As is the case with many industries and manufacturing operations, changing market demands and technological innovations render some products and materials obsolete while others adapt, thrive, and secure their niche. Where plastics fit in this scenario has been a point of contention and debate, especially being a petroleum-based product. But all indicators point to a bright future, thanks in part to its adaptability and reliable, cost-effective production cycles. The forecast for domestic manufacturing in plastics is looking strong due to a number of key factors.
Two distinct manufacturing processes point directly to the success of the future of plastics…one that’s relatively new; the other has actually been around for several decades. 3D printing technology is the new kid on the block in plastic manufacturing. The ability to create products with highly accurate 3D printing is now common practice in a wide cross-section of industries, including areas like health care. The technology’s even used for vital components on the space station. In the world of plastics and resins, 3D printing makes it possible to design complete one-piece objects with pinpoint accuracy, quickly and efficiently. That’s making production runs possible for more complex, lighter weight products with lower cost and higher speed.
The traditional process of plastic injection molding is a manufacturing mainstay. The industrial capabilities have evolved significantly since its origin in 1872, but the principle remains the same: developing a mold and injecting it with a thermoplastic or thermoset polymer to rapidly cool and form to the mold’s contour and shape. Injection molding has maintained popularity because of its cost-effectiveness and ability to create uniform products quickly in long and short production runs. That translates directly to rapid turnaround…and makes injection molding as vital to the future of plastics as it’s been to the past.
As in other industries, robotics are also revolutionizing plastic manufacturing. Manufacturers in other fields have already converted their production lines to incorporate robotic automation. It streamlines the manufacturing process and eliminates the human error element. The overall savings in long-term production also points to robust health in plastic manufacturing, thanks to the advent of robotics.
Another ongoing innovation that’s adding new possibilities in plastics manufacturing? Organic materials and compounds have become valuable fillers and are commonly used in polymer compounds that extend base resin. Initial concerns about weakened impact strength in natural fibers have been overcome due to extensive R&D, and such materials are now frequently used in products like construction materials and automobile dashboards and interior panels. It also addresses concerns about petroleum-based materials and how plastics can be recycled in the years to come.
Domestically speaking, the global market itself also holds the key for plastics manufacturing success. The reliance on cheaper foreign products has already shifted back to domestic production due to higher international shipping costs and higher wages in foreign labor. Mass production capabilities, inexpensive shipping, and the ability to process massive orders almost immediately is once again making domestic plastics a clearly preferable choice. The products themselves are also more uniformly reliable, keeping fill rates high and customers satisfied with quality that’s hard to beat.
Combine these elements and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the strength of plastic manufacturing is in full stride…and the potential for the future means it’s here to stay!