Looking to improve their technology and move into more high-end materials, rotational molders from across China gathered in Shanghai on April 14-16, looking to share information and learn from some of the industry's best.
Chinese operations aiming to move up the value chain, however, are facing a number of difficulties, from a lack of technology to a dearth of reliable, quality raw materials.
``The technique of making molds is still quite inferior in China,'' said Huang Quanchun, the president of Shanghai Chunxu Mould Industrial Co. Ltd. While Chunxu has capitalized on making high-quality goods like kayaks and automobile components - 95 percent of which are exported to markets outside of China - even the Shanghai-based company has run into difficulties.
``[High density polyethylene] equipment in China is not good,'' he said. ``Raw materials can't meet requirements.''
These were some of the challenges that China's rotomolders had come to discuss at the 2008 China International Forum for Rotational Molding & Hollow Parts, organized by the Society of Plastics Engineers, in conjunction with the China Plastic Processing Industry Association and Shanghai Technology Transfer and Exchange.
Despite the challenges, China's rotomolders are looking to grow as consumer demand in the country skyrockets. Many hope to expand into new applications and new markets, away from the standard water tanks that characterize the industry in most developing countries. Growing demand in the country may work in their favor, said Zheng Tianlu, secretary general of the Chinese Plastics Association's Hollow Parts Committee.
``The demand for hollow products is developing very quickly,'' Zheng said. ``There are over 600 enterprises in China [that] are specializing hollow parts.''
Blow molding, however, currently is taking a greater share of the market. While China's blow molders develop water bottles, household appliances and automotive products, rotomolders are largely occupied making water tanks.
The situation is similar for molders in many developing countries, said Horacio Lobo, executive president of Negocios Especializados SA de CV, the Mexico City-based maker of Moviplas rotomolding machines.
Changing applications is difficult, he said, because a move to high-end products often means a change in equipment for rotomolders. Water tanks and other large products are generally produced using an open flame, while high-end products require ovens.
``Ovens are more expensive, but it is easier to control and manipulate the product,'' he said.
Many at the conference were searching for entirely new applications for rotomolding, including a lightweight car, aimed to serve an aging population of drivers in Japan.
``We need to find new applications and new innovations,'' said Toshio Igarashi, a rotomolding consultant in Japan. ``We don't want to get left behind as the market develops.''