Think of the U.S. home-building market as a golf course rife with undulating greens, sand traps, narrow fairways and heavy rough.
Finding a way to overcome those challenges is the mark of a strong player.
A lot of the processors that serve the sector have won scratch status the past few years, as they handle one of the most finicky, challenging end markets for plastics products.
This week's special report on building and construction highlights the opportunities for astute plastics firms to serve the U.S. home-building industry, which is slow to change, for good reason. A contractor or builder doesn't want any product to fail in a construction project. Neither does a processor.
We all know the story: Vinyl proved itself in siding, in windows and in doors, and the construction industry had to see the materials proven in the field before accepting other polymers. Vinyl itself got somewhat of a boost from a recent U.S. Green Building Council report, which concluded that the material should not be singled out as bad for the environment.
Finally, breathed most officials at the International Builders' Show.
But even as housing starts inevitably slow, the time is ripe for plastics to reap the benefits of a long, arduous battle. And it showed in the halls of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando during this year's show.
The consensus: plastics have pushed their way further than ever into home building.
For the plastics industry, the time is now to replace traditional materials in home construction, including new homes and remodeling projects.
But it's not child's play. After decades of work, those who understand the intricacies of the market are those who will thrive and survive. Processors also are doing more to educate consumers and stepping up branding initiatives to get their names known in consumers' minds.
Consumers want low-maintenance products, and who better to provide them than the plastics industry? The payoff will be significant for those that stay the course, as consumers become more aware and knowledgeable of material selections.
Polypropylene is edging its way into the deck-board market, as at least one producer was touting PP as an upgrade over the creep and heat-deformation limitations of polyethylene.
Another maker of wood-fiber deck board has moved into a maleated PP matrix, which improves paint adhesion, increases tensile strength and modulus, and lowers creep.
During the show, companies showcased several products boasting impact-resistant windows and doors.
Several producers introduced extensions of product lines focused on injection molded seamless frames for windows. After all, impact resistance is key in a region that in 2004 alone was devastated by Hurricanes Charley, Ivan and Frances and Tropical Storm Jeanne.
The market still has its challenges, with ongoing code battles and areas in the country where certain plastics still are discouraged (vinyl siding, for instance). But processors are waging a strong battle, and it is paying off.