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AI spoke to William Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI about what he expects from NPE 2006

Look for more developments as auto manufacturers turn to plastic glazing to save weight, provide greater design freedom than glass
AI spoke to William Carteaux

The internationally renowned plastics exposition, NPE 2006, will be hosted at Chicago’s McCormick Place this June from the 19th to the 23rd. Hosted by The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc., or SPI, this year will see the 25th NPE to be held since 1946. At least 2000 companies will be exhibiting and visitors from over 100 countries are expected to visit the show.

This year, NPE 2006 will participate in the USDOC’s International Buyer Program (IBP), whose representatives will recruit and lead visitor delegations and match potential buyers with appropriate exhibitors at the show. For the automotive industry, this will be an opportunity to open not only new markets across the globe but also a chance to see what technology breakthroughs in the use of plastics in the automotive sector have emerged. In the past, NPE has showcased cutting-edge design concepts for future automobiles.

The use of plastics in the automotive sector has enabled a number of safety factors to be introduced in vehicles. For example, plastics and plastic composites, used in vehicles’ roofs, reduce the chances of a rollover. Plus, a number of features such as bumpers, brakes, airbags, and so forth, used plastics and polymer composites. In fact, many experts feel that in the future, more plastic will be used in vehicle design in order to make them more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. All this means that an exhibition like NPE is usually a must for automotive companies.

NPE 2006 hopes to provide access to the US market for companies wishing to do business. The Americas, that is, from Canada through Chile, accounts for one-third of the world’s annual resin consumption ‘the three signatory countries of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, export more the $4bn worth of plastics annually. The US is home to 20,000 plastics plants ‘ most of which process resin into plastic products. Plastics are the fastest growing manufacturing industry in the US and provide nearly one and a half million jobs in the country.

Major markets for US plastics are – packaging which accounts for 34% of resin sold, construction which makes up for 18%, consumer and institutional products which account for 18%, transportation with 6%, furniture and furnishings at 4%, and electrical and electronics account for 4%. Five per cent of the remaining resin is sold for use in other markets and 11% is exported.

Among the NPE 2006 exhibitors will be nearly all the world’s major suppliers of raw materials, primary processing and auxiliary equipment, machine and mold components and supplies. The equipment will be show-cased in full-scale operations at the exhibition.

Automotive Industries spoke to William Carteaux, president and CEO of SPI about what he expects from this year’s NPE.

AI: What do you think will be the major difference between this year’s NPE as compared to the earlier ones?

WC: Here are four features of the show that will be new:

1) SPI has initiated a program to provide all registered NPE 2006 participants with the opportunity for pre-show interaction with potential contacts among other participants. The new program, called myNPE, is an online portal allowing attendees to make contact online with suppliers, customers, and peers before the show allowing you can plan ‘your show, your way’ Drawing on information input at registration, the system matches people with interests in specific markets, technologies, products, or business functions. By mutual consent, matched individuals can communicate electronically. Every participant receives a secure portal for exchanging information with others, setting appointments at the show, and even starting business negotiations.

Registered visitors can access the system at

2) A multi-exhibitor New Technology Pavilion will be organized around innovations or technical issues deemed by SPI to have broad implications in the plastics industry for years to come and has already attracted exhibitors that otherwise would not have been likely to participate at NPE. At the same time, the four themes of the pavilion ‘nanotechnology, bioplastics, energy efficiency, and recycling’ are also prominent among companies with their own separate booths, unrelated to the pavilion project.

3) The Rubber/TPE pavilion ‘another first for NPE’ has attracted chiefly companies that are new to NPE: 18 thus far. Organized by the Rubber Manufacturers Association as part of an agreement with SPI, the pavilion will cover both standard thermoset rubber and thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs). Concurrently, there will be a conference session with presentations covering these sectors.

4) A fourth is our new North American Moldmakers Pavilion, which is also expected to attract new exhibitors. The pavilion is a cooperative venture by U.S. and Canadian moldmakers associations. A concurrent conference program for moldmakers is being organized by Moldmaking Technology magazine.

AI: The North American automotive industry is facing a tough challenge with global players eating into the market, how do think this impacts the US plastics industry?

WC: The number of autos sold does not vary greatly from year to year, it is mainly a business of market share. In time the global resin producers and processors are able to shift to meet demand–whether it’s for an existing North American producer or a global player opening up shop in North America.

AI: What are some of the technology breakthroughs that are likely to emerge in plastics that will revolutionize the automotive industry?

WC: Great increases in auto efficiency can be gained through weight reduction. Moving fewer pounds requires less energy. Although smaller cars mean less material, the potential for the greater use of plastic is significant. Plastics technology breakthroughs designed for more efficient autos will help offset the impact of offshore auto manufacturing.

Plastic fuel tank technologies have become the tank of choice replacing steel tanks first in Europe and Asia and now North America. This is for weight reduction as well as design flexibility, corrosion resistance and safety. Plastic fuel lines have also been advancing because they are lighter in weight, lower in cost and available in various colors for tracking under the hood. Further, combinations of plastics and steel are being developed for weight reduction but also for high load-bearing capacity and high-energy absorption for front ends and doors.

Automotive glazing, including both side windows and windshields, promises great potential for plastics. At NPE 2003, one of the most talked-about developments was technology (including materials and molding techniques) for producing such glazing. Look for more developments as auto manufacturers turn to plastic glazing to save weight, provide greater design freedom than glass, and add important benefits like shatter-resistance.

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