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The week that was; highlights and the most-clicked articles Jan. 21-24

The good news? U.S. manufacturing seems to be rebounding after a decade of off-shoring decimation and two recessions, one catastrophic. The bad news? Right when companies are champing at the bit to add a shift, or a building, there's no skilled labor to find. As Clare Goldsberry wrote this week: It's taken offshoring of manufacturing, the retirement of many of the most skilled, and the difficulty of replacing those skilled with the next generation to get companies thinking about a training strategy.

The good news? U.S. manufacturing seems to be rebounding after a decade of off-shoring decimation and two recessions, one catastrophic. The bad news? Right when companies are champing at the bit to add a shift, or a building, there's no skilled labor to find. As Clare Goldsberry wrote this week:

It's taken offshoring of manufacturing, the retirement of many of the most skilled, and the difficulty of replacing those skilled with the next generation to get companies thinking about a training strategy.

Clare helped kick off what will be a year-long look in 2013 by PlasticsToday at the skills gap facing the plastics industry. As plastics' greatest generation, the one that saw the unique potential of a novel new material and turned garage shops into a wholly new and massive manufacturing industry, retires, who will step up on the plant floor? New technology can only get you so far:

It doesn't matter how much you invest in technology, if you don't have the skilled, knowledgeable workforce that understands how to maximize the technology and optimize the processes, you won't get a good ROI on your equipment investment. It always takes an investment in your workforce, even if you have the best machinery and equipment money can buy.

See Clare's other articles (here and here) and let us know how you're company is bridging the skills gap. If you have an idea for this special series, or if your company or school is taking it on, please drop me a line: [email protected]

Researchers cut 311 lb from a Toyota Venza body in white, an impressive 37% reduction in mass, so carbon fiber composites must have played an outsized role, right? Wrong:

Carbon fiber has been shown to withstand high loads on vehicles such as Formula 1 cars, but these racing parts are extremely expensive to produce and do not need to meet the durability cycles required for production vehicles.

In the end, aluminum and magnesium beat out plastics in the concept car. Read a report on the full research study by Lotus Engineering and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) at Stephen Moore's Automotive/mobility Channel. As automotive goes, to a large extent, so goes polypropylene compounding, and right now in North America, auto is going just fine. Stephen reported on how stronger sales for OEMs like GM, Ford, Honda, and Toyota prompted Japan's Mitsui Chemical's to expand compounding capacity yet again in 2013, tacking a 14,000 tonnes/yr fourth quarter expansion onto a previously announced 28,000 tonnes/yr upgrade in the third quarter. Elsewhere Sekisui Plastics said it will start making a PS/PE foam in Thailand, with most of it destined for hybrid vehicle battery protection, and despite CARB's apparently dim view of carbon fiber composites, they are well regarded in Italy. Strong orders from an unnamed Italian sports car manufacturer has prompted Swiss firm Guri to double carbon composite auto part output at its site in the U.K.

Medical Channel Editor Doug Smock picked a good time to stop in at Built-Rite Tool & Die; the company is coming off a year of record sales and profits in 2012. Part of the secret to their success, according to owner Craig Bovaird, a deep-seated affinity for thermosets:

I love thermoset materials. A lot of people think you can't do much with them. [They have] tremendous strength and stiffness, and that's very important.

The company showed Doug a number of thermoset parts, including a phenolic joy stick and a vinyl ester base datum. The company recently added a Roboshot, it offers LSR molding, and, a true novelty these days, it makes all its own tools. Doug also reported on a foamed bioplastic that's being loaded with drugs to treat common urinary issues. If it works, patients can avoid drug administration via catheter that often takes place several times/day.

Could a zero-waste plastic packaging strategy just need another "R"? That's how Dow Chemical sees things, with the plastics giant telling Packaging Channel Editor Heather Caliendo that 100% reclaim would be possible if "recovery", as in energy recovery, were added to "reduce", "reuse", and "recycle." Per Jeff Wooster, Dow's global sustainability leader for plastics:

While it makes economic sense to recycle materials, there are a lot of packages that can't be easily recycled. The best thing to do in that case is recover the energy.

Dow's putting it research emphasis where it's mouth is, extending research initiatives in new recovery processes. Elsewhere, Heather reported on the Russian PET beer bottle market, which survived a close legislative call, and is now on an upswing with bottle machinery supplier Sacmi investing in the market. Na zdoróv'je!

Finally, it can be hard to separate the hype from real-live advances in bioplastics, with new feedstocks popping up seemingly every week, but Green Matter Editor Karen Laird focused on an area with a tremendous amount of potential: algae. Hungry for CO2 and made up of "oily little buggers", as a source told Karen, algae could be the greenest (literally) bioplastic out there.

Top 10 Most-Clicked articles Jan. 21-24

  1. Plastic bag bans are bad for your health
  2. Technical training is easy; learning requires motivation
  3. Long fiber RIM process delivers massive lightweight roof components
  4. Why your workforce is your most important asset
  5. Names in the news: Berry Plastics, Davis-Standard, Nordson EDI, Styrolution, Styron, Teknor Apex, Landmark Plastics, AMT, and Sartomer
  6. Sacmi brews up PET beer bottle advancements for the Russian market
  7. Milacron's skills-shortage solution
  8. Building better help: Xten partners with college to train new class of employees
  9. Could biodegradable packaging be good for the environment and the waistline?
  10. St. Gobain unveils expanded capabilities at MD&M West
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