CHICAGO — They came to the Windy City for NPE 1997, but many attendees had their minds on Motown.
Some 39 percent of people responding to the DuPont Plastics Industry Survey taken Tuesday during NPE at McCormick Place rate the automotive industry as the hottest plastics end market now. And nearly half the 955 NPE attendees polled rated automotive as the first or second most-promising growth opportunity during the next two years.
The next most-promising markets in that time frame were packaging and consumer products, both drawing first- or second-place responses from just under 27 percent of those polled.
NPE attendees rated the furniture/furnishings market and the appliance industry as the two least-promising end markets for the next two years. Curiously, 14 percent of respondents said they saw the automotive industry as offering the least growth potential; some respondents could have been among those squeezed by the continuing auto industry supplier consolidation, which is providing greater opportunities, but for fewer firms.
``The automotive industry is driving almost all the new developments in both thermosets and thermoplastics,'' said Taras Konowal, president of Bucher Inc., a manufacturer of injection presses based in Buffalo Grove, Ill. Many of the newest applications are for under-the-hood parts, he said.
Automotive is a hot market at SAS Automation, a maker of tooling for robotic systems in Xenia, Ohio, said Trent Fisher, general manager.
``In the automotive industry more and more parts are being made of plastics and new styles are coming out all the time,'' he said.
Frequent model changes are good for SAS because robotic systems need to be retooled for the new programs, Fisher said.
Automotive markets are strong for Fiberite Inc., said Norman Johnson, senior chemist in the Winona, Minn.-based company's technical service department. Fiberite supplies thermoset compounds for a range of automotive applications, including valve and rocker covers, where thermosets are replacing metals. Johnson expects such material replacement to be a boon for Fiberite into next year and beyond.
But aerospace and aircraft markets are very slow ``and they won't come back until Uncle Sam starts spending some money,'' Johnson said.
John Westbrook, sales engineer with Uniform Color Co. of Holland, Mich., agreed that automotive markets are healthy. His firm supplies color concentrates for injection molding and counts automotive as a key market.
Plastic materials are ideally suited for many automotive and electrical/electronics applications, said Erik Fyrwald, director of engineering materials for DuPont Automotive in Troy, Mich.
The automotive industry is driven by cost reduction that can be achieved through systems integration, and by weight and size reduction, he said. The design flexibility of plastics offers the ability to integrate various components and fasteners while reducing component weight and size.
In the electrical/electronics market, plastics use is driven by miniaturization and durability, Fyrwald said. Plastics offer clear advantages in terms of protecting sensors and other sensitive electronic modules that now are subjected to hostile, under-the-hood environments.
``The hottest market segments for plastics use and growth are automotive and electrical/electronics,'' Fyrwald said. ``Plastics applications in these two markets will considerably outpace [gross national product] growth, based on our ability to develop new materials, designs and process technologies to meet consumer demand at a competitive price.''
Jay Lindstrom, a product manager at Holden, Pa.-based ReedSpectrum, said his two hottest plastics industry markets right now are packaging and business machines. He described packaging as the ``more dynamic'' industry segment. He said those same two markets also offer the strongest growth potential for the next two to three years. Lindstrom said consumer products offers the least growth potential.
ReedSpectrum, a colorants, masterbatch and compounds supplier, is a unit of Clariant Ltd. of Muttenz, Switzerland.
Frank Fire, Americhem Inc.'s senior vice president, marketing and international, picked electrical/electronics and medical as the segments offering the least growth potential during the next two to three years. Americhem of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, makes colorants, additives and specialty dispersions.
Housewares, lawn furniture and other consumer nondurables currently are hot markets in Central America, especially Guatemala, said Tommy Rybar, general manager for proprietary injection molder Guateplast SA.
Rybar said consumer spending has rebounded from a decline about a year ago caused by high interest rates and political instability. He is optimistic that his firm's business will be even better a year from now.
Guatemala's government is negotiating tariff reductions with Mexico, which if successful, would open Mexican markets for Guateplast's products, Rybar predicted.
Guatemala City, where Guateplast is based, is closer to some regions of Mexico than is Mexico City, he noted. But Mexican tariffs of 4-20 percent on housewares items have slowed his firm's penetration of southern Mexico.
At CFC International Inc., printed patterns for furniture, holography and magnetic strips are hot markets, said Aaron Hoffman, manager of corporate communications and investor relations. The Chicago Heights, Ill., company makes specialty chemical coatings.
The furniture and remanufactured housing market has been growing 7-10 percent per year, carrying printed patterns for furniture along with it, Hoffman said. The furniture market was slack last year but is picking up now.
Holography — printing three-dimensional patterns on boxes — played a strong role in helping Aquafresh increase sales of one brand of toothpaste threefold, Hoffman said. The market for magnetic strips also should be big because of skyrocketing use of identification cards, he said.
An Environmental Protection Agency proposal to crack down on emissions and tough rules in California is pushing companies to use pre-printed labels instead of painting on the container, Hoffman said.
Cellular communications, computers and golf balls are likely to be strong markets for pad printer Trans Tech America Inc., said Vice President Heinz Grob. The Carol Stream, Ill., company, a unit of Illinois Tool Works, is seeing a doubling of annual growth in its cellular phone business, he said.
While golf might seem like a mature market, demand for golf ball printing is always increasing, Grob said. The company developed a new ink two years ago that does not smudge while it is being printed, he said.
``Golf balls are in constant change,'' Grob said. ``They are always coming up with new gimmicks and new models.''