Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Recent Data Show Favorable Growth for U.S. Plastics Manufacturing

By Kim Coghill, SPI Director, Communications

SPI released the industry’s latest economic statistics and analysis indicating that plastics manufacturing continues to flourish due to an abundant supply of inexpensive natural gas, low inflation and positive trends in the nation’s overall economic health.

SPI’s in-depth data analysis of the industry’s 2012 performance (the latest statistics available) globally and in the U.S. is detailed in two reports titled, “The Definition, Size and Impact of the U.S. Plastics Industry,” and “Global Business Trends, Partners, Hot Products.”

While the recovering economy is also an important factor in the industry’s success SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux attributes the industry’s consistent expansion to its cutting-edge technological advancements. “The industry has remained highly competitive by finding innovative solutions and efficiencies, as well as by expanding its international reach to new markets,” he said.

Plastics industry employment has steadily improved since the 2008-2009 recession. The latest numbers show that plastics industry employment in 2012 included 892,000 people in 15,949 facilities across the country. The industry kept pace by growing 0.1 percent per year from 1980 to 2012, which is better than manufacturing as a whole.

The plastics industry is also responsible for creating a multiplier effect spurring downstream industries. In 2012, upstream industries accounted for 521,000 jobs or about 0.58 upstream jobs for every job in the industry itself.  Upstream industries generated $83 billion in shipments in order to supply goods and services to the plastics industry.

Meanwhile, plastics manufacturers shipped more than $373 billion in goods and invested more than $9.6 billion on new capital equipment in 2012.

Also reflecting the improving U.S. economy, apparent consumption of plastics industry goods grew 5.7 percent from $237.6 billion in 2011 to $251 billion in 2012.

On the international front, the U.S. trade surplus was $13.1 billion. Mexico and Canada remained the U.S. plastics industry’s largest export markets. The industry exported $13.6 billion to Mexico and $12.5 billion to Canada. China is the industry’s third largest export market.

Members are invited to learn more about the reports by participating in an SPI-hosted webinar, Thursday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. (EST). Carteaux and Michael Taylor, SPI’s senior director of international affairs and trade, will provide an analysis of the reports. Members who participate will receive a free copy of the reports, each valued at $395.

To register for the webinar, click here.


Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Technological innovation is a major driving force in business development in today’s global marketplace.

To maintain a competitive edge, businesses seek incentives – sometimes from the federal government – to ensure that they are the first to introduce new technologies, or improved products and services. While the U.S. federal government offers incentives through the Research & Experimentation Tax Credit or the R&D Tax Credit, many businesses fail to take advantage of the program because they are unfamiliar with it and unsure whether their projects qualify.

SPI believes the R&D tax credit is the most effective federal policy designed to promote private research in a free market economy. In an effort to help members gain a better understanding of the opportunities provided by through the policy, SPI has partnered with Black Line Group, a consulting organization with R&D tax credit expertise, to hold a free R&D tax credit webinar.

The webinar, scheduled Jan. 22, will include an overview of the tax credit program including information about costs and activates that qualify, documentation necessary to support an R&D claim, and case studies outlining successful R&D tax credit claims filed by plastics industry firms.

The U.S. federal government encourages businesses and innovators to increase research methods in a variety of ways. In essence, the credit helps businesses boost investment in basic and applied research.  The credit is usually assumed as a single benefit, but leads to more opportunities for business growth.

Join us Jan. 22 for a FREE webinar hosted by Black Line Group with special guest Roger Klouda, president of MSI Mould Builders.


Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Business Destination India: Organized Chaos, Plastics Growth

By Michael Taylor, SPI Senior Director, International Affairs & Trade

 Non-Indians who have visited India in an attempt to describe their experience of India to others have sometimes called it “organized chaos.” They go on to say that India is “in your face,” you are assaulted by sights, sounds and smells in intensity and combinations you have perhaps not encountered before. Some of my Indian friends who have spent significant time outside the country have even described to me how going back for a visit can be very draining to them, now that they have gotten used to less sensory overload. For those who crave differences and excitement, experienced at times at a frenetic pace, India is just the place.

SPI’s India Trade Mission included the Plastivision India 2013 trade show in Mumbai. (Image: Plastivision India)

SPI’s India Trade Mission included the Plastivision India 2013 trade show in Mumbai. (Image: Plastivision India)

Out of this organized chaos and SPI’s final trade mission for 2013 to Plastivision India in Mumbai came a number of truisms about entering a foreign market and conducting global business. One lesson was that nothing happens by chance to those who are awake—my iteration of a well-known saying.

For example, the All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association (AIPMA) is the organizer of the Plastivision India show and our in-country partner. Among many things it did in treating the participating SPI member company representatives as VIPs was to provide us with food coupons that could be used daily at a designated food hall. For this trade mission, we actually worked a two-track approach to the B2B matchmaking, an approach that provided useful leads and meetings for our participants. However one participant relayed to me that perhaps his best connections came from randomly sitting down at a particular table in this food hall. In reality, any table would have presented him an opportunity, or multiple opportunities, but this one paid off big because he was looking to maximize the experience facilitated by our strategic partnership with AIPMA.

An excellent example of nothing happens by chance occurred around the goal the same participant had about making a final determination over what to do with his distributor situation in India. Another trade mission participant detailed his previous experiences as to why he sells directly as opposed to using a distributor. A member of AIPMA offered his insights as well and also provided some alternative contacts. This participant then spent time with his current distributor and ultimately came away with the kind of information he required to move forward in this market.

Both of these examples clearly illustrate yet again how being there and seeing for yourself is so critical. Along with experiencing the cultural differences firsthand, you can learn how to conduct business effectively in the market. This is true for every market, not just India.

I have had the great pleasure to work very closely with Indians for a number of years, and I would say their acceptance, hospitality and passion are in many instances unequaled. Out of the “organized chaos” emerges a very dynamic business culture that explains a great deal of India’s economic success. It is little wonder that they understand the concept of an innovation economy and are in full pursuit of it, albeit at a somewhat erratic pace sometimes.

India is not an easy market, no market is, but it is a growing market with a lot of opportunity.  A recent report from the Plastindia Foundation said the Indian plastics industry is set to double its per capita plastics consumption in the next five years, driven by increasing plastics usage in automobiles, packaging and government spending on infrastructure. This report estimates that the demand for polymers will rise to 16.5 million metric tons by 2016-17 from 11 million tons during 2012-13, resulting in annual consumption increasing by 10.8 percent. Further, India is expected to be among the top 10 packaging consumers in the world by 2016, with demand projected to reach $24 billion.

The next SPI Trade Mission will reach another growth market for plastics: Vietnam. From 2000 to 2013, Vietnam’s GDP grew at an average rate of 6.2 percent per year. Manufacturing, including more than 1000 plastics companies, is a major part of that growth. Plastics exports growing on average 20-25 percent yearly are a major component of the country’s positive trade balance.

SPI’s Vietnam Trade Mission will take place March 4-6, 2014 in conjunction with the Plastics & Rubber Vietnam 2014 trade show in Ho Chi Minh City. On January 9, 2014 an informational webinar will provide more detail on the Vietnam Trade mission and what to expect while there. Click here to register for the webinar.


Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Polymers Snap in Response to Light, No Other Power needed

A recently published research paper from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base describes plastics that can “snap” when triggered by light. The light energy is converted into mechanical action with no need for traditional machine components such as switches and power sources.

“I like to compare this action to that of a Venus Fly Trap,” says M. Ravi Shankar, associate professor of engineering at Pitt, whose research focuses on innovative nanomaterials. “The underlying mechanism that allows the Venus Fly Trap to capture prey is slow. But because its internal structure is coupled to use elastic instability, a snapping action occurs, and this delivers the power to shut the trap quickly.

Shankar, collaborating with Timothy J. White of the Air Force Research Laboratory and Matthew Smith, assistant professor of engineering at Hope College (Holland, MI), focused on the elastic instability of azobenzene-functionalized polymers (both amorphous polyamides and liquid crystal polymers) prepared by the Air Force lab, which showed unprecedented actuation rates and output powers. With light from a hand-held laser pointer, the polymers generated high amounts of power that converted the light into mechanical work without any other power source.

A polymer deforms when irradiated with light (blue) and snaps, delivering a large amount of power at millisecond time scales. (Image: M. Ravi Shankar et al, University of Pittsburgh)

A polymer irradiated with light (blue)  snaps, delivering a large amount of power at millisecond time scales. (Image: M. Ravi Shankar et al, University of Pittsburgh)

“As we look to real-world applications, you could activate a switch simply by shining light on it,” Shankar said. “For example, you could develop soft machines such as stents or other biomedical devices that can be more adaptive and easily controlled. In a more complex mechanism, we could imagine a light-driven robotic or morphing structure, or micro-vehicles that would be more compact because you eliminate the need for an on-board power system. The work potential is built into the polymer itself and is triggered with light.”

Scientists have known for years about a class of photo-responsive polymers that would react to light with no other power source. Problem was, their movement was very slow. The research team shaped the polymer into a geometry resembling a hummingbird’s beak or the trap of a Venus Fly Trap plant. When irradiated with light, the polymer initially deforms slowly, but when it reaches a critical state, it snaps. Shankar told KurzweilAI they generated actuation in millisecond time-scales and power approaching kilowatts per cubic meter at radiation intensities far less than 100 milliwatts per square centimeter and potentially over long distances.

Shankar, White and Smith published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early November. Shankar’s research was enabled through an eight-week Air Force Office of Scientific Research Summer Faculty Fellowship.

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Brazil’s World Cup 2014 Squad Will Wear Recycled PET Bottles

Recycled PET bottles

        18 Recycled PET bottles

The 2010 World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa was the first time that the American sporting goods giant Nike outfitted all its national teams, ten of them at the time, in jerseys made of recycled PET plastic bottles. The company will do it again at World Cup 2014 (June 12-July 13) in Brazil, only this time the whole uniform will be recycled PET, including the socks.

A few days ago, Nike unveiled the uniform — “kit” as soccer uniforms are called — host country Brazil’s team will wear in World Cup 2014 matches when it’s the home side. The bright yellow jersey with green trim, blue shorts and white socks closely follow Brazil’s passionately held futebol traditions. However, the Nike design and technology used to make this kit are not traditional but are in full accord with  Nike’s Sustainable Business at Nike, Inc.

During World Cup 2010, Nike earned praise for having kept 18 million PET bottles out of landfills. It was not a one-off event. Since then Nike has diverted almost 2 billion bottles from landfills. The company describes its approach as a commitment to superior performance with lower environmental impact. Each kit is made from about 18 bottles. The socks are 78 percent recycled material, the shirt 96 percent and the shorts 100 percent, which is how Nike has made its soccer kits since 2010.

Five stars for Brazil's five World Cup wins.

Five stars for Brazil’s five World Cup wins.

As for technology, to optimize its designs Nike first did a full body scan of each player on the Brazilian national team, as well as other players. Regulating player body temperature in a match is a primary focus for Nike designers. The new kits combine Nike Dri-Fit technology, which wicks moisture away from the skin, plus “burnout” mesh and laser-cut ventilation holes that localize cooling where players most need it. The shorts are designed to reduce bruises players get on their hips and thighs when sliding to get the ball.

The Brazilian team’s manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari, likes the shirt. He says it looks great, though he did notice one thing missing. The chest emblem has five stars, the number of times Brazil has won the World Cup. He intends to have a sixth one after World Cup 2014.