That’s not so far off, given the speed of change in this industry. Here’s what a handful of plastics experts see in their (acrylic) crystal balls.

January 2000

Gordon Lankton,president and CEO, Nypro Inc.
“The Chinese will be powerful in the next century. They can already do things faster than we can in terms of bringing new electronic products like cell phones to market. The plastic components of cell phones have to be tooled and in production in 10 weeks now. In the future, it will be six weeks. The Chinese technology is often from U.S. companies, but their culture is a willingness to work faster and to coordinate so there is no dead time in the schedule—working days and nights and weekends.”

 

Donald Kendall, president and CEO, Mack Molding Co.
“Molds will be built in two weeks.”

 

Sandy Scaccia, president, Norstar Aluminum Molds Inc.
“Although the entire rotomolding industry will not be automated by 2010, a significant portion will be. Automation and process control will effect the biggest change in the industry by breaking down the barrier with major OEMs, who recognize the advantage of rotomolding but are reluctant to use it due to its high labor content. Once OEM’s begin to use the process as captive shops and throw their R&D muscle at it, even more technology will be developed and rotational molding will begin to take on a very different look than it has today.”

 

Dr. Scott Hanson, manager of packaging films, Eastman Chemical Co.
“In about five years, we should begin to see increasing use of active barriers that react with and consume oxygen. Several manufacturers of fresh pasta are already inserting small sachets containing such materials into the package. The next step will be to graft them directly onto the polymer chain.”

 

Barr Klaus, technical director, Elektron Technologies, Milacron Inc.
“Five years from now, 70% of the injection molding market will be all-electric machines. By 2010, sales of hydraulic presses will be limited to minor low-end and specialty markets. It’s safe to say that blow molding and thermoforming will be all-electric too.”

 

Alan Power, president and CEO, Decoma International Inc.
“We’ll see significantly higher use of plastics on automobiles. A 20,000-ton molding machine forming the entire front end of a vehicle isn’t unthinkable. It could be one piece, comprising hood, fenders, and bumper. Parts now painted could be coated in the mold and come out with a class-A finish.”

 

Jim Throne, president, Sherwood Technologies Inc.
“Computer-aided engineering will pervade the U.S. industry. By the end of the decade, mathematical modeling of processes such as thermoforming, blow molding, foam processing, and even rotomolding, will achieve the level of extrusion and injection molding. The dysfunctional software-to-software interfaces will become seamless, so that product development will move with less stutter from concept to product. This will enable tighter process control, better part design, more accurate part quoting, and better materials usage. It will also allow simulator development, thus providing remote operator training in areas that now have only hands-on training capabilities.”