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Polymeric Flexible Hose & Tubing

Flexible hose and tubing are old and established products, and their manufacture and sale has become a moderately large and quite broad–based sector of the United States economy. This study covers flexible hose/tubing made from polymeric materials (that is, what we commonly call plastics or rubber materials), as contrasted with rigid piping and rigid metal tubing (e.g., aluminum and copper tubing for automobiles and refrigerators), the latter is a subset of the piping industry. (Rigid polymeric pipe and tubing is covered at length in a recent companion BCC Research report, PLS053A, The U.S. Market for Plastic Pipe.)

The broad base of the U.S. polymeric hose and tubing industry is illustrated both by the many different materials, both elastomeric and non–elastomeric, that are used to make hose and tubing, and also by the many different markets that are served by these materials and products. The terms tube and tubing are also different from pipe and piping. All pipes are tubes; however, because rigid tubing is smaller in diameter and usually quite thin, it is differentiated from piping. We also differentiate between flexible hose and tubing. A tube is usually defined as a long cylindrical body with a hollow center that is used to convey fluids, and a hose is generally considered to be a flexible tube. However, in flexible products we differentiate hose and tubing by also considering tubing to be a simpler product constructed from a single material, while hose is a more complex structure that usually consists of three layers: the tube itself at the center, some type of external reinforcement, and a protective covering material of some type.

This study is an update of a 2008 BCC Research study by the same author of polymeric flexible hose and tubing materials and their markets, in which we bring up to date the state of the industry and BCC Research’s estimates and forecasts for U.S. markets for base year 2012 and forecast year 2017. The U.S. hose and tubing industry is generally considered to be mature, but that does not tell the whole story. The changing nature and general decline in the U.S. manufacturing sector has increased competition among supplier companies and materials of hose and tubing construction and caused some important changes in this industry in recent years; we review them here and forecast their effects on the industry. However, in this update, like in the last one, there were fewer really new developments in the last five years or so, compared to years past. Continual improvements yes, but no real new materials to revolutionize the industry.

However, even with the general state of maturity in this industry, some changes continue to add an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a stable market that grows on average at about the rate of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The first of these changes has been the development of newer hose and tubing materials that compete with older more established synthetic resins and elastomers. The most important of these are thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs); products that no longer can be considered to be “new” but which still are being developed and competing. Important hose and tubing TPEs include thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) and alloys (TPVs) produced with metallocene/single site and other newer catalyst systems, as well as the older TPEs such as thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) and styrene block copolymers. As thermoplastics they are easier to process than older thermosetting rubbers.

Next, engine changes are constantly being made in the very important automotive under–the–hood hose and tubing category. Newer overhead cam four–valve engines tend to run hotter than older push rod designs, and several of the most common elastomers, especially nitrile rubber, cannot be used at the temperatures now occurring under the hood; other materials must be substituted. Newer engine types, primarily hybrids at this time with electric cars still relatively rare, will have some effect on the use of polymeric hose and tubing. For example, electric motors need few or no hoses and tubing but since today’s hybrid vehicles still have a gasoline engine, hose and tubing should be needed in good quantities through our forecast period.

Another continuing change is in motor gasoline formulations, with lowered aromatics content and increasing use of oxygenates as octane enhancers and anti–pollution additives. Legislation calls for the addition of oxygenates to motor fuel with increasing quantities to meet ongoing Congressional mandates: today and for the foreseeable future this additive will be ethanol. Fuel lines must not only withstand new fuels and additives, but also cannot allow them to permeate through the hose or tube wall into the atmosphere.

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