India is currently the world’s third largest consumer of polymers after US and China with a share of around 6% of the global total. Growth in polymers industry kicked off after the economic liberalisation in 1991. The resulting deregulation and privatisation sparked a boom in the end use sectors such as packaging, construction, telecom, automotive and white goods. According to a recent report of Global Data the per capita consumption of plastics in India has increased to 7.4 kg in 2010 from 1 kg in 1980. This is still far below the world average of 26 kg and with the surging economy the subcontinent still has large untapped potential.
Transition from commodity to specialty
Commodity plastics have formed the major share of the market in India. Consequently, major capacity additions have been focused on PE, PP, PVC, PET and SBR. With the automotive and white goods industry growing significantly over the past decade, the demand for specialty polymers has increased manifold. Initially, these specialty polymers were being imported but with the improvement in technology over the years; many local players have emerged. Currently, almost all the specialty raw materials are being manufactured locally.
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With the large multinational players like Ford, GM, Nissan, Samsung, LG, etc setting up their own manufacturing units in India, local players have not only become their source of raw materials in India but they are also on their global supplier list supplying to locations across the world. India is on its way to become the global sourcing hub for polymers and polymer related products.
Development centre of the world
The availability of skilled manpower in India has led to many global polymer manufacturers setting up their research and development centres in India. The country now is not only supplying polymer products but also leading the way in providing innovative polymer products to the world. Many low cost polymer products which have been quite successful in India are now being used in the developed world and other developing countries.
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India is not home to only the basic petrochemical products but various other derived products of polymers. Polymer compounding industry is on a boom competing with global players of Dupont, Rhodia, DSM, and the likes. Availability of technology, manpower and machines in India, equivalent to global standards, has led these multinationals to set up their own polymer compounding units supplying not only within the country but also serving as a base to supply to other Asian countries. It has created a healthy competitive environment. One can see a host of FMCG products, the packaging industry too has innovated. Organisations have set up their own R&D in-house to develop new materials and efficient production techniques to further lower the costs of packaging materials. It has led to several players coming up in this domain.
Having a tech-edge
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In the past few years, there has been an increased emphasis on the environmental problems caused by polymers. Recycling of polymer waste is the way to go and the West has taken huge strides in this with Germany recycling more than 95% of the plastics waste generated. India is still lagging behind by a big margin at around 40% but one can see several positive signs. Technology suited to Indian waste is being developed by organisations and localised recycling is also beginning to happen in India.
Overall, the polymer industry has matured over the last decade. The Europeans and the Americans see India as a large consumer base leading them to set up technology intensive manufacturing plants. This has exposed the Indian engineers to newer methods and technologies. Indian companies are absorbing this and are set to play a major role in the developing and under developed countries in the near future.
The author is the Managing Director at Pluss Polymers, a company involved in the field of thermal energy storage and polymer processing aides