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‘China Is No Longer Cheap’

By: Tony Deligio 2. September 2015

For the past 11 years, China was a second home for Scott Huff and he racked up frequent flyer miles as his company, Innovate Manufacturing, grew to four factories and an engineering services office there. Huff and Innovate’s focus going forward, however, has shifted to the U.S. where the company is opening a new injection and blow molding facility in Knoxville, Tenn.

 

In his September column, my editor, Jim Callari, wrote about the reshoring phenomenon, a topic I also tackled last March. China itself has been in the news these days, thanks to a flagging economy with particular weakness in manufacturing. The timing of those struggles and Innovate’s announcement was not lost on Huff, who also cautioned against counting on China’s imminent demise.

 

“These are interesting times,” Huff said, “but as I tell people all the time, nothing is a good or as bad as it appears to be. Things have changed, and China is under a lot of cost pressures. The cost of living in China has outpaced the growth of salaries in the last 11 years, and the cost of employing people in China has gone up substantially.”

 

As a result, Huff noted that labor intensive work, formerly a strong suit of China, was increasingly shifting elsewhere. For Innovate, which specializes in large reusable hydration products (picture sideline water jugs), labor costs were just one factor that pushed it to bring some manufacturing back to the states. Another big one was air—or rather the cost to ship it.

 

“If there are more than 8 ounces of air in that bottle, it better be very labor intensive to make it outside of the U.S.,” Huff said. Power costs also played a role, with Huff estimating that utilities in China are double what Innovate will pay in Tennessee. Finally, proximity to customers was key, with Knoxville a truck drive away from all the major population centers east of the Mississippi River.

 

Will companies still invest in China? Of course, the country has a lot to offer, not the least of which being a billion plus consumers. The reasons companies invest there, however, are changing.

 

“China is no longer cheap,” Huff said. “China is very capable, but the market is getting very competitive.”

Innovate's new Knoxville, Tenn. production facility.

Innovate Manufacturing Knoxville, Tenn.

Keynotes Among Highlights of Upcoming Automotive TPO Conference

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 1. September 2015

 

 

I’m looking forward to attending the 17th-annual SPE TPO Automotive Engineered Polyolefins Conference being held at the Marriott Hotel in Troy, Mich., Oct. 4-7. This conference typically draws more than 700 attendees from 20 countries who are interested in learning about the latest in rigid and elastomeric TPO as well as TPE and TPV technologies.

 

Not only will this year’s event be the most session-packed conference to date, but there’s an impressive lineup of keynote speakers. They will discuss important issues facing the automotive-plastics market including future automotive trends and the global outlook for automotive polyolefins. Keynotes from both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. are among the highlights. Here’s a closer look, and in the words of the speakers.

 

TPO: A Customer’s Perspective, by Michael Whitens, director of Ford’s Vehicle & Enterprise Sciences (shown above). “We automakers live in a rapidly changing world where we’re under relentless pressure to lower CO2 emissions, reduce vehicle weight, increase safety and fuel efficiency, and of course continually add new technology while maintaining or lowering the cost of our vehicles. That’s a very challenging set of deliverables for this whole industry. In my talk, I’ll discuss what a customer, namely Ford Motor Co., wants and needs with regard to thermoplastic polyolefins. I’ll cover some key improvements that have boosted performance and lowered cost over the past few decades, then describe areas where we’d like to see these materials improve as we move forward. If the TPO community can do this, it’ll create the window of opportunity for TPOs to displace more costly materials.”

 

The Evolution of TPO Material Performance, by Matt Carroll, GM’s engineering group manager (shown below). “The performance of thermoplastic polyolefins for interior and exterior components has been scrutinized and steadily improved over the past 20 years. Besides the all-important dimensional stability of parts, material properties like UV stability, oxidative stability, impact resistance, scratch and mar resistance, stiffness for handling, and paintability are all keys to producing successful parts. In several cases, the property needs are in conflict and a ‘balancing act’ is required to optimize part performance. In this talk, I’ll review improvements in performance of TPO over time and provide some personal thoughts about future usage and growth of this class of polymers in the automotive industry.”

 

The Auto Future: Fast, Furious and Exciting, by Dr. David Cole, chair of Auto Harvest Foundation. “The auto industry has gone through an amazing transformation in the past few years. Through capacity reduction, restructured labor contracts, financial restructuring, staff reductions, new technological tools, global scale, and more, the U.S. auto industry’s break-even has been significantly reduced. The domestic manufacturers, in particular, have become more competitive as they have moved from a cost disadvantage to cost parity with many of their international competitors. This is evident with their surprising level of profitability. There are a number of concerns, however: there is still excess capacity at the global level; with re-expansion of the domestic market there is a growing shortage of appropriately educated future employees and that’s exacerbated by accelerated retirement of ‘Boomers’. Furthermore, there are tough new regulations to meet, economic uncertainty across many of the world’s economies, and much more. Because of all this, we’re at the edge of a revolution in both product and process technologies. New production facilities are both lean and agile with advanced software control everywhere. In the product area, the powertrain is moving to at least partial electrification, but advanced internal combustion engines assure a lively competition for some time to come. New material systems are being developed that feature significant advances is both materials and their manufacturing processes. And the connected vehicle is becoming a reality that will yield enormous benefits, particularly is safety. All, in all, the modern auto industry is on the move and the process of change is accelerating.”

 

Global Outlook for the Polyolefin and Automotive Businesses, by Brian K. Welder, president-Sumika Polymers North America, Inc. “I’ll start by discussing long-term trends affecting polypropylene, polyethylene, and the elastomers supply base. Then, I’ll look at current trends in the automotive industry for TPOs and TPEs. Finally, I’ll discuss some future trends we anticipate that will affect the entire global automotive resin market.”

 

Oil, Shale Gas, Fuel Efficiency, Lightweighting & Other Funny Things that Happened on the Way to the TPO Forum, by John Moyer, president & CEO, Asahi Kasei Plastics North America. “My talk will begin with a discussion of all the changes in the world of energy costs and I expect that there will be more changes between now and October. I will also talk about compounders—both how we fit into this world of plastics and how we can change rapidly to meet the ever-changing world.”

 

 

Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastics Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.

 

 

The Power of Color in Brand Identity

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 1. September 2015

 

Like other respected industry specialists in plastics color development, Plastics Color Corp., Calumet City, Ill., concedes that the task of finding the perfect color to ensure your plastic product or packaging stands out, while also presenting the image you desire, is not an easy one.  At the same time, color development teams like those at PCC are a valuable resource that you can opt to use.

 

According to PCC, a color development team can take your product from a simple idea to a finished piece, starting with your answering some key questions on your desired end result. Included are: What is the application for your product? In what lighting conditions and environment will it be used? What is the part thickness?

 

A good color development team, says PCC, will be able to merge the artistic aspect of color with the science of color development. With a team of pros analyzing where the current trends meet your desired specifications, you can achieve the ideal end result needed to help penetrate your desired market.

 

Paying attention to the psychology of color is key to PCC. The company notes that there are many reasons why an individual reacts to a specific color, much of which is a result of personal experience. As such, there is simply no exact equation that will trigger the same response in every single person. Yes, there are general attributes that have a universal interpretation, but context and culture matter. Yellow could mean happiness when paired with a smiley face. Or, it could mean caution when paired with a traffic light or sign.

 

That said, finding the correct color for your product or packaging is key. PCC cites Cardiff Business School professors Dr. Paul A. Bottomley and Dr. John R. Doyle, who penned their discovery that consumers question whether or not a given color is appropriate for a product. In their article, The Interactive Effects of Colors and Products on Perceptions of Brand Logo Appropriateness, customers  often go through an internal dialog—breaking down a product’s color, logo, and packaging before a purchase. Choose the wrong color for your brand, and you could possibly isolate potential customers.

 

According to author Satyendra Singh, Department of Administrative Studies, University of Winnipeg, “Up to 90% of snap judgements made about products are based on color alone.” In sum, not only does the color of your product or packaging matter, but it can have an immediate impact on whether or not a customer purchases the product.

 

 

Are You A Film or Sheet Processor? There’s Plenty to Learn at the Extrusion 2015 Conference

By: James Callari 27. August 2015

 

Have you checked out Plastics Technology’s upcoming Extrusion 2015 Conference? It’s going to be held Nov. 2-3 in Charlotte, N.C. at the Omni Charlotte Hotel in the downtown section of the city.

 

This two-day event is packed with presentations from more than 60 technical experts covering a wide range of subject areas. The format is a little different than what you might be accustomed to: The morning sessions on each day will include presentations on general extrusion topics. During each afternoon there will be three concurrent breakout sessions that hone in on your particular process: film/sheet; pipe/profile/tubing; and compounding.

 

If you extrude sheet or film, during these two afternoon sessions you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about best practices in winding, drying, purging, product changeovers, troubleshooting nettlesome issues such as gels and black specs, as well as new developments in no-dry systems for PET, and much more.

 

But don’t sleep in because there is plenty on the agenda each morning for you: screw design basics, troubleshooting conveying systems, new developments in filtration and melt pump technologies, how to make more efficient use of reclaim, new approaches in foaming, and more.

 

In addition to the technical program, there will be ample opportunity for you to mingle with the more than 30 companies who will be exhibiting at this event.

 

Click here to download a copy of the entire program. Click here to see a list of all of the companies that are exhibiting.  In terms of registration, click here to see the pricing details. Best to act before Oct. 1 to save $100. We also have special pricing if your company is thinking of sending more than three people. Ready to register? Click here and begin that process.

 

In terms of accommodations, once again it’s best to act quickly. The Omni is the show hotel, but is filling up at a fast and furious pace. As a result, we have negotiated a similar discounted rate with the Aloft Charlotte, which is nearby.

 

We at Plastics Technology believe the Extrusion 2015 Conference is the event of the year for extrusion processors of all kinds. We hope to see you there.

New Survey Details 3D Printing’s Impact On Manufacturing

By: Heather Caliendo 25. August 2015

3D printing is often referred to as a ‘revolution’ and ‘game-changer,’ but where is it heading? A new report from Stratasys, Minneapolis, aims to answer that question. The report, “3D Printing’s Imminent Impact on Manufacturing,” is based on an independent survey of 700 designers, engineers and executives – 40% of whom are employed by companies with over $50 million in revenue. In addition, respondents work for companies that are committed to using 3D printing.

 

Some of the questions explored was:

 

  • Will they invest in in-house capabilities, will they outsource, and why?
  • What needs to happen for 3D printing of end-production parts to become a large-scale reality?
  • What materials are of greatest interest?

 

“We needed to look beyond our factory walls to get a more complete sense of where 3D printing is headed, so we turned to those who live and breathe the technology just like we do – professional users,” said Joe Allison, CEO of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. “We set out to uncover the common themes among companies who are on the spectrum of larger-scale adoption and integration of 3D printing into their manufacturing process. We’re sharing our findings to help advance adoption and help manufacturers’ maximize the business benefits.”

 

The report indicates what applications, business benefits and challenges, equipment, materials and services are capturing the attention of 3D printing’s most committed users – and where their companies will invest. Among the results:

 

  • The majority of respondents – representing the aerospace, automotive, consumer and medical sectors – strongly believe more end-use parts will be designed specifically for additive manufacturing (AM) in the future.
  • The majority of respondents said that regardless of their company’s in-house AM capabilities, they believe there will always be value in partnering with an AM service provider to augment internal capabilities.

 

The survey asked respondents what materials they would like to see further developed for AM. Future material interests and needs are focused on properties.

 

Decidedly, metals are most highly-coveted across all industries, with 84% of respondents interested in seeing more metal material developments. In fact, additive metal use is expected to nearly double over the next three years. About 61% of respondents are interested in the future use of high-temperature plastics.

 

Additionally, respondents in aerospace and automotive sectors are more interested than other industries in carbon fiber, while respondents in the medical industry are more interested in bio-based materials.

 

“If your company is a committed user of 3D printing, the report will provide assurance that you are headed down a similar path of your peers and face many of the same challenges to adoption. If you’re still dipping your toe in the water, the results may serve as a wake-up call to take swifter action,” Allison said.




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