Plastics Growth in Building & Construction Driven by Innovation, Market Demand

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 28. January 2016

SPI’s new report analyzes the key factors impacting the plastic industry in the building and construction sector.


At last week’s 2016 International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, SPI released its newest report, “Plastics Market Watch: Building and Construction”, the fourth in a series published by SPI analyzing key factors impacting the plastics industry’s major end markets. Already the second largest consumer of plastics behind only packaging, building and construction’s use of plastics and plastics derivatives is forecast continue to increase in coming years.


“From floors to roofs, inside and outside of walls, plastics are a go-to product on construction sites,” SPI President and CEO William Carteaux said. “Innovation in the plastics industry to improve and diversify products is matched by the building and construction sector’s pace to find, and use, new solutions to address fundamental issues like structural integrity, energy savings, recycling, and cost saving.”


The leading uses of plastics for residential and commercial construction include roofing, insulation, wall coverings, windows, piping, composite lumber, flooring and structure wraps. Further details as noted in the report are:


Roofing—Reflective, light-colored roofing membranes made of PVC or TPO single-ply membranes combined with rigid polyiso board or spray polyurethane foam—offer energy savings, durability and moisture control, especially for commercial buildings in warmer/wetter climates. Studies show that the surface temperature of a light covered roof is much lower than a darker one. The cooler the building, the less air conditioning is required, and therefore, the less energy is consumed.


Insulation—Whether it is spray polyurethane foam (SPF) in the attic or rigid foam polyiso board in the walls, polyurethane-based systems offer durability, energy savings and moisture control. When used for retrofits, they also help reduce the amount of building waste sent to landfills. In walls, behind walls and under floors, the use of polystyrene foams can provide significant energy efficiency. For example, rigid extruded polystyrene (XPS) is a builder favorite because it can be installed easily and effectively. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) can help homeowners save hundreds of dollars annually on heating and cooling bills. The report notes that savings vary by material and products.


Wall Coverings—Vinyl-based materials are commonly used for durable, easy-to-clean hospitality and health-care facilities. Vinyl requires only half as much energy to manufacture as the same amount of paper wall coverings.


Windows—Polycarbonate is used for window panes. These clear, lightweight, shatter-resistant PC products have low thermal conductivity which can help reduce heating and cooling costs. PVC window frames are inherently energy efficient and save the U.S. nearly two trillion thermal units of energy per year, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, associated with energy generation—and at the same time reducing maintenance time, materials and other costs.


Piping—Plastics pipe and fittings are relatively easy to install, durable and will not rust or corrode over time. Several types of plastics are used for piping depending on the properties and performance required. Whether PE, PP, PVC, or ABS, they each offer excellent fusion integrity when joined properly, in turn helping to eliminate potential leak points where water could be wasted. In home building flexible blue and red cross-linked PE piping (PEX) has become a favorite of many builders for hot and cold water delivery, all managed and hooked into a central and effective manifold system. The flexibility, lightness and ease of installation allow multiple feed lines throughout a house, bringing hot water more quickly to a sink or shower and saving water.


Composite “lumber” planks and rails—Recycled plastics or plastic-wood composites are carefully engineered to virtually eliminate warpage and knots, with PVC, HDPE, and PP among the plastics used. They can outlast traditional materials, often require less maintenance and are resistant to peeling, cracking, splintering or fading. They are also eco-friendly in that much of the lumber is made from recycled materials and/or can itself be recycled.


Plastic House Wrap—This technology (polyolefins and PVC play a role) has reduced the infiltration of outside air into the average home by 10-50% helping to drastically reduce the energy required to heat or cool a structure. Estimates conclude that these plastic films have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by as much as 120-600 million tons of CO2 since 1980.


Advances in plastics have been embraced by architects, engineers and designers. As proof, SPI cites a report from a Columbia University conference: “Permanent Change: Plastics in Architecture and Engineering


Plastics have become one of the most ubiquitous and increasingly permanent materials in construction. The material capabilities of plastics, both as a generic material and as specific polymers, and the processes that underlie them, suggest a potential to reshape construction and the roles of architects and engineers in construction. While plastics are perhaps the most intensively engineered building materials today, we are still in the early stages of understanding them in terms of their potential applications and uses.


SPI will continue its Plastics Market Watch reports later this year, with “Automotive Recycling” to be published before end of this quarter. The three previous reports, including “Automotive & Transportation”, “Healthcare & Medical Devices”, and “Packaging” are available on the SPI website.


Image courtesy BASF

Innovative Materials Open Up New Markets for Injection Molding

By: Tony Deligio 27. January 2016

Light-emitting diodes, bipolar car battery plates, advanced medical components—new opportunities in these applications and more are coming to injection molding thanks to advances in materials.


Those material developments will be a key component of the upcoming Molding 2016 Conference & Exhibit (March 29-31; New Orleans), with presentations spanning everything from liquid silicone rubber (LSR) and recycled resins to polycarbonate, conductive plastics and copolyester. End markets discussed will range from consumer goods and electrical/electronic to medical and automotive.


Plastics In a New Light
So varied and numerous are the opportunities for molded plastics in next-generation LED lighting that Molding boasts three different presentations on the topic covering materials from LSR and polycarbonate to specialized compounds. Presenting companies in New Orleans will include LSR equipment manufacturer Elmet, plastics manufacturer Covestro, and specialty compounder PolyOne.


Elmet’s Kurt Manigatter will focus on high-power LEDs and materials used for encapsulating semiconductor chips therein, which are subjected to high temperatures and UV radiation. Manigatter will discuss how Elmet developed a highly integrated injection molding process for the production of combined LED primary and secondary optics.


Covestro’s Terry Davis will discuss the new challenges created by LED lighting and how polycarbonate (PC) is meeting those demands thanks to its inherent impact resistance, flame retardance and dimensional stability. In particular, Davis will address how a new series of PCs offers lower radiation absorption in certain wavelengths and discuss a post-molding infusion process to further mitigate the potential for yellowing. Davis will also look at the challenge for injection molding thick optics, since many LED applications require dimensions outside common guidelines. Specifically, he will explain a technique for multi-layer molding of thick-walled lenses that improves quality without negative impact to cycle times.


PolyOne’s Eduardo Alvarez will talk about how despite the market potential for LED lighting, the technology’s price premium could inhibit its growth. One potential solution: swapping out more expensive materials with plastics. To that end, PolyOne has created a polymer conversion roadmap that it says will not only make the lighting more affordable but also lower its weight and improve design freedom. Lenses have been the starting point for conversion, with acrylic or PC replacing glass in luminaire designs. Alvarez will look at how engineered polymers are tackling three additional luminaire components.


Rethinking Car Batteries
The light-weighting push in the automotive industry has extended to all components and systems within vehicles and thanks to conductive plastics it could soon touch the lead-acid battery. Doug Bathauer of Integral Technologies will discuss how his company has applied injection molded electrically conductive hybrid plastics in a polymer-based bipolar plate that he says can not only improve the performance of lead-acid batteries, but also cut battery weight and size by more than 50%. 


Simulation, Recycled Plastics and High-Cavitation Medical Applications
Other material-centric presentations at Molding 2016 will include an examination of simulating the molding of LSR in a demanding application featuring Matt Proske of Sigmasoft and Oliver Franssen of Momentive. The speakers note that the evolution of advanced simulation technologies allows “detailed process analysis and helps engineers to push the limits.”


Grant Gilmore of resin recycler Butler-MacDonald is hoping to convince molders who might have had mixed experiences with recycled plastics to take another look. Gilmore will present on how the reprocessing industry has leveraged new technology and processes that “allow molders to recover high purity pellets or regrind from materials that many think are not recyclable…the technology exists now that can allow you to realize the return of material that rivals the quality of prime resin.”


Finally, Steven Givens and Tom Meehan of Eastman Chemical Company will present a detailed case study covering the validation of the company’s Tritan copolyester in high-precision multi-cavity hot runner medical molds. Working with Milacron, Prestige Mold and Pres-Tek Plastics, Eastman has designed, built and run a 32-cavity valve-gated hot runner mold to process standard flow, high flow and high temperature medical grades of Tritan without modification to the tool.


Is there a new material answer to a gnawing injection molding problem you’re facing? Register today for Molding 2016 and see how the latest polymer tech could help your business. (Image courtesy PolyOne).

China Reimagines Its Manufacturing Industry

By: Tony Deligio 26. January 2016

Nearly 40 years ago, China’s “Open Door” policy revolutionized the country’s economy, particularly industry—Can “Made In China 2025” keep “the world’s factory” humming?


Since liberalizing its markets in 1978 via the ‘open door’ policy of Deng Xiaoping, China’s manufacturing sector has been key to the country’s emergence as the second largest economy in the world. In recent years, however, China’s manufacturing sector has faced challenges on two fronts: lower cost countries undercutting it, particularly on labor, and higher-cost countries using high technology to nullify the “China cost.’ All the while, China’s service sector continues to grow with speculation that those jobs will hold more appeal to younger laborers than factory work.


There has been near double digit growth in wages for urban employees since 2004, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, with the national average annual wage reaching 56,339 yuan in 2014 (around $8600). In the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, the average monthly pay of 2030 yuan ($310) outstrips both Shanghai (2020 yuan) and Beijing (1720 yuan). As the China Labour Bulletin stated:


Wages for Chinese factory workers are now significantly higher than for factory workers in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. This has led to many low-cost labor-intensive industries such as garments, toy and shoe manufacturing to transfer some production to these cheaper locations.


The impact of rising wages, and other negative forces on manufacturing, was felt acutely throughout 2015. The Caixin Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures the performance of the manufacturing sector and is derived from a survey of 430 industrial companies, marked 10 straight months of contraction last December.


The Government Steps In
Appreciating the importance of manufacturing to the country’s economy, China’s government has worked in recent years to develop a blueprint for a new manufacturing sector in the country, most recently revealed last March as Made in China 2025. Per Chinese Premier Li Keqiang:


“We will implement the Made in China 2025 strategy, and seek innovation-driven development, apply smart technologies, strengthen foundations, pursue green development and redouble our efforts to upgrade China from a manufacturer of quantity to one of quality.”


Specifically, the plan includes a stated goal of raising domestic content of core components and materials to 40% by 2020 and 70% by 2025. In addition, it calls for the creation of manufacturing innovation centers—15 by 2020 and 40 by 2025—and it seeks to strengthen intellectual property rights protection for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).


When announced, the plan identified 10 “priority sectors”, several of which touch on plastics.


  • New advanced information technology
  • Automated machine tools & robotics
  • Aerospace and aeronautical equipment
  • Maritime equipment and high-tech shipping
  • Modern rail transport equipment
  • New-energy vehicles and equipment
  • Power equipment
  • Agricultural equipment
  • New materials
  • Biopharma and advanced medical products


Made in China 2025 augments and replaces a 15-year plan issued in 2006 which called for “indigenous innovation” and identified seven “strategic emerging industries” (SEI). Under this plan, SEI-related industries were to account for 8% of the economy by 2015 and 15% by 2020.


The State Council issued the “Made in China 2025” plan on May 19, 2015, replacing the SEI plan and formally identifying “nine tasks” as priorities to making the proposal a reality:


  • Improving manufacturing innovation
  • Integrating technology and industry
  • Strengthening the industrial base
  • Fostering Chinese brands
  • Enforcing green manufacturing
  • Promoting breakthroughs in 10 key sectors
  • Advancing restructuring of the manufacturing sector
  • Promoting service-oriented manufacturing and manufacturing-related service industries
  • Internationalizing manufacturing


Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. noted that despite the initiative’s name, Made In China 2025 holds opportunities for non-Chinese multinational companies (MNC) as well.


“First, there will be greater investment and attention to the 10 industries, and MNCs that align themselves with these sectors and the general goals of this plan can benefit from its focus…It’s a guarantee that MNCs will be needed to provide critical components, technology, and management for this plan is to work.”


KraussMaffei, Chinaplas and Made in China 2025
Twice in the same week I came across references to Made in China 2025. The first, in my colleague Matt Naitove’s article on the acquisition of German plastics machinery giant, KraussMaffei by state-owned Chinese chemical company, ChemChina. In a release for that move, Jianxin Ren, Chairman of ChemChina, is quoted as saying:


We are investing in [KraussMaffei’s] strong management team and its technological expertise, which we believe will benefit our Chinese subsidiaries and position the chemical machinery business of ChemChina, which build and sell equipment for the rubber and chemical industry, to become a pioneer in achieving the “Made in China 2025” program which aims to enhance Chinese industry.


The next instance came in a release from Adsale, the organizer of the Chinaplas show, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year in Shanghai. In this instance, the release acknowledged initiatives of other manufacturing leaders, including Germany’s Industrie 4.0 push, painting China’s plans in the same light.


The world’s leading manufacturing countries have launched national strategic plans to meet the challenges in the new era and to strengthen their industrial competitiveness…China also launched the Made in China 2025 strategic plan recently to boost its industrial growth, with the aim to comprehensively upgrade Chinese manufacturing industries.


Whether or not you believe in a government’s ability to centrally plan for progress, it is clear that manufacturing, and therefore plastics, are very much a part of China’s plans going forward, to 2025 and beyond.

Made In China 2025

High-Tech Implant for Leg-Lengthening Treatment Enabled by PEEK

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. January 2016

Evonik has invested in a start-up company that has developed a high-tech leg-lengthening implant that uses Vestakeep PEEK.


Via its venture capital arm, Germany’s Evonik Industries has invested in and holds a minority share in the start-up company SYNOSTE Oy, based in Dusseldorf and Helsinki, Finland.  A 2012 spin-off of Finland’s Aalto University, SYNOSTE, together with Finland’s Orton hospital which specializes in orthopedics, developed a high-tech implant that utilizes Evonik’s Vestakeep PEEK, for a minimally invasive treatment of leg-length discrepancy.


This condition, which can lead to chronic back pain and osteoarthritis in the long term, has traditionally been treated with a method that involves the use of an external fixator—a construction made of steel which is fixed to the bone and the outside of the leg. This standard method both poses the risk of infection and is also painful and uncomfortable. Some 30,000 people per year seek treatment for this condition.


The SYNOSTE implant is similar to an intramedullary nail and is fixed to the bone after the bone has been cut. During the treatment period, which lasts for several months, it is extended in small increments of 0.5 millimeters, like a telescope, by electromagnetic means. This causes fresh bone substance to steadily form between two halves of the bone. Using this method, it is possible to increase the length of the bone by several centimeters.


An advantage of the SYNOSTE implant is its high mechanical stability. The company has aimed to allow patients to bear full weight on their leg at an early stage in the treatment process. Also, it significantly reduces the risk of infection compared to a fixator, and requires shorter hospitalization.


Due to its excellent mechanical properties and biocompatibility, Vestakeep PEEK is well established in implant, dental and medical technologies. “By investing in SYNOSTE, we hope to open up a new, extremely innovative applications for Vestakeep PEEK and enhance our business and expertise in the field of medical technology,” says Matthias Kottenhahn. Moreover, he notes that the SYNOSTE implant technology also offers potential for deformities in arms, fingers and toes as well as spine and craniomaxillofacial surgery.


Revamped Website Features Resources for Materials Challenges

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 22. January 2016

PolyOne’s newly launched website, which consolidated 12 legacy sites, offers enhanced, customer-centric content.


Updating or totally restructuring a company website may be a daunting task but more often than not pays off big for customers, potential customers, and visitors in terms of accessing information and ideas faster and more effectively. PolyOne Corp., Cleveland, for one, launched its new corporate website before the end of 2015, consolidating into one portal the company’s global portfolio from 12 legacy websites.


The new site provides enhanced, customer-centric content and intuitive navigation on the company’s offerings ranging from thermoplastic elastomers and engineered compounds to colorants, plasticizers and other additives. PolyOne v.p. of marketing, Cathy Dodd, said:


“We know our customers are looking to online sources to do their jobs better, find solutions faster, and stay on top of what’s next in their industry. In updating our site, we focused not only on meeting our customers’ information needs, but also on inspiring them with a library of comprehensive content that fosters their success.”


A really nifty segment of this site is the Idea Center, whereby visitors can both stay abreast of the latest industry challenges and find out about ways to address such challenges. One example is a white paper under anti-counterfeiting that provides brand owners what they need to know to combat the issue. There are several white papers that address issues in electronics, lighting, packaging, medical devices, appliances, building & construction, and more. Examples:


EMI/RFI Shielding Formulations for Use in Advanced Electronic Systems.


• Managing heat with Polymers (Engineered Thermoplastics) in LED Lighting.


How to Improve PET Packaging for UV-Sensitive Beverage.


• What You Need to Know About Form, Fill and Seal Packaging.


Disinfectant-Resistant Housing (Medical Devices) Materials.


Next-Generation TPE Technologies for Medical Devices.


• Novel Thermoplastic Elastomers for Universal Overmolding.


• Designing Consumer Products with TPEs.


• Considerations for Weatherable Building Products in Dark Colors.

PolyOne website

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