Published December 2015
This report discusses the two major categories of specialty films—engineering films and high-performance films. Each category has the following major classes:
- Engineering films
- High-performance films
- Polyethylene naphthalate
- Cyclo-olefin copolymer/polymer
Although they are consumed in much lower quantities than engineering films, high-performance films tend to have higher prices and higher value in use.
The following pie chart shows consumption of specialty films in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China on a value basis:
The United States fabricates and consumes large volumes of engineering films (polyester, nylon, and polycarbonate) and fluoropolymer films. Major fabricators of engineering films, such as DuPont Teijin Films, Honeywell, SABIC, and Covestro (formerly known as Bayer MaterialScience), are generally back-integrated to resin production. In contrast, fluoropolymer film manufacturers are both horizontally and vertically integrated.
Suppliers of engineering films are well established in Europe. Most of the major polyester and polycarbonate films fabricators are global companies such as Toray Films Europe, Agfa, Covestro, and SABIC and they are also mostly back-integrated. Nylon film producers represent an exception, as they are independent fabricators and not back-integrated.
Japan also has a well-established engineering films industry. Besides that, the country has historically had a leadership position in the fabrication and consumption of polyimide and developmental films. The electronics industry is well developed in Japan and the local companies (e.g., film suppliers and end users) have been able to form cooperative agreements for the development of new applications. Toray, Kaneka Corporation, and Sumitomo Bakelite are among the major suppliers of polyimide and developmental films in the country. However, the electronics industry in Japan was hard hit by the economic downturn in 2008–09. Many end users of specialty films have moved their production to other Asian countries.
The Chinese industry is well established, especially for BOPET and nylon films. For polycarbonate, fluoropolymers, and polyimide films, the domestic demand, which is growing very rapidly, still relies largely on imports. Many independent producers of specialty films have started operations since 2004 and the number continues to grow. However, except for PTFE and polyimide, the high-performance films industry is still not developed.
Compared with other businesses covered in the report, the polyester film business is large, global, and very competitive. A large number of companies supply polyester film, and some, such as DuPont Teijin/Teijin DuPont, Mitsubishi, Toray, Uflex, and Polyplex, maintain fabrication facilities in more than one geographic region. Packaging represents the largest end use for BOPET film, followed by industrial (25%) and electrical/electronic (16%) applications, which also include optical film for flat-panel displays (FPDs).
Dominated by regional players, the nylon film business is less global than most of the other classes of specialty films. Over 80% of the film consumed goes into flexible packaging (primarily food and medical) applications.
The polycarbonate film business is dominated by SABIC IP. SABIC has a majority share of the US market, and the company is establishing and/or expanding its fabrication facilities in other regions as well. Covestro is a major Western European fabricator and has a fabrication facility in the United States.
Five film types account for about 95% of the worldwide demand for fluoropolymer film—PTFE, PVF, FEP, PVDF, and ETFE. As a leading fabricator of fluoropolymer films, Chemours (formerly DuPont Performance Materials) supplies PFA, ETFE, and FEP films to markets in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and China. PTFE film is the largest-volume fluoropolymer film.
Polyimide (PI) film uses can be divided into low-end and high-end applications. Low-end applications include pressure-sensitive tapes and insulating films for wire, cables, motors, and generators. High-end applications include the use of PI films as carrier films in flexible printed circuits and all related applications, such as tape automated bonding, chip on film, and flexible copper-clad laminates. The polyimide film business, previously dominated by DuPont/DuPont Toray and Kaneka, has seen quite a few new entrants.
A number of companies, the most successful of which are in Japan, have developed new types of films from various high-performance resins during the past decade. Consumed in very small volumes, most of these films are produced in small volumes. Suppliers are seeking niche markets that can benefit from a combination of the films' price and performance characteristics, which generally lie between those of polyester and polyimide films. Japanese companies have made significant strides in commercializing these films because of two factors—the well-developed electronics industry, which is a key market for these films, and the fact that suppliers and end users work closely together to develop applications globally. The long-term prospects are mixed for these small, niche films; some businesses are struggling while others appear to offer great promise.