"It's been a mixed year," said Ramesh Iyer, president and chief operating officer at Asahi Kasei Plastics North America in Fowlerville, Mich. "It's been decent overall, but a little lower than expected in automotive, where we have high exposure."
Asahi Kasei and other automotive suppliers were affected by General Motors' six-week strike, as well as lower overall build numbers, even if pounds of plastics per vehicle are up on some platforms.
"Things are getting tougher in automotive, but it's part of the cycle," added Asahi Kasei Chairman and CEO John Moyer. "We're not worried about the foundation."
Techmer PM of Clinton, Tenn., has been "above targets" in 2019, according to President Ryan Howley. "We've done better than 2018 and 2017, but we're not quite up to 2016 levels," he said. "We're still dealing with issues from the China tariffs and some plant closures in the industry."
But Howley added that Techmer continues to see growth in 3D printing and aerospace — as well as stability in medical, personal hygiene and packaging — even if the firm's sales into auto and agriculture haven't been as good.
Nondurable markets have held up better in 2019 vs. the automotive and other industrial markets at the Advanced Polymer Solutions unit of LyondellBasell Industries, according to unit President Jim Guilfoyle. With the addition of A. Schulman, the unit ranks as North America's largest compounder. He added that automotive markets "have seen significant pressure resulting from trade tariffs and ever-changing emission standards," while nondurables into packaging and other consumables "have seen some recent seasonal strength."
"Overall, we've seen some growth globally," said Jean Sirois, strategic planning and acquisitions director at RTP Co. in Winona, Minn. "Supply and demand have been balanced even though automotive and China are down. We like to look at product lines that don't get full attention."
2019 has been a good year for Clariant Masterbatches of Holden, Mass., according to North American marketing head Pete Prusak.
"The [GM] strike was challenging, but we serve a lot of markets," he said. "Packaging has been great for us, especially with our sustainability efforts in personal care packaging."
Clariant now can produce 100 percent post-consumer materials for numerous personal care products, including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant and body wash containers.
The Specialty Engineered Materials unit of Avon Lake, Ohio-based PolyOne Corp. has seen robust 2019 growth in the wire and cable, health care and industrial end markets, unit President Chris Pederson said.
"Wire and cable is continuing to benefit from increased data transmission requirements, 5G platform development and general infrastructure projects globally," he explained. "This market is growing in excess of global GDP, which is consistent in each key region."
In health care, Pederson said that part of the demographic shift involves an increasingly aging world population, which in turn, fosters the need for better health care solutions.
"In this market, our focus continues to be on improving patient comfort, better ergonomics for patients and practitioners, and enhanced device performance," he added. "Worldwide, the average growth in health care spending is in excess of two times GDP growth, and we expect this to continue."
PolyOne's SEM unit also has developed "a broad spectrum product development pipeline," according to Pederson, including composite reinforcement pipe-wrap for use in the oil and gas industry and advanced TPEs for use in high-temperature or chemically active environments.
For PolyOne's Color, Additives and Inks unit, macroeconomic headwinds have been challenging but are being offset in part by increases in demand and revenue in specific markets, according to unit President Mark Crist, who's retiring at the end of the year.
Positive indicators for PolyOne's color business include double-digit growth globally in health care, strong single-digit increases in transportation within the EU and Americas and a double-digit rise in electrical and packaging markets in Asia, he added.
PolyOne's color unit also has invested R&D resources in technologies that support sustainability targets in packaging, such as barrier solutions for light and oxygen that keep beverages and food from degrading and processing additives that reduce energy requirements and improve processability of recycled material.
At Polymer Resources of Farmington, Conn., markets have been relatively flat in 2019, resulting from a U.S. economy that's been "a little slow," President and COO Scott Anderson said.
"January was booming, but then it slowed down," he added. "Then we had a slow summer, so we're at low single-digit growth, which is not up to plan. We didn't lose business, but customers are ordering less. It seemed like customers were working down inventory."
Next year could be better for the firm, since new long-scale programs for medical and electrical uses such as enclosures, circuits and connectors "are kicking in," Anderson said.
2019 has been a busy year for Plastics Group of America in Woonsocket, R.I. Executive Vice President Mike Rosenthal said the firm's filled polypropylene compounds are selling well in such applications as snowmobiles, personal watercrafts and gun stocks.
In Leominster, Mass., Modern Dispersions Inc. also saw sales flatten out this year after a good start, according to president Marton Kozma. Economic concerns "have had a general global influence on trade evenly across all markets," he said.
In its third year of U.S. compounding production in Duncan, S.C., Albis Plastics Corp. saw some challenges coming out of 2018, particularly in the nylon market, President and CEO Stefan Fuhlendorf said. "We saw some early signs of the climate slowing down in general, primarily in automotive," he added.
Star Plastics of Ravenswood, W. Va., has seen some success with sustainable products in 2019, according to President and CEO Doug Ritchie. But he added that the firm's customers "are second-guessing" some business decisions and are focused on inventory management, making smaller orders with higher frequency.
For global compounding and concentrates maker Ampacet Corp., 2019 got off to a good start before slowing in the second and third quarters, Marketing and Global Business Vice President Mike Gaudio said. "Not our worst year, but not our best," he added. "We've seen some effects from weaker demand and currency translation."
Packaging makes up about three-quarters of Ampacet's product mix. Gaudio said that 2019 demand from that sector "has been OK," but weaker in regions such as Europe. Demand from Latin America has been good, he said, with U.S. demand a little weaker than expected. "Our growth expectations have declined as the year went on," Gaudio added.
Americhem Inc. in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has been pleased with 2019 results overall, CEO Matthew Hellstern said. "When you think about markets like medical and surgical devices, they're tied to demographics," he added. "By partnering with our customers, we've been able to develop new products and grow geographically."
The building and construction market for Americhem — including materials for decking, fencing and windows — has seen a shift in consumer preferences for more natural-looking products that don't require much maintenance.
"Customers are asking for more natural, darker colors in decking boards and fencing and railing, both in new construction and renovation," Hellstern said.
Sales in 2019 for Chroma Corp. of McHenry, Ill., are doing well but are a little behind the aggressive budget the firm had set for the year, according to CEO Tom Bolger.
Chroma has seen impressive results from its G3 technology, which Bolger said can produce results similar to those of liquid color from traditional concentrates. Sales into consumer durables such as garbage totes, coolers, chainsaws power tools are solid for Chroma, although Bolger said the wire and cable market "is a little soft."
Building and construction markets have shown steady growth of 3-5 percent in 2019 for Teknor Apex Co. of Pawtucket, R.I. Sales into medical also have been steady, President Suresh Swaminathan said, but value in that sector "keeps getting diminished due to intense internal rivalry among competitors."
Swaminathan described the auto market as "wait and see" globally because of several factors, including tariffs, union actions and Chinese government incentives. "Auto inventories are coming down in the U.S., but the EU and China continue to be sluggish," he said.
At Penn Color Inc. of Doylestown, Pa., the firm has seen pockets of both strengths and weakness in 2019, according to Vice President of Sales Mike McGarrity. "Coatings have been strong, and we've done well in building and construction products like flooring, siding, decking and railing," he said.
Aurora Plastics of Streetsboro, Ohio, has outperformed the overall compounding market in 2019, Marketing and Business Development Vice President Matthew Kuwatch said. "We're in positive digits because of the markets we're in and because of a lot of new programs with our customers in building and construction and consumer," he added.
"We really haven't seen the economy slow down," Kuwatch said. "We try to not just offer status quo products. We're constantly trying to innovate."
Another company that doesn't want 2019 to end is ATC Plastics LLC of Indianapolis. "We had record months in August, September and October," Managing Partner Tom Stevning said. "We had record years in 2017 and 2018 and are doing it again in 2019. It's been a blowout."
ATC has added several new customers for its black concentrates this year. "We're a general-purpose player in auto and film, not specialty blacks," Stevning said. "Pipe has been very strong for us. We're up around 13-14 percent overall."