EDITOR'S NOTE: Roger Young, a former Dow Chemical Co. official and now an occasional, New Zealand-based consultant for Robert Eller Associates Inc., attended the recent Chinaplas 2004 trade show, held June 29-July 2 in Shanghai, China, and filed this report for Plastics News.
The Chinaplas 2004 show differed in exhibitor mix and character from two other major plastics industry shows - Germany's huge K show and Japan's International Plastics Fair - both of which tend to be new-technology showcases, especially for machinery.
Chinaplas drew 900-plus exhibitors and more than 57,000 attendees, including 7,000 from overseas. This was even though the previous show was delayed twice last year because of the SARS virus and ended up being held just six months ago in Beijing.
Non-Chinese-speaking attendees had little difficulty obtaining information, as many exhibitors had English-speaking people in their booths.
Multinational exhibitors - machinery and materials suppliers alike - focused less on launching innovative technologies or making major product introductions than on pushing existing products and striving to gain a foothold in the dynamic Chinese market.
Also notably, and in stark contrast to many other general plastics shows, the global materials suppliers were out in force, though they generally also focused on commodity materials. One exception to that rule was GE Advanced Materials, which had the largest floor space of any exhibitor and a fairly full product portfolio on display.
The three materials areas that received the most focus at the show were the olefinic and styrenic commodity materials, elastomers, and polycarbonate or PC/ABS blends.
Dow focused on its commodity materials, with about half the space touting olefin metallocene-based product lines, and the balance split between its polystyrene and engineering plastics products. ExxonMobil Chemical Co. also emphasized its metallocene product lines.
Polycarbonate and PC/ABS grades were targeted by GE, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co. Inc., Teijin Ltd., Bayer AG, Dow and many small compounders. Their primary audience appeared to be the cell phone and information technology sectors.
European and North American original equipment manufacturers, many of which operate in China as wholly foreign-owned enterprises, are stimulating much of this activity, as materials suppliers chase these major customers around the world.
GE Advanced Materials featured a booth in the traditional GE style, with a stage show emphasizing product applications. The firm highlighted its Lexan polycarbonate, Cycoloy PC/ABS and Geloy acrylic styrene acrylonitrile brands as well as its LNP Engineering Plastics family of filled and reinforced compounds. The firm integrated the LNP product lines well, making it difficult to tell which ones were LNP-type products without understanding the material chemistries. With GE's surprising withdrawal from exhibiting at K 2004, the China market has become the large global target for the firm's powerful marketing efforts.
GE displayed two cars sporting plastic body panels - one a DaimlerChrysler Smart Roadster and the other an Indian-produced Reva. The Roadster focused on paintable grades of GE blends, whereas the Reva was produced with unpainted, thermoformed Geloy panels. The Geloy technology is a multilayer extrusion of an extruded acrylic cap coat for gloss and aesthetics, an acrylic styrene acrylonitrile weatherable layer and an ABS base layer for toughness and economics.
The resin maker also promoted its Lexan films in another targeted effort to eliminate painting, and showed silicone hard-coated polycarbonate automotive glazing for rear and fixed side windows.
Also on display, a surround for a Long Island Rail Road train window. Such a product is demanding, just like aircraft parts, due in part to the need for very low smoke generation. A material like GE's Ultem polyetherimide meets those requirements, but typically is difficult to injection mold, is costly and never really has found use in large-part applications. GE combined the best of all worlds by using Ultem as a base material, but then covered it with its easier-to-process, filled-polypropylene Azdel material and skirted the processing issues by compression molding it.
Competition in thermoplastic elastomers was particularly strong at the show, with Chinese compounders such as Shenzhen Sunstar Enterprises Co. Ltd. and multinationals like GLS Corp. battling it out. Local TPE compounders have found Asian makers of styrenic block copolymers to be a good source of competitive formulations that have helped them enter the market. Multinationals, meanwhile, have found the Chinese three-tiered pricing system (value-added-tax-inclusive pricing, export pricing and ``cash'' pricing) to be a bit challenging, as Chinese molders exert downward price pressure and are willing to substitute lower-priced, locally made TPEs.
MBA Polymers Inc., a Richmond, Calif., company recovering recycled resins from computer and electronics scrap, broke ground for its south China plant the week before the show, where it exhibited. MBA said it sees large potential for its resin-recovery process in China (as well as in Europe and Japan) because mandated recycling/recovery of electronic and information-technology devices is legislated, allowing it to secure a steady, reliable stream of raw material.
Color concentrate and masterbatch producers were underrepresented, with PolyOne Corp., Clariant Masterbatches and Ampacet Corp. as the only such exhibitors. That may be because local mom-and-pop producers tend to meet most of the needs of China's processors.
On the equipment side, injection molding machinery normally dominates plastics trade shows, and Chinaplas was no exception, with nearly all the major world players and Chinese domestic players present. However, the nature of those companies' exhibits differed greatly from those at the K, NPE or IPF shows.
Some, such as the Mount Gilead, Ohio-based HPM Division of Taylor's Industrial Services LLC, had only a small, storefront booth. Most press makers had only two or three machines in their booth and several had machines that were just dry cycling without mold. Machine sizes mostly were 200-500 tons, with the largest press at the show being an 1,800 ton Ube.
The IPF show's emphasis on small machines (150 tons and less) was not in evidence in Shanghai. The last IPF, in fall 2002, was a showcase of state-of-the-art technology by Japanese manufacturers, most of which exhibited eight to 10 machines there. The Japanese event seemed to draw every technology innovation out of the domestic machinery makers' laboratories. K traditionally has been very similar. At ChinaPlas one had to look very closely in the booths or attend the seminars to discover what scant new technology was being promoted.
The materials being molded on the show floor were relatively low tech, with high-volume, commodity materials dominating, whereas in Japan the machine makers focused on running more advanced, difficult-to-mold materials such as liquid crystal polymers, polyetherimides, poly- phenylene sulfone, etc. At IPF, machine makers highlighted the low-stress moldings and high-performance, technical applications requiring high precision, such as optical and information-technology/electronic applications.
Mobile telephone applications - mostly in PC and PC/ABS resins - were apparent at many machinery and materials companies' booths. Of course, China is the world's largest mobile telephone market, with 250 million cell phone users. Applications included face plates, battery mounting brackets, clear screens and buttons. These products represented the most technical processing being run on the show floor.
Vendors made a big play about overmolding cosmetic effects on such high-precision products. And, in fact, the overmolding process got a lot of attention overall - as demand for TPEs has grown very rapidly in China, and related mold-making skills and materials also have progressed.
Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH gave a seminar on its direct injection molding compounding line, but did not support the technology with a machine in its booth. The growth of this technique with long-glass-fiber polypropylene and nylon has started to accelerate for large automotive and nonautomotive parts.
Robotics were present, but the emphasis was more on part picking than secondary operations.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. had the largest booth of the injection molding machinery suppliers. It was significantly less cluttered than many of its competitors, particularly the German manufacturers, many of which tried to squeeze so much into their space that it was difficult to move through their booths. In other shows that might have been an issue, but in China, where crowded conditions are commonplace, attendees did not seem to mind.
Suppliers also demonstrated all-electric and hybrid injection presses in large numbers.
Cinpres Gas Injection Ltd.'s Chairman Terry Pearson said at the show that market penetration of the gas injection technology in China has been quite good. That is probably because patent litigation has not impeded new applications, as it has in the West. Interestingly, the parts displayed were smaller (projected areas of less than 20 square inches), with gas injection being used to accomplish thin walling. Battenfeld GmbH and Meiki Co. Ltd. booths also showed gas injection presses.
The rapidly growing Chinese automotive market and auto parts export markets were well- represented, but not with the flurry and focus that NPE and K traditionally have in this area.
In addition to the vehicles and various auto parts at GE's booth, Krauss-Maffei exhibited an instrument panel, bumper fascia and center console; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also displayed an IP.
Po Yuen (To's) Machine Factory Ltd., probably the most automotive-targeted of China's domestic machinery producers, had an instrument panel and bumper fascia in its booth, alongside a sport utility vehicle, and was molding a two-color, rear taillight.
Battenfeld molded a nylon handle, but primarily to demonstrate the gas-assisted molding of the part. The Bayer, Teijin and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical booths featured headlamps, and there were several examples of nylon intake manifolds. Ube Machinery Corp. Ltd. promoted its Diepress technology for eliminating automotive painting lines, but did not demonstrate it.
Reaction injection molding was represented only by Italy's Cannon Group exhibiting .
Blow molding machinery was present, with companies such as Aoki Technical Laboratory Inc. and Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH, among others, exhibiting.
Extrusion was very much in the spotlight at Chinaplas, especially typical sheet lines for packaging applications including biaxially oriented lines, flat sheet and foam sheet. A large number of manufacturers for profile-type extrusions such as pipe, shapes and large, corrugated pipe directed their displays at the fast-growing building/construction and infrastructure sectors, where massive development is taking place.
Several local and multinational manufacturers of compounding equipment exhibited.
Two film towers were operating.
Generally speaking, China's local equipment suppliers have made huge strides and are becoming much more globally competitive with their products. Several Chinese companies have combined their screw and extruders with more reliable gearboxes from Europe, especially Germany.
Chinese processors also are learning this lesson quickly and also closing the quality gap with the West.