Officials at Dow Chemical Co. are looking forward to the opportunities that new polyethylene capacity will bring to the North American plastics market.
“We've got the ability to grow beyond where the market is today,” Dow executive Greg Jozwiak said in an interview at K 2013 in Düsseldorf, Germany. “There's a focus on rigid and flexible packaging, where there's further ability to replace paperboard and paper/foil combinations.”
“We also can replace non-plastics with standup pouches for food items,” added Jozwiak, who serves as North American commercial vice president for packaging and specialty plastics business at Midland, Mich.-based Dow. “There's a tremendous opportunity for lightweighting, which can produce energy savings.”
Dow — which ranks as one of the world's largest plastics and chemicals makers — is putting its money where its intentions are, with plans to spend about $4 billion to add more than 3 billion pounds of PE and related plastics on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The first new capacity is set to come online in 2017.
“We're looking at this opportunity fairly quickly,” Jozwiak said. “We want first-mover advantage – now 2017 — amount of construction affect schedule of production. We're growing packaging for plastic packaging applications, but (PE) supply will be constrained in the meantime. This is kind of a ‘get ready' period.”
And although Jozwiak said that some of the new PE capacity being brought on by Dow and other PE makers will be exported outside of North America, most of it will remain in the region to meet new demand from domestic processors.
“There will be some finished product production brought back (to North America) and our customers must have the capacity to do that,” he said. “We think that will happen because (North American) resin prices are among the lowest in the world.”
One way that Dow hopes to fuel this customer growth is through its series of Pack Studios — regional innovation centers that create solutions for better packaging. The newest Pack Studio opened in October in Freeport, Texas. Dow already operates similar centers in Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Horgen, Switzerland.
In Freeport — one of Dow's largest production sites — the firm already had a film application development center and other packaging equipment in place. By adding a full Pack Studio, Dow now can run small trials of film or molded packaging, such as form-fill-seals and stretch film.
“We're having customers come down and run films with a high focus on the flexible space,” Jozwiak said. “They're running multilayer structures on shrink film and other products, and then they can make it again in a day or so. They can run it here without losing production time at their own plants. We've even had collaboration with customers and brand owners.”
Brand owners are important in developing new packaging, he added, because “brands are what they live off of. They need functionality, aesthetics or improved sustainability to gain consumer acceptance.”
And even with some in the industry expressing concerns about the amount of new PE set to come on in the next few years — and about the region's ability to meet the labor needs of all that new construction — Jozwiak said those are good challenges to have.
“When you look at plastic suppliers investing billions of dollars, that's an opportunity to grow by having new capacity and working on innovations with customers,” he said. “It's a phenomenal opportunity. We have a bright future in plastics across the industry.”