Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

The Future of Recycling: A Total Supply Chain Approach!

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As part of America Recycles Day, we have a new guest blog post from Ronald L. Whaley on the future of recycling. Ron is the CEO of Geo-Tech Polymers and chairman of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association (SPI) Recycling Committee.

For the last twenty years nothing much has changed in how plastics are recycled from an overall approach.  The majority of people and companies working in the plastics recycling industry approach it from a single point of view.

 

The waste haulers, the sorting facilities, the brokers and the processors have only been focused on their segment of the business.  Yes, some have tried to position themselves as the complete one stop recycling solution.  To-date, the “one stop solution” has not been anymore successful than the traditional individual focused approach.  The traditional approach has limited the industry’s ability to keep pace with the existing demand for recycled content while also limiting opportunities in new markets.  If the industry ever hopes to meet the ever-growing demand for clean consistent recycled plastics content, things are going to have to change.

 

What needs to change?

The industry needs to change its focus from individual operators into groups working together to address all the needs of the plastics recycling supply chain.  A few organizations such as SPI with their ELV (End of Life Vehicles) Project have started down this road by including participants from all segments of the auto recycling process.  By addressing plastics recycling from a complete supply chain approach, unnecessary costs can be removed and long-term consistent supply can be assured. In addition, materials can be supplied to the growing group of OEM’s, CPG companies and others looking for recycled plastics.  This approach also provides the opportunity for each participant in the supply chain to earn a reasonable and predictable return on its’ own investment.

Sometimes real growth requires a different approach and I believe it is time for the plastics recycling industry to step up and recognize the shortfalls in the current business model.  The industry needs to develop working groups, each containing a representative or representatives from each of the segments of the plastics recycling supply chain, if we ever hope to meet the growing consumer demand for recycled plastics content.

 

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Brand Owners, Sustainability Leaders Launch Initiatives at First-Ever Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo

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SPI’s first-ever Re|focus Recycling Summit & Expo wrapped up in Orlando last week. The two-day program featured executive-level forums, diverse educational sessions, dozens of cutting-edge vendors in the Expo Hall and a fair share of big announcements from some of the world’s most recognizable names in consumer products:

  • Keynote speaker Kelly Semrau, S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.’s senior vice president of corporate affairs, communication and sustainability, announced her company’s latest initiative to help build the infrastructure to eventually make Ziploc bags widely recyclable via curbside recycling programs.

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  • Walmart’s Ashley Hall noted that the world’s largest private employer will be using the How2Recycle label on its private label products.
  • Consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson reiterated its commitment to creating sustainable products and educating consumers about the importance of recycling bathroom goods through the company’s Care to Recycle online toolkit, which shows families, what, how and where to recycle.

SPI also released its latest Plastics Market Watch report, Automotive Recycling: Devalued is now Revalued.

In addition to the announcements and educational sessions, Re|focus boasted a 10,000 net square foot exhibit hall, a core focus of the conference where attendees learned about various products that could help their companies achieve their sustainability goals. They could also see demonstrations of various types of recycling equipment, like this nifty shredder.

Shredder from Jacob Barron on Vimeo.

The Exhibit Hall also gave visitors the opportunity to learn more about how a plastic product can be recycled and converted into a completely different product for consumers. The Life Cycle Application center featured a number of different products that start out seemingly having little to no value, but, after reclamation and recycling, go on to become a valuable high-end feedstock for manufacturing. The Center was produced by SPI in partnership with Wellman.

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“We were so impressed by the turnout and candid conversation about working together collaboratively to reduce waste and promote recycling, with stakeholders and industry influencers representing various parts of the supply chain,” said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at SPI. “Re|focus had a successful inaugural summit and next year, we will return with an equally robust program to continue to drive conversation on how we all play a role in collectively committing to sustainable practices. We look forward to hosting in 2017.”

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Future of Plastics: The Material of Choice for Lightweight, Fuel-Efficient Automobiles

Third Largest Manufacturing Sector Poised to Meet Growing Demand for its Innovative Products

In our report “Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane,” SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association discusses an anticipated increased use of plastics in automobiles as consumers and the government demand lighter vehicles that are more environmentally friendly and competitively priced. The plastics manufacturing industry is well-positioned to meet the potential demand of the automobile industry due to technological advances driving a more sophisticated, growing manufacturing sector.

The plastics industry, which is the third largest sector of U.S. manufacturing in dollar value of shipments, is in the vanguard of innovation and nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the automotive/transportation industry. While plastics make up about 50 percent of a modern automobile’s volume, they only account for about 10 percent of its weight.

The use of plastics in lightweighting vehicles has proven to be a cost-effective way to help boost vehicle mileage for decades, a trend not expected to change as the Obama Administration has raised the average fuel efficiency standards of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, according to the report.plasticsmarketwatch_auto_cover

Plastics can play a critical role in enabling automakers to meet the standards. And given the inherent advantages that plastics represent compared to other alternative materials, it is extremely likely that the transportation choices of the future will use more plastic, not less.

A glance inside any modern car or truck shows the interior compartment to be dominated by plastics – from instrument panels to interior trim to upholstery. Plastics are also used in lighting, bumper systems, fuel storage and delivery systems, ducts, fenders and exterior body panels, and more and more within engine compartments or other under-the-hood components.  Likewise, the composition of aircraft, passenger trains and urban metro vehicles continues to evolve toward greater dependence on plastics.

SPI notes that consumption of plastic goods grew at a record-breaking pace in 2014 (the latest government statistics available) to $298.3 billion, up 11.5 percent from $267.3 billion in 2013. As the automotive sector relies more on plastic to replace metal parts, the increased use of 3D printing will pave the way for more innovative applications of plastic.

Impact of Millennials

Other research in the report is based upon the work of Ken Gronbach, a marketing expert and author who studies demographic and cultural trends to predict buying habits. His research shows that the Millennial Generation (born in the early 1980s to early 2000s) has “no great love affair with the automobile and when asked what they would give up first, their car or their phone, their answer is almost always unanimous – their car.”

Like generations before, the Millennials don’t seem to resemble their predecessors in that they’re slow to get married, have children – and to obtain their driver’s licenses. Perhaps they’re late bloomers – due to the economy and their heavy college loans. Whatever the case, experts agree that sooner or later they’ll come around and buy vehicles. And, since the Millennials tend to be more environmentally conscious than previous generations, it is expected that they will demand lighter, more energy efficient vehicles.

The only downside to the increased demand is the shortage of skilled talent. “New manufacturing jobs are significantly different from the rote assembly line work of earlier generations. Manufacturing is built upon advanced technologies that demand more advanced skills from workers. Employees must be able to grasp engineering concepts, work with computers, make mathematical calculations and adapt to constant change. A manufacturing worker today must have the equivalent of two years of college, usually more, and the bar keeps rising.

Manufacturing is critical to a healthy economy. Our goal should be to dominate high end manufacturing that reflects emerging technologies that are frequently found in the more advanced plastic processors in the U.S.

The report attributes the workforce shortage to Baby Boomers retiring and the trend toward off-shoring that resulted in more young people seeking a four-year degree rather entering trade school. The skills gap afflicting all of manufacturing in the U.S. is equally if not more applicable to the plastics industry. Already, many individual companies are working with local schools to make young people aware of the exciting opportunities that abound in plastics and the basic skills and knowledge they need to take advantage of them.

It is incumbent upon people in the industry to take the initiative, study what other companies are doing, recognize the learning differences of the next generation, and become actively involved in promoting plastics manufacturing as a career choice – and as the product choice!

“Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane” is the first in a series of unique reports being written by SPI. Later this year, staff will publish reports on healthcare, packaging, and housing and construction.

 

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

How the President and Vice President Came to Visit SPI Member Techmer PM

Three carloads of Secret Service personnel arrived at SPI member Techmer PM’s plant on Jan. 3, and they didn’t leave for another six days. “They never left our plant until the president was gone,” said John Manuck, Techmer’s chairman and CEO.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Techmer’s Clinton, Tenn. facility on Jan. 9, touring the plant as part of an effort to promote American manufacturing and spotlight the creation of the administration’s newest manufacturing innovation hub. While the visit only lasted about an hour, its origins for Techmer were years in the making.TechmerWebShelbyCobra

To paraphrase Hemingway, a visit from the president and vice president happens two ways: gradually, then suddenly. “The Department of Energy (DOE) is always looking for collaboration with private industry,” Manuck said. “About two years ago, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (a DOE facility) became familiar with our capabilities and asked us to join them in a project of theirs in developing a new process to produce carbon fiber.” After his company connected with Oak Ridge, which is a 30-minute drive away from Techmer’s Clinton facility, Manuck said his company began working with the lab enough to build a relationship.

Then, early in 2014, Oak Ridge approached Techmer about a 3D printing project. “The word kind of got around that there’s this company down the road and we’re really easy to work with,” he said. Techmer and Oak Ridge began working and the results were two 3D-printed cars: one that Manuck said “was more like a dune buggy” and contained some of Techmer’s materials, and another that was a replica Shelby Cobra made entirely from Techmer’s materials.

But the two vehicles weren’t the only fruit that the positive working relationship between Techmer and Oak Ridge would eventually come to bear. When the White House began to plan its trip to the Knoxville area shortly after the 3D printing project had been completed, they naturally reached out to Oak Ridge, whose directors suggested that the president include a visit to Techmer’s facility.

Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer’s Engineered Solutions subsidiary and the company’s main point of contact for Oak Ridge, eventually received a phone call from the White House on Dec. 23, 2014, when staff members called asking for photos of the facility. Manuck managed to get hold of his assistant, who swore herself to secrecy both for security reasons and because by that point, only two short weeks before the visit actually happened, it still was not a guarantee. The day after Christmas Techmer’s phones rang again, with officials saying that they wanted a smaller Secret Service team to visit their facility the next Friday, Jan. 2. “We were scheduled to be closed that day and we let them know that, but that was actually probably a good thing to keep this confidential,” Manuck said.

TechmerWebObamaEventually more Secret Service members arrived, and the security protocols began, a process Manuck described as a “learning experience.” “I guess since the assassination attempt on President Reagan, the Secret Service does not like the president getting in and out of a car in a public place,” he said. “They pull the car inside, so they wanted to come in the back of the plant and we had to move some storage racks, which we did.”

While securing Techmer’s facility, Manuck also happened upon a new application for some of the company’s materials. “Our Gaylord boxes are filled with plastic pellets, and the Secret Service guys saw them and said ‘a bullet couldn’t get through this,’” he said. “So they had us move the Gaylords, and wherever he (the President) was going to go, we had a path laid out, part of which was made by stacking Gaylords where we wouldn’t normally have them.”

The day of the actual visit there was a final security follow-up from 7am-9am (“Bomb sniffing dogs, the whole thing,” according to Manuck) and then eventually, upon the President’s arrival, Manuck led him on a tour and had a chance to talk with the President. “I had made notes, and some were what I’ll call ‘self-promotional’ notes,” he said. “I wanted to promote manufacturing in the United States. I wanted to promote private companies, and that how, as a private company, we’re nimble. Most of these I was able to talk to the president about. We had a real dialogue, and that was my intention.”

Certain questions Manuck was able to prepare for ahead of time. “He was going to pepper me with questions. He’s not going to try to trick you, but he’s going to want some real information,” Manuck said. “He asked me how I started the business and I had prepared for that mentally, so I told him that I started off as an engineer working for a big company and just decided that I could do it better.” The President eventually referenced this response in the remarks he gave at the end of his visit.

Additionally, Manuck did research beforehand to dig up some information about his company that he thought the president might find interesting. “I dug up our employment stats and from Dec. 2008 to Dec. 2014, our employment had grown 33%, but that included an acquisition. If you exclude that it was still up 20%.” The President asked what kind of hires Manuck had made, whether they were college grads, two-year college grads or other. “All of the above,” he said, delving further into details about his workforce and hiring philosophy. “Out of high school, they’re not ready. It’s not only the math and the writing, it’s the soft skills, which is what I’ve found to be the biggest problem,” Manuck added. The President agreed with him.TechmerWebObamaManuckBiden

It’s not every day that the president and vice president come to visit a factory, but Techmer clearly made the most of it, from their organizational flexibility and teamwork to Manuck’s preparation. “For us the obvious benefit is the positive publicity that we’ve gotten globally,” Manuck said. “People are still buzzing about it.” A great deal of time and work went in to the successful visit, obviously, but for Techmer and other manufacturers who open their doors for elected officials, and everyone else to see, the process of doing is its own benefit. “Some people have asked ‘was it worthwhile?’” Manuck said. “For us it’s a no brainer.”

Tips from the Presidential Visit to Techmer:

  • Make Connections: Had Techmer not made friends with a nearby government lab more than two years ago, and worked openly and productively with them in whatever way they could, the Presidential visit would never have happened.
  • Be Flexible: Techmer shut down its plant and rearranged its operational schedule in order to meet its visitors’ needs and make up for any downtime.
  • Be Prepared: It might seem obvious, but when you’re hosting an elected official or policymaker, don’t miss your opportunity to leave an impression.
  • Say Yes: Manuck said that the Secret Service repeatedly remarked on how accommodating his team was, which apparently isn’t always the case. “Whether it’s corporate red tape or whatever, companies will just say no to stuff,” Manuck said. “For us, the attitude of my people and I was that if the White House is coming here and they want something, we’re going to provide it.”

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

North America Expected to Drive Demand in 2015 in Latest Plastics Machinery Economic Forecast

Market demand overall for plastics machinery continued to grow in the third quarter of 2014, according to the latest report from SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). The figures dovetail nicely with data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to suggest that purchasing in the U.S. is up and that the country will drive demand in the sector for the remainder of the year and into 2015.

“The market conditions that drive investment in new industrial equipment have prevailed throughout all of 2014, and I expect these conditions to persist in 2015. These are: low interest rates, and the need for increased productivity in order to meet rising aggregate demand,” according to Bill Wood, the plastics market economist who analyzes and reports on the plastics machinery market sector for the CES.

Shipments of primary plastics equipment (injection molding, extrusion and blow molding equipment) for reporting companies totaled $301.4 million in Q3. This is 6 percent higher than the revised shipments total of $284.3 million in Q2 of this year, and is down only 2 percent compared with the robust total from Q3 of 2013. For the year to date, the total value of primary equipment shipments is up 6 percent compared with last year.

Meanwhile, two of the BEA’s major data series measuring activity in the industrial machinery sector showed that business investment in industrial equipment escalated by 16 percent in the third quarter of 2014, compared to the same period last year, and that investment year-to-date is up by 13 percent. The Census Bureau has also reported that the total value of new orders of industrial machinery leapt by 47 percent in Q3 when compared with the same period from last year, and that year-to-date orders are up by 34 percent.

An increase in shipments among reporting companies and major jumps in U.S. purchasing suggests a healthy demand for plastics machinery in the region as it moves into the New Year. “From a global perspective, the North American region will be the strongest in terms of total economic activity in the coming months,” Wood said. “Strong demand in the U.S. will help to sustain the momentum in the global economy in 2015.”

CES also conducts a quarterly survey measuring supplier attitudes about current and future market conditions. Regarding the coming quarter, 95 percent of respondents expected conditions to stay the same or improve. That figure improved to 98 percent when the question was extended about the coming 12 months.

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Read the full report release on SPI’s home page here.