Mako (Vaughan, ON) is a contract injection molder that has long served the furniture and automotive markets, and only recently moved into the desktop accessory business. The move was not completely thought through, admitted Jeff Lloyd, sales manager at Mako, who spoke during a seminar on bioplastics during the NPE2009 tradeshow last month. “Well, at first we molded these desktop accessories of standard thermoplastics, but we quickly realized that we didn’t really offer anything new (to the market),” he recalled.
Looking around, firm officials settled on bioplastics as offering some potential for the applications. “We got into bioplastics almost by accident,” he said, adding, “The only reason we’ve had any success getting in to see these people (our customers) is because we use bioplastics.” Mako is supplied polylactic acid, a plant starch-based plastic, by distributor Jamplast (Ellisville, MO), which sources the virgin material from supplier NatureWorks. In addition to the company’s own facility, Jamplast contracts with several distribution centers including in Canada in order to provide just-in-time stocking capabilities.
“You have to be able to differentiate yourself in this market,” noted Lloyd, especially as most potential customers are trying to reduce the number of suppliers they have. In the retail market the price point is usually set very low, he added, but “We’re not willing to compete for pennies for the leftover scraps.” The company intends to continue pushing its eco-branding “to help us rise above the ‘just another molder’ masses.”
The desktop accessory materials switch may help create new business in Mako’s other markets. Two furniture manufacturers have invited the processor in to talk about molded PLA parts, he said. In the U.S. alone, Lloyd said, consumer spending on products and services perceived to be environmentally friendly will double to $500 billion this year. One ongoing problem, he added, is that plenty of companies are introducing official-looking labels to tout eco-friendliness, whether deserved or not.
On the processing side, Lloyd said his company now is experimenting with products molded partially of reground PLA, which he predicts could lead to 20-25% savings, a necessary step as “our customers—Staples and others—tell us their customers won’t pay more to be green.” Bioplastics based on plant starch have held their own on the pricing front, said John Moisson, founder and president at Jamplast. “Our price structure has basically not changed in the past three to four years,” he said. Most surveys have shown consumers prefer products that are environmentally friendly, and some surveys have shown they are willing to pay a small price premium for such goods.
Molding PLA has not proven particularly difficult, he said. “We did have to do some extra venting [to molds] and make some other small changes,” he said. The company has found that hardened-steel molds work best, and that thermal gates work better than valve gates. PLA’s density of 1.24 is lower than that of PET or PVC, but is slightly higher than the density of PP or PS. Its impact resistance is comparable to that found in standard polystyrene grades. —[email protected]