The UK geosynthetics industry is currently in a bit of a fix and competition is fierce. The industry has still not fully adjusted to the curtailment in the roads programme and private clients are reported to be tightening the purse strings.
The biggest threat however is the high strength of the pound. This has made exports form British manufacturers expensive, and conversely has opened the door to new European suppliers.
'We consider ourselves to be a European manufacturer, not UK, which makes the current situation very difficult,' says George Wilson of Scottish manufacturer Don & Low. There is a very real danger that with the arrival of cheap imports the price structure in the UK market could be destroyed.
'It doesn't matter how technically competent you are in Europe at the present time, it is extremely tough for a UK manufacturer to win work. Few are prepared to pay for technical niceties,' says Wilson.
The temptation to enter the UK market at low cost has been increased by the low price of oil which has seen the polymer price - the manufacturers' essential raw material - at an all time relative low. Recovery in the oil price will really put the pressure on the manufacturers.
Short term the arrival of cheap products may look attractive to users, but as Wilson puts it 'the situation is undermining development plans'.
Long term it has to be in the users' interest for the manufacturers to be in a healthy state and competing on an equal basis.
Surprisingly some long established European importers are also finding the UK market difficult. Graham Thomson of German manufacturer Huesker says the strong pound 'has made the UK a magnet for overseas competitors. Our strategy is to build our credibility through the level of technical support to show that we are not fly-by-night'.
Not all take such a pessimistic view. Jim Paul at Tensar International points out that even without the roads programme, the volume of geosynthetics use is increasing in the UK, suggesting the awareness of the benefits of geosynthetics is increasing. 'There is still much to do,' concedes Paul, and education and training remain a high priority.
'New uses such as load transfer platforms have been taken up enthusiastically and the impact of BS8006 continues to be positive. Because there is a British Standard, clients are more willing to accept the method; it gives increased recognition and status,' explains Paul.
Interestingly some manufacturers find operating in the UK market a double edged sword even at the best of times. Because it is relatively well developed and quite sophisticated, manu- facturers have successes introducing new products and developing applications, but financial rewards are modest.
Elsewhere the picture is more optimistic, with the Far East recovery now well under way. Long term, too, the future is extremely bright with massive potential growth as geosynthetics-based applications replace traditional construction techniques.