Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Plastics Take the Lead in Sports Safety and Performance

Previously published in Plastics Engineering and posted with permission from the Society of Plastics Engineers.

Imagine a beautiful Friday night in autumn. From Bangor to Bakersfield, that means high school football: bleachers packed with proud parents and screaming students, the gridiron bathed in dazzling light, a colorful marching band playing the school fight song, and teenage boys knocking heads for a couple hours.

And, thankfully, lots and lots Football playersof plastics.

When you think about any modern sport, chances are pretty good that plastic gear is involved… gear that not only helps protect against impacts but also that helps drive athletic performance.

Take football, for example… from the top of the head to the tip of the toe, football players are armored in plastics:

  • A helmet with a tough outer shell and inner cushioning, plus a faceguard and maybe even a visor.
  • A mouth guard to help protect teeth.
  • Shoulder pads that now also often wrap around the chest.
  • Hip, thigh, and knee pads.
  • Cleats that are molded from many types of plastics.
  • And then the jersey, pants, socks, gloves – even athletic supporters – that today are made with plastics. There’s even a newish term to describe these fabrics: “performance” plastics.

And if it’s the NFL, chances are they’re playing on a plastic “grass” field, as well. (But apparently pro footballs are still made of leather.)

It didn’t use to be this way. Plastic sports gear has been around only for six or seven decades. Plastic football helmets, for example, were introduced in 1940 by the Riddell Company. (Previous helmets were made primarily of leather and quickly were replaced by these higher-performing materials). Professional, collegiate and amateur sports organizations today mandate the use of safety gear – and most of it is made with plastics.

Why the change from leather and other materials to plastics? Safety obviously was and is a big driver. Plastics’ properties enable all sorts of lightweight, cushioning options that contribute to safety – plus more diverse, cool and comfortable designs.

In fact, much of modern plastics sports gear actually evolved as the various sports evolved, as athletes pushed themselves harder and further, which increased the risk of injuries. For example, football of yore was a rough-and-tumble game but not the gladiator-like sport of today. Football safety gear continues to evolve as the players get bigger, the hits get harder and the football community focuses more intensely on preventing concussions.

Another example: Race car fatalities declined even as (paradoxically) the cars became faster with the introduction of lighter weight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic chasses that improve driver protection. In addition, risky (some say crazy) new sports have evolved as new technologies made possible by plastics were developed – can you imagine motocross racing at the X-Games without head-to-toe plastic safety gear?

To be fair, no gear can guarantee the safety of pro or amateur athletes. Columnist George Will has claimed that football as we know it will not survive, and author Malcolm Gladwell has argued that college football should be banned – precisely because sports safety gear cannot fully prevent head injuries. Regardless the validity of their argument, it’s clear that sports gear cannot take the place of reasonable sports rules and plain old common sense. Plastic and other safety gear is not a panacea that can prevent severe trauma. It is, however, an essential part of sports safety, from toddlers on trikes to 325-pound offensive guards.

But it’s arguably performance that is driving more innovations in modern sports gear.

  • Removing just a few ounces from a sprinter’s shoe decreases drag and weight in an event where every hundredth of a second counts (thus the switch from leather to plastics in most athletic shoes). The maker of Usain Bolt’s running shoes sells a Bolt-inspired shoe that weighs a mere 5.4 ounces, about as much as your average apple.
  • Tennis racquets have evolved from clunky laminated wood frames strung with catgut strings (made from sheep intestines) to high-tech carbon fiber-reinforced plastic frames with tough nylon, polyamide and other plastic strings that help enable the pros to deliver 150+ mile per hour serves.
  • Pro football jerseys usually are made from nylon or polyester with spandex side panels – the materials wick away sweat and hold the jersey tight to the skin, which makes it harder for opponents to grab hold. And strips of hook and loop fasteners (often Velcro®) keep the jersey tucked in, away from an opponent’s grasp.
  • Slick swimsuits reduce friction and drag to give swimmers a bit of an edge. Sometimes too much: swimsuits made with polyurethane foam provided so much of a competitive edge by reducing drag and improving buoyancy that the international community now disallows them, and the sports records set while wearing them bear an asterisk.

This duel focus on safety and performance at the professional level is also good news for amateur athletes such as those high school football players (and their parents!), since the high-tech innovations created for the extreme athletes often are adapted for mere mortals – in fact, many high-performance plastics initially used in sports gear for professional athletes today can be found in the everyday gear on neighborhood sports store shelves.

So what’s the future hold for plastics and sports gear? Likely an increased reliance on composites to continue to increase the strength and decrease the weight of gear. And advanced cushioning technologies incorporated into sports clothing – often where cushioning previously was not present, such as soccer uniforms. Plus more form-fitting compression sportswear, typically made with spandex.

And one more advance: the broader use of recycled plastics in sports uniforms. Remember those REALLY BRIGHTLY COLORED (some said gaudy) Adidas uniforms worn by six college basketball teams last March? They were made from 60 percent recycled plastics.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

State Department Tackles Marine Debris, Invites SPI into Discussion

By Mike Verespej, SPI Special Correspondent

The Our Oceans conference did more than just call attention to the need to protect the world’s oceans. It also made it clear that all countries and groups, including the plastics manufacturing industry, need to continue to be part of the solution.

“The ad hoc approach we have today with each nation and community pursuing its own independent policy simply will not suffice,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in his keynote address. “We are not going to meet this challenge unless … the entire world comes together to try to change course and protect the ocean from unsustainable fishing practices, unprecedented pollution, or the devastating effects of climate change.”Our Ocean

“There are a lot of challenges staring us in the face and we need to act on them,” said SPI president and CEO Bill Carteaux, who attended the invitation-only meeting this past June in Washington. “Getting the invitation to go was certainly a feather in our cap and recognition by the State Department that the plastics industry is not just part of the problem, but part of the solution, and needs to be in the discussion.”

Carteaux believes SPI’s presence at the conference will help develop relationships with non-government organizations (NGO) that might not have been otherwise possible.

“It has given us a platform to connect with NGOs and begin to develop projects with them,” he said. “We already have meetings set up with several NGOs. It is heartening to me that people want our help and want us to work with them.”

In addition, SPI and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) will meet this year with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to address marine debris issues.

More than 60 plastics associations representing 34 countries have more than 185 projects underway to address marine debris—part of an initiative that began in March 2011.

Those initiatives include the Operation Clean Sweep plastic pellet containment program that SPI and ACC have taken globally to 14 countries and

“It is still early, and no one has all the answers to tackling marine debris, but we are making progress,” said Carteaux. “One of the keys is to attack it and get people to dispose of things properly. A number of people at the conference came up to me and said ‘I’m glad you’re here because the plastics industry isn’t the problem, it’s an issue of people not disposing things properly.’”

“We want to push recycling and collection around the world, and push new uses for recycled material,” he said, “because if we do that, plastics won’t end up in wastewater and in oceans.”

Nestle Waters North America also believes “recycling is the cornerstone of sustainable packaging”—and solving the marine debris problem.

“Policy and action can work together to help advance stewardship of the oceans and all waterways,” said Brian Flaherty, vice president of public policy and external affairs for Nestle Waters North America, who addressed the issue of marine debris in a presentation at the conference. “We need to stop plastics from entering our oceans in the first place. The global challenge of marine debris that we are talking about here today is massive in scope. It is going to take all stakeholders coming together and making commitments to identify and implement solutions.

“The lessons we’ve learned are be humble, listen, learn and evolve,” said Flaherty. “Think big, take the first step and be transparent on how you’re doing.”

Carteaux said he walked away from the conference with at least three projects SPI can immediately work on:

  • Get other countries to allow the use of post-consumer recycled resin in food packaging, similar to the approach of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Campaign for tax credits for the use of recycled resin.  “If we can develop the markets, we can get the supply.”
  • Solve the challenge to recycling that comes from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles that have polypropylene caps.

“Addressing those things would have a significant impact on what’s going on and begin to solve some of the issues that lead to marine debris,” he said.

Friday, July 11th, 2014

California’s New Tax Exemption Could Save Plastics Manufacturers Money

By Jane Adams, SPI Senior Director, State Government Affairs

Plastics manufacturing companies operating in California could benefit from a tax break that became effective July 1.

The new law allows certain businesses in manufacturing to purchase or lease manufacturing or research and development equipment at a reduced sales and use tax rate if the purchase occurred on or after July 1, according to the California Board of Equalization (BOE).

In an effort to clarify some of the nuances associated with the new law, SPI featured Lynn Whitaker from the BOE in a recent webinar. Whitaker discussed what is exempt, what is categorized as “qualified tangible personal property” and other important terms that determine the eligibility of purchases.

Any new machinery and equipment, control devices, pollution control equipment or other property to be used in the manufacturing process may qualify for the 3.3125 percent rate, down from the current 7.50 percent statewide tax rate. However, the BOE cautions that the exemption applies to the state portion of the sales and use tax, not to any local, city, county or district taxes.

Eligibility requires that the firm purchase qualified tangible personal property like machinery and equipment, including component parts and contrivances such as belts, shafts, moving parts and operating structures.

“Qualified tangible personal property” does not include:

  • Consumables with a useful life of less than one year
  • Furniture, inventory and equipment used in the extraction process or equipment used to store finished products
  • Items used primarily in administration, general management or marketing

The property must be purchased to be used primarily for the following uses:

  • Manufacturing, processing, refining, fabricating or recycling of tangible personal property
  • Research and development
  • Maintaining, repairing, measuring or testing property listed above.

To view an archived version of the webinar, “How to Benefit from the New Tax Exemptions for California Manufacturers,” click here.

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Pursuing Zero Waste Drives SPI to Join National Effort to Increase Recycling

By Kim Holmes, SPI, Director, Recycling and Diversion

As part of its mission to pursue zero waste, SPI has joined other top organizations as an inaugural member of the Recycling Partnership, a grant fund established by the Curbside Value Partnership (CVP) to support and transform public recycling performance.

Selected communities will use grant funding to:

  • purchase roll carts for curbside collection
  • provide technical assistance with program implementation and improvements
  • help advocate the economic value of the recycling industry to decision makers
  • create educational tools for residents

Working alongside the likes of the American Chemistry Council, Alcoa Foundation and Coca-Cola, SPI will serve on the Recycling Partnership’s Advisory Committee as a voting member. In this role, SPI will advocate for expansion of programs in communities that have the capability to maximize recovery of plastic products including rigids, thermoforms and other non-bottle packaging materials.

SPI has emerged as an important stakeholder in the recycling discussion offering a unique perspective as its members represent the entire plastics supply chain. Its highly-active Recycling Committee is working on programs that raise awareness about the demand for material, the recoverability of new feedstreams and the advancement of technologies that improve quality of material.trash cans

Since SPI’s members’ expertise is in processing, recycling and manufacturing rather than collection, the organization has not created unique programming in this area. However, identifying opportunities to influence collection in ways that support the work of SPI’s members is of high importance. Joining the Recycling Partnership presents the right opportunity to proactively cultivate collection programs in a way that reflects the industry’s goals in a tangible, measurable way.

The Recycling Partnership’s purpose and mission line up with SPI’s goals to support stronger plastics recycling partnerships across the country. By assessing the overall health of the recycling infrastructure, identifying the barriers to recycling, and building a to-do list around those barriers, the Recycling Partnership will create a new framework of public-private collaboration to improve the recycling infrastructure.

Overseen by CVP, in the first year at least three southeastern communities will receive one-time grants. Data and other information collected in the first round will serve as benchmarks to guide the partnership through its national expansion in the next two to five years. Projections show that work in 10 communities could result in a 1 billion pound increase of recovered recyclables.

Other members of the Recycling Partnership are the American Forest & Paper Association, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, Ball Corporation and Carton Council.

ABOUT THE CURBSIDE VALUE PARTNERSHIP

The Curbside Value Partnership (CVP) is a 501(c)(3) organization designed to grow participation in curbside recycling programs nationwide. For more information, visit http://www.recyclecurbside.org/.

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.