Nylon Shortage Threatens Automakers | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: April 19, 2012

Nylon Shortage Threatens Automakers

Supply Chain: A plant fire in Germany could slow car production in Detroit
Department: Business
Keywords: automotive, shortage, fire, nylon 12
An explosion at this plant in Germany is affecting the global auto industry.
Credit: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
An explosion at this plant in Germany is affecting the global auto industry.
An explosion at this plant in Germany is affecting the global auto industry.
Credit: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Auto industry executives convened a special meeting in Troy, Mich., last week to discuss how to deal with a shortage of nylon 12 stemming from a fire last month at an Evonik Industries plant in Marl, Germany. Nylon 12 is a long-chain polyamide used in automotive fuel lines.

On March 31, two workers were killed by an explosion and fire at the Evonik plant, which makes cyclo­dodecatriene (CDT), a key intermediate for nylon 12. Evonik is still investigating the cause of the blaze and says the plant won’t be repaired for at least three months.

Evonik is the only nylon 12 producer that makes its own CDT. Additionally, it is the leading supplier of CDT to other nylon 12 producers, including its chief rival, Arkema, which declared force majeure on April 6 because of the outage.

Paul Blanchard, a nylon analyst for the consulting firm IHS Chemical, issued a report last week saying Evonik and Arkema together account for half the world’s capacity for nylon 12, which was already in short supply before the Evonik fire. “We do not have an indication yet on how drastic the reductions in nylon 12 shipments will be, but it is likely to be serious,” he wrote.

Arkema is trying to secure more CDT from other suppliers, according to Aurelien Paumier, North American business director for technical polymers. Two smaller CDT producers, BASF and Invista, both have pledged to pitch in. Meanwhile, Arkema has put nylon 12 customers on allocation, which in some markets can amount to a more than 50% reduction in supply. Paumier sees the crisis potentially lasting six to nine months.

According to the Automotive Industry Action Group, which organized the Troy summit, delegates brainstormed ways to stretch nylon 12 inventories and capacities. They also discussed new designs and alternative materials.

Paumier says Arkema colleagues at the event presented potential substitutes for nylon 12 such as nylon 10,10 and nylon 10,12. In February, Arkema purchased Hipro Polymers, a Chinese company that makes these nylons. Because nylon 12 has been in short supply for some time, Paumier adds, Arkema had already been trying to get these materials approved in automotive applications.

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Tracy Lyons (April 19, 2012 2:05 PM)
Very informative article. My company does not use Nylon 12 but Nylon 6 & 66.

Are Nylon 12 grades typically produced on the same reactors as Nylon 6 & 66?

Though the loss of this plant and capacity to produce this particular chemical may not directly apply to my grades, is it possible that that solutions like moving to Nylon 10 or decisions like BASF and Invista pledging to pitch in, tighten capacity to produce 6 & 66.

I am trying to determine if this tragedy has any negative impact to availability of 6 and 66 and set the appropriate strategy.

Alex Tullo (April 23, 2012 10:45 AM)
@ Tracy: I wouldn't think so. Nylon 12 is part of a class of long-chain nylons that is flexible and used in hoses and pipelines. Nylon 11; 10,10; 10,12 and the like are included in this class. Nylon 6;6,6; and 4,6 are stiffer materials used for mechanical strength. In addition, the raw materials for each class of nylon come from completely different sources. In fact, nylon 10 and 11 are derived from castor oil, not petroleum.

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