Cleveland — Reshoring and sustainability are helping technical compounders grow in 2023.
Executives with four of those firms took part in a panel Nov. 15 at AMI Plastics World Expos in Cleveland.
"We've seen an incremental positive in bringing business back to North America from Asia," said Jean Sirois, strategic planning managing director with RTP Co. in Winona, Minn. "Sometimes it's been a transfer of business and sometimes it's been new business."
Techmer PM of Clinton, Tenn., has seen opportunities in large format 3D printing, according to product development and sustainability manager Kaan Serpersu. At Sirmax Group, 90 percent of meetings with customers are about sustainability, North America county manager Lorenzo Ferro said. Sirmax is based in Italy, but operates plants around the world, including two in Indiana.
"A lot of companies are looking to introduce recycled content," he added. "We've invested in sustainability in the U.S. and Europe and have materials with 10-40 percent recycled content."
Sustainability also is "a big opportunity" for PRET Advanced Materials, according to technical service senior manager Taehwan Kim. "In the next five to 10 years, sustainability will be the new paradigm," he said. PRET is based in China, but also has a plant in South Carolina that previously operated as Wellman Advanced Materials.
But technical compounders also are facing staff shortages, image problems and other challenges. "The number of new people is dwindling," Serpersu said. "We had an intern who had concerns about working for a plastics company until he saw what we were doing in sustainability, then he was on board."
Sirois added that the social perception of plastics "is misunderstood. … All of us [in the industry] can do a better job of explaining the role of plastics in people's lives."
Slowing economies in China and the rest of Asia also are creating the possibility of lower-priced materials from those regions making their way to North America and Europe, according to Ferro.
Ongoing globalization is requiring technical compounders to adapt. "COVID and post-COVID taught us to look hard at the supply chain," Ferro said. "We need localized as well as global suppliers."
"We see the same business concerns around the world," Kim added. "We want to follow and grow with our OEM customers in China and the U.S."
Collaboration with vendors and suppliers has to be a key part of a firm's strategy, according to Serpersu. "Customers are asking for a U.S. source," he said. "They don't want to wait three months for a shipment to come on a boat."