A Resurgent Insulated Board and Panel Industry

Since the global financial crisis of 2009/2010, the insulated panel market in terms of growth, technical development and expansion to new export markets, has remained static save for the past 18 months. In some markets, the volume of output actually declined and panel prices in most markets have only just begun to recover. Manufacturers have recently had sufficient confidence in the expansion of the market to invest in new machinery and manufacturing technology.

This confidence is welcomed by the general insulation market and in particular the rigid faced panel producers.

This period of recovery has resulted in the emergence of two dominant rigid faced panel types:-

  1. Mineral wool panels used where fire rated or non-combustible performance is required, and
  2. Polyurethane panels (PU and PIR) with a better insulating value, thus enabling thinner panels to be installed as well as panels of greater length.

EPS panels have seen their position in Europe and North America and in parts of the Far East reduced.

Panel producers now fall into two market types:

Large producers have begun to dominate several world markets by using machinery with high manufacturing output capacities and making a variety of both PU and mineral wool panels. This machinery is often highly automated and these producers have benefited from reduced labour costs.

The second group are smaller, or specialist, panel manufacturers making a wide range of insulated panels with a variety of external facing materials, being capable of producing economically small volumes or batches of panels and meeting clients immediate or specific delivery requirements. Some of these producers are utilising continuous panel manufacturing technology, thus giving them product and manufacturing advantages.

The larger producers have obtained their increased market share through:-

  1. Better capitalisation, i.e. investment in automated or high output machinery.
  2. Aggressive marketing approach and being able to emphasise a deeper technical capacity.
  3. Greater output, thus adjusting panel pricing to suit specific markets.
  4. Reduced panel costs.
  5. Greater potential capacity, thus providing large projects with confidence in redelivery, price and quality.
  6. Integration with suppliers, allowing a closer coordination between a panel maker and their supplier of raw materials.

The above does not mean that smaller producers have not had the opportunity to develop and create solid and sustainable market positions in many of the world markets. In both technically advanced and advancing markets the smaller, specialist producers have been able to maintain market position by:-

  1. Providing a flexible service to their clients, i.e. quicker or shorter delivery times and in volumes that are variable.
  2. Quality improvements, i.e. quality product to meet a specific market requirement.
  3. Delivery speed, i.e. panel can be supplied at short notice to meet construction demands.
  4. Supplying a wide variety of panels of varying lengths, panel types, core types, facing types, to meet an architect or designer’s requirements.
  5. Delivery of both large and small order sizes. This may also apply to one project as against many projects.
  6. Manufacturing panels to specific client demands and specialist applications.

During the last 5 years, there has been a slowing of product development and manufacturing technologies have not advanced at the same rate as was evident between 2000 and 2009.

The most significant technical development in the last 5 years has been the growth in the range and variety of panel adhesives that are available for bonding and manufacturing insulated panels. These have been developed for specific applications and to meet increasing demands for fire certification of panels in a wide variety of applications.

The questions that will affect panel makers into the future are:-

  1. How can a large producer supply against faster and possibly more flexible smaller producers in a market?
  2. How will technology change in the next 5 to 10 years and how will that affect the panel producers’ investment today?
  3. How will certification alter the panel market?
  4. What developments are likely to affect the building design?
  5. How can large producers who are often manufacturing at low profit margins per square metre improve their margins?
  6. Will automation be the answer to producing all labour costs?

ISOWALL CONSULTING has undertaken a Review to provide insulated board and panel producers with an understanding of where the market stands today but also to have available an understanding of where the market will be in 1 year, 5 years and then 10 years’ time and to provide its clients with strategic approaches as to how best to deal with the market.
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