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2012 and the year that was: Morning in America’s plastics industry?

The excitement at NPE2012 and anxiety Chinaplas were muted but palpable, and those contrasting sentiments, as much as anything, might define the plastics industry in 2012.That storyline, along with bag, bottle and materials bans, sustainability pushes in multiple end markets, and the need for skilled labor, among other topics, are prevalent throughout PlasticsToday's most-viewed content (see below) for 2012.

Tony Deligio

January 4, 2013

4 Min Read
2012 and the year that was: Morning in America’s plastics industry?

A change in venue for NPE by organizer SPI also meant a change in timing, placing the global events in April for the first time and just weeks apart at that.

At NPE, multiple exhibitors told me they were in the midst of not just a good show but their best NPE, ever.

At Chinaplas, particularly among domestic suppliers, most freely admitted that the market, unlike the show, had slowed down. One machinery executive fully expected a crash, but was optimistic the landing would be soft.

Meanwhile, "reshoring" became a buzzword prominent in many of our stories at PlasticsToday, with plastics manufacturing that had once sailed to cheaper shores, including China, coming back to the states. Earlier this month, when German extrusion technology giant Reifenhäuser acquired Westland, a heartland of heartlands' Wichita, KS-based screw supplier, the company touted its location, as well as its product, as an impetus for the acquisition, saying the deal reflected "a clear acknowledgment of the significance of the American market."

That significance has increased, just as it has in places like Mexico and Brazil, as European markets falter under the weight of the monetary union's debt crisis and China's formerly overheating economy cools.

Euro zone GDP is expected to grow by less than 0.5% next year, as Germany and France "barely move", according to 2013 predictions by The Economist. By contrast, 2% GDP growth forecast in the U.S. is robust. Brazil with growth of 4%, Mexico where annual GDP growth through 2016 is pegged between by 4.68-5.47%, and India, forecast to grow by 6.5%, all look to pick up Europe's slack, as well as the "slack" of China, forecast to see GDP grow by 8.6%-a rate reflecting an economic boon anywhere besides the People's Republic.

Now, does this change in fortunes mean the U.S. will return to the halcyon days of the late '90s, a time when injection molding machine sales topped 6000 units/yr or higher? No, or at least not likely, but it also doesn't mean that the delivery totals barely topping 1000 seen during the U.S. financial crisis denoted a new normal.

In 2013, the global plastics industry will once again revolve around Europe in general and Germany in particular, as the triennial K once again sets up in Düsseldorf along the Rhein in late October. Will a still reinvigorated U.S. industry, one that added jobs for the first time in a decade, take part? Time will tell, but the sector's strength definitely buoyed the larger industry in 2012 and it has momentum as it enters the new year.

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