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The roller-coaster ride that is the plastics processing industry is entering one of its exciting phases.

Just as on roller coasters, there will be those processors who are screaming with delight, and there will be others wondering when the ride will finally end, and hoping they make it that far. Hopefully you can count yourself among the former. It is no understatement to say there are many challenges facing plastics processors, some old and some new. Plastics prices bounce lower and higher, but the long-term trend line is moving only in one direction; with benzene pushing $4/gallon and oil breaking through the $100/barrel mark, and the broad assumption those price levels are now normal, rest assured that trend line isn’t turning south. Sustainability is no longer a corporate buzzword: it’s real, it’s a challenge, and it needs to be part of a plastics processor’s vocabulary and his business plan. If you’ve the good fortune to be eyeing an expansion, one certain challenge will be finding good employees with which to expand your business.
To be a success and to enjoy the roller-coater ride, processors need to get their price, one that leaves room to reinvest and provides for employee training. Recent conversations indicate the time may be ripe to meet with customers and talk through the many increasing costs processors face. Interviews last month with, of all people, plastics processors serving the automotive industry—that’s right, the ones serving the ‘We like your product; keep shipping it, but cut our price by another 10%’ crowd—paint a picture of automotive Tier Ones and OEMs who, while still very cost-conscious, have shown some signs of recognition that killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a poor strategy.
Those automotive parts processors trace the change in tone to laws pending or signed which will force OEMs to develop and manufacture passenger cars that do not create as many carbon dioxide emissions; reaching the new goals likely will prove impossible without more plastics’ use per car. The legislation gives processors an opening to discuss how they can help solve their customers’ problems. Packaging processors, like their peers in automotive, also engage in a brutally tough business, with margins frightfully low for some segments of that market, but it does not take a soothsayer to see that here the issues of recycling and sustainability are changing the playing field for the better for processors able to offer innovation. Offer that innovation, but make sure you are rewarded for solving your customers’ problems.
Our annual list of Notable Processors certainly includes people who have argued those arguments. We’ve again scoured the globe to find a group of plastics processors, at organizations large and small, who are ‘fighting the good fight’ to keep their businesses healthy. Many rose through the ranks of their current employer, or founded the business themselves. As always, it was our pleasure learning more about them and we hope reading the profiles of these processors also proves interesting, even motivating, for you. Our search for next year’s class of Notable Processors starts now, and we welcome your recommendations.
Matt Defosse, Editor-in-Chief
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