Thermoforming: The Shape of Things to Come?
Despite designer ignorance and competing processes, thermoforming is thriving. Example A: the continued growth of its long-running SPE-sponsored event.
Competing in the production of hollow parts with blow molding and rotomolding, and pitted against injection molding in non-hollow segments as varied as packaging and instrument panels, thermoforming continues to gain markets and applications, even as many designers remain largely oblivious to it. (To get a taste for the variety, check out this slide show of award winners from the event’s parts competition).
The global thermoformed product market consumed an estimated 7.3 billion lb of plastic in 2013 and is estimated to use 7.6 billion lb in 2014. Going forward, it’s expected to top 9.4 billion lb by 2019, rising with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.3%, according to BCC Research.
The Society of Plastics Engineers annual Thermoforming Conference is as good a barometer as any to the market’s performance, and it has enjoyed continued growth over the last five years, in both attendance and exhibitors, according to Jim Arnet, conference chair for the 2014 Thermoforming conference and exhibition, and director of sales and marketing, at Hagans Plastics Co. Inc., an AS9100-based custom thermoformer and injection molder.
That event, held in mid-September at the Schaumburg Convention Center in Schaumburg, Ill., drew more than 800 attendees, with better than 300 of those first-time visitors, according to Arnet.
Arnet estimates that the conference and exhibition has grown at approximately 10%/year each year over the last two years, and for the three years prior to that, it expanded at a rate of around 5% annually. Total exhibitors in 2014 were flat, year over year, with 86, but overall machinery displayed was up, according to Arnet, including seven of what he called “large equipment exhibits.” Exhibits were boosted by new players to the market, including Uway and WM Wrapping Machinery.
In terms of changes to the long-running event, Arnet said that once again in 2015, the conference and exhibition ran during the work week, versus starting on a Sunday. This change was first implemented in 2014 and will be retained going forward.
SPE’s Thermoforming Division also made a concerted effort in 2015 to draw OEMs to the event, mailing out approximately 11,000 targeted post cards to brand owners. “We can see some of the results of that campaign with our first-time attendance numbers,” Arnet said. “These steps will continue into 2015 and going forward. I would expect that our conferences will keep on pace and continue to increase in both attendees and exhibitors.”
A growing event reflects expanding business in the overall thermoforming sector. “I see thermoforming as having slow and steady growth over the next few years along with the extrusion,” Arnet said.
Attracting Future Thermoformers
Expanding industries require new talent, and SPE also used the Thermoforming Conference to pique the interest of area youth in a technology that likely none has ever heard of. As part of SPE’s Plastics Van educational program, two high schools visited the exhibition, bringing around 90 students with them.
“They are our next generation of plastic producers,” Arnet said. “We try to have students each year. They learned about polymers, extrusion and thermoforming. The program goes on all throughout the year, all across the country. It’s a very worthwhile educational program that the SPE is pleased to be involved with.”
In 2015, the 24th Annual Thermoforming Conference, which if history holds will be bigger still, will take place August 31-September 2 in Atlanta at the Cobb Galleria Centre and the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel.