CHICAGO — They're not just surfing in California anymore; the majority of the plastics industry has grabbed its keyboards and is surfing the Net.
A survey of NPE 1997 attendees taken by DuPont Engineering Polymers at the Chicago show June 18 revealed that 55.1 percent of the 1,131 respondents — just over half of whom were plastics processors — use the Internet in their jobs to some degree. Some 21.9 percent said they use the Net every day, 22.7 percent use it occasionally, and 10.5 percent use it only rarely.
``The best advantage is that it allows us to get a great information framework to locate our customers and develop products to meet their needs,'' said Rick Whiteman, vice president of sales at NDC Systems in Irwindale, Calif.
``We use the Internet to introduce new technology and products. It's a great way to market our services. Also, we can use it to communicate in such areas as software development and preparing documentation guidelines,'' he said.
``We also have an online Web site that lets us share information with our customers, such as thickness gauging for sheet and film extruders.
``I can't say we've gotten more business from it yet, but it does put us on the leading edge with our customers. It makes us higher-profile. In that respect, it may contribute to increasing our business,'' Whiteman said.
The survey indicated that 57.2 percent of companies already have their own Web sites. Of those that do not, 13.8 percent plan on getting one soon.
The unscientific survey revealed that some 33.7 percent of Internet patrons use the Internet for communication and 21.9 percent use it to do research.
Daniel Slawson, product marketing manager of Taber Industries in North Tonawanda, N.Y., said, ``We use the Internet frequently, mainly for research and to get industry and general news. We've also just gone on with our own Web site. It's been rather enlightening to us how much you can accomplish with it.
``We're using our site as a way to identify our customers and help serve them. Also, it's a great tool for international marketing. About half of our business is done with companies who are overseas. With time differences, it's a great way to reach them.''
Others also are exploiting the communication benefits.
``We don't use the Internet every day, but we do use it two to three times a week,'' said Mark Abramo, vice president of sales at R.J. Abramo Associates Inc. in Holliston, Mass.
``It's a communication tool mainly for use with e-mail. It's a quick way to keep track with so many people that we deal with and receive a fast answer.''
``We don't have a Web page yet, just an e-mail address. But we'd like to start a Web page, and we will. As small as [the blow molding industry is], it will allow us to be home, so to speak, all the time for inquiries. I think everyone will need to have a Web site eventually. It'll be just like having a fax machine.''
R.J. Abramo supplies molds for the blow molding industry.
``We can share information faster,'' said Peter N. Foss, president of resin distributor and compounder Polymerland Inc. of Huntersville, N.C., a subsidiary of General Electric Co.
Foss hopes there will be a ``huge productivity hit'' for customers with Polymerland's Web site. In the long term, he sees more commerce over the Internet.
The Internet ``may leapfrog some things,'' such as other secure methods of conducting electronic transactions, Foss said, but ``we expect the Internet to make us more productive'' with fewer phone calls.
While noting that the technology will enhance ordering efficiency, Foss added that all firms that use the Web must protect against allowing less-personal relationships to develop with customers.
Of the 44.9 percent of respondents who said they don't currently use the Internet, 58.4 percent believe they are likely to use it within the next year.
Sonobond Ultrasonics uses its Web site as an electronic catalog of its products.
``It is almost like a catalog: It shows our equipment, a little bit about the technology and photographs of the equipment,'' said Janet Devine, president of the West Chester, Pa., maker of ultrasonic welding equipment.
``I don't have very great expectations right now,'' Devine said.
She is uncertain of the impact on her company's bottom line, but said she feels the firm at least needs to have its name on the Internet.
The DuPont NPE survey in part contradicted a recent study by USA Chicago, AlliedSignal Plastics, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and Plastics News. That study, which surveyed a sampling of Plastics News readers, found that Internet use is low for the plastics industry.