What trends or innovations will impact the plastics industry in the next quarter century?
Plastics News posed that question to a range of individuals with some potential for prognostication. And the experts talked about design, 3-D printing, growth in the market and reducing time-to-market.
Warren Ginn, president of product development firm GinnDesign LLC in Raleigh, N.C., said design has evolved from mere product styling to a serious competitive advantage in the market.
“As the consumer has become more aware of the value of great industrial design and a compelling user experience, OEMs are investing in design and design thinking to drive product innovation and market differentiation,” he said. “In the next 25 years, I expect that trend to continue to where designers are brought into the product development process earlier and remain engaged all the way through to manufacturing.”
Rich Freeman, owner of high-appearance close-tolerance thermoformer Freetech Plastics Inc. of Fremont, Calif., agreed: “Design is going to get more important for better engineered products as industrial designers work closely with engineers to enclose products.”
Andrew Dent, vice president of library and research for New York-based Material ConneXion, a unit of Sandow Media Corp., another design advocate, advises clients on selection of the right materials for applications involving automotive and architectural interiors, consumer electronics, fashions and sportswear. He sees design as a critical function in utilizing “great new materials” for new applications.
Ronn Cort, chief operating officer and president of Sekisui Polymer Innovations LLC of Bloomsburg, Pa., which runs sheet makers Kydex LLC and Allen Extruders LLC., said: “The continued consolidation and collaboration within the supply chain requires an industry moving in tandem. Innovative design and engineering requires new technology and processes in the mold and tool making industries. From our view, design challenges the status quo, so that is where the change starts.”
Howard Blum and Jeffrey Bornstein, principals in the newly established consultancy Chemicals and Plastics Advisory in the Philadelphia area, anticipate plastics processing in North America benefiting from continued productivity improvements and lower energy costs.
“Although North American energy costs are now more manageable with lower cost energy, expect continued efforts to reduce energy consumption in terms of continued process improvement,” they said.
3-D printing evolution
Jeff Kolbow, corporate president of MGS Manufacturing Group in Germantown, Wis., said 3-D printing technology is thought to be limitless as far as geometric design applications are concerned.
“When 3-D printing and additive machining become exponentially faster, we'll see the next major transition in manufacturing,” he said. Currently, MGS uses 3-D printing technology primarily as a research, development and marketing tool.
Ginn said: “Just like every other manufacturing process, these technologies have their unique advantages and disadvantages. While I expect some of the novelty and hype over 3-D printing will fade, the explosion of these technologies has made manufacturers more aware of the possibilities. While I don't see it replacing all of the traditional plastics molding processes, 3-D printing should be viewed as one more option for designers and plastics manufacturing.”
In the next five years, 3-D “will most likely be useful for prototype part development and higher-value short runs,” Blum and Bornstein noted. “Limiting factors are linked to the melt-processing nature of thermoplastics, which generally are too viscous to rapidly flow out of a micro-orifice applicator to allow for large-part molding economics”
Cort said the challenge for 3-D printing is to produce larger parts. “But I never underestimate the rate of change. New polymers for 3-D printing are next on the horizon. And that will be here sooner than later.”
Global standards will exist