At the 2006 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, plastic made its appearance in products like the machine that mows and mulches a lawn without human help and fiber-reinforced plastic ``rocks'' to create water gardens.
The LawnBott automatic lawnmower made its debut, featuring an outer shell that is one entire bumper sensor, said John Tarvin, marketing manager with Kyodo America Industries Co. Ltd.
The product is designed and molded in Italy under an alliance between Zucchetti Centro Sistemi SpA of Terranuova Bracciolini, Italy, and Kyodo America Industries Co. Ltd. of Atlanta. In addition to plastic molding operations, Kyodo America manufactures and assembles garden equipment. The mower will cut your grass every day, Tarvin said during a product demonstration at the National Hardware Show, held May 9-11.
The mower relies on a simple perimeter cable to define its work area via a minute magnetic field, and its retail price begins at $1,849. It can move freely within an enclosed area, detecting the faint signal transmitted by the perimeter cable located on the ground, defining the areas to be mowed.
The LawnBott also can work without a perimeter cable, if the working area is enclosed by a fence or small border at least 4 inches tall.
When it begins its work cycle, it leaves its docking station and starts mowing in a random direction. It will mow in a straight line until it bumps into an obstacle, such as a tree or flowerpot, or until it runs over its perimeter cable. Then it stops, backs up, turns and takes off again.
According to the company, the top-of-the-line Evolution model has adaptive programming technology. Its learning computer reprograms itself to adapt to the cutting requirements of a yard.
The trend toward creating the ultimate outdoor living environment still is gaining steam, said Peter Gianetti, editor of Homeworld Business.
``We're living in both inside and out,'' he said, noting that the trend is to move the inside of the house to the outdoors and the outside in. That translates to the need for better design and materials that withstand outdoor elements, officials said.
Other trends include putting wheels on home storage products, and compartments in clothing storage totes for desiccant or deodorizers.
``The manufacturers are out there thinking of this stuff because they have to,'' Gianetti said, noting Rubbermaid Home Products' push into injection molding cedar into plastic for clothing storage totes.
``Design is big in general,'' he said. ``It's what's driving the value-added segment. There's so much price pressure.''
For Casey Castillo, a general contractor who operates Natural Creations in Rock and Water Inc. of Renton, Wash., the past 10 months have meant a redesign of the company's fiber-reinforced-concrete rock designs using fiber-reinforced plastic.
``Now we can stack a lot more and get our shipping costs down,'' Castillo said. The products are molded in China.
Mayne Mail Posts of London, Ontario, showcased rotational molded polyethylene mailboxes that replicate traditional New England charm. The biggest areas of growth for the company, a division of New England Arbors, are in the builder segment and working with homeowner associations.
``We've worked a lot with architects and developers,'' said founder Guy Riopelle. The products are molded by Little Tikes Co.'s custom molding division in Hudson, Ohio.
Schiffmayer Plastics Corp. of Algonquin, Ill., made its first trade show appearance ever to market its proprietary lines, including designer brooms. The firm has been a custom molder, officials said.
Ipex HomeRite Products, a division of pipe firm Ipex Inc. in Mississauga, Ontario, introduced a kit for its EdgeMate all-in-one edging and lighting for landscaping. Ipex started HomeRite in 1998, and its sales have been growing steadily in the past five to six years, officials said.
``We see lawn and garden using so much plastics,'' said Steve Barker, senior account manager. The product is made of injection molded PVC and polypropylene components.
At Gracious Living Corp.'s booth, officials showcased patio furniture in bold colors.
``We decided, let's take our housewares knowledge and put the color knowledge into patio furniture,'' said Steve Jackson, vice president of marketing.
Inflationary pressures are boosting the resin category, especially in segments like patio furniture, officials agreed. Officials project that North American sales of resin patio furniture will increase 10 percent in 2007, if inflationary factors such as skyrocketing gas prices continue.
For the retail price of $129, for instance, a consumer can purchase a patio table with six chairs that stack away, rather than spend hundreds of dollars on a more expensive set.
And, as many people choose to make changes around the home rather than spend money to gas up the car, officials notice consumers trying to achieve a resort look around the pool.
Gracious Living also continues a push into its garage business, marketing PVC flooring that assembles in blocks to cover a garage floor. ``Consumers are trying to make the garage another room in the home,'' Jackson said.
For Syroco Inc. of Baldwinsville, N.Y., a unit of Vassallo Industries Inc. of Ponce, Puerto Rico, officials said they expect 2006 to be a banner year for its U.S.-based manufacturing operations.
In 2005 alone, the company sold 1 million Adirondack-style plastic chairs.