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Process pioneered for natural fibers adapted for carbon fibers

A liquid resin press molding process used since 2003 to produce wood-fiber components for vehicle interiors has now been modified for processing carbon-fiber composites.

Johnson Controls' subsidiary in Burscheid, Germany is applying its expertise in natural-fiber processing technology for interior components to vehicle exteriors. In the newly adapted wet process, a carbon-fiber mat, pre-moistened with resin, is placed between the forming tools and then pressed. During the pressing cycle, the excess resin leaks onto the edge of the mold. This reportedly provides a very high fiber density in the body parts.

jc

Efficient process for carbon fiber-reinforced exterior parts goes commercial.

"Lightweight construction is one of the key challenges for future vehicles," says Han Hendriks, VP of global product development, interiors at Johnson Controls Automotive Experience. "We can draw on our technological know-how for the production of carbon [fiber-reinforced] body parts."

Previously, the production of very light carbon components involved a great deal of effort and a considerable amount of manual labor. "We are one of the pioneers in the automotive industry for large-scale production of carbon [fiber-reinforced] parts, thanks to our innovative production process," says Hendriks. "We are pleased to be able to transfer that technology for use in vehicle exteriors."

Johnson Controls is already supplying a well-known automotive manufacturer with its innovative carbon components.-[email protected]

Chinaplas 2012: Arburg sees bright future in Asia for light-guide panel molding

Targeting the red-hot tablet market in the region of the world where most are currently made, Arburg showcased an injection molding technology at Chinaplas that can efficiently produce light-guide panels for TFT screens, despite the component's challenging geometry. Applied in everything from notebooks to iPads to LED screens, the light-guide panels are utilized to "guide light" through the screen so that it is even throughout.

light-guide panel
 Light-guide panels (above) represent a market Arburg is pursuing in Asia. Below, Zhao Tong, managing director of Arburg's Shanghai subsidiary; Dr. Bettina Keck, corporate communications at Arburg; and Hans-Günter Zimmermann, Arburg's senior sales manager Asia/Africa at the company's Chinaplas 2012 stand.
Arburg Chinaplas 2012

Arburg used an Allrounder 630 S, with a clamping force of 2500 kN and a 2-cavity mold to create the panel. With a thickness of only 0.5 mm and a length of 10 inches, the parts have a flow/path wall thickness ratio of 350:1. Hans-Günter Zimmermann, senior sales manager Asia/Africa, said the technology, which utilizes a special polycarbonate, was originally introduced for smaller items, like smart phones, but advances are allowing it to move into larger screens. Produced in a cycle time of approximately 15 seconds, the side-gated light-guide panels are made in a two-stage process combining injection and compression molding.

In this process, the mold only closes completely once the melt is already in the cavity so that a uniform pressure is applied to the cavity surface of the shrinking component. This creates a constant level of pressure within the cavity throughout molding. Arburg noted that compression injection molding allows greater flow path/wall thickness ratios to be achieved, while shrinkage and deformation effects can be reduced.

Zimmermann said Chinaplas 2012 marks the first time Arburg has displayed the technology, with the system on its stand already sold, and plans to bring another one to Taiwan's plastics show this September, Taipei Plas.

A shift to higher technology

Zimmermann noted that Arburg has seen a shift in its China business, both in terms of customers and technology. "The Chinese people are discovering that it's worthwhile to invest in high quality machines," Zimmermann said, adding that eight years ago, the company derived 80% of its China sales from international companies manufacturing in China, with the remaining 20% coming from Chinese clients. Today, those numbers are reversed. "China represents a very important market," Zimmermann said, "and [Arburg] is growing quickly here."

The German company's history in China dates back to the 1980s, when it delivered machines to Hong Kong with a trading partner. In 1991, it opened a subsidiary in Hong Kong, and six years later in 1997, it opened an office in Shanghai. In 2006, the company opened another office in Shenzhen, with spare parts, service, training and sales. At this point in time, it has around 30 full-time employees in China.

Marketing Musings: How to survive when customers leave town


At one time, River Bend’s Fort Smith facility was 80-90% Whirlpool, Embree told PlasticsToday in a telephone interview. “That might not sound so good, but for a long time, it worked,” Embree said. But he also saw the handwriting on the wall with the consolidation and movement in the appliance industry as Whirlpool bought up its competitors and built more plants in Mexico. Embree began to diversify his customer base and product lines, which doesn’t happen overnight in the custom molding business.

One of the new products that River Bend hopes will keep the company on a growth track is the Kosmo cooler. Embree learned about the cooler, designed with built-in legs so that it doesn’t need a table to sit on in order to function, from its creators, local entrepreneurs Tim Mika and Stephen Bowman. Today, Embree has installed the blowmolding equipment required to mold the cooler, while the company injection molds the other components. “Hopefully this will allow me to learn blowmolding and add another capability to our business model to sell for additional growth,” Embree said.

While the Kosmo cooler started out being made in China, Embree said the developers of the product couldn’t get it to the price point they needed because of the shipping costs. So now the cooler can boast that it’s “Made in the USA.” Only the telescoping metal legs still come from China, but Embree is searching for a U.S. supplier for those as well.

In addition to being the manufacturer, Embree noted that River Bend is also the marketer and the distributor, and has to deal with purchase orders from retailers.
 
“Sometimes you have to take some risk on something you may not be totally familiar with,” said Embree.  “I’m not real comfortable with all this yet, but if I’d left things the way they were I’d be a lot more uncomfortable. This is all new to a custom molder.”

River Bend Industries isn’t a small company, housing 108 molding presses ranging from 30 to 3000 tons, in 444,000 ft2 of manufacturing space between the Fort Smith plant and its facility in Victor, IA. While the company’s employee base had dropped from a high of about 110 to around 60 today, Embree hopes that over the next two years to hire about 25 more people as demand for the Kosmo cooler and other products—some of which are in the process of coming back from China—comes online.

River Bend continues molding some components for Whirlpool, both at the Fort Smith and Victor facilities, and ships into Mexico, but the heydays of being a Whirlpool molder are pretty much over. According to news reports, Whilrpool announced recently that it will close the plant on June 29, laying off 834 workers. Another 77 workers will be laid off on July 31 and the last six employees will turn out the lights and lock the doors on August 31.

Embree has some advice for other custom molders who may find themselves in a similar situation:  “Be willing to jump in and take risks, find new business even if it means doing things you haven’t done before. You can’t just sit there and wait for things to happen.”

Additionally, keep on top of what your customers and markets are doing. “What you do with that information is critical to staying ahead of any downturn in business,” Embree advised. “In our economy I think anything is possible. Who would have thought any of these big companies would fail or go into bankruptcy or move offshore? Whirlpool is doing what they think they should be doing from their business perspective, but that means we also have to do what we have to do to survive and grow our business too.”

Marketing Lessons: 
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Many years ago when I was selling for a custom molder/moldmaker, one of our customers—a major computer/business equipment OEM—had a rule that they would comprise no more than 30% of a single supplier’s business. Molders/moldmakers should monitor their own businesses and ensure that no single customer will be more than 30% of their business.

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify: Customers, markets, product lines so that you are not captive to any one market or customer. It’s okay to “specialize,” but be diverse so that you are not at the mercy of market downturns or customers’ financial problems.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. Well thought-out risk-taking has rewards. Make it a part of your business model.

PTI-Europe opens Mocon-certified package permeation testing lab

PTI-Europe, a subsidiary of Ohio-based Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI), has established a Mocon-certified permeation-testing laboratory at its facility in Yverdon, Switzerland.

PTI-Europe will now offer oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapor permeation testing for rigid, semi-rigid and flexible packaging materials and finished packages using Mocon's Ox-Tran and permatran units. 

The Mocon certification means that PTI-Europe technicians have been trained on Mocon corporate test lab methods, protocols, and record keeping to ensure quality and equivalency, according to the news release.

"Mocon is recognized worldwide as the leader in permeation testing instrumentation for food, pharmaceutical, beverage, medical applications.  Our association with this well-respected company will now enable PTI-Europe's brand owner customers to have one-stop access to the gold standard in permeation testing," said Thierry Fabozzi, managing director, PTI-Europe. 

The facility will target multinational brand owners who want to make sure that the testing standards they have established in other parts of the world can be repeated in Switzerland, the company stated.

"Mocon certification assures that companies using PTI-Europe's facility will get the same level of service and quality they would find at any Mocon laboratory anywhere in the world," said Alan Shema, product manager for consulting and testing services, Mocon.

He said PTI-Europle plans to offer this program to other laboratories and institutions in Europe, as well as worldwide.  

Medical Musings: Micro features and more from ANTEC

Attendance at ANTEC last month was 1432, a bump of 9% over the conference at NPE2009. There were a total of 623 papers this year. Of this, 512 were podium presentations, 31 were professional poster presentations, and 80 were student posters. Importantly, the student presence this year was especially strong—in fact, a record for recent years.

Here are some examples of the some of the interesting medical papers at ANTEC:

  • Researchers at Lehigh University discussed the role of micro features in bioengineering in a paper titled: "Micro Injection Molding of Polymers for Biomimickry of Organ Tissue". Parts with microfeatures can be used to direct and control the biological activity of cells. "Cells are equipped with a mechanical sensitivity to their environment, in which they can turn a mechanical cue into an internal chemical signal to initiate cell migration and even differentiation," according to the paper.
  • Speakers from Desma and KUZ in Leipzig reviewed a new development in liquid silicone rubber injection molding in "High Precision Micro Molding Injection of 2-Component Liquid Silicone". They reported that a new approach developed by IKV Aachen improves precision while reducing waste and cycle times. The new method uses a plunger for injection in place of a reciprocating screw. "Only the plunger principle can guarantee the high injection precision together with the homogenous and smooth handling of the thermoplastic materials," the authors state.
  • Two speakers from the University of Applied Sciences/ Schmalkalden in Germany reviewed special coatings for lubricant-free manufacturing in "Injection Molds In Cleanroom Environments". The authors recommend use of coatings for ejectors and bar elements or collapsible cores. "By use of suitable coating and surface technologies wear resistant, corrosion-resistant and well sliding surfaces are possible," they state. Coating systems of chrome nitride (CrN) and zirconium nitride (ZrN) with a carbon top layer showed the best properties.

ANTEC 2013 will be a standalone event held April 21-25 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

New liquid vehicle technology for polyolefin blowmolding

"Extrusion blow molders and brand owners in the personal care and household products markets often find liquid masterbatches to be an attractive alternative to solid concentrates," stated Raymond Sloan, head of liquid color, Clariant Masterbatches North America, in a news release. "However, until now, use of liquid color has been limited in blow molding of polyolefin resins because many liquid based carrier systems (including mineral oil) would not incorporate well with the resins. It was pigment friendly, but not resin friendly."

The new Clariant masterbatches use a liquid vehicle system that incorporates suspension aids and binders, which have been integrated into the new LVT masterbatches to allow for higher pigment loadings and lower usage rates. Additional components enhance flow and make for dramatically faster color changes, the company stated.

Additional features, according to Clariant:

Improved weld-line strength. Previous carriers had a tendency to rapidly bloom to the surface of extrusion blow molded containers, interfering with seam re-welding. In contrast, the new Clariant liquid products appear to actually assist in the formation of a strong seam. Finished products have passed industry standard top-load and drop tests.

Enhanced processing characteristics. The new Clariant liquid colors have a positive effect on material flow in the extruder. Reduced screw slippage leads to improved mixing and more complete dispersion and less streaking. It also results in processing temperatures as much as 17°C (30°F) lower and, therefore, less cooling is required.

Faster color changes. The Clariant LVT products tend not to adhere to metal surfaces and, in fact, can act as a cleansing agent, removing deposits left behind by other colorants. Color changes that might typically take several hours with solid pellet colorants can now be completed in just minutes with the new liquid colors from Clariant. This means processors spend much less time producing scrap for regrind and more time producing actual saleable containers.

"So far," Sloan stated, "Testing has been completed in several types of monolayer containers and we are confident that similar results can be achieved in multilayer applications involving both opaque color and pearlescent effects."

 "Although liquids have had only limited acceptance in these markets, we fully expect our new technology, along with Clariant's industry leading technical service and global reach, will allow us to discover new opportunities in the extrusion blow molding market," he said. "Clariant is actively seeking processor partners to help us test and prove LVT benefits in specific applications."

Clariant has offered liquid masterbatches for PET and other applications on a global scale for many years. In 2008, Clariant acquired Rite Systems Inc., a U.S. supplier of liquid masterbatches and dispensing technology headquartered in Chicago, IL. The new liquid vehicle technology for extrusion blowmolding was developed there and it has been thoroughly tested in North America. It is now being rolled out through three sites in South America and others in Europe and China.

Names in the News: Visit Orlando; PolyOne; Fraunhofer Institute; and SABIC

Visit Orlando President and CEO Gary Sain passed away unexpectedly on the evening of May 4th at an event in Orlando. Sain and his organization had worked closely with SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association and its president, Bill Carteaux, when SPI decided to move its triennial NPE event to Orlando after four decades in Chicago. In an interview prior to NPE, Carteaux described how closely SPI and he had worked with Visit Orlando and Sain, with the two leaders developing a strong friendship.

Gary Sain
Gary Sain, CEO of Visit Orlando.
Reimund Neugebauer
Reimund Neugebauer, new Fraunhofer president.
Mohamed Al-Mady
Mohamed Al-Mady, SABIC CEO receiving honorary degree.

In a release, Carteaux said, "From a personal perspective, I will miss our friendship dearly. On behalf of SPI Sr. Vice President of Trade Shows and Conferences Gene Sanders and the rest of the SPI staff, I want to express my deepest condolences to Gary's family, loved ones and the staff at Visit Orlando."

PolyOne has hired Christopher J. Murphy as its vice president, research and development and chief innovation officer, replacing Cecil Chappelow, who is retiring after a 38-year career in the specialty chemicals industry.

Murphy comes to PolyOne with 27 years of industry experience, including time with Lubrizol, Elementis Specialties, and Nalco Chemical Company. Murphy earned a PhD in organic chemistry from Tufts University and a bachelor's of science in chemistry from Boston College.

The Fraunhofer Institute has named Reimund Neugebauer as its new president, with Neugebauer to succeed Hans-Jörg Bullinger in October. Bullinger has led Fraunhofer for the past 10 years.

Neugebauer, a 58-year-old engineer and university professor, majored in production technology at the Dresden University of Technology. In 1992, Neugebauer became head of the newly-established Fraunhofer Research Institution for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Chemnitz, which just two years later became a full-fledged Institute. Then in 1993, Neugebauer became a full professor of machine tools and forming technology at the Chemnitz University of Technology. There, he founded the Institute for Machine Tools and Production Processes IWP, and has been its director since 2000. In addition, he served as dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering from 2003 to 2006.

Mohamed Al-Mady, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) Vice Chairman and CEO, was given an honorary doctorate from University of Colorado, from which he earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1973. The university honored Al-Mady in 2010 with the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award.

Al-Mady addressed the university's students at an Engineering Recognition Ceremony on May 10, recalling when he was a young engineering undergraduate student almost 40 years ago. "The lessons I learned here formed my future, not only in my career at SABIC but also my interest in continuing education," Al-Mady said.

PLAST 2012 in perspective

PLAST 2012 in perspective


Of course, with 1514 exhibitors from 58 different countries, PLAST 2012 could in no sense of the word be called quiet—after all, close to 80% of what is on display are machines of one kind or the other, all generating enough heat and bustle in the six halls of the show to make up for any slowdown in attendance. And many exhibitors reported that, although they attracted fewer visitors to the stands, those who did come were serious. “We have been writing a lot of quotations”, said a spokesman at Technova, a supplier of recycling plants. “We saw a lot of real interest, at least.”

According to the PLAST 2012 organizers, the “number of visitors, considering the current negative economic situation, overcame the expectations of the major part of the exhibitors.”

Nonetheless, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, and many exhibitors, when asked, confirmed that they—and their customers—were engaged in what one materials producer called “watchful waiting.”

“It’s an Italian show, and in Italy, the economy is a shambles,” explained a major Italian masterbatch producer. To which a spokesman at Ferromatik Milacron added: “It’s not a good time for investment. And even a company willing to invest has trouble getting the credit it needs from the banks. Banks are not in a lending mood. And it’s not just Italy. Right now, nobody knows where Europe is headed. The general feeling is that everyone is waiting for better times, and looking abroad—outside Europe—for customers.”

Exhibitors from countries outside the euro area who do business in the Eurozone complain they are losing customers there, and they, too, are looking elsewhere for new markets. Banu Ergan, from the Turkish Plastics Manufacturers Research, Development & Educational Foundation, said that the Turkish industry was not feeling the crisis. “Turkey is booming, and Europe has discovered that. On the side of the Europeans—especially Germany and Italy—people are eager to come to Turkey. On our part, we are starting to look at countries in South America, and in southern Africa. Although Italy and Germany are our major trade partners, and the Turkish industry buys a lot of Italian machinery, we are seeing are slowdown here.”

So what’s going on? Right now, the whole of the Eurozone is in recession, with the south doing considerably worse than the north—except for the disproportionately hard-hit Netherlands, whose government fell last month over budgetary disagreements, and Ireland, that basically is broke. In Northern Europe, particularly in Germany, maintaining budgetary discipline is the number one priority, which means that large packages of unpopular austerity measures are being foisted on the Eurozone countries—measures that many feel are making a bad situation a lot worse, especially in the south. The Italian economy contracted during the final two quarters of last year, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts the economy will shrink 2.2% this year. Unemployment is rampant in Portugal, Spain, and Greece, and high in Italy and France. Politically, too, the area has been shaken up by the recent election results in Greece, France and Germany, where voters have made it pointedly clear that further austerity measures will be firmly rejected.

At PLAST 2012, the big example that exhibitors were all pointing to was the U.S. From auxiliaries’ suppliers to recycling machine manufacturers, all were extremely positive about what they see as the economic comeback of the United States, and especially about the support, in the form of subsidies, that is currently being pumped into manufacturing.

Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO Engel cited the development in sales of injection molding machines as an example. “About 10 years ago, somewhere between six and seven thousand machines were being sold annually in total in the U.S.,” he said. “This dropped to 1400 a few years ago. Many manufacturers left the US market, as manufacturing was increasingly offshored. Now, however, that number is back up to 3000. People are slowly starting to realize they need to bring back production from overseas. They need to invest in manufacturing. “He added that Engel’s market share in the U.S. was now 15%. And: “It is this kind of investment that is needed here in Europe, and right now in Italy, too.”

Striking evidence that this may be precisely not what is happening—at least in Italy—could be seen at Plast, at the stand of Romi Italia, the Italian branch of Brazilian machine manufacturer Industrias Romi, who acquired the assets of Italian press maker Sandretto in 2008.

Starting on the first day of the fair, employees of the company staged daily occupations of the stand, preventing people from entering, to protest the closure of Romi’s production facilities in Italy, and the plan to move these to Brazil. The workers distributed copies of their protest in English and Italian, in which they claimed that shuttering the plants will cause 140 people to lose their jobs. They also declared that, contrary to the agreement at the time of the sale, under which Romi was to pump Euro 8 million into the business within two years from the date of the assets’ acquisition, Romi has instead taken technological knowhow out of the company. Also, employee numbers have dropped from 300 in 2008, to currently only 165.

Industrias Romi has not confirmed the closure of the Italian production facilities.

While workers taking control of a stand at a major trade fair may be somewhat extreme, it nonetheless sends a powerful signal. It is often pointed out that hard times separate the men from the boys; in other words, a good shakeout in the form of austerity measures, closures, and redundancies serve a useful function in weeding out companies too weak to survive. But among the exhibitors at Plast last week, the strong, too, were calling attention to the challenges facing the manufacturing industry. The question is, is anyone listening?

The week that was: Highlights and the Top 10 articles for 5/7-5/11

Clare Goldsberry once worked in the industry she now writes about, giving her a unique perspective on the issues she reports on. That viewpoint was on display in her blog looking at the potential pitfall processors set for themselves when they only spec one material for a project. Should that material supply be interrupted....well, you get the kind of hullaballoo that has surrounded the current PA12 shortage in the automotive sector. One that has put single source supply, and Marl, Germany, on the map in more ways than one.

China won many jobs from the west on the basis or cheap labor, so what happens when those labor costs start rising? According to Stephen Moore, the wage inflation has helped promote automation in the People's Republic, with machinery suppliers trying to exploit the new interest in robots.

Did DuPont's emphasis on the solar market cost its Tedlar product market share in aviation? Doug Smock spoke with John E. Odom, DuPont's global business manager for Tedlar films, about the Tedlar film market and his company's recent capacity expansion. Elsewhere, Doug looked at how a laser technology developed in Russia in the 1990s for the telecommunications industry could be applied today in medical since it allows clear materials to be welded together. Finally, whether or not the FDA or other regulatory agencies move against materials like PVC, it seems that hospitals are more than willing to take action on their own. Doug looks at a California hospital that rid itself of PVC in tubing and IV bags all the way back in 2005.

Pepsi, Ampac, Kraft, Starbucks, ConAgra and more sounded off on the current state of packaging and where its headed at the TAPPI PLACE conference in Seattle this week, with Heather Caliendo there reporting on all of it. Attendees were surveyed on a number of issues, including what would be the next source of innovation; their answer: materials. Starbucks addressed the duality of its ubiquitous coated paper cups: iconic consumer brand and, for some, single-use environmental scourge. Finally, this Sunday, you can take care of mom and mother earth, with some plastic flowers.

More than 5000 miles from Seattle, Karen Laird reported from Europe's biggest plastics show in 2012, Plast 2012 in Milan, Italy. Macro used the show to launch its newest photovoltaic sheet system, while Ferromatik Milacron expanded its modular F Series of injection molding machines in Milan and PolyOne signed a deal with Xenia on carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics. Karen's Green Matter column this week featured a conversation with Richard Eno, CEO of Metabolix, a company that's had a very eventful 2012.

Finally, last week in this space, I characterized Harry Moser's reshoring quest as "Quixotic", but Mr. Moser wrote to assure me he is not tilting at any windmills. The U.S. plastics and manufacturing industry is lucky to have such a devoted advocate, and I stand corrected.Don Quixote

Tony,
Thanks for running Glenn's and Clare's articles and for putting Glenn's article and my efforts at the top of the weekly review.  
I do take exception to your phrase "somewhat Quixotic quest."  My Webster's defines Quixotic as: "Like, or characteristic of, Don Quixote; idealistic but unpractical."  The same dictionary defines Don Quixote as: "a country gentleman who, crazed by his reading of the books of chivalry, rides forth to defend the oppressed and right wrongs." A literal conclusion from your usage: I am well-meaning but crazed and unpractical.

This view is inconsistent with the following:

  1. 35 corporations and trade associations, including SPI, PFA and Gardner Publications (Plastics Technology and Mold Making Technology) sponsor the Reshoring Initiative.
  2. Hundreds of users of our Total Cost of Ownership Estimator.
  3. Companies routinely using the Estimator to make sourcing decisions.  More coming.
  4. Volunteers at many locations bringing the tools of the Initiative to their states.
  5. One hundred and five organizations and companies providing speaking opportunities in 2011.  Probably 120 in 2012.  The large ones pay for the privilege.
  6. Participating in the White House Insourcing Forum on Jan 11 and testifying in a Congressional hearing on the subject on March 28.
  7. The Commerce Department's 2012 Budget requiring promotion of total cost of ownership (TCO) software, inserted by Congressman Wolf (R VA) after reading my Manufacturing Engineering article on the subject.  The Commerce Department confirmed at the NIST/MEP Annual Conference on May 7 that they are working on a website devoted to reshoring and TCO.  The site will direct the visitor to the Initiative's TCO Estimator.  We are linked already at www.manufacturing.gov. Click on "Learn More" under Reshoring.
  8. Speaking at Amerimold for the second year in a row.
  9. Our 260 article Reshoring Library listing many articles on plastics parts that have been reshored.
  10. Consistency between Boston Consulting Group's observations and forecasts and our work.  I have shared panels with Hal Sirkin, BCG's lead partner on this issue.
  11. Quality Magazine's recognizing the relevance of the Initiative by making me their Quality Professional of the Year for 2012.
  12. Clare's article quoted BCG's Michael Zinser on the feasibility of reshoring. You did not suggest that Mr. Zinzer's efforts are crazed and unpractical.

The timely implementation of reshoring depends on educating customers to base their sourcing decisions on TCO instead of price and contract manufacturers to use TCO when selling.  Your reference to a "Quixotic quest" could be compared to someone moving the dragon or windmill with which Don Quixote jousted. You just made the "quest" more difficult. A more accurate choice of words might have been: challenging, difficult or, if you wanted actually to help strengthen the U.S. or N. American plastics industry: "admirable" or "deserving of continued support by everyone in our industry."

Top 10 most popular articles 5/7-5/11

  1. NPE2012 hot runner rundown: The age of hot runner systems is upon us
  2. The reality of reshoring: global manufacturing becomes local
  3. Advancing labor costs prompt interest in automation in China
  4. Moldmakers' spring survey shows strength
  5. Medical Musings: New materials race to replace PVC
  6. Fiber laser process targets medical plastics welding
  7. Starbucks, ConAgra Foods talk packaging sustainability initiatives, challenges at TAPPI 2012
  8. TPE resin prices April 30-May 4: PE, PP down; 2012's highest resin prices might be in the rearview
  9. Green Matter: Metabolix marches on
  10. PLAST 2012: Ferromatik Milacron launches F 200

Instead of fresh-cut, try plastic flowers?

With Mother's Day taking place Sunday, May 13, I'm going to safely assume you already have your mother taken care of - whether it's taking her out for brunch, buying candy, or perhaps sending her flowers.

After all, Mother's Day is big business for the cut-flower industry. About two-thirds of consumers purchase them for Mother's Day, and U.S. spending on cut flowers for this holiday alone will be $2.2 billion, according to reports.

A recent Freakonomics podcast stated nearly 80% of all flowers sold in the U.S. come from South America. The leading producers are Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. The podcast said the flowers must be refrigerated immediately after they're cut; most are flown to the Miami International Airport, which handles about 187,000 tons of flowers a year, and then trucked to their destination.

The podcast pointed out that in our era of concern about carbon footprint, there doesn't seem to be much outcry on the amount of energy it takes to send these flowers.

An alternative to fresh-cut flowers? Why none other than plastic.

Dartmouth geographer Susanne Freidberg told Freakanomics that plastic might be a better choice:

"They're so lightweight, they wouldn't need to be flown anywhere. They wouldn't decompose and produce greenhouse gases in any landfill. There's probably no slave labor because the production of the plastic flowers is probably all mechanized. And there's the endless lifespan - so there are possibilities for regifting them," she said.

It's definitely an interesting idea because flowers are aligned with nature, and plastics are obviously not. But plastic flowers are lightweight and moms could potentially enjoy an arrangement year-round as opposed to flowers that die shortly after arrival. And some plastic flowers really do look so realistic that it's hard to tell the difference, that is, until you touch or try to smell the flowers.

I guess it all depends on your preference; do you want to send your mom live flowers that will eventually die? Or could you send her one that is not only beautiful to look but doesn't need to be watered.

Although it should be noted that Freidberg told the New Hampshire Sunday News that the podcast left out she said: "I would never want to get plastic flowers."

So, maybe she's advocating the use of plastic flowers, but she doesn't want them herself? I have to say, as appealing as plastic flowers are, I know my mom would personally prefer the real thing, lifespan or not.

Plastic flowers have been in the news a lot recently. In fact, actress Emma Stone recently showed up to the star-studded Met Gala with a red dress full of plastic flowers.

"It was rainproof," she joked to People magazine. "Those plastic flowers! It was fantastic."

What do you think about all this talk regarding plastic flowers? Would you give your mom plastic flowers? What about wearing plastic flowers on clothing?