Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Plastic Bottles Shed Light on Needy Families

This article originally appeared on the Plastics Makes it Possible Facebook Page

In the impoverished neighborhoods in and around Manila, Philippines, millions of people live in darkness in their homes—even in the daytime. Electricity is often too expensive, and windows are a building expense that many cannot afford.

To change this, a local social entrepreneur has created a program calledPMIP Photo 73114
A Liter of Light that illuminates the homes of underprivileged families by creating solar-powered light bulbs from a resource some may find surprising: used plastic soft drink bottles.

Volunteers for A Liter of Light begin by gathering discarded, clear plastic bottles. The volunteers then fill each bottle with water and a few drops of chlorine bleach (to retard algae growth). They then fit the bottle snugly into a custom-cut hole in the roof of a home, with the bottom of the bottle extending down into the room below. This allows the clear plastic bottle and water to refract the sun’s rays and scatter light into the house. A silicone plastic sealant applied to the roof and bottle prevents water leaks during rainy tropical weather.

On a sunny day, this simple device can produce approximately 50 watts of light in an otherwise dark room.

Because plastics are lightweight and durable, the bottle lights are easy to install and are expected to last more than five years. And the materials to produce the lights cost very little—or nothing, in the case of discarded bottles gathered by volunteers—which makes it possible for A Liter of Light to help many, many people. The program envisions installing plastic bottle lights in one million homes by the end of 2012.

In an area in which some households earn less than a dollar a day, the plastic bottle lights reduce household expenses, as well as the fire hazards associated with faulty electrical wiring and candles. And when the lights need to be replaced, the plastic bottles can be recycled and new solar lights can be installed for little or no cost.

People often find creative ways to reuse plastic products. These new uses can be practical (such as reusing a plastic grocery bag as a trash can liner), or they can be fun (like making a Halloween costume out of plastic bottles). And sometimes, they can help improve people’s lives by creating a solution to a big problem—in this case, “a sustainable lighting project which aims to bring the eco-friendly bottle bulb to low-income communities nationwide.”

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.

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.

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

War College in a Plastic World

By Kim Coghill, SPI Communications Director

While the concept of leading in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world has its roots in the U.S. military, the business community has borrowed the successful approach to strategic leadership and applied it to management training across industries.

“In reality, VUCA has never been more relevant, for the military and for business,” Gen. George W. Casey Jr. (Ret.), said in a Fortune magazine article that addresses parallels between his leadership challenges in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, and the current business environment.

Recognizing the value of VUCA leadership training, organizers of the 2014 Equipment & Moldmakers Leadership Summit in October have scheduled a half-day Executive Workshop designed to apply VUCA principles to plastics manufacturing management. The program, “Leading in a VUCA World,” will be taught by international business experts from the world renowned Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“Regardless of an organization’s size and footprint, the workshop is designed to equip attendees with strategies to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities presented in a global industry,” said Jackie Dalzell, SPI’s director of industry affairs and staff leader for the Equipment & Moldmakers Council.

Leadership thinkers have been turning to lessons learned from the military to create paradigms for surviving and thriving in a turbulent, “permanent whitewater” world where old styles of managing predictability were falling short, Thunderbird professors Paul Kinsinger and Karen Walch said in an article titled, “Living and Leading in a VUCA World.”

Kinsinger and Walch said research shows that the keys to leading in a VUCA world include possessing the knowledge, mindfulness and ability to:

  1. Create a vision and “make sense of the world.” Sense-making is perhaps more important now than at any time in modern history for many companies, as we are not too many years away from the time when the global economy will actually be truly “global,” encompassing every country and in which competitors will be emanating from everywhere.
  2. Understand one’s own and others’ values and intentions. This speaks to having a core ability to know what you want to be and where you want to go at all times, even while being open to multiple ways to get there.
  3. Seek clarity regarding yourself and seek sustainable relationships and solutions. Leading in turbulence demands the ability to utilize all facets of the human mind. Even the most impressive cognitive minds will fall short in the VUCA world — it will take equal parts cognitive, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical intelligence to prevail.
  4. Practice agility, adaptability and buoyancy. This means the responsive and resilient ability to balance adroitly and right yourself to ride out those turbulent forces that cannot be avoided, and to pivot quickly to seize advantage of those that can be harnessed.
  5. Develop and engage social networks. The ability to recognize that the days of the single “great leader” are gone. In the VUCA world, the best leaders are the ones who harness leadership from everyone.

The Executive Workshop scheduled for the Summit is based on strategies developed by the U.S. Army College at the end of the Cold War to address threats that created a VUCA world.  Attendees will learn fundamental principles of a VUCA “antidote” combined with specific strategies resulting from in-depth research on trends impacting the plastics industry. The SPI 2014 Equipment & Moldmakers Leadership Summit is scheduled Sunday, Oct. 26 through Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at Loew’s Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz.

Other highlights of the Summit include a Brand Owner Panel discussing technology needs to support their product innovations, what equipment manufacturers and moldmakers need to know about new and reformulated materials, update on the U.S. manufacturing renaissance and re-shoring initiatives, and much more.  Register today by clicking here, seats are filling up fast!  We look forward to seeing you in Tucson.

 

 

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Chicago City Officials Vote Against American Manufacturing, 30,000 Jobs in Jeopardy

By Lee Califf, Executive Director, American Progressive Bag Alliance

Plastics industry jobs in Illinois suffered a blow on April 24 when the Chicago City Council’s environmental committee unanimously passed a partial plastic bag ban in the city. The measure is scheduled to go before the full city council this week before it is official.

This is a concern of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, who cites the jobs created from the plastics industry as a major plus for America’s economic recovery. The plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector in the United States employs 30,800 people in 349 communities across the country. That’s a significant number of people in the total 900,000 employed by the U.S. plastics industry.

The plastics industry impact in Chicago is a snapshot of the entire country. An in-depth data analysis of the plastics industry’s 2012 performance globally and in the U.S. is detailed in the newly released reports titled, “The Definition, Size and Impact of the U.S. Plastics Industry,” and “Global Business Trends, Partners, Hot Products.”

The report contained the following numbers:

  • $41.7 billion – the U.S. plastics industry’s payroll in 2012
  • 1.4 million – the number of jobs attributed to the plastics industry when suppliers are added
  • $456 billion – the total U.S. shipments attributed to the plastics industry when suppliers are added
  • 6.7 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in the U.S. are in the plastics industry
  • 15.8 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Michigan are in the plastics industry
  • 15.4 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Indiana are in the plastics industry
  • 13.3 of every 1,000 non-farm jobs – in Ohio are in the plastics industry
  • 1 – California (because it is the largest state) has the most plastics industry employees (74,000)
  • 50 – number of states where plastics industry employees and manufacturing activities are found

SPI’s economic reports are free of charge for members. For non-members, the cost of each report is $395. Both reports may be downloaded at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/store