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Carpet39 S New King

A variety of factors has pushed polypropylene to the top of the carpet market.

ATI examines the growth of this segment.A casual examination of man-made fiber consumption in the carpet industry reveals some startling information. In 1997 almost 3.8 billion pounds, approximately 39 percent of all fibers shipped by domestic manufacturers, were delivered to U.S. and Canadian carpet mills. Roughly 1.6 billion pounds of these shipments, 42 percent, were polypropylene filament and staple, representing more than 61 percent of all polypropylene shipments.Early reports for 1998 point to another record year with total fiber consumption in carpets nearing 4 billion pounds. Second quarter 1998 fiber shipments to carpets annualized at slightly more than 4 billion, a rate we do not expect the industry to sustain this year.In 1997, 17 percent of all fibers shipped by domestic producers were polypropylene fibers used in carpets, and this record continued into early 1998. This virtual dominance of a market area is second only to the 1.9 billion pounds of filament and staple nylon in carpet and is ahead of the 1.4 billion pounds of staple and filament polyester used in woven fabrics.Polypropylenes advantage comes from its position as the fiber of choice for molded/felted automotive carpets and trunk liners, and the fibers position in primary and secondary carpet backing. This means that virtually every yard of nylon-, acrylic-, polyester- or polypropylene-faced carpet carries a significant amount of polypropylene backing with it.Between 1993 and 1998, total fiber consumption, excluding olefin, in the United States, as shown in Table 1, grew a meager 4 percent as total polypropylene fiber domestic shipments grew 27 percent, driven in large measure by growth in and increased penetration of carpet markets.In 1993, carpets represented 56 percent of total polypropylene distribution. By the end of last year this figure will have grown above 61 percent. The dependence on one market can be both a blessing and a curse.As carpet seems to have weathered several recent textile slowdowns, better than many other end-uses and polypropylenes position as the low-cost raw material tends to insulate it from economic displacement, lets assume a positive view of the situation and explore the road to this enviable market position. Staple StrengthTable 2 details the growth of polypropylene staple distribution since 1993. A steady growth pattern stumbled in 1995 and 1996 as olefin films continued to displace fibers in diaper cover stock. That trend reversed in 1997, and polypropylene appears headed for record sales in nonwovens.Notice, however, that as nonwovens stumbled, polypropylene staple in carpets continued to increase, rising 37 percent, now representing 34 percent of all polypropylene staple shipments. In the recent past, this column has charted nylon staples deteriorating position vis-is nylon filament as tufting mill technology learned to produce cut-pile carpets from filament.Carpet with polypropylene staple is based on different styling and technology and did not suffer the same displacement. Carpet with polypropylene makes up nonwoven/felted products for the home, office and automobile. Low price and ease of processing virtually guarantees polypropylene dominance of this market.It appears that shipments of polypropylene staple will increase by almost 22 percent from 1993 through 1998 despite the two down-years of 1995 and 1996, due in great measure to the fibers steady growth in carpets and the miraculous recovery in nonwovens. Filament's GrowthTable 3 details the growth of polypropylene filament staple distribution since 1993. Once all the results are in for 1998, polypropylene filament producers should enjoy their second 2- billion-pound year. And, considering the title of this article, it should come as no surprise to the reader that this growth has been driven by fiber growth in the carpets.By 1998, 44 percent of polypropylene filament shipments were used as carpet-face fibers, with slightly more that half this amount, 514 million pounds, 24 percent of all filament shipments, consumed in backing materials.Several factors have led to this dramatic growth: Polypropylene traditionally is the fiber of price choice. This occasionally has led to attempts to use the fiber in areas for which it is not suited. It is, however, perfectly suited for carpets. Low price and low specific gravity yielding the appearance of bulk without weight have combined to push polypropylene, particularly filament, to a major position in carpets. Fashion Drives The MarketContemporary styling has helped polypropylene significantly. The growth of Berber styling in the past several years proved a natural for polypropylene (occasionally blended with nylon for cross-dye effects) and the importance of this development is seen in the 1995 through 1998 consumption figures.Add to this the increasing use of polypropylene filament in ersatz Orientals. Solution-dyed fibers, machine knotted to resemble original Orientals have proven quite successful and have added to the polypropylene carpet mystique.In addition to the growing position of polypropylene in carpets is the obvious home furnishings focus in fiber producers marketing plans. A substantial portion of the polypropylene reported as consumed in broadwovens appears as components in upholstery and mattress ticking.Polypropylene is an excellent example of target marketing focusing fiber distribution into areas where fiber drawbacks are unimportant or have been minimized.It also happens that these markets often are the least vulnerable to import competition, giving mills and fiber companies a product/market insulation and ensuring long-term survival.

February 1999



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