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CHICAGO — Plastics processors are severely lagging behind their customers, as well as their suppliers, in both their current use —and intended use — of the Internet as a communication and business tool.

That's one preliminary finding of a major new study on the topic.

The final survey results — to be presented at NPE in a briefing at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 17 — will shed new light on Internet usage trends within the North American plastics industry.

``From our study it appears that the use of the Internet within the plastics industry is being driven by end-user customers,'' said Brett Boyle, a professor at DePaul University, whose Department of Marketing conducted the research. ``They use it to `talk' both to processors and resin suppliers.

``However,'' Boyle added, ``the overall use of the Internet is far from substantial. It appears that it is in the early adoption phase, with significant opportunity for growth.''

DePaul in mid-March mailed the survey to just under 10,000 processors, resin makers and distributors, machinery manufacturers and plastics product end users in the United States and Canada, using Plastics News' subscriber list as the source. Some 1,283 people — or 12.9 percent — completed and returned the 10- to 12-page survey by the April 30 deadline.

Just 37 percent of the 878 processor respondents said their firm currently has a site on the Internet's World Wide Web, with just over 20 percent of the remainder expecting their company to create a site within the next six months. Similarly, less than half of the processor firms have a corporate e-mail address. As indicated in the accompanying table, these numbers represent much less of an online presence than for the other three groups of companies surveyed.

Processors and resin suppliers that do use the Internet use it primarily to communicate with end-user customers, and the majority of those people believe the technology has helped them to improve communications. But, use of e-mail and the Internet still pales in comparison with traditional forms of communication — telephone, face-to-face meetings, and regular and express mail.

The primary reason nonusers cited for not using the Internet for business purposes was that their company did not provide access to it.

Mike Bogar, director of sales and marketing, Americas, for AlliedSignal Plastics, and DePaul University professor Brett Boyle will reveal further results of the study at the industry briefing, including:

Who within these industry sectors is communicating with whom — and why.

The likely effect of the Internet on relationships between resin and machinery makers and their respective distributors and sales agents.

How usage patterns vary between small and large companies, and among different job functions at those various firms.

And, growth expectations for Internet usage within the plastics industry.

The survey, initiated by USA Chicago, a marketing and communications agency specializing in the plastics industry, was co-sponsored by AlliedSignal Plastics of Morristown, N.J.; the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington; Chicago-based DePaul; and Plastics News of Akron, Ohio.

The one-hour ``Internet Industry Briefing'' will take place in Room S-105D of McCormick Place at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 17. A more complete story on the study's final results also will be available online, after the briefing, at Plastics News On the Web (http://