Monday, December 8th, 2014

Baltimore Mayor Correctly Vetoes City Ban on Plastic Bags

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake deserves all the praise she receives for vetoing the politically-motivated plastic bag ban the City Council recently passed with no debate or public discussion. Looming over this issue was a lingering question on the mind of Rawlings-Blake and the collective mind of the plastics industry: where have the voters been in this process?

The City Council certainly didn’t pay attention to them when they took an unpopular 5-cent bag fee bill and changed it at the eleventh hour, without debate or discussion, into an outright ban (members of the City Council who supported the ban said that the statewide midterm elections and a general anti-tax fervor led them to abandon the fee) and they certainly didn’t listen to local business owners who opposed a bag ban on the grounds that it would increase costs and amount to another tax that the City Council claimed it wanted to avoid.Recycled plastic bags image

In fact, according to Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), because paper bags cost more for grocers to supply, a ban on plastic bags would increase costs for consumers. For example, Daniels noted, for a large grocery store to switch to all paper it could cost an extra $60,000 to $90,000 per store. Those costs would be passed on to consumers, meaning a family of five would see an increase in their annual grocery expenses. If the Council understood the voters’ frustration with increased taxes, it had a funny way of showing it.

The plastic bag ban has become a cause celebre for politicians hoping to score political points and a symbolic victory that is only ever just that: symbolic. Plastic bags take up less than one percent of the municipal waste stream nationwide, and while no amount of litter is acceptable, the issue requires serious solutions and actual discussion. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and the APBA share the Baltimore City Council’s concerns about litter, but if they’re serious about having an impact, they should be focusing on litter and recycling education rather than instituting new taxes. Of course, the City Council was never interested in serious solutions and actual discussion; this was a political ploy meant to send the mayor a message.

Baltimore’s experience is becoming all too typical, as, in the search for that symbolic victory, politicians find loopholes to jam plastic bag bans and taxes through the legislature at the expense of openness and transparency. That’s because every time one of these proposals is presented to voters, they’ve rejected it. The only ways to enact a plastic bag ban or tax seem to be to make backroom deals, play political games and silence voter input, but that’s not how government is supposed to work in America. The voters get to have their say, and each time they’ve gotten the chance to, they’ve opposed it.

Ultimately all of these factors lead SPI and the APBA to the conclusion that Rawlings-Blake’s veto was the right thing to do. This was an underhanded effort by the Baltimore City Council to circumvent normal procedures of governance in order to enact a bill Baltimoreans didn’t want, and never got a chance to object to. The veto shows that if the City Council doesn’t value Baltimore residents’ right to debate and discussion, the Mayor does.

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Good News from SPI’s 2014 Global Business Trends Report

SPI released its 2014 Global Business Trends report this week, and revealed that, to put it mildly, last year was a good one for plastics.

Earth-NASA-2Worldwide demand for U.S. plastics industry goods hit record levels in 2013, growing by 6.5 percent from $251 billion in 2012, to $267 billion last year, which exceeds the $262.2 billion record set in 2006, before the recession was a twinkle in the global economy’s eye. “Surpassing previous consumption levels confirms that the U.S. plastics manufacturing industry is a major player in the world’s economy,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux, noting that “while U.S. exports of raw materials continue to show profitability thanks in part to increase in shale gas supplies, domestic demand holds the key to a wealth of job growth and economic benefits for firms that invest in the nation’s manufacturing renaissance.”

Exports also resumed their growth in 2013, the report noted, notching a 2.7 percent increase across most sectors (resins, plastic products and molds), excluding machinery. Companies in the machinery sector shouldn’t fret too much, however, as sales and exports of machinery typically expand every three years on account of NPE, the premier international plastics showcase put on by SPI, which will occur next in March 23-27, 2015 in Orlando, Fla.8_Bubble-Chandelier-Green-Souda-2

More than just the positive growth in domestic demand along with exports, the 2014 Global Business Trends report also suggests a solid basis for future growth throughout the entire industry, particularly in the U.S., where the manufacturing trade balance improved in this year’s report in part due to “reshoring,” whereby companies return previously “offshored” manufacturing operations to the U.S. Additionally, the U.S.’ flourishing domestic market required more production in order to adequately meet demand, and the ratio of industry exports to domestic shipments fell from 22.2 percent in 2012 to 21.5 percent in 2013, yet another sign of an improving U.S. economy.

Ultimately the U.S. is becoming more and more competitive in manufacturing because of four main characteristics: low wage inflation, a lower-valued dollar, high productivity and increasingly abundant energy resources. Taken together these elements suggest a bright future ahead for the industry and a great deal of opportunity, in the U.S. specifically.

For more insight into SPI’s 2014 Global Business Trends report and to learn what reshoring and increased domestic demand will mean for the U.S. plastics industry, join SPI President and CEO William Carteaux for a free webinar at 2 p.m. (EDT) next Wednesday, Dec. 10. Register today here.

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Wittmann Battenfeld Opens Doors to Educate Next Generation of Plastics Workers

At the heart of events like Manufacturing Day is the concept that if skilled trades are being taught in the nation’s classrooms less and less, then manufacturers themselves must pick up the slack. Opening the doors of their factories to welcome communities, educators and students allows them to educate potential future employees and demonstrate the true value of their work as well as the cutting-edge technology and processes that make manufacturing stick in the mind of the next generation of workers as a career of the future rather than a career of the past.

This year’s Manufacturing Day was a great success, and next year’s event will be too, but companies need not wait all the way until October to open their doors ever year. Welcoming the younger generation into your facilities is a good idea at any time throughout the year, and, when done diligently, can leave a lasting impact on communities, educators and the future employees of the company itself.

Wittman Battenfeld President David Preusse addresses attendees at the company's Open House and Future Careers Event.

Wittmann Battenfeld President David Preusse addresses attendees at the company’s Open House and Future Careers Event.

Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc. became the latest SPI member to do just that, opening the doors of their headquarters in Torrington, Connecticut. to the public earlier this month. Wittmann President David Preusse said that while they expected the event to draw between 60 and 80 attendees, it ended up drawing over 200. That’s because the Open House and Future Careers Event hosted at Wittmann was something of a master class on how companies can successfully plan and execute gatherings such as these at their own facilities. Welcoming in members of the community in a way that’s as beneficial to the company’s future as it is to the attendees doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without employee wide commitment and planning. Wittmann Battenfeld’s event had all of these elements, and ended up being a rousing success because of it.

Attendees, who ranged from middle-school children up through college students, parents, professors and teachers, were all split into groups and each progressed around the factory, visiting nine different stations manned by a Wittmann employee. Guests heard from Preusse, about the background of the company, as well as some information about Wittmann Battenfeld’s products and plastics manufacturing process in general, and various other employees discussed their segments of the company, their careers and the opportunities that exist to work in robotics and plastics technology. They gave demonstrations of Wittman’s machinery in action, and some even let some of the younger attendees try out some parts of the plant’s robot controls.

The employees involved with the event were mostly on the technical side, but Preusse noted that they spoke frequently about the various career opportunities available strictly within Wittmann’s corporate structure. “There are 35 different jobs that people who work for our company have, including sales and accounting and all kinds of other jobs,” he said. “People went to the different stations and learned how we program our robots, micro-molding and material handling, and each person that they came to see introduced themselves and said a bit about their history with the company,” Preusse noted, adding that many Wittmann employees have started in one function and often moved around within the company, which only increased the opportunities available to potential future employees that were in the audience that day.

“You can move around in a company like ours, and they might not have known that,” Preusse said. “We were trying to give them a sense of something they weren’t aware of.”

Open House attendees at one of the nine different stations Wittman Battenfeld set up for them to visit.

Open House attendees at one of the nine different stations Wittmann Battenfeld set up for them to visit.

This is where a great deal of the value of events like Wittmann’s comes from; there are so many things that the younger generation doesn’t know about plastics and doesn’t know about careers in plastics and in manufacturing. Open houses invite them to learn something that they otherwise wouldn’t have about a field that’s growing, innovative and, frankly, pretty cool. The flyer Wittmann used to promote the event played up the last aspect, featuring a dynamic image of a Wittmann-branded robot inviting people to register and learn more about the robotics and automated aspects of the company’s facility. “It’s hard to say we’re having a career fair for material handling and auxiliary products in the plastics industry,” Preusse said, noting that most attendees wouldn’t be excited by technical jargon and industry-specific terms, which is why the flyer focused on robots and plastics instead.

There’s also a public service aspect inherent to events like these as well, Preusse noted. “Some high school are training and schooling [in fields like robotics and engineering] but some of the kids are going to college and finding it difficult to find jobs because they didn’t really get a chance to learn about the allure or the complexity of the plastics manufacturing industry,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that they’re just not really exposed to any of that.”

As beneficial and forward-thinking as it is for a company to host events like these in order to excite a new generation of plastics workers and advocates, in many ways it’s also a generous way to get people thinking about options that they didn’t know were available to them. “The idea was that we wanted to give back to the community,” Preusse said. “People of all ages have the chance to really get a great career out of plastics working for very successful companies with great benefits. We wanted to show them some pretty cool stuff that’s happening in the plastics industry, and host an event so that they could learn about a really cool factory right here in the countryside of Connecticut.”

Tips for Making Your Company’s Open House a Success

  • Divide and Conquer – Dividing things into different stations and functions will help keep the program itself lively and engaging. Getting your employees involved in the process will leave a bigger impact on attendees as they share their own stories and passion for their work.
  • Know Your Audience – It’s important to remember that industry terms that are common on the factory floor are largely unheard of beyond a facility’s walls. Using more relatable, understandable terms in any marketing materials and event announcements will appeal to more attendees. Also if you have a target age group in mind be sure to tailor the message in those materials to the attendees you’re hoping to welcome, like the way Wittmann’s promotional flyer focused on robots to draw in younger folks.
  • Have Additional Resources – Preusse noted that they interviewed some Wittmann employees about their plastics career histories and what they enjoyed most about working in the industry and for their company. These are posted on Wittmann’s website on the jobs page, so that attendees can read more of the stories from the employees they met as they toured the facility, increasing the event’s overall impact.

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.

Friday, November 21st, 2014

SPI Western Moldmakers Give Back at 24th Annual Mike Koebel Trade Fair

SPI Western Region Moldmakers hosted the 24th Annual Mike Koebel Western Moldmakers Trade Fair this Veterans Day. For the first time ever, this year’s event included a free technical workshop and educational program that preceded the trade fair. TradeFair networkingPresented by SPI in partnership with Moldmaking Technology Magazine and the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Moldmakers and Mold Design Division, the program provided moldmaker-specific technical and economic perspectives from industry leaders to a room that overflowed with attendees, suggesting that such a program will certainly be a part of next year’s 25th annual event to provide more of the cutting-edge insights that keep moldmakers moving forward.

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Attendees on a plant tour hosted in conjunction with the Trade Fair.

 

The trade fair itself drew more than 150 attendees, making it one of the most popular in recent memory, and featured more than 20 exhibitors. It also offered attendees an unparalleled opportunity to benefit themselves and their companies through networking. The trade fair offers industry professionals the chance to gather near the end of every year to make new friends and reconnect with old ones as they network, collaborate and socialize in a community with strong business and personal bonds that are unique to the moldmaking community. This makes it a great event for both the plastics industry’s rookies as well as its veterans.

Western Moldmaker Board

The Western Moldmaker Board.

This year’s program also recognized service and dedication in many forms, from thanking the many veterans that were in attendance for their service and sacrifice, to recognizing the volunteers that comprise the Western Moldmakers Board for all they do to support the industry. The SPI Western Moldmakers group has also contributed over $90,000 over the years to colleges and educational institutions that support moldmaking, plastics programs and advanced manufacturing, and that tradition continued again this year. Instead of supporting a specific institution, the SPI Western Moldmakers announced a donation to Bright Prospect, an organization that empowers high-potential, low-income students to gain admission, succeed and graduate from four-year colleges and universities through comprehensive counseling and support from high school through college.