When Was Your Plastics Epiphany?

By: Tony Deligio 29. January 2015

Michael Engler, currently the VP of operations at custom injection molder AMA Plastics, Riverside, Calif., remembers how his woodshop teacher, Mr. Hensler, kept a small thermoformer and compression molding machine in the class and for that week he talked to students about the basics of plastics, from how it melts to its thermoset and thermoplastic variations.


Sitting in AMA’s second-floor conference room, Engler recalls that distant introduction to plastics, and how he used Mr. Hensler’s compression machine to mold a blue screwdriver he still has. While we talk, AMA’s 93 injection molding machines produce thousands of parts (although no screwdrivers), as he reflects on how an adolescent interest became a lifelong career.


Engler was hooked from an early age, and encouraged all along the way in his pursuit of plastics. At Williamsport Area High School, his 10th grade physics teacher, Mr. Boyer, pushed Engler to attend an open house for the polymer program at Penn State’s Pennsylvania College of Technology.


“I knew the math would be hard, but I was so excited about plastics I was able to survive calculus and the rest was history,” Engler recalls.


Once in college, he studied under Tim Weston, who helped start the polymer program for the Williamsport campus, and later became his neighbor. “We still speak to this day,” Engler says.


As a college junior, Engler’s plastics story came full circle, when visited his former middle school, where a thermoformer and compression molding machine piqued his interest in plastics, and spoke to the entire student body about careers in plastics.


As Engler took me on a tour of AMA earlier this month, his enthusiasm for the industry he’s worked his entire career in was evident. It’s not unusual either—apart from machines and pellets, one thing I always find when I tour a processor is people who are passionate about plastics. Engler’s story of how his plastics career started got me thinking about how others were bit by the plastics bug.


Last year Plastics Technology addressed the issue of workforce development and the need to introduce kids to plastics in middle school or younger was stressed by processors and educators. When did you get hooked on plastics? Do today’s kids have the same opportunity? 

Manufacturing’s State of the Union Was…Mixed

By: Tony Deligio 28. January 2015

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, U.S. Constitution:


“[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”


Last week, President Barack Obama updated the union’s state and gave a joint session of Congress a list of measures he judged “necessary and expedient” for the sixth time going back to 2010 [his first address to a joint session of Congress roughly month after his election in 2009, wasn’t technically a SOTU].


The support the 44th president has in the plastics industry specifically and manufacturing in general is grudging at best, but I’ve spoken with several people on the industry’s advocacy side who acknowledge Obama has in general been attentive to if not supportive of manufacturing.


Two weeks ago, my colleague Lilli Manolis Sherman wrote about the visit Obama and Vice President Joe Biden paid to Techmer PM, where he announced a $250-million advanced composite innovation hub. Reshoring advocate Harry Moser was a guest of the White House in 2012, participating in its Insourcing American Jobs Forum.

That same year, Obama’s SOTU address directly referenced “manufacturing” 12 times (can you spot “manufacturing” in the word cloud?). In 2015, however, direct mentions of manufacturing were down, as were tangential references, but they were still present.


Economic recovery: We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs to our shores. And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.


Skills gap: Thanks to Vice President Biden's great work to update our job training system, we're connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics. 


Infrastructure: Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined. Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs. Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming. 


Trade: More than half of manufacturing executives have said they're actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. 


Industry Responds
Many in manufacturing watched the address, sharing their thoughts in real time via Twitter or issuing responses afterwards. Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI,  noted the need for the president to deliver on a promised “reach across the aisle” on areas that impact plastics. “Many of our industry’s most important issues are ripe for bipartisan solutions in 2015,” Carteaux stated, specifically citing:

Continued access to natural resources that provide not just the power to run our facilities, but also constitute our primary supply of raw materials. 


Long overdue update to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure that chemical regulation takes a risk-based approach going forward


Modernization of America’s antiquated tax code


Action on multi-lateral trade agreements that break down export barriers


Carteaux said that SPI was “troubled” by some of the tax policy proposals outlined by Obama, “particularly those that could deter investors from risking capital, and others that would negatively impact family-owned plastics industry businesses.” 


Carteaux also noted that SPI’s advocacy team was on Capitol Hill when 2015’s Congressional class, including 13 new senators and 58 new members of the House, took the oath of office, adding that at least on that day “the sense of urgency in tackling the nation’s priorities was tangible.”


The headline at the National Association of Manufacturer’s (NAM) following the address echoed that mixed reaction:


President’s Call for Pro-Trade Policies Promising Sign for Manufacturers

However, Punitive Tax Plan Sends Wrong Signal


NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, like Obama, touched on the resurgent economy, however he gave direct credit for its renewed vitality to manufacturing, before noting the president’s “mixed messages” for industry.


“Manufacturers powered the American resurgence the President hailed tonight. Manufacturing in the United States is back. But instead of firmly pressing the accelerator to strengthen the dreamers, makers and builders of America, the President offered the country mixed messages. While some are positive, others threaten to put the brakes on our economic revival.”


In terms of NAM’s “positives” in the address, Timmons cited:

The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)


Addressing workforce issues and skills gap


Ensuring long-term solutions to infrastructure


Like SPI, however, NAM took issue with the tax proposals laid out by Obama.


“Unfortunately, the tax plan the President introduced tonight sends the wrong signal. We’re just beginning to come out of the depths of the recession. We need more policies that encourage investment, entrepreneurship and success, not less.”


What did you think? Are trade deals, infrastructure and the skills gap areas where Obama and Republicans can come together for the betterment of manufacturing, or were those fleeting glimmers of bipartisan compromise overshadowed by D.O.A. tax proposals? 

"Vinyl Saves Lives" Booth And Demo At NPE2015

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. January 2015

A special booth at NPE2015 to be featured by SPI and its Flexible Vinyl Alliance (VFA) affiliate is designed to demonstrate how plastics, and specifically PVC, ‘save lives’.


Appearing at the lobby of the South Hall of the Orange County Convention Center, the booth’s showcased items will include an actual portable medical isolation containment unit similar to those used in Africa and elsewhere to isolate patients and protect medical personnel and the populace from the spread of infectious diseases and contain pandemics such as Ebola and SARS. Also on display will be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as garments, masks and shoe covers.


Support for the booth comes from leading soft vinyl producers and manufacturers of specialized medical products and systems, as well as organizations using these materials in affected regions of Africa and other places. The Flexible Vinyl Alliance, SPI’s Flexible Vinyl Products Div., The Vinyl Institute (VI), and the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) among others, will be represented in the booth. Also expected to be part of the presentation is a wide range of other medical products and healthcare groups.


VFA is responsible for the planning and promotion of the project. Says VFA’s executive director Kevin Ott, “While some of the best-known, but often unrecognized uses of PVC include wire and cable jacketing, medical tubing, blood bags, roofing, flooring and wall coverings, the material is suitable for an almost limitless range of products offering superior and proven performance characteristics, particularly in healthcare settings, that are essential to patient safety and survival, as we deal with pandemic containment and protecting the general population. Lacking a vaccine for Ebola at this time, PVC plays an essential role as a barrier material between the health care worker and the fluids that are known to spread the virus.”


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



BPA Gets European Authority's 'Green Light' Following FDA Ruling

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. January 2015

Last week, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled that Bisphenpol A (BPA), used in a wide array of applications from the lining of cans to plastic packaging, poses no threat to human health. This action follows the U.S. FDA’s confirmation in December that BPA is safe as currently used.


            Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief scientific officer of the Center for Accountability in Science, who has written extensively about BPA’s safety, points out that many of the studies linking BPA to various health ailments are significantly flawed. One such study, published by the prestigious American Heart Association, claimed that drinking from cans—and thereby ingesting Bisphenol A used in the lining, could raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease. The actual data, however, does not support the author’s sweeping conclusions. When one looks at the data, participants’ blood pressure didn’t actually rise after drinking from a can. Here’s how it went:


In this small study--only 70 participants, all over age 60, participants were given either two cans of soy milk, one can and one glass bottle of soy milk, or two glass bottles of soy milk. Blood pressure was measured both before and after consumption, and levels of BPA were measured after consumption.


Across-the-board, blood pressure decreased after drinking soy milk. It decreased by nearly identical margin when participants drank two bottles of soy milk or one can and one bottle of soy milk—despite much higher levels of BPA after drinking a can. After drinking two cans, blood pressure still decreased, but by a slightly lower amount. According to Perrone, at most, one could say that this small study found that drinking soy milk out of a can might temporarily lower your blood pressure slightly less than drinking it out of a glass bottle. It certainly does not show that drinking any beverage from a can might increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.  


Plastics Plug In To Charged-Up Electronics Sector

By: Tony Deligio 22. January 2015

That much was abundantly clear in Heinz Rasinger’s presentation at injection molding machine and automation supplier Engel’s recent “teletronics” (a mash up of telecom and electronics) technology symposium at its Technical Center in Corona, Calif.


Rasinger, VP of Engel’s teletronics business unit, examined broader market numbers through a regional lens and then shifted focus to how new technologies could influence future opportunities for plastics.


Where Electronics, Automotive and Medical Meet
Electronics as a plastics market were once largely relegated to expected consumer categories like TVs or desktop computers, but today they have significant penetration in other key segments for Engel, including automotive, as cars add displays, sensors and cameras, as well as medical, where the “wearables” segment is set to explode.


Rasinger noted that globally the entire teletronics segment, which includes everything from flat-screen displays and mobile phones to automotive connectors and photovoltaics for Engel, has grown from a value of $836 million in 2009 to  $1.068 billion in 2013, before shrinking slightly to $1.055 billion last year.


Most of that growth is coming in the Emerging Asia markets of China, Vietnam, and India, while business has stagnated or even reversed in established markets like Japan. Emerging Asia jumped from $181 million to $286 million over the last five years, expanding at around 15%/yr. More locally and coming off the recession of 2009, North America jumped from $223 million in 2010 to $250 million in 2011, and has grown, if slowly, from there, reaching $254 million last year.


Displays, Displays Everywhere
Rasinger discussed the ubiquity of displays in our everyday lives, ranging from a couple square inches on a printer to massive 67-inch televisions, with Engel machines molding bezels and other key components for all regardless of size.


Apart from continued growth, other trends for the segment predicted by Rasinger include back injection of touch-sensitive foils and the emergence of flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens, replacing LCD displays, that are more rigid and require backlighting.


OLEDs Take On LCDs (and Backlights?)
Rasinger was reluctant to predict how OLED tech might change the market, but he was certain they would evolve the sector. “Nobody really knows with certainty the impact of OLEDs on injection molding but there is one thing for sure, the backlighting units, as they were before, will be a thing of the past,” Rasinger said.


Asked to expand on his statement after the presentation, Rasinger still hesitated to make a firm prediction, but reiterated that OLEDs will remain a closely watched development by Engel and others.


“It would be good if we could really put our hands on OLED’s impact, and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’” Rasinger said, “but electronics is a very rapidly moving area—they invent new things on a constant basis—and with every new invention there are opportunities that can be created that haven’t been possible thus far.”


Mobiles On the Move
Some of the most striking numbers presented by Rasinger came in the mobile phone segment of his presentation, including the fact that mobile phones have a global market penetration of 97%—meaning that for every 100 people on earth, there are 97 mobile phones. In fact, several countries boast more phones than population to use them, including the U.S. (103), Brazil (137) and Russia (155).


In terms of penetration, the top countries for smart phones are almost entirely a mix of the Mid and Far East: U.A.E.,  South Korea, Saudi Arabia,  and Singapore, with Norway as the lone western representative.


In 2013, 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold, according to Rasinger’s data, with almost half of global mobile phone production for smart phones. The rise of smart phones has been a boon for Samsung, Rasinger pointed out, and a bust for former market leaders like Research In Motion (Blackberry) and Nokia, whose inability to adapt cost them market share and sovereignty.  


Computers Log Out
Desktop computer sales have shrunk by 130% from 2012 to 2014, while laptops have contracted (down 15%), but not nearly as much. “I think the growth in this segment has been eaten up by these new mobile devices,” Rasinger said. “You could see from the graphs that desktops are stagnant but they still keep their level, while laptops are slightly decreasing. The real winners are the tablets.”


From Smart Phones to Smart Cars
With automotive production forecast to grow 6%/yr through 2017, reaching 107 million vehicles globally at that time, the automotive electronics market is forecast to reach a value of $48 billion.


That includes traditional applications like connectors and switches, as well as new areas like driver assistance systems, sensors,  and cameras. In the future, the addition of photovoltaics for power and OLEDs for rear lighting could mean even more opportunities for plastics on the road.


“I think driver assistance systems are really going to take off,” Rasinger said after his presentation. “As usual, things like this start in the luxury cars then migrate their way down.”


What’s next?
The future for electronics? Wearables (and the printed and flexible electronics that make them possible). According to IDTechEx, wearable electronics are forecast to explode from a value of $14 billion in 2014 to more than $70 billion in 2024, while the total printed and flexible electronic market grows by 27%/year through 2020. 

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