Issue: May 2014


Plastics innovation sustains growth



by Ed Richardson




Unprecedented interest in NPE2015 and industry data point to continued innovation-fuelled growth in the global plastics industry. 

A year ahead of the triennial NPE international plastics showcase the organizers had already signed up more exhibitors for NPE2015 than the number that was at NPE2012. Nearly a thousand companies have either signed up or expressed interest, compared to the 661 exhibitors at NPE2012. The 2015 show is expected to cover at least 15% more space than 2012, according to projections by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), which produces the triennial NPE. 

This interest in the trade fair confirms SPI research, which shows that the plastics manufacturing continues to flourish due to an abundant supply of inexpensive natural gas, low inflation and positive trends in the nation’s overall economic health. SPI’s in-depth data analysis of the industry’s 2012 performance (the latest statistics available) globally and in the U.S. is detailed in two reports titled, “The Definition, Size and Impact of the U.S. Plastics Industry,” and “Global Business Trends, Partners, Hot Products.”

While the recovering economy is also an important factor in the industry’s success SPI President and CEO William R. Carteaux attributes the industry’s consistent expansion to its cutting-edge technological advancements. “The industry has remained highly competitive by finding innovative solutions and efficiencies, as well as by expanding its international reach to new markets,” he said. 

Plastics industry employment in the United States (US) has steadily improved since the 2008-2009 recession. The latest numbers show that plastics industry employment in 2012 included 892,000 people in 15,949 facilities across the country. The industry kept pace by growing 0.1% per year from 1980 to 2012, which is better than US manufacturing as a whole. The plastics industry is also responsible for creating a multiplier effect spurring downstream industries. 

In 2012, upstream industries in the US accounted for 521,000 jobs or about 0.58 upstream jobs for every job in the industry itself. Upstream industries generated $83 billion in shipments in order to supply goods and services to the plastics industry. Meanwhile, plastics manufacturers shipped more than US$373 billion in goods and invested more than $9.6 billion on new capital equipment in 2012. 

Also reflecting the improving U.S. economy, apparent consumption of plastics industry goods grew 5.7% from US$237.6 billion in 2011 to $251 billion in 2012. On the international front, the U.S. trade surplus was US$13.1 billion. Mexico and Canada remained the U.S. plastics industry’s largest export markets. The industry exported US$13.6 billion to Mexico and $12.5 billion to Canada. China is the industry’s third largest export market. 

In March 2015 the industry will be concentrated in Orlando, Florida. More than 60,000 professionals from every spectrum of the plastics industry and its vertical markets are expected to be at NPE2015 to discover the tools, and access the emerging technologies that are shaping the future of plastics. Participants include buying teams from 100 countries and more than 20,000 unique companies, representing the full range of end-user markets—appliances, automotive, consumer products, housing and construction, medical, packaging and more, according to the organizers.

Automotive components are expected to range “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 NPE2015. 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,” says SPI. 

There will be particular interest in the automotive sector as it is expected to drive demand for the global moulded plastics market, which is expected to grow by an average of 4.8% per year to US$352.4 bn in 2019. This will be boosted by strong automotive demand, according to Transparency Market Research. Growing demand for automobiles and the increasing use of plastics in each vehicle manufactured is a primary factor driving the moulded plastics market, says the company in a report. Other factors include increasing demand for plastics in mobile phones, in the packaging of cosmetics and other household care products and in pipes for the transmission of oil and gas. 

However, environmental concerns associated with the manufacture and wastage of plastics and fluctuating prices of crude oil could restrict demand growth, Transparency Market Research says in the report, entitled “Molded plastics market – global forecast, market share, size, growth and industry analysis, 2013 – 2019”. Moulded PE represents the largest product segment, accounting for more than 25% of the market in 2012, and is expected to be the fastest growing segment during the forecast period. Growth of the packaging industry, particularly in China, Brazil and India, is expected to boost PE consumption over the next few years. 

Asia Pacific dominated the global moulded plastics market in 2012, thanks to the region’s strong automobile, packaging and electronic industries. Demand in the region is expected to exceed 65 million tons by 2019, with growth fuelled by the rising disposable income of consumers, Transparency Market Research says. In Latin America, demand growth will be mainly supported by the upcoming automobile manufacturing industry in the region. 
NPE2015 will be staged on a one million-square-foot exhibit hall filled with full-scale, operating machinery and equipment, 2,000 exhibiting companies, a multi-pronged conference program, cutting edge technology pavilions, networking and special events. “For 2015, we have once again partnered with other industry leading conferences, organizations and companies to provide features, educational programming, technical paper presentations. design competitions and co-located events. Building on a highly successful show in 2012, which was held for the first time in Orlando, Florida, NPE anticipates even greater participation from up and down the global plastics supply chain when it returns to the popular, business-friendly venue for 2015,” says SPI. 

“The surge in companies wishing to exhibit at NPE2015 is a reflection of the positive outlook for the plastics industry in the Americas, which is favored by the growing strength of the economy, the ‘reshoring’ of manufacturing business, and the boom in local production of oil and natural gas,” said Gene Sanders, SPI senior vice president of trade shows and conferences. “Applicants for the NPE2015 Space Draw say they have also been motivated by the success of NPE2012, as well as by SPI’s increased marketing investment and our enhanced focus on customers from end use industries such as automotive, building products, electronics, medical, and packaging.”  



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