At the two-day trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry in the Benelux that took place this week in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, the mood was decidedly mixed. Among the toolmakers, there was a general feeling of elation: the books were full and the orders were still coming in.
Rising prices in the Far East and in some cases, problems with quality and communication, were driving customers back to Europe. However, for the smaller design agencies, molders, and equipment suppliers, business is not strong, although better than a year ago.
Many of the small and medium-sized business in this industry are wrestling with the problem of cash flow and delinquent payment behavior, which they can obviously ill afford. Poor payment practices have become widespread throughout the sector and are impacting heavily on the ability of many of these businesses to remain healthy.
Nonetheless, the show was completely sold out, including the extra space, which was added this year to accommodate the growing number of exhibitors eager to boost their exposure in the Benelux market.
PP, cellulose biocomposite
Among the booths was one displaying an upbeat banner reading, "Success now grows on trees" - an intriguing message at a plastics show, to say the least. The booth belonged to UPM, a Finnish paper company that has developed a new bio-based composite material with a high renewable material content that is composed of a polypropylene matrix reinforced with pure cellulose fibers. The recycled cellulose fibers, from which all the lignin has been completely stripped, are derived from the company's papermaking business and significantly increase the stiffness and strength of polypropylene. UPM sources all its wood from sustainably managed forests.
The new composite, called UPM ForMi, was launched last year in November in Finland, the countries of Scandinavia and Germany. The response has been extremely enthusiastic, which has encouraged UPM to venture further into Western Europe, explaining their presence at the Benelux show.
UPM ForMi is specially designed for injection molding applications. The material is recyclable, odorless and available in granular form and customizable colors. According to the company, it is suitable for automotive and electronic applications, as well as for consumer products - including food applications, as the material has been certified as being food compliant. ForMi comes in three grades - ForMi GP for general use, ForMi SP for special surface, and ForMi TP for technical applications. Other grades are available upon customer request.
Greener then glass fiber
And how 'green' is it? A carbon footprint assessment, which presents the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of a product converted into carbon dioxide equivalents (using global warming potentials of 100 years) was carried out for this material by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland from a cradle-to-gate perspective.
According to this assessment, the carbon footprint of UPM ForMi varied between 1187 - 1875 kg CO2 eq/tonne, depending on the cellulose content. If glass fiber were used instead of cellulose, this would rise to 2346 - 2601 kg CO2 eq/tonne. The report points out that 'by using cellulose fiber as raw material, UPM ForMi replaces the use of fossil-based plastics with renewable raw material from sustainable and non-food sources with a verifiable chain of custody.'
Asked about future developments, Antti Kämäräinen, sales manager at UPM ForMi, said that UPM was looking at the possibilities of cellulose-reinforced extruded film for food packaging applications. He added: "We are also interested in the developments around bio-based PP, and are following these closely. In the future, we hope to be able to offer a product that is based on 100% renewable resources. That is completely in line with UPM's ambition for sustainable solutions and good environmental performance."