For the Society of Plastics Engineers, Antec 2023 was a step in the right direction.
The conference attracted 500 attendees to Denver from March 27-30. That's about double the amount that attended last year's event in Charlotte, N.C.
SPE held the conference virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. SPE officials said they were "very happy" with the size of this year's crowd, even if it was only about half of what the event drew in 2019 in Detroit.
Across the industry, organizers of conferences and trade shows are working to regain their footing in the wake of the pandemic. SPE was one of the first to be impacted: It had planned to hold an in-person Antec in March 2020 in San Antonio, but when travel restrictions made that impossible, the group pivoted quickly and held a successful virtual conference.
But today, three years later, some companies still have reduced travel guidelines in place, while others are reviewing the number of people they send to events.
At Antec 2023, almost 300 research papers were presented. That's almost double the number presented in 2022. SPE officials said the sources of the papers also were more diverse, with 60 percent coming from academia and 40 percent coming from industry researchers.
Moving forward, SPE officials said they want conference content to include more research and development and applications technologies from business. The industry faces challenges in many areas, especially the use and disposal of its products, they added. Broadening conference content to include developments that are — or will soon be — commercial will boost the relevance and value of Antec and the information it provides to attendees, officials said.
This year's event was the first Antec I attended. The subject matter, including sustainability and recycling, was well designed and in tune with interests and concerns that we hear about from readers of Plastics News.
The event also reminded me of the epic FlexPo conferences hosted by the late Balaji Singh. Both had lots of high-level academic and business dialogue. Thankfully, Antec had no cases of researchers nearly coming to blows over the definition of an elastomer.
Highlights from Antec 2023 included a keynote address from PepsiCo Inc. Technical Director Sridevi Narayan-Sarathy about the firm's progress in designing flexible packaging that never becomes waste.
Narayan-Sarathy said that Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo "is thinking beyond the bag and beyond the bottle" and "wants to use the power of our brands to increase recycling awareness."
Researchers from materials giant Dow Inc. and from the University of Stuttgart each presented research on new ways to recycle plastics from automotive applications. Midland, Mich.-based Dow is developing ways to better recycle polyvinyl butyrate (PVB) layers from auto windshields, according to global application technology leader Manoj Nerkar.
At the University of Stuttgart in Stuttgart, Germany, research has been done on recycling of auto airbags, which typically are made of nylon 6/6 fibers and silicone coating. The project found that airbag waste can be compounded with an organofunctional silane liquid to create a better, more usable material, according to scientific associate Sinja Pagel.
The dates and location for Antec 2024 haven't been announced yet, but the experience of Antec 2023 should be encouraging for SPE. Researchers, start your papers!
Frank Esposito is a Plastics News senior reporter based in Wickliffe, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @fesposito22.