Published May 2016
Nylons constitute a family of resins, the most important of which are nylon 6 and nylon 66. Nylon 6 and nylon 66 are the most successful and highest-volume members of the nylon family and are the focus of this market analysis.
End-use applications for nylon resin fall into two broad categories: fibers and engineering resins. Fiber production from spinning processes yield end-use applications in clothing, carpets, tire cord, and others. Nylon (or engineering) resins are found in diverse uses including automotive and appliance components, electrical power distribution, and a wide variety of consumer goods and packaging film.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of nylon resins.
In the next five years, China will account for about 40% of the world's nylon production and 32% of the nylon resin consumed globally. China is expected to increase its nylon capacity and its production by almost 7% per year, while consumption of nylon resin is expected to grow at about 5% per year.
China is a strong producer of nylon 6 and its strength in this market will be compounded in the next five years, with its fiber market growing at just over 3% per year. This growth will impact other regions or countries, particularly with imports of nylon 6 resin declining.
As nylon producing regions, North America and Western Europe are expected to remain, at best, stable. Both are important nylon resin consumers, but both regions are growing at below-average rates.
The Middle East, a major chemical producer, is not yet a major nylon producer. Currently, little nylon 6 is produced in the region, as it prefers instead to produce and export caprolactam to China. Saudi Polymers, the first nylon 66 producer in Saudi Arabia, is expected to be operational in 2016, with most of the output to be exported.
Nylon 6 has somewhat lower heat resistance than nylon 66 but has advantages in aesthetics (especially in reinforced compounds), easier colorability and historically lower cost. In practice, there is significant overlap in the performance of these two major nylon types. While the preference for 6 versus 66 varies by region, nylon 6 continues to hold the largest volume share of engineering plastic nylon resin globally by virtue of its broad use in the production of film used in packaging.
Automotive uses are the largest application for nylon resins, accounting for 36% of the nylon resin consumed in 2015 and forecast to grow at about 2.5% per year for the next five years. The forecast for automobile production shows growth of about 3% per year, with 2020 global production surpassing 100 million units. Regions with above-average annual growth rates for vehicle production include the Indian Subcontinent (9%), Southeast Asia (5%), Central Europe (4%), and the CIS and Baltic States (almost 12%). The largest vehicle-producing region, Northeast Asia, is expected to grow at an average rate (3% per year). Nylon 6 and 66 resins are typically compounded with other materials to improve the material properties.
Applications include a wide variety of interior and exterior hardware and under-the-hood parts that require heat resistance, strength, and good aesthetic appearance. Automotive applications generally require the properties of nylon compounds, which include fiberglass and/or mineral reinforcements, heat stabilizers, and impact modifiers.
Further growth in automobile production is likely to support the continued geographic shift in OEM production, thermoplastic compounding, and molding operations, because the manufacture of bulky finished components tends to remain close to the assembly point.
Other smaller applications with above-average growth for nylon resins include electrical/electronic and appliances.The average annual growth rate for nylon resin consumption in electrical and electronic applications will be about 5% during 2015–20 and will account for about 20% of the nylon resin volume growth in the next five years.
Film and coating consumed about 13% of the global demand for nylon resins in 2015. The average annual growth rate for nylon resins in film and coating applications is forecast to be about 0.6% during 2015–20. The primary applications are in flexible packaging for meat and cheese. The film products for these foods require high barrier properties. Nylon is coextruded or laminated with a layer of oxygen barrier material.
Bio-based nylons are similar in properties to conventional nylon, except they are produced using specialty bio-based monomers, rather than the conventional petroleum-derived monomers. They are gaining interest in the industry because they offer potential cost savings and production of the monomers allows reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Bio-based nylon resins are expected to be drop-in replacements for conventional nylons used in manufacturing an array of consumer goods, in medical applications, etc. Many new investments are being made in this sector including the bio-based nylon development deal signed by Ajinomoto and Toray Industries in 2012 for manufacturing 1,5-pentanediamine, a raw material for nylons from plant sources.
The nylon resin market is estimated to be growing at about 3% per year and expected to continue at this rate to 2020. A larger volume of nylon will be consumed in fiber applications; although a larger market, it is growing at a slower pace of just over 2% per year.