The plastics industry is one of the most important manufacturing sectors in the United States. It is the third largest manufacturing industry in the country with US$327 billion worth of goods shipped in 2009. The plastics industry is a key supplier to sectors such as appliances, automotive, consumer products, construction, medical, and packaging.
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Issue: Jun 2011


Plastics “breaking the mold”



by James Hilton



The plastics industry is one of the most important manufacturing sectors in the United States. It is the third largest manufacturing industry in the country with US$327 billion worth of goods shipped in 2009. The plastics industry is a key supplier to sectors such as appliances, automotive, consumer products, construction, medical, and packaging.
All the important players in the plastics industry and their clients ensure that they meet at the triennial NPE International Plastics Exposition. The next exposition will be held from April 1 to 5, 2012, at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, Florida, with the theme “Breaking the Mold”. The NPE is produced by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), the Plastics Industry Trade Association.
 
For the automotive industry, NPE2012 will have a host of attractions. From fuel tanks to wire harnesses, instrument panels and exciting new molded windshields - virtually every current and developmental plastic component for vehicles will be represented by technologies on exhibit or in technical programs at NPE2012. With sustainability a concern throughout the industry, and increases in fuel economy a public policy issue, the role of plastics in reducing vehicle weight is more important than ever. Similarly, the tough economic environment places a greater premium on the cost savings and productivity increases made possible by plastics design and processing.

NPE2012 will also look at the latest application-specific developments for processors, designers and OEMs, for which plastics play a critical role. NPE2012 is expected to highlight these and other advantages of plastics in the exhibits of raw material suppliers, in the concept cars and subassemblies on display and in the automotive innovations submitted for the second International Plastics Design Competition. Equipment suppliers will also offer process innovations to help automotive component manufacturers meet today's new challenges; plus find ways to build in new consumer values in appearance, convenience and electronic wizardry.

The NPE2012 will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the SPI. A key part of the campaign message for NPE2012 is ‘Reshape the Future of Plastics’ which highlights the role of NPE 2012 as a showcase for technological innovation and a catalyst for industry transformation. A thousand companies from the U.S. and around the world have already committed to exhibit at NPE2012. With nearly a year to go before the show, sales of exhibit space are already equivalent to the total amount of space occupied at NPE2009. 

Automotive Industries asked Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association to tell us about the trade reaction to NPE2012.

Carteaux: The industry’s response to our moving the venue from Chicago to Orlando for the 2012 show has been overwhelmingly positive. Orlando is easy to reach by air, has a wealth of hotels and restaurants, provides ready access to growth industries in the southeast U.S., and is strategically located for doing business in Latin America. In addition, as one of the world’s top family vacation and leisure destinations, Orlando has the potential to add an extra dimension of value and attractiveness to business travel. There are also economic and logistical advantages of exhibiting in Orlando. The lower costs for exhibiting have enabled companies to invest in more space, while the simpler logistics and work rules have encouraged them to bring more machinery.
 
AI: What do you attribute the interest in NPE2012 to? 

Carteaux: Plastics professionals come to NPE for many reasons, but at the top of the list is discovering the latest technological innovations. What makes NPE unique as a plastics event is the diversity of opportunities that it provides for making such discoveries. NPE is truly broad-based, embracing world-scale exhibits, technical conferences, programs for business education, and more. The traditional core event at NPE2012 will be the NPE trade show, the largest plastics exposition in the Western Hemisphere, providing access to North America’s $327-billion/year plastics marketplace and serving as a hub of trade for plastics companies from South America, Europe, and Asia. Three examples of other programs to be co-located with the this trade show are the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) ANTEC 2012, the largest plastics technical conference in the world;  SPI’s own “Business of Plastics” conference, with presentations on timely topics of broad interest to plastics professionals; and the International Plastics Design Competition, which is open to entrants from all nations, showcasing innovative applications in the appliance, automotive, medical device, packaging and other consumer and industrial markets.

AI: What participation does NPE attract from overseas?

Carteaux: Our visitor population includes plastics professionals from 100 countries. These visitors account for roughly a fifth of overall attendance. In 2012, we expect a significant increase in attendance from Latin America. Our exhibitor population includes hundreds of international firms; major multinational suppliers of plastics equipment and materials, and the largest number of U.S. domestic suppliers of plastics technologies to exhibit at any plastics event. Many in this third category are actively exporting and looking to add to their international business.

AI: What are some of the technological innovations that will be showcased?

Carteaux: SPI is planning keynote events involving renowned speakers, programs focusing on plastics industry progress in the 75 years since SPI was founded, and specialized multi-exhibitor pavilions for specific technological sectors like fluoropolymers and thermoforming, or timely industry concerns like sustainability.
As for technological innovations, the sheer diversity of the plastics industry means that every NPE presents new developments on a wide range of fronts. Visitors can expect a wave of innovations relating to bioplastics, both in terms of new materials and new systems for processing them into finished products. Another exciting area is plastics for use in photovoltaic energy systems, wind turbines, batteries for electric-drive vehicles and electronic devices, and other applications relevant to addressing environmental issues.

AI: What will automotive OEMs and suppliers take away from NPE 2012?

Carteaux: The NPE2012 trade show and co-located conferences will present many innovations for the automotive industry. For example: enhancing surface appearance of plastic components through improvements in coloring parts and making them more resistant to scratches and weathering; plastic/metal hybrids for structural or load-bearing components; new thermoplastic elastomers for exterior, interior, and under-hood applications; improved-performance polyurethane and other foams; bioplastics that meet automotive-specific requirements, such as stability in the presence of gasoline; new engineering thermoplastics for rugged-use applications such as under-hood housings and exterior panels; and specialized processing systems for automotive glazing and window encapsulation, precision molding of electronic components, and multi-material components such as hard/elastic combinations.
And, of course, more developments in the use of plastics to reduce vehicle weight and save on fuel will make their appearance at NPE2012, as is the case at every NPE.



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