Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Sholtis Credits Staff with ‘Manufacturer of the Year’ Award

By Mike Verespej, SPI Correspondent

You could fill a book with the long laundry list of accomplishments that led to injection-molding company Plastic Molding Technology Inc. being chosen in March as the 2014 small company Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufacturing Leadership Council. In its 10th year, Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council honors companies and individuals that are shaping the future of global manufacturing.

And while certainly proud of what the $10 million El Paso, Texas, company with 100 employees has accomplished, CEO Charles A. Sholtis is even prouder of what the award says about his workforce.

Charles Sholtis

Charles Sholtis

“The award speaks volumes about the caliber of our management team, the workforce we have, and what they’ve accomplished the last three years in streamlining processes, identifying areas for waste and cost reduction and finding ways to be more sustainable,” Sholtis said. “It says a lot about their ability to take on large projects as a team and make the company more profitable through operational excellence.”

Indeed, despite escalating raw material prices and the economic crash in late 2008, PMT achieved record revenue and earnings in fiscal years 2010 through 2013.

“You are only as good as your people. Without them, we wouldn’t be the success story we are,” said Sholtis. “These honors simply reinforce that the plastics industry is at the forefront of best practices in manufacturing.”

Here are just some of PMT’s achievements the last three years:

  • Savings of 1.8 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year, half of them from a grinder control system developed in-house that has reduced energy consumption on the company’s 40 plastics grinders by 95 percent or nearly 900,000 kWh annually.
  • Eighteen all-electric presses added since 2010—part of a $2.9 million investment in equipment and automation—have cut energy consumption by almost 400,000 kWh annually.
  • Plant-wide efficiency has improved to 96 percent, and on-time deliveries have risen to 98 percent.
  • Production scrap was reduced by more than 50 percent in the first year of a program to cut waste. The company also reduced its use of virgin resins by 380,000 pounds annually by blending in plastic regrind and using recycled resin.
  • A new mold storage system has saved an estimated 780 man-hours per year and sped up the mold setting process, and a new overhead crane system for mold handling has saved an estimated 250 man-hours annually.
  • A standalone mold service bench with a gantry crane on the production floor has reduced the time needed for routine cleanings, saving another 420 man-hours per year.

Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council in March honored 100 world-class manufacturing companies and individual leaders as winners of the 2014 Manufacturing Leadership Awards (ML Awards). According to the Council, recipients of the ML Awards have distinguished themselves by embracing breakthrough innovation and enabling their companies to anticipate and respond to customers with unmatched agility.

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Hilex Poly Busts Myths About Plastics in Marine Environment

By Philip R. Rozenski, Director of Sustainability for Hilex Poly Company LLC, Policy Chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance

As a leading American plastic bag manufacturer in the United States and operator of the nation’s largest closed-loop plastic bag recycling facility, Hilex Poly understands the importance of keeping plastic bags and films out of the environment and in the recycling stream. While we would love to Bag2Bag Logoeliminate all waste (and have in fact invested tens of millions of dollars in recycling programs), we recognize that there are times when various plastics are improperly disposed of and end up in places where they don’t belong.

At the same time, myths about plastic bag waste and litter continue to receive media and NGO (nongovernmental organization) attention that distorts our true litter problems. A perfect example where this can be seen is with marine debris. Contrary to what many people believe to be the truth, not only do plastic bags constitute a minute amount of the total overall marine litter, plastic bags are unfairly grouped with other littered items that serve as much larger threats to marine life.

BAG-2-BAG RECYCLING

To further reduce the likelihood of plastic bags becoming litter, Hilex has taken an aggressive, proactive approach to increase the amount of plastic bags that are recycled and makes recycling all plastic films convenient for consumers across the country. Through our Bag-2-Bag Recycling Program, we have distributed more than 32,000 recycling collection bins across 45 states, allowing millions of consumers to easily recycle plastic bags and wraps at grocery stores and retailers. Proving this program’s success, our recycling center in North Vernon, Ind., recycled more than 20 million pounds of bags, sacks and wraps in 2012 alone.

Bags created in our Bag-2-Bag program are made of recycled content, lower carbon emissions by 11 percent, require 20 percent less energy to produce, reduce the need for virgin material and divert millions of pounds from landfills each year through this closed-loop process. We are extremely proud that the time, money and resources we have invested in this program are paying off.

BUSTING MYTHS

We look forward to a day when the myths about plastic bag waste, including those surrounding marine debris, are recognized for what they are: myths. In the meantime, Hilex will continue to focus on solutions that make a real difference in protecting our environment. We are proud of our products, the many innovative ways people reuse them in their daily lives, and our Bag-2-Bag program which supports an effective way for consumers to recycle the plastic bags they don’t reuse – by turning them into new bags or other useful products.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

What If The Global CO2 Problem Could Be Solved By Plastics?

The headline above most likely will start many people in the plastics industry chuckling at the irony, while the irony simultaneously twists many anti-plastics activists into an uncomfortable, possibly painful, state of confusion. CO2 already is being used as raw material for producing chemicals such as methanol, salicylic acid, and urea. Could it also be used to make plastics?

Not only is the answer yes, it is happening already. A recent posting by Karen Laird on the Green Matter Blog of PlasticsToday.com is a reminder that research on using waste CO2 as a feedstock for making plastics has been underway in earnest for about five years, and more important, progress has been and is being made.CO2 molecule illustration

Progress is substantial and already is at the point that industrial production of a CO2-based polyol, one of the two reactive components of polyurethane (PUR), is scheduled to begin in 2015. Substantial may be an understatement: The initial objective of making low-reactivity CO2 react at all initially was described as the “Dream Reaction.” The sheer energy needed to make the CO2 react was immense.

Five years ago, Bayer MaterialScience and RWTH Aachen University cooperatively formed the CAT Catalytic Center with the university in Aachen, Germany, and one of its principal research programs has been carbon dioxide as an alternative building block for plastics. Laird reported that Bayer began the Dream Reaction project in 2009 to develop catalysis technology to free carbon from CO2 for use in making polyols.

A catalyst was successfully developed that worked in the lab, and the

Dream Production Project comprised of Bayer, the German energy producer RWE Power, and researchers from RWTH Aachen U. built a technical-scale pilot plant at Chempark Leverkusen that came online in February 2011.

The pilot plant is using CO2 from an RWE coal-fired power plant near Köln, Germany to produce polyol that serves as a building block for PUR flexible foam. The foam exhibits properties comparable to conventionally sourced foams, and its flame retardancy is better. And so the decision has been taken to begin industrial-scale production in 2015.

Laird’s latest blog post describes still more developments, for example moving beyond PUR to use CO2 to make building

blocks for polycarbonate (PC), another Bayer specialty, using excess solar and wind energy that otherwise would be wasted. You can find her post online, and an earlier Laird post on the same subject as well.

Ms. Laird deserves a thank-you for shining a light on a development that has had much too little visibility, yet whose environmental benefits could be immense. Could CO2, the highest volume greenhouse gas, be kept out of the environment by recycling it into useful plastics—which in turn can be kept out of the environment by recycling them? Putting irony aside, yes, it could.

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Plastics Make the Holidays Brighter, and Tastier Too

No matter how you celebrate the year-ending holidays, plastic products will be involved. Whether it’s the tinsel, the funny hats for New Year’s Eve (watch out for camera phones), or the high-tech electronic gadgets you give or receive, much of what you’re dealing with will be made of plastics, ranging from simple parts to highly engineered systems.

We could mention that it’s impossible to do much of anything these days without plastics in a key supporting role, but instead let’s look at two very different ways that polymers make the holiday season more fun, and even tastier.

A thank-you to Anne Clark, the VP for administration at SPI: The Plastics

Roast turkey

Turkey roasted in a plastic oven bag looks and tastes great

Industry Trade Association, for reminding us how plastics make it easier to have a delicious roast turkey gracing your holiday table. For the recent Thanksgiving’s holiday, she decided to roast a large turkey in a food-safe plastic oven bag for the first time.

Turkey in plastic oven bag

Roasting a turkey in a plastic oven bag is easy

She found that using the plastic oven bag reduced cooking time by an hour and eliminated the need to use the oven’s self-cleaning feature – two nice energy savers. The plastic oven bag also made it easier to transport the cooked bird to the house where it was served, and keep it warm. Most important, the roasted turkey looked great and tasted delicious.

The food-safe oven bags sold separately in supermarkets are strong, yet a meat thermometer inserted through the bag will tell you when roasting is done and the meat is still juicy. The bags work equally well with other meats.

Besides the joys of the dining table, many people consider their winter holidays incomplete if they don’t spend some quality time on ice skates. Thanks to the versatility of plastics you can enjoy

your holiday skating even if you are wintering in Honolulu or Redwood City, California, a bit south of San Francisco. During this year’s holiday season, Redwood City residents are gliding across a 4000-square-foot skating rink in the town’s Courthouse Square. The rink’s surface, however, is a lubricated plastic material, not ice.

For skating, real ice must be kept at about 25ºF. Since daytime high temperatures in Redwood City around Christmas and New Year time are often above 60ºF, the energy bill for keeping the ice frozen would have broken the rink’s operating budget, so it was plastics to the rescue. Balmy temperatures present no problems or additional cost when using the plastic skating surface supplied by Artificial Ice Events.

The company, which was founded by a competitive speed skater, describes the surface as being like a “solid piece of countertop.” For easy gliding, the surface is periodically sprayed with silicone-based lubricant. Skaters use normal metal-bladed figure or hockey skates and employ the same technique as they would on real ice. Veteran skaters report that the “feel” is almost identical to gliding on frozen water, and it certainly looks that way.

Happy Holidays! And don’t forget the plastic.

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

The U.S. Capitol Demonstrates How Waste-to-Energy is Done

A tip of the hat to Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), for the article he published on November 28 in Roll Call adknowledging how the U.S. Capitol recently showed leadership in boosting the waste-to-energy process. On November 1st, the Capitol campus began sending as much as 90 percent of its non-recycled solid waste to Covanta Energy’s waste-to-energy facility across the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA.

The U.S. Capitol Building.

Non-recyclable trash from the U.S. Capitol now goes to a waste-to-fuel plant, not into a landfill.

Before the decision to do that by the Architect of the Capitol in collaboration with the House Administration Committee, the fuel traditionally referred to as waste had gone to landfills. Dooley noted that in 2010 more than 5300 tons of non-recycled waste was taken from the Congressional facilities, but instead of being buried the Capitol trash now will create enough energy to power a House of Representatives office building for several months. (Having recently been in one of those buildings on behalf of members of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, I can testify that those buildings are very large.

Plastics of various types are, of course, part of the Capitol trash. SPI and Dooley’s ACC have long made clear that although recycling plastics is always preferable, when energy can be recaptured from trash that will not be recycled, burying it makes no sense. The energy value of plastics is greater than that of coal, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prefers waste-to-energy over landfills.

Dooley quotes an EPA finding that waste-to-energy makes electricity “with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.” He then helpfully adds, “Yes, you read that right.” He must have been reading my mind.

Many SPI staff members have detailed the merits of waste-to-energy on this blog, for example here, here, and here. In

Covanta Energy's waste-to-energy plant, Alexandria, VA

The Covanta Energy waste-to-fuel facility in Alexandria, VA

addition, the SPI website contains many articles spelling out the technology’s superiority to burying fuel in a landfill. Lately waste-to-energy is getting longer legs.

In a recent interview, Greg Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), who clearly favors turning waste to energy, was equally clear that the general public has a mindset problem: We think of this trash as waste that we need to hide or bury, so we hide or bury it.

I’m sure that SPI President/CEO Bill Carteaux could only guess at how many times he has spoken to business and industry groups in favor of waste-to-energy rather than waste-to-landfill. That has been the policy of SPI for some time, and likewise for ACC.

Lacking a statistical survey, I’ll estimate that waste-to-energy makes sense to nearly everyone in the plastics industry. It should make sense to everyone in the U.S. but it doesn’t. Some are concerned about environmental impact, regardless of the EPA statement above. Others take the NIMBY position – not in my back yard.

Those two factors could explain why Western Europe, with a population slightly larger than the U.S., has over 400 waste-to-energy plants, and more in the planning stages, while the U.S. has only 86. But to me the mindset problem Greg Wilkinson described is even more fundamental. So then, a quick rethink: That stuff’s not waste, it’s fuel. Pass it on.