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Plastics opportunities

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uk demographic changes are providing endless opportunities for the forecaster - not 4.5 million but 5.5 million new homes needed, number of car drivers expected to rise - but international company Dow Plastics has taken a wider perspective. It has looked at demographic change and other factors in Europe, North America and Asia, and forecast a booming market for plastics in construction.

In Asia in particular, United Nations data forecast a contraction in average household size, so that China's will match that of Australia by 2050. Coupled with population growth, this will lead to a dramatic growth in household numbers, typically by about 50 per cent between 1990 and 2010. Mainland China is expected to be at the top of the list of world economies by 2020, having overtaken the us and Japan, and both India and Indonesia will be in the top five.

Put together, these figures mean a great market for new homes. Preferences for materials and performance concerns are pretty much the same around the world, Dow finds, with issues such as leakage, corrosion and cost commonly identified by respondents to surveys.

In the Far East the company believes there is a growing demand for prestige fixtures and fittings such as sanitaryware, door furniture and light fittings. The long-term trend is to greater prosperity, the company believes, despite the economic troubles at the end of last year, and with a shortage of products available at present, there should be an opportunity for innovative solutions.

In the West, it says, 'the trend towards smaller households has reached a plateau' - evidently it hasn't been reading uk government research. In new-build housing, buyers are becoming fussier, putting pressure on architects and component suppliers to couple creativity with cost-effectiveness.

In the commercial and industrial sector, the company sees opportunities from increasing mobility. For example, in the United States, average leasing arrangements for offices are now months rather than years. Property owners and managers are therefore looking for fast, cost-effective ways to customise space for new tenants. Lightweight, soundproofed, full-service panels or partitions have an important part to play.

Another opportunity that the company has identified is in what it describes as 'multi-functionality'. Facades are already becoming more sophisticated, as for example on Foster's Commerzbank in Frankfurt, and for the future options may include, for example, the adjustable selection of a spectrum range for incoming radiation. Among the developing technologies, Dow says one finding is of particular interest - that the various option 'packages' can be applied much more easily to plastic substrates than they can to conventional materials.

Confident of the future opportunities, and with a foot in construction, with products such as Styrofoam xps insulation, Dow Plastics is now seeking to develop fast in the key construction markets that it has identified. However well it succeeds, it has identified some trends that will be of interest to all students of the global construction market.

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