The Plastics Industry’s Biggest Challenges In 2022

Feb 11, 2022 | 3D Printing, Manufacturing Solutions, SAF 3D Printing | 0 comments

Plastic Manufacturers Are Poised to Grow

The plastics industry was the eighth largest industry in the United States in 2019. When accounting for OEMs and their suppliers, the plastics industry employs approximately 1.5 million people. Shipments in the industry in 2020 totaled $394.7 billion, $541.5 billion if you include suppliers. The plastics industry has one of the biggest impacts on the U.S. economy, especially when you include the downstream effects.

Plastics are the material of choice for many applications due to their versatility, manufacturability, lightweight nature, and relatively low cost. There is a myriad of considerations that go into selecting the right polymer and process for fabricating a plastic part, and the demand for these parts is only increasing.

Today, you’re facing constant supply chain disruptions, changes in customer demands, and technology innovations that can cause headaches. These pains represent a great opportunity to re-evaluate your operations and implement innovative solutions.

Today’s Supply Chain

Headlines aside, disruptions to the supply chain are going to be one of the biggest challenges facing plastic manufacturers in 2022. This does not have to be a bad thing!

Whenever a change is forced, some companies will shift and grow while others will flounder. If you were sourcing steel molds overseas you’ve seen firsthand what kind of impact that has had on lead times and production schedules. Creative solutions like incorporating an additive manufacturing strategy are the best way to bridge the gap between today’s panic to tomorrow’s payday. This is of course just one way to address this specific pain point, let’s look at other places your business is impacted.

Production Automation

The Internet of Things is here. New technology allows manufacturers to implement autonomous machines and systems that increase productivity while minimizing losses. Savvy plastic manufacturers who embrace automation have complete visibility of their operations with less downtime. Incorporating new technology is not as easy as it sounds. Finding the right tool, software or hardware, for the job does not happen overnight. Automation can come in many different forms and following Lean Manufacturing best practices will keep your improvements focused on the biggest impact.

Sustainability

It is no secret that plastics in general are not the most sustainable material. There is constant pressure for manufacturers to reconsider their approach and use more eco-friendly plastics. Considerable effort has gone into developing cutting-edge bio-resins to replace traditional thermoplastics. These bio-resins are all based on natural plant and vegetable extracts, or other renewable resources. The benefits here are safer disposal, decreased toxic emissions, and more energy-efficient manufacturing processes. Furthermore, scientists have been developing additives for conventional thermoplastics to enable the oxidation and disintegration of these materials. This causes the plastic to break down into small fragments that microorganisms can ingest, which turns this waste into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water to eliminate the threat to the environment. It will take time to fully replace all of the commonly used plastics with renewable bio-resins, but it is a necessary step for the evolution of plastic manufacturing.

The Stratasys H350 prints in PA-11, a nylon-based bioplastic made from renewable castor oil sources. It has a low environmental impact and is recirculated during the printing process to minimize waste.

3D Printing

3D printers alleviate a lot of the headaches seen in plastic fabrication today. The additive industry has been innovating rapidly and is on the cutting edge of new technology. 3D printers are easy to bring online and can integrate seamlessly with existing production workflows.

The Stratasys H350 can produce thousands of strong, lightweight plastic components in a short amount of time, approaching true production volumes. With a 3D printer in-house, a lot of the challenges of sourcing components go away as you can produce them whenever you need them. 3D printing end-use parts for volume is finally a reality and a great tool to have in your portfolio.


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