With this issue, Plastics News turns the spotlight on rotational molders with its first-ever rotomolders ranking. Certainly this segment of plastics, more than any other, can use the attention. Rotational molding. What do those words mean to you?
Chances are, if you're not employed in rotomolding, the process represents slow, low-tech work done in archaic factories - not exactly the image today's plastics industry wants to project.
Yes, rotomolding does remain just a tiny sliver of the plastics industry. One new study said North American rotomolders produced $1.25 billion worth of products in 1994.
To put that into perspective, shipments of all plastics processors, including captive and custom products, total some $271 billion, according to the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. (The SPI figures are for 1991, and are the most recent such figures available).
Estimates of rotomolding resin consumption range from 400 million to 800 million pounds a year. Chicken feed, in other words.
That small size, coupled with the fact that rotomolding uses resin in special powder form, means the process gets ignored by resin makers, many rotomolders say. They want new resins, especially ABS.
Don't let size fool you, however. That new rotomolding study, conducted by Plastics Custom Research Services of New Canaan, Conn., said resin consumption for rotomolding grew by 23 percent in 1994 and will grow 17 percent this year. Through the year 2000, annual growth should exceed 10 percent.
We trust that this week's ranking, destined to become an annual feature in Plastics News, will help to better define rotomolding. We've published data on 79 companies and plan to expand the list each year.
That said, no dry chart could communicate the romance of rotomolding. This is a robust process that melds worker, mold and machine.
You can tell a rotomolding plant by the heat and the sound. It sounds like a car repair shop. Operators bolt and unbolt the big molds. In the summer, the heat can get intense, as the spinning molds shuttle through large ovens.
So rotomolding really is labor-intensive. But rotomolding executives are quick to tell you how proud they are of the people who run the machines. Outside air temperature and humidity can affect the finished product. Shop-floor operators need a certain degree of craftsmanship, a trait that injection molding and other processes have tried to replace with automation and computers.
It isn't easy to convey the feel of rotomolding on the printed page. If you want to learn more, attend the Association of Rotational Molders fall conference Oct. 15-17 in Dallas. But to really understand rotomolding, you have to visit a plant.
Small or not, this is a process that merits own ranking survey, its own recognition. So here it is.