Like other industries whacked by the recession, North America's rotational molding sector plunged in 2009 — a 9.9 percent drop for rotomolding — but the business managed to bounce back for a 5.5 percent gain in 2010, according to a report from market research firm Plastics Custom Research Services.
Except for 2009 and a small drop in 2001, the rotomolding business also grew every year of the decade, PCRS said. That cannot be said for injection molding sales, which were flat from 2000 through 2005, then declined four straight years from 2006 through 2009, according to the research firm.
“The rototomolders took one year of a hit. They had that one really bad year, and they bounced back,” PCRS President Peter Mooney said.
Rotomolding even fared better than the thermoforming segment — its competitor for some products — which showed two years of decline in 2008 and 2009.
Rotomolding was really rolling in 1995 through 1999, at times reaching double digits, according to PCRS. “By the turn of the century this business accounted for almost 1 trillion pounds of plastic material consumption,” Mooney said.
But since 2000, North American rotomolding “has attained a measure of maturity,” the report said. After winning applications in a broad range of markets, growth has slowed to line up more closely with the gross domestic product growth in the region over that period. During the decade, the only year of double-digit growth was 2005, at 11.6 percent, PCRS said.
Mooney's fifth major study of the rotomolding business came out in 2008. Earlier this year, he issued the rotomolding guide to put some geographical numbers on it, quantifying the industry in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Mooney serves on the board of directors of the Society of Plastics Engineers' Rotational Molding Division. PCRS is in Advance.
Mooney said about 400 rotational molders are headquartered in North America, with a total of about 470 individual factories. Of the headquartered companies, he said, about 250 are based in the United States, followed by 95 in Mexico, 50 in Canada and five in Puerto Rico.
Here are other highlights from the rotomolders guide:
* The U.S. rotational molding industry is centered in the Midwest, dominated by Ohio. The Midwest is home to 116 rotomolding plants, or 37 percent of the U.S. total.
* The Midwest is followed by the western United States, with 65 plants; the South, with 48 plants, and the central states, with 32 plants. New England (20), the Southwest (18) and Atlantic states (13) round out the list.
* In Canada, Ontario was the dominant region, with 23 plants, or 42 percent of that country's total.
* Two regions dominated in Mexico: The state of Mexico has 21 plants, for 26 percent of the total, and Mexico City has 15 plants, or 19 percent.
* About half of U.S. and Canadian rotomolders do a mix of both custom and proprietary molding. More rotomolders (29 percent) do exclusively proprietary work, than exclusively focus on custom work (16 percent).