capacity will bring some much-needed competition into the local market and ease off some of the pricing pressures currently being seen.

3. China lockdown

As China pursues an aggressive lockdown policy, the supplies to other countries have been sporadic. Since China remains the largest manufacturer of PTFE resins, this supply inconsistency has caused supply-side ripples across the market. Further, with Russia out of the picture, it has become even more imperative for China to maintain a steady supply into Europe. As COVID pressures ease, we should see some improvement in the flow of materials out of China, which should subsequently relax pricing.

4. The end of anti-dumping duties

Over the past decade, the Indian market has been protected by the prevalence of anti-dumping duties on Russian and Chinese resins. This duty – a fixed amount per Kg that typically implied a price increase in the range of 18-25% - has forced most processors in India to buy only from Gujarat Fluorochemicals. As the present scenario unfolds and demand from Europe spikes, GFL’s grip on the Indian market has become even more pronounced.

However, a July 2022 ruling by the DGFT has abolished anti-dumping duties, leaving the Indian markets open to resin from both China and Russia (India continues to buy from Russia). This move is likely to see a much-needed easing of PTFE prices in months to come.

In conclusion, while PTFE supply-side pressures remain strained in the short-term, the medium to long term effects point to a general easing of pricing. Whether prices will return to their pre-COVD levels seems unlikely. However, the added capacities and competition from China and Russia will certainly keep price escalations in check, even as energy prices remain uncertain.


Read More

1. An overview of key high performance plastics

2. Polymer Sealing Solutions – High Performance Seals, Valves, and Seats 

3. High Performance Polymers in Railway Applications

An overview of key high performance plastics

The polymer landscape is constantly evolving. Even as new methods of production and processing are developed around existing polymers, there exists and ever-expanding field of new-age polymers, many of which will be mainstays of the industry in the years to come. Some of the key niche polymers are listed below. While a few – such as PTFE, PVDF, and even PEEK – are relatively well know, many are yet obscure, with their properties not fully explored or understood. It is imperative that engineers understand these properties and find ways to incorporate these polymers into their future designs.

 

Full Form

Appearance

Key properties

Applications

Brand Names

Specific Gravity

Tensile Strength (Mpa)

Max. Service Temperature (°C)

Young's Modulus (Mpa)

Dielectric Constant

Reinforcements

PEI

Polyetherimid

Amber

Strength, insulation, resistance to hydrolysis (suitable for repetitive steam sterilisation) and radiation. Stiff even at high temperatures

Electronic industries: coils and fuses
Aerospace industries: components for antenna constructions and components for interior equipment

Ultem

1.27

110

170

3100

3.2

Glass

PAI

Polyamide-imide

Dark Brown

Strength, outstanding tribological and wear performance, thermal stability

Semiconductor industry: test sockets, electrical connectors and insulators
Aerospace: fasteners, insulators and other components
Oil and Gas: natural gas compressor components, pump components and labyrinth seals
General industrial: bearing and wear components and components that require high strength and stiffness

Torlon

1.42

152

275

4500

4.2

Carbon

PPS

Polyphenylensulfide

Light Brown

Strength, resistance to high energy radiation, chemical resistance

Electronic industry: Connectors, contact rails, heat shields, contact pressure discs and special types for semi-conductor production
Automotive industry: "under the hood", fuel and brake systems
Medical industry: Parts for surgical instruments
Mechanical engineering: Compressor and pump-parts, gears, valves, slide bearings, chain guides and base plates
Chemical industry: Valves, taps, bushings, pumps, nozzles, tubes and rollers

Tecatron, Ryton

1.35

85

200

15000

3.2

Glass, PTFE

PPSU

Polyphenylsulfone

Clear - made in different colours

Resistance against high energy radiation (gamma and X-rays),  resistance to hydrolysis (suitable for repetitive steam sterilisation)

Medical industry: Test implants/adjustment bodies for hip, knee and shoulder and handles of medical devices

Radel

1.3

77

180

2500

3.4

NA

PES

Polyethersulfone

Dark Brown - translucent

Strength, insulation, microwavable, resistance against high energy radiation, weldable, machinable, thermoforming

Electrical insulation parts such as connectors
Control panel for dialysis system
Valve piston
Pump housing
Membrane for water filtration
Safety face shields

Tecason

1.37

90

180

2700

3.9

Glass

PVDF

Polyvinylidene fluoride

Waxy white

Dimensional stability, resistance to chemicals, hydrolysis, UV, and radiation. Good electrical resistance. High abrasion resistance. Low wated absorption

Chemical plant engineering with higher mechanical stress
Food and pharmaceutical industries with higher temperatures and mechanical loadings
Valves
Filter plates
Fittings
Pipelines
Coil bodies

Kynar, Tecaflon

1.75

50

140

2100

8

NA

PCTFE

Polychlorotrifluoroethylene

White

Dimensionally stable, rigid, and resistant
to cold flow, very low gas permeation and outgassing, near zero moisture absorption, excellent chemical resistance, radiation resistance

Cryogenic and chemical processing components
Seals and gaskets
Aerospace valve seats, pump parts, impellers,
diaphragms, and plugs
Laboratory instruments
Nuclear service/high radiation exposure
Liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen valve linings

Kel-F

2.15

36

195

1400

2.6

NA

PI

Polyimide

Brown

Non melting high temperature polyimide, High heat resistance, good cryogenic properties, excellent electrical insulation, good machinability, inherently flame retardant

Automotive and aerospace - machined parts
Electronic and solar - films

Kapton

1.34

116

300

3600

3.8

Graphite, MoS2, PTFE

PEEK

Polyetheretherketone

Light Brown

Strength, dimension stability, heat resistance, chemical resistance, wear resistance, light weight

Aerospace - lightweight components for metal replacement
Electronical industry: insulators, connectors and wafer-carrier
Mechanical engineering: gear wheels, sliding elements, compressor- and pump-components, drives, bushings, valves and rollers
Automotive industry: clutch and gearbox components and turbocharger impeller
Conveyor technics: guidance, strokes, rollers, grippers, and valves
Medical industry: parts for surgical instruments and short term implants
Food industry: valves, blenders, strippers, dosing systems and kneaders
Oil- and gas industry: drill heads, sealings and sensors

Victrex, Ketaspire

1.3

110

250

4000

3.1

Glass, Carbon, Graphite, PTFE

PTFE

Polytetrafluoroethylene

Waxy white

Extremely high chemical resistance, very good temperature resistance, very low coefficient of friction, low dielectric constant, flame resistance

Aerospace - radar applications
Automotive - wear strips and bands
Chemical plant engineering (valves, pump components, fittings, hopper)
Food and pharmaceutical industries
Sliding applications under high chemical stress

Teflon

2.25

25

260

550

2.1

Glass, Carbon, Bronze


Read More

1. High Performance Polymers in Railway Applications

2. Polymer Sealing Solutions – High Performance Seals, Valves, and Seats

3. Polymer Wear Plates - Grade Selection and Key Advantages

 

Case Study: Short Neutral Section Development for Railway Applications

Some years ago, we were approached by the Indian Railways as part of the Make in India initiative. As an RDSO approved manufacturer of PTFE bearings, our name had come up as a potential vendor for the indigenisation of a high value imported insulation assembly.

We were asked to visit Kuppam Railway Station (about three hours from Bangalore) and meet with technical personnel. There, we were shown an inconspicuous looking installation, perched far above within the high-tension electrical cables that supply the trains with power. A spare assembly was shown to us at ground level, and we were asked whether we could manufacture the same thing in India.

The short neutral section, as it is known, serves a very important purpose in ensuring that power is delivered to the trains without disruption. Power to overhead electrical lines are provided by substations. These substations are often located at intervals of about 100Km along railway lines. It is also likely that their phases are different and hence essential that their currents are kept insulated from each other. Short neutral sections are insulating members that connect the lines between two sub-stations. The pantographs feeding off the overhead wires for current will pass over the neutral section in order to switch from one substation’s power to the next.

Short Neutral Section

The short neutral section – or SNS – is comprised of 4 different insulating elements made with PTFE based compounds. These are mounted on insulating rods and supported mechanically with copper conductors and stainless-steel fasteners. 

The assembly is required to be mechanically strong (the tension in the overhead wires can be significant), electrically resistant, and capable of taking high wear loads, as the pantographs will repeatedly rub over the PTFE elements, causing a gradual wearing off. As a result, the PTFE elements need to be rotated once in every 2-3 months and have a life of only about 15-18 months in total. 
The issue the railways was facing was the following:

  1. The SNS assemblies were being imported from Germany at a very high cost

  2. The nature of the design meant that once the PTFE insulators wore off, the entire assembly needed to be replaced

  3. Maintenance and repairs were expensive

  4. With the growing need for electrification, the railways needed a more cost-effective solution for the SNS assemblies

At Poly Fluoro, our experience with large-walled PTFE tubes and with mechanical assemblies meant that we were able to reverse engineer the arrangement. We had already developed thick-walled PTFE tubes for the use in railway pantographs, so this was an extension of an already successful project for us. However, while our existing tubes were only being used for pneumatic and electrical applications, the SNS would also experience significant mechanical loads. 

Short Neutral Section

Care needed to be taken to ensure that we were replicating the original material with PTFE compounds of equal or better performance. We extruded 7-8 different formulations of PTFE until we found one that worked best.

One of the other key elements was the crimping of SS collars to the insulator rods. The assembly would experience tensions in excess of 10 tonnes, so the crimping needed to be strong enough to withstand this over the long term.

Finally, the design was also altered to allow for only the insulators to be replaced. The copper and other steel elements experience nearly no wear and tear during the course of the 18 months, so expecting that the whole assembly should be replaced when the PTFE wore out was needlessly expensive. With a new coupling arrangement, railway maintenance could replace only the PTFE elements, leading to a lower down time and far lower costs.

Short Neutral Section Installation

Even after construction, the SNS assembly needs to go through significant rounds of testing at CPRI before it is ready for field action. Poly Fluoro extensively tests its materials in house, so that the risk of any failure either on the field or in a third-party lab is minimal.

Using only the finest quality resins and state-of-the-art processing equipment and techniques, Poly Fluoro is on its way to be an integral part of the Make in India initiative, as well as India’s own growth and development story.


Read More

1. Case Study - Expanded PTFE (ePTFE) Tubing

2. Case Study - Cross Directional Expanded PTFE Gasket Tape