NEW YORK — For manufacturers of synthetic fibers, rising fuel prices translate into higher production costs.
Synthetics such as nylon and polyester begin as hard polymer pellets that must be melted at high temperatures. From there, the product is forced through a series of devices that allow it to be worked into a fiber.
“For things like nylon or polyester, the energy input required to melt the polymers is substantial,” said Bob Francois, executive vice president of apparel for Invista. “It’s not a chemical reaction as much as it is a melt process. You need a fairly high energy input to melt the pellets. That’s where it’s become a challenge for all the manufacturers.”
Invista’s factories usually run on natural gas or oil. Francois said in a few cases, a plant can run on either. With fuel prices a variable, Invista has employed strategies to handle the costs it can control. There have been price increases, but the company has worked to offset them, Francois said.
The price of one pound of polyester staple and polyester filament remained about the same in April compared with March, at 83 cents and 80 cents, respectively. However, against a year ago, polyester staple rose 20 percent from 69 cents a pound and polyester filament prices increased 5 percent from 76 cents a pound.
“We know how tough it is for our customers, especially in the U.S., where the textile industry is pretty stressed,” Francois said. “Wherever we can squeeze a little more out of the process without affecting the performance of the fiber, we’re doing that.”
As with other retailers and manufacturers, Francois has seen no signs of panic among his customers. “Business has been fairly robust the first four months of the year, and that’s in spite of the challenges here in the U.S.,” he said. “We’ve been surprised that our customers’ businesses are running as strongly as they are. Our hope is to find ways to help them drive that.”