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So What’s a Plastics Pioneer?

By: James Callari 21. October 2014

 

This past weekend my wife and I made the five-hour trek from New Jersey to York, Maine to attend the meeting of the Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA), of which I am a member. (Full disclosure: I and fellow PPA inductee and Plastics Technology Executive Editor Matt Naitove make up the group’s publicity committee.)

 

Anyway, during the drive up in what was tantamount to a monsoon, I started to think about the first time I made that trip. It was four years ago, when I received my PPA induction pin. I reflected on the impressions I had of the PPA before I had become a member, and how much they have changed since.

 

Like any story, it’s best to start at the beginning. My timeline might be off a bit, but around the summer of 2011 I received a phone call from extrusion industry veteran Al Hodge. I’ve known Al for more than 20 years, so it wasn’t an extraordinary circumstance to receive a call from him. But I was surprised at what he wanted to talk about.

 

“How would you feel about becoming a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association?” Al asked. My first response was “Huh?” Now, I had heard of the PPA in my nearly 30 years in plastics, but didn’t envision myself as a fit.

 

As Al talked a bit about the group a variety of thoughts raced through my head. “Why would I, a 51 (at the time) year-old guy, join a ‘club’ of, well, ummm, much older people?” I don’t think I actually said that to Al, but I might have, as sometimes the filter between my brain and mouth malfunctions, However I put it, Al chuckled a bit, filled me in on some of what the PPA gets involved in, and I said yes. I think it was Al and Tim Womer who nominated me.

 

Shortly thereafter I received a very thick book in the mail, about as thick as the yellow pages used to be. It was The Who’s Who of the Plastics Pioneers Association Inc., the PPA's membership roster. I leafed through it, saw the names of members active, inactive, and no longer with us. I thought “Wow, this is an impressive group of people.” Many, in fact, have been inducted in the Plastics Hall of Fame.

 

So then, since I’d now become honored about the appointment as opposed to befuddled about it, I felt a little bragging was in order. I called a couple of friends in the industry, "young" old timers like me, and filled them in. Well, the jokes were relentless. Here’s one of the more tame ones: “Congrats. Every time you go to a meeting the average age will drop to 85.”

 

Undaunted, I fueled up and made the 300-mile journey to York to get my pin. There were a few other people inducted with me. I don’t remember all of them, but one was my friend Rick Shaffer, who used to run Netstal and before that Demag. Rick’s got a great sense of humor. “I used to think being inducted to the PPA was a great honor,” he said before a group of people, including me, at the cocktail reception. I knew the punch line was coming, and Rick delivered, chuckling, “Then I saw Jim Callari’s name on the list.”

 

Then I started attending meetings. I listened mostly at first, and quickly had an epiphany: These people do important stuff, the kind of stuff that's dedicated not only to preserving this great industry's past, but teeing up its future. They award scholarships; early this year they set up an endowment program with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. They continue to award scholarships to individual students. As I reported in an editorial about a year ago, through the efforts of PPA long-timers Harry Greenwald and Glenn and Patsy Beall, the group established a virtual museum at Syracuse University.

 

But like many associations in this industry, PPA’s membership is starting to dwindle a bit. Many of the founding fathers of the industry that comprised the PPA membership roster since it was formed in 1944 have either passed away, retired, or are no longer involved. The “face” of the PPA is beginning to change: now that many of the entrepreneurs that made this industry great are gone, the newer (and potential) members are in positions within their company (be it sales, marketing, engineering, general management) that they say make it difficult for them to get involved in these kind of associations.

 

The way I look it, that’s a situation that cannot be allowed to perpetuate. This industry is in dire need of young blood, and work that the PPA does has helped keep such blood pursue careers in plastics. Case in point: in Maine over the weekend the group was introduced to Michael Magaletta, a U-Mass Lowell student with a 3.99 GPA who will graduate next May with a BS in plastics engineering. Michael was the first recipient of the PPA’s scholarship endowment, and after school will begin his professional career with a very well-known consumer products company based in New England. Michael spoke briefly, and said he would have had more difficulty in achieving in goal without the PPA's support. Michael wasn't alone; in Maine the group announced that it awarded scholarships to nine other students outside the U-Mass endowment program, and had increased its donation to the Plastivan program.

 

I'm off my soap box now, but promise me if Al Hodge, Tim Womer or anyone else from the PPA calls you and asks you about joining, don't say "Huh," forget about what you think you know about the organization, and consider getting involved.

Some Highlights From Global Plastics Summit 2014

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. October 2014

Early this month, I was at the very interesting and exceptionally well-attended 2014 Global Plastics Summit (GPS) hosted by IHS and SPI in Chicago, which addressed the industry’s challenges and opportunities. In addition to the informative commodity resin analyses and outlooks presented by top IHS pros, presenters included resin producers, processors and manufacturers and, there was a focus across key markets including, packaging, automotive, healthcare and medical. Here are some highlights:

 

• IHS sees continued good economic growth in 2015. North American gas supply is plentiful and low cost and a continued wide disparity between oil and gas prices is projected.

 

• Will converters benefit yet from shale gas development? This will take some time to trickle down from lower energy costs, but productivity is up in end-use plastic markets. IHS and SPI cite wages, productivity growth and lower energy costs as key drivers for competitiveness.

 

• Planned new ethylene capacity is now about a year behind and planned 2017 new PE capacity is not likely to show up until 2018, according to Nova Chemical’s Chris Bezaire, senior v.p, PE business. At that point, he says converters will have greater supply options, redundancy, more price leverage, less supply disruptions. He also noted that Nova is very concerned about PE demand destruction and was a reluctant follower of the September PE price hike.

 

• Also concerned about opportunity destruction due to high commodity resin prices were speakers representing leading North American flexible packaging and rigid packaging manufacturers Bemis Company and BWAY Corp., respectively. They addressed growth opportunities and threats for plastics, noting that cost is a key driver in material selection, but also noted that supply availability is crucial, citing tight supplies.

 

They described pricing of commodity resins, particularly PE, to be “irrational” over the last two years, and called for more public education to overcome negative perception of plastics. Bemis sees lots of opportunity for both metal and paper replacement in the food packaging arena. BWAY sees a “good news story” in terms of the conversion that has taken place in the consumer rigid packaging market, and a “bad news story” which is the return to alternative packaging due to higher resin prices.

 

•  Among some of the IHS experts’ resin pricing outlooks are:

 

PE

• Demand growth of 4.4%/yr or 1.2 times that of GDP.

• Most of the planned PE capacity will materialize, but with delays.

• There has not been one reduction in PE contract prices in the past 2 years, which is unprecedented, and it may go to 3 years.

• Flat prices are projected for remainder of the year, with “roughly” flat prices through 2015.

 

PP

•World PP capacity is more than adequate but North America will continue to have a “sellers” market because of tight supplies till 2017, when planned on-purpose propylene plants will start to make an impact.

• North America’s dependence on PP imports is growing—double in 2014 to that of 2008. Imported Asian pellets and finished goods like BOPP will continue as new PP capacity is not likely to be on stream until after 2017.

• PP prices are projected to stay high until capacity expansions come to fruition.

 

PET

• World PET capacity is long and will continue long, making suppliers’ resin margins short or non-existent.

• America is “getting healthy” and this is killing the PET carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market, while PET water bottles use under half of the PET of CSD bottles, driving operating rates to under 75%.

• In 2014, virgin PET suppliers lost volume to RPET, PET imports and APET sheet imports.

• Significant new PET North American capacity coming on stream next year may have to be exported unless there is a dramatic domestic demand increase.

• PET prices are projected to be relatively flat for 2015.

 

PVC

•  Global PVC construction market is expanding. In the Americas, it’s a healthy 3.8%.

• Low-cost feedstocks, along with construction market demand, are key drivers to PVC’s upsurge in the U.S.

• PVC prices are likely to be higher in the coming years.

• Supply/demand balance to improve; 3%/yr growth in demand projected.

 

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

 

 

IKEA’s Sustainabilty Efforts Will Soon Become Yours

By: Tony Deligio 15. October 2014

If you want a good example, peruse furniture maker IKEA’s 2013 sustainability report. The company has stated a number of sustainability goals for its operations and projects, including a 2015 plan for all its “main home furnishing materials” to be made from renewable, recyclable or recycled materials.

 

Home furnishing materials, including packaging, were composed by 91 and 98 percent renewable, recyclable or recycled materials in 2012 and 2013, respectively, showing how close the company already is to the 2015 marker.  

 

How is it getting there? Here are a couple of examples that directly involved suppliers of plastics goods, as well as packaging:

 

By setting our own goals for sustainability, we can have a positive influence on our suppliers too. Until recently we used thousands of tonnes of plastic shrink film, which was difficult to recycle. We challenged our shrink film suppliers to find a solution, and with our support they did. New types of film now in use are not only strong but also use less plastics and can be recycled to be used again as a raw material.

 

And another, this time directly related to a product:

 

The KAJUTA table lamp uses 75% less material than its predecessor, TALLVIK. It contains 35% reused or recycled materials, is 100% recyclable and easily stackable making it more efficient to transport.

 

These efforts extend to closing the loop on various material streams, including plastics:

 

One effort focused on polyethylene plastic wrapping which was collected from stores, recycled and used as a raw material to make desk pads. We discovered that recycled wrapping is a viable raw materials that costs less than buying virgin or recycled material from other sources. We also learned about practicalities such as keeping the material clean in store and at our supplier, as well as improving the efficiency of collecting and transporting the wrapping…further pilot recycling projects are underway with other materials including polypropylene and corrugated cardboard.

 

The ultimate goal, by the end of fiscal year 2020, the company has said it hopes to see a fourfold increase in “sales from products and solutions for a more sustainable life at home.”

 

That’s real money, and reflects real opportunities for plastics processors who can help IKEA and like-minded companies achieve such goals. Has your shop been asked to help an OEM or retailer get greener?

Will Your Future Shipments of PE Come From North Dakota?

By: Tony Deligio 15. October 2014

On October 13, the state which trailed only Texas in oil production in 2013 with a record output of 313 million barrels, announced its plans to work with Badlands NGL LLC and build an estimated $4 billion processing facility that will convert ethane gas into PE.

 

The next day, speaking at the Great Plains & Empower ND Energy Conference, North Dakota’s Governor Jack Dalrymple (pictured below with microphone), explained his rational.

 

We are making great advances in our energy industry by adding value to our resources right here in North Dakota. North Dakota is a national powerhouse in energy production and we have taken important steps to convert our energy resources into products of greater value. Still there is much more opportunity ahead for us to take value-added energy to a whole new level.

 

North Dakota, as well as other states participating in the fracking revolution, have struggled at times to find an outlet for the so-called “associated gas” that comes up through the shale formation fissures whose primary target is oil. Some fields have turned to flaring, burning off natural gas liquids (NGLs) like ethane, propane and methane. This has been particularly true of North Dakota, according to this LA Times article, which reported that the amount of gas flared in the Bakken oil field has almost tripled since 2011, “sending gas worth more than $1 billion a year into the sky.”

 

NGLs that aren’t flared and remain in the crude oil extracted from the Bakken pose more of a threat than wasting a fossil fuel, however, with several high-profile explosions of crude-hauling rail cars leading to calls for regulation. Illustrating the growing size of the threat, the number of tank carloads of Bakken crude has risen from less than 10,000 in 2009 to more than 400,000 in 2013, according to NPR.

 

In a statement released by Governor Dalrymple announcing the huge, new project, the issue of flaring was addressed:

 

This project is fully aligned with our goals to reduce flaring, add value to our energy resources right here in North Dakota and create diverse job opportunities across the state. By advancing the responsible development of our energy resources and by adding value to all of our resources, the opportunities in North Dakota are boundless.

 

Given that the plant will have the capacity to produce enough PE for every citizen of North Dakota to take home more than 4500 pounds annually, Dalrymple acknowledged that Badlands will have to target customers beyond the state’s borders, and perhaps look even further abroad:

 

Badlands intends to market the majority of the polyethylene products domestically, but product will also find its way to markets in Asia, South America and Europe.

 

Badlands is working with Spanish contractor Tecnicas Reunidas and Texas based petrochemical development consultant Vinmar Projects on the proposed plant, with a preliminary engineering analysis to be completed this year, including technology evaluations, engineering and planning, and final site selection.

 

This project joins four proposed shale-gas-fueled crackers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, involving Braskem, Shell, Appalachian Resins, and a Thai/Japanese partnership of PTT and Marubeni.

 

Such projects involve big price tags and bigger lead times, but even if only half come to fruition, the impact on global plastics production and trade balances can’t be understated. Similarly, if a similar tact is taken in other shale-oil producing states regarding flaring and associated gas, the potential for a massive new supply of plastics and petrochemical feedstocks is massive. 

Will NPE2015 Challenge NPE2000 In Size?

By: Tony Deligio 14. October 2014

Brad Williams, director of trade show marketing and sales at NPE organizer SPI, told Plastics Technology during a early October interview that the SPI’s internal numbers clocked NPE2000 at 1,041,000 net square feet of exhibits, while NPE2015 has currently booked 995,000 net square feet of exhibit space. That leaves approximately 50,000 net square feet of space left on the exhibit floor, with “plenty of sales activity still happening,” Williams said.

 

“We are wall bound,” Williams added, noting that the Orange County Convention Center isn’t suited for temporary, exterior exhibits, “but we do feel good about the prospect of a show the same size as NPE2000.”

 

From that high-water mark in 2000, NPE experienced contraction for three straight show cycles, albeit the 2009 event’s decline came along with the global economy’s fall in the midst of the Great Recession. The swine flu pandemic didn’t help, either.

 

In 2012, SPI inaugurated a new locale with renewed growth for its triennial event, and NPE2015 looks to maintain that momentum, and in some ways, recalibrate the global plastics industry’s focus.

 

As part of an NPE feature in our upcoming November issue, which kicks off Plastics Technology’s NPE coverage, I spoke with Peter Smith, CEO of additives supplier Addivant. Fully independent of its former owner, Chemtura, as of 2013, Smith noted that Addivant sees NPE2015 as being important for his company and the global plastics processing industry.

 

“Chinaplas, over the last decade, has grown to be so large that it was where all the action was,” Smith said. “I think what we’re going to see now is a balance. I don’t think China is going to disappear, by any means, but I think North America will come back in such a major way that it will be the go-to location for the next generation of equipment. It will be the go-to location for the next generation of polymers, and therefore, if you’re in the business of processing polymers, there won’t be a better location than NPE.”

 

New Spaces Pique Exhibitor Interest
Addivant isn’t alone in that assessment, with Williams running through various programs, which were new to the show in 2012 or will be come March, that are drawing major interest from exhibitors.

 

Back in 2012, SPI kicked off its Customer Service Centers program for major additives and materials suppliers, with six signing up for conference space off the OCCC show floor to conduct one-on-one’s with key accounts.

 

For NPE2015, Williams said 12 companies have already signed up, with a total of 15 projected to be offered by the time the show rolls around. That dozen contains some of the most recognizable names in plastics production, including:   

 

  • Dow Chemical
  • DSM
  • DuPont
  • Eastman Chemical
  • ExxonMobil Chemical
  • LyondellBasell

 

Williams also added that many other material and additive suppliers, including more household names like BASF, SABIC and 3M, will be at show as well, opting for a traditional booth space.

 

New to the Orlando showfloor in 2015 will be the IDSA-sponsored Design Center and NPE3D, both of which have already been expanded due to demand. When I spoke with Williams, 11 of the 15 spaces in the Design Center were occupied, while NPE3D has already signed up 18 exhibitors, with around eight spaces left.

 

The Super Bowl of Plastics
I began work in plastics publishing in 2000, just a few months after the massive NPE2000 was held at McCormick Place in Chicago. My veteran colleagues at the time described the triennial event as the Super Bowl of Plastics, a fitting moniker given the size/U.S. influence. I—no kidding—mistook the show edition of that publication for a phone book.

 

Intervening shows contracted along with the domestic plastics industry, but both are suddenly resurgent, and I for one think NPE2015 could kick off something big for the show and the sector. 




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