Conor Carlin is a leading plastics industry voice on sustainability. He sees some signs for optimism on the topic at NPE2018.
"This is such an important area for our industry," said Carlin, the sales and marketing manager for CMT Materials Inc. in Attleboro, Mass. Before NPE2018, he talked about what he expected to see at the show, and what he sees happening in the industry.
"On the one hand, there are tremendous challenges associated with plastics pollution, misperceptions among the public and a wild patchwork of polices, bans and incentives that make true stewardship difficult. On the other hand, there has never been so many talented people working together and separately to truly change the world for the better, whether through development of novel bioplastics or through improvements in recycling efficiencies. I often say that there are a lot of environmentalists in the plastics industry.
"There is certainly more momentum now than three years ago, and we have a real chance to solve some difficult problems," he added.
He hopes to hear about cooperation between the plastics supply chain and the waste management industry "to unlock the true potential of recycling."
"Right now, the economics are not working, so we need to get more ideas on the table, including behavioral programs, extended producer responsibility, eco-modulations that reward better designed products and risk-sharing structures for real investment in more plastics recycling facilities (PRF). The demand champion program from the Association of Plastic Reyclers, for example, is a great example of how to pull more recycled material through the market."
In addition to his role at CMT, Carlin also is vice president of marketing and communications for the Society of Plastics Engineers, so he will split his time between NPE and SPE's Antec.
Q: How did you get into plastics?
Carlin: I started working in the plastics industry in 1998, shortly after getting my B.A. from Boston University. The father of one of my college roommates was CEO of an industrial group who offered me a chance to interview with a packaging machinery manufacturer in Leominster, Mass., before moving full-time to another division in Hyannis, Mass. It was an international company, and I knew I wanted my career to have a global outlook. Because my undergrad degrees were in French and international relations and the company had large customers in Belgium and France, they tasked me with managing sales in foreign markets.
Q: How many NPEs and Antecs have you been to?
Carlin: This year will be my fifth NPE and third Antec.
Q: Any memories of your first NPE? First Antec?
Carlin: Some of those first career trade shows at McCormick are blurred by the ravages of time. … At Sencorp, we exhibited at both NPE and Pack Expo with large booths and multiple machines. I recall working with our trade show consultant at the time who was very well-versed in the "mechanics" of McCormick. I learned a few things there.
I remember a colleague of mine who managed extrusion sales in international markets for us. He had meetings with a Polish family where the son, who was about 14, did all the translation for his father, who owned the business. When I asked my colleague how difficult it was to negotiate that way, he said that everyone would be speaking English in 10 years' time anyway. He wasn't too far off. (And I think he closed the deal, too.)
My first Antec was Boston in 2005, in conjunction with that year's SPE thermoforming division board meetings.
Q: You straddle two fences in Orlando this year, with CMT exhibiting at NPE plus your role for SPE. How do you manage those responsibilities?
Carlin: The schedule this year allows enough time to manage both sets of responsibilities. The SPE Executive Board meets prior to the official NPE kickoff, though there is some overlap at the start of the week. Good planning and preparation, along with some great colleagues, help to make things manageable. That said, I still don't think there will be enough time to see everything at the show.
Q: Putting on your CMT hat, what new products do you have this year? How do your products help thermoformers?
Carlin: CMT has developed a range of products that has evolved with advances in plastic packaging. This year, we have planned to highlight the different attributes of different plug-assist materials across multiple thermoforming booths. Thin-gauge thermoformed parts such as drinking cups, coffee capsules, fruit trays, barrier trays, horticultural parts and many more are formed with plug-assisted pre-stretching. Our Hytac syntactic foam plug materials are designed to optimize plastic parts with specific material properties: low thermal conductivity, low specific heat and low coefficient of thermal expansion. The results for thermoformers are improved material distribution, fewer rejects, reduced starting gauge and faster cycle times.
Q: You travel a lot internationally, so you also have that perspective on the plastics industry. What are your thoughts on the North American plastics industry and how it fits into the global market?
Carlin: I'm on my way to Shanghai to visit and exhibit at Chinaplas for the sixth time. This is a very large show, second only to K in terms of exhibitors and attendees. Even during these past five years, I have seen a noticeable evolution in the technology of China-based OEMs. Their domestic market continues to grow, and with rising incomes and increasing urbanization, plastics consumption is increasing.
The North American industry is not homogenous, so we are seeing different developments, different rates of change in various sectors. Resin production has been profoundly impacted by shale gas, which has created a real competitive edge. That translates to increased domestic consumption and increased exports. From this perspective, the U.S. is very much a part of the global plastics market. U.S. machinery exports, by contrast, show a large trade deficit. It is a very competitive arena, but we also have a large and dynamic market at home and in NAFTA where domestic producers continue to succeed, even as more imports arrive.