Monday, October 4th, 2010

When Autumn is in the Air, Plastics Keeps You Warm and Flu-Free

During a recent blog I wrote about how plastics helped keep us cool in the warm summer months.  Now with the temperature dropping, the days getting shorter, and the football season getting underway,  autumn is definitely in the air. And thanks to plastics, you can stay warm and healthy whether your are inside or out.

On the housing front, plastics help maximize energy efficiency and performance.  Plastic foam insulation, such as spray polyurethane foam, expands to insulate mid- to larger-size areas of your home, such as walls, attics and roofs. This insulation improves your home’s energy efficiency, and helps keep rooms at the desired temperature.  Polycarbonate can be used in windows since its low thermal conductivity can help to reduce heating and cooling costs.

And don’t forget plastic house wrap technology.  Plastic house wrap technology reduces the infiltration of outside air and helps to drastically reduce the energy required to heat the home.  Also if you are indoors you can always throw a log in the fireplace (or for the easy route you can put a Duraflame log in – just remember to remove its polyethylene packaging first). 

When you are outdoors in the fall, plastics play a key role in keeping you warm.  Personally, I’m partial to the fleece jackets made from post consumer recycled soda bottles.  Over the course of 13 years the company who developed this technology saved some 86 million soda bottles from the trash heap.  That’s enough oil to fill the 40-gallon gas tank of a Chevy Suburban 20,000 times.  And when the fall rains arrive in the D.C. area, I want to make sure my feet stay dry.  Thankfully I have many options including waterproof boots (that utilize waterproof expanded polytetrafluoroethylene membranes).  Another option is to put on your “Wellies” which are also waterproof and are most often made from rubber or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

In order to stay healthy this fall, don’t forget to get your flu shot.  Some flu vaccines are being made in bio-process containers that are made of plastics. The plastic is converted from medical grade resins and polymer films, and created in multi-layer sizes that range from a deck of cards to a pick-up truck.  Their use is to grow cell cultures in controlled environments which then yield the proteins that are the basis for new drug therapies as well as the more common flu vaccines.  Also, the flu shot will likely be administered using plastic syringes made from polypropylene, vinyl or acrylic.  And if you happen to be around someone who is under the weather because they didn’t get his or her flu shot, don’t forget your hand sanitizer stored in a recyclable PET bottle.

 So whether you are inside or out, plastics can make these chilly days and nights of autumn a bit more tolerable and healthy too.

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Hey Students, Plastics is a Great Career!

This week I read in a fantastic article that one of our SPI members (Bob Janeczko, CEO of Innovative Injection Technologies) and his wife donated more than $1 million for plastics engineering scholarships at the University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout).  The couple noted that the donation is their way of providing long-term support for UW-Stout and strengthening a growing career field. After seeing the article and reflecting on my own niece, who just left this week for college, I began to wonder “are college students today thinking of plastics as a career?

Although the plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing sector in the U.S., when talking with students, “plastics” doesn’t seem to be the top career choice for most of them.  Even as someone with a plastics engineering background, I recognize that many of us in the industry fell into plastics versus making a conscious decision to go to school specifically in this area.

Students need to know that in the U.S. there are a number of schools with strong plastics programs, including University of Massachusetts – Lowell, the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Pittsburg State University and the University of Akron, among others.  We also need to let students know that great plastics industry jobs are out there.  In fact, according to information provided by Ferris State (another school with a strong plastics program), “our plastics program has consistently had 100% placement at excellent annual salaries.”  We know in talking with SPI member companies that they are hungry to find more students with a plastics education.

As an industry we are working to help get the word out. The Plastics Ambassador Program was launched last year to educate and mobilize individuals within the plastics industry to discuss the benefits of plastics in their local communities.  SPI is conducting a pilot of the initiative, training employees and encouraging them to promote plastics through community events such as PTA meetings, city council meetings or by sponsoring a PlastiVan™ school visit. The PlastiVan™ program travels to schools and companies throughout North America, educating people of all ages about plastic’s chemistry, history, processing, manufacturing, sustainability and application.

This opportunity is a great way also to reach out to students, to let them know about the opportunities in the plastics industry and to cheer about why plastics is a great career.  Future graduates – we welcome you with open arms.

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Plastics, 3-D and the Summer Movie Season

Now that August is here, I realize that the summer movie season is almost over. Many of the big summer blockbusters like Avatar, Toy Story 3 and Step Up 3D (opening in theaters today) are showing us that 3-D movies are Hollywood’s latest fascination de jour. Buzz for 2012′s 3-D Monsterpocalypse, to be directed by Tim Burton, is already building. Long gone are the tacky 3-D glasses with cardboard frames and red and green plastic film lenses. This summer the movie studios have looked towards new eyewear and that’s a good thing for the plastics industry. 

The new 3-D glasses typically consist of injection molded and thermoformed frames, with polarized film and polycarbonate lenses. On the market you can find both passive glasses with a polarized lens or active glasses with computerized shutter technology built into them. Both types of glasses are successful at tricking your brain into thinking that you are seeing things from the movie in 3-D.

According to Slate and USA TODAY, the passive glasses that you find in movie theaters are usually washed for reuse or recycled. RealD Inc., a leading global licensor of stereoscopic (i.e., 3-D) technologies, claims that the demand for 3-D was so heavy between April and late June this year that it depleted its stock of glasses. In fact the company estimates that 200 million of its glasses have been used so far (which is a lot of plastic).

Active glasses are more prevalent in theaters in Asia and Europe. The glasses are similar to passive glasses in that they are encased in plastic frames.  However for active glasses, each eye’s glass contains a liquid crystal layer which has the property of becoming dark when voltage is applied, being otherwise transparent. The glasses are controlled by an infrared, radio frequency, or Bluetooth transmitter that sends a timing signal that allows the glasses to alternately darken over one eye, and then the other, in synchronization with the refresh rate of the movie screen. Unfortunately these glasses are a bit pricey at upwards of $100 or more.

Whether the interest in 3-D movies and TV continues to grow is still up in the air.  However without plastics, this latest technology would not be possible.

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Cruel Summer? Despite the Heat, Plastics Keep Us Cool

It’s the middle of July here in Washington, D.C. and the temperature has been over 100 °F much too much for my liking of late. Thankfully plastics continue to play a critical role in keeping things cool both indoors and out.

From a housing standpoint, plastic building products promote the efficient use of energy and other resources. For example, walls that use structural insulated panels made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) can help homeowners save hundreds of dollars annually on heating and cooling bills. EPS starts out as a plastic pellet and ends up as nearly 95 percent air which is a very effective insulator. Another example is polycarbonate which can be used in windows. In addition to being lightweight and shatter-resistant, polycarbonate has low thermal conductivity, which can help to reduce heating and cooling costs. And what about plastic house wrap technology? Plastic house wrap technology reduces the infiltration of outside air and helps to drastically reduce the energy required to heat or cool the home. So with these technologies (and, of course, air conditioners and fans  — which have plenty of plastic parts) one can keep cool indoors.

When outdoors, what you wear can make a difference. I’m partial to the clothing that uses wicking technologyto keep you cool. Traditional cotton clothing tends to soak up and retain sweat, making the wearer unable to cool themselves off properly and making the garment heavier. Wicking technology utilizes fabrics that move sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric, where it evaporates. Many of these fabrics are made out of polyester fibers and often can be recycled through program’s such as the Common Threads Recycling Program.

Getting in the water is, of course, a favorite way to keep cool in the summer. Most bathing suits are made from plastic materials such as polyester, nylon and Lycra (or Spandex). Of course, we have blogged here before about the uproar in competitive swimming circles concerning new high tech suits made from polyurethane.

In addition, many above ground pools and most inflatable wading pools are made from some combination of PVC (which has excellent resistance to damage via abrasion, impact and sunlight), polypropylene and polyester mesh. Backyard pools also depend on flexible, durable and easy-to-clean vinyl liners to keep their inner surfaces smooth on feet and protected from sunlight, abrasion and water-treatment chemicals. Swimming pools with vinyl and polypropylene covers bring safety and peace of mind to pool owners with very small children. Even diving boards are usually covered with polyurethane epoxy resin paint that creates a non-skid surface to prevent dangerous slips.

So whether you are indoors or out, plastics play an important role in making these hot days more bearable.

Photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Nano: Ongoing Big Opportunities in a Small World

Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications. Over the past several years the field of nanotechnology has continued to evolve at a rapid pace. As a follow-up to my last nanotechnology blog, I wanted to update readers about the latest activities of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the program established in fiscal year 2001 to coordinate Federal nanotechnology research and development here in the U.S.  Today the NNI consists of the individual and cooperative nanotechnology-related activities of 25 federal agencies with a range of research and regulatory roles and responsibilities. The NNI as a program does not fund research; however, it informs and influences the Federal budget and planning processes through its member agencies.

In terms of nanotechnology funding, the total investment by NNI member agencies for 2011 is nearly $1.8 billion for nanotechnology R&D. According to the recently issued report entitled NNI Supplement to the President’s 2011 Budget, the document highlights Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives to accelerate nanotechnology development in support of the President’s priorities and innovation strategy. NNI member agencies identified areas for these initiatives ripe for significant advances through close and targeted program-level interagency collaboration.

You may be wondering “how I can provide my input as to what the NNI and the related agencies plan next in regards to nanotechnology?” I highly encourage you to attend the NNI’s Strategic Planning Stakeholder Workshop which will be held July 13-14 in Arlington, Va.  The goals of this event are to:

  1. Bring together those who are new to nanoscale science, engineering and technology as well as those familiar with the NNI;
  2. Obtain stakeholder input regarding the goals and objectives of an updated NNI Strategic Plan; and
  3. Gather suggestions to the U.S. Government interagency task force that is drafting the new plan. Let your voice be heard!

In addition, in order to help members keep up-to-date on the various activities of the NNI and other nanotechnology organizations around the globe, I recommend that they become part of SPI’s Nanotechnology Group. The group’s mission is to provide a forum for nanotechnology resin and additive suppliers, processors and equipment suppliers within SPI to address nanotechnology issues, activities and opportunities related to the plastics industry. Also to learn more about nanotechnology and the plastics industry you can listen to SPI’s recent “Business of Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology 101” webinar.

Nanotechnology is an exciting and evolutionary area. In my opinion, big changes continue to occur in the small world of nanotechnology.