What does 2019 hold for the plastics industry? Several trends that emerged in 2018 continue to be refined and amplified heading into the new year:
1. Bioresins and Eco-Friendly Plastic Additives
The environmental impact of traditional resins remains under close scrutiny, leading many manufacturers to reconsider their approach to selecting materials. Bioresins are gaining traction as alternatives since they’re all based on natural plant and vegetable extracts or renewable resources, which aid in green practices through benefits such as safer disposal, energy-efficient manufacturing and decreased toxic emissions.
Along with developing plastic substitutes, solutions for making conventional thermoplastics biodegradable are coming to the fore. Prodegradant concentrates (PDCs) in the form of metal compounds, such as cobalt stearate or manganese stearate, are being added to plastic to promote oxidation and disintegration. In turn, the plastic breaks down into tiny fragments that microorganisms ingest and convert into carbon dioxide, water and biomass, without the threat of harmful residues.
2. Reinforced Plastics
The projected value of the global reinforced plastics market is projected to reach nearly $16 billion by the end of 2019. Perhaps most notably embraced by the automotive industry as substitutes for metal components, these carbon, glass, metal and graphite-reinforced plastics are gaining popularity in medical, military, construction and marine applications for their low weight, durability and design versatility.
3. 3D Printing and Production Efficiencies
3D printing is improving many aspects of plastics manufacturing and remains a catalyst for reimagining options for plastic parts. While in some cases 3D printing is not a viable alternative to injection molding, advancements in the technology are leading to some impressive results with direct benefits for certain OEMs, including:
- New options for projects of 100-500 cycles, as less time is required to produce a part using 3D printing.
- More efficient production molds with printed-in conformal cooling channels that reduce cycle times without compromising part quality.
- Prototyping without hindering production; for certain applications a desktop polymer printer can produce a suitable prototype with functionality similar to one produced on the line.
4. Automation and Industry 4.0
Automation is meeting the plastics industry demand for process simplification and cost savings. The advent of Industry 4.0 provides prime opportunities for further integration of robotic technologies and machine controls in order to:
- Make cycles faster, facilitate maintenance and simplify programming.
- Use automated cells with multiple downstream operations integrated beside the press.
- Substitute traditional pneumatics for “collaborative” robotic initiatives — meaning those with multiple, axis-jointed arms, servo wrists and advanced safety features — for faster, more precise programming on the line to aid in all facets of production, saving time and increasing throughput.
Understanding how the plastics industry is evolving helps manufacturers capitalize on trends, as does partnering with an experienced injection molder to assist in implementing solutions that help ensure end products perform as intended. Learn more about the importance of this partnership in our whitepaper, Critical-Use Plastic Parts: Key Design and Injection Molding Considerations. Click the button below to access your copy now.