Optimistic market projections are encouraging China manufacturers of sun-control devices to push ahead with efforts to roll out high-performance designs.
Most suppliers are gearing up for demand from the premiums segment. Orders for promotional-use models are expected to bounce back as improving economic conditions enable corporate groups to revive spending on retail marketing.
To facilitate recovery, companies are concentrating on efficient yet economical upgrades for sunshades, visors and window films. Initiatives, however, have generally been limited to changes in finishing materials and techniques. The line's maturity, for one, leaves little room for technological breakthroughs. In addition, because profit margins fall below 10 percent, businesses are unable to allocate sufficient resources for material and design innovation. Further, such developments translate to substantial price markups, which makers fear may upset resurging demand.
Suppliers' latest efforts have yielded models that can block more than 80 percent of sunlight that comes through vehicle windows, up from 60 to 70 percent two years ago. Designs also help reduce interior vehicle temperature by 5 to 10 C, minimizing heat buildup. Besides enhancing driver and passenger comfort, such levels of insulation prevent premature fading of the dashboard and seat cover.
For sunshades, the performance boost is attributed partly to the use of anti-UV paint.
Makers are also addressing UV protection concerns through improved ink formulations.
Transtek Automotive Products Co. Ltd, for instance, adds UV absorbers such as salicylate and benzotriazole to the dyes used at the printing stage.
Sunshades featuring anti-UV ink are able to reject 10 percent more sunlight than those that employ ordinary dyes. The colorfastness of the print is also maintained over a longer period of time.
For optimum results, several enterprises are shifting to heat-transfer printing. In this method, the patterns are preprinted on rolls of paper and applied directly on the fabric via heat-transfer presses. They can last for more than 18 months without peeling off.
Another option gaining popularity is hectograph printing, which involves transferring images to a gelatin pad. The technique extends a sunshade's resistance to cracking to a year and half.
Heat-transfer and hectograph printing are now utilized in more than 80 percent of China's output in the line. Traditional silk-screening has taken the backseat, as surface designs applied using this process tend to wear after a year.
Suppliers of automatic sun visors layer the LC panels with polarizing filter to reduce reflected glare. Such models provide 100 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays up to 400nm in wavelength.
New window film designs are able to transmit 37 percent of visible light and cut 38 percent of solar heat gain through the glass. They can also eliminate up to 99 and 54 percent of UV and infrared radiation, respectively.
Sunshades, visors and window film are the common types of sun-control devices available from China.
The first category is the largest, representing more than half of the industry's output.
Sunshades come in different materials and styles. Suitable for windshield mounting, accordion-fold models are usually constructed from PE foam and aluminum foil. Traditional versions use corrugated cardboard.
Most designs for rear and side windows have a polyester or nylon mesh screen. Fitted with a wired frame, they spring open for installation and can be folded into a compact and easy-to-store size. Other models feature a roll-down PVC shade.
Images and patterns, some based on in-house designs, are applied via silk-screening or, 4-color, heat-transfer, gravure or hectograph printing. Buyers' logos and advertising messages can also be incorporated.
Sun visors are the second-biggest line with a 30 to 40 percent share of turnout. Models come in fixed-mount and flexible styles. Popular size options include 350x145x20, 350x170x22 and 356x148x15mm.
The body is typically made of plastic such as ABS, although some new designs are fitted with LC panels. Electronically controlled, such releases are able to adjust the transparency of the panels depending on the angle and incidence of light detected. Units have a 0.2 to 0.5 second response time. Most are powered by a solar cell.
Window film accounts for at least 10 percent of production in the sun-control devices sector. Available in single- or double-ply constructions, models usually have 15 and 20 percent IR rejection and visible light transmission ratings, respectively. The average level of UV protection is 80 percent. Products are shipped in rolls measuring 20cm wide and 1.5, 3 or 6m long.
China is the world's largest manufacturer of sun-control devices. Accounting for more than half of global output, it generates over $100 million from the line each year.
There are 2,000 or so suppliers in the industry, more than 95 percent of which are locally owned. The rest have outside financing, often from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Companies usually offer sun-control devices alongside other fabric-based interior vehicle accessories such as seat and steering wheel covers, cushions and floor mats.
Factories are usually located in the provinces of Zhejiang and Guangdong.
The former is China's primary manufacturing center for sun-control devices. Home to 40 percent of suppliers, it accounts for more than half of domestic output. Production is mostly carried out in Ningbo, Hangzhou and Taizhou.
Guangdong, the industry's second-biggest hub, hosts at least 600 makers. The majority of operations are based in the cities of Jiangmen and Zhongshan.
About 30 percent of China's output in the line comes from Guangdong. Models target the midrange and high end, with most featuring in-house-designed patterns.
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