Worldwide Shortage of Nylon 6/6
Currently, there is a shortage of nylon 6/6 worldwide. This is because there is a shortage of the key precursor adriponitrile or ADN. Nylon 6/6 is used extensively to make automotive parts, as well as cable ties, power tools, nylons, fabric, fasteners and is used in numerous industrial applications. Nylon 6/6 provides the best mix of process-ability, performance and value for the price for these applications.
Damage to ADN Processing Plants
Firstly, there were and still are production problems due to damaged plant facilities and planned shut downs. In 2015 there was a large blast that killed 170 people at an adriponitrile (ADN) plant in Tianjin, China owned by Shandong Runxing. This facility had produced 18% of the ADN global capacity. Ten days later there was an explosion at a new plant in the town of Huanrai, China that killed one person. Less dramatically, two facilities, the Invista plant in Texas and Butachemie in Germany had already planned six-week shutdowns in the first and third quarters of 2019 to retrofit their plants to new ADN technology.
A fire at the at the Seals Sands plant in England took out nylon 6/6 production there due to the failure of a steam generation unit. Fire also damaged a plant in Pensacola, Florida causing Ascend, the owner to declare that due to circumstances beyond their control (force majeure) they would not be able to meet all their orders for nylon 6/6.
Weather Affects ADN Production
Secondly, weather globally has contributed to the worldwide shortage of nylon. The hurricane season of 2017 through 2018, notably Tropical Storm Harvey in the US disrupted the production of ADN and nylon 6/6 at both Invista and Ascend facilities. Invista also had to declare force majeure for ADN. Solvay experienced low water on the Rhine River due to a heat wave. Therefore their ability to deliver nylon 6/6 was limited. Freezing weather in Decatur Alabama stopped for a time the production of ADN and HMD hexamethylene-diamine another pre-cursor for Nylon 6/6.
Increase in Global Market for Nylon 6/6
Thirdly, the worldwide market for nylon 6/6 has also increased. This increase is seen notably in the automotive industry. Nylon 6/6 is resistant to heat as well as oil and grease. It is also light weight making to reduce fuel consumption in vehicles. The increase in the manufacture of airbags alone is expected to increase the need for nylon 6/6 by 6-8% annually. But most nylon 6/6 is used to make air intake manifolds, electrical components and oil pans. It is also used widely in other industrial and consumer applications.
Of course, shortages cause prices to rise. By midyear 2018, prices for nylon 6/6 were up more than 50% over the previous 18 months. In 2018 there were first and third quarter price increases of $.15/$.20 per pound. Further increases are expected. Although there are varying projections, supplies of nylon 6/6 are expected to be tight through at least 2020.
Use of Alternative Resins
To address the shortage of nylon, 6/6 suppliers have suggested using alternative materials at least in the short term. Chief among these are nylon 6, PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) and PPA (polyphthalamide) as well as nylon 6/6 blends containing glass or increased use of recycled material. However, these “replacement” materials may be even more expensive than the rising price of nylon 6/6. Actual replacement by component manufacturers and OEMs appears to be limited at this time.
Producers Take Action
Producers are acting to meet customer need to retain market share. They are putting in place new infrastructure to increase ADN output.
- Ascend plans a 360 million lb. expansion in the product stream by 2022.
- Invista is investing $1 billion dollars in a new plant in China that is due to come on-line by 2023. It is expected to add 661million lb. of ADN to the supply stream
- Plant retrofits by Ascend and Butachemie in 2019 will result in a 10% increase in output of ADN.
- BASF is buying Solvay’s polyamide business which should increase output.
These investments and others are hoped to increase the availability of nylon 6/6 to meet current and future material requirements. But most observers believe there will be a shortage through at least 2020 and maybe beyond. Until supply meets demand, prices will continue to increase.
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