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October 2004

Groundbreaking Innovations in the Plastics Materials Industry

Palo Alto, CA— Economical, performance-focused plastics materials application development is dependent not only on leveraging traditional, well-defined ‘cost-performance’ parameters, but also on understanding the strategic nuances essential for sustaining long-term growth.

“Adherence to regulatory legislation — particularly in the areas of continuous improvement in size and weight reduction — is one of the most compelling propositions that plastics materials suppliers should focus on in their continuous quest for innovation,” says technical insights senior research analyst Donald Rosato.

Additionally, participants need to understand the importance of product design for enhanced reusability, automated and robotic handling systems that mandate a precise size for finished plastic products, and the need for complete recycling capability.

“Keeping pace with advancements in plastics materials technologies is the key to maintain global cost competitiveness in plastics applications development,” says Dr. Rosato. “If the host of innovative plastics materials and the corresponding applications on the horizon is any indication, then the industry is making giant strides in the right direction.”

For instance, the European legislation is piling up pressure on end users to minimize secondary packaging weight. This, in turn, is catapulting demand for stretch hoods and stretch wrap (elastic film tubes used to wrap a stacked pallet) that adhere to these norms rather than thicker shrink hoods.

The growing global demand for plastic pallets, which conform to precise sizes, is another compelling development in the light of increasing levels of automation, stricter hygiene standards, and the need for superior design features.

A few participants have developed lightweight pallets using recycled polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP). Besides being cost-competitive, these pallets are often used to ship products to countries that prohibit entry of untreated wooden pallets for fear of insects usually harbored in the wood.

The development of a new type of plastic composite tape known as PURE (Polymeric construction material with Ultimate properties, Recyclability, and Environmental safety) is another striking innovation. It is a self-reinforced PP composite made of co-extruded tapes, which has five times the stiffness of conventional PP fiber and properties superior to fiberglass-reinforced plastics.

“With its lightweight, substantial rigidity, good wear resistance, and greater tensile strength coupled with its fully recyclable nature, PURE has the potential of an environment-friendly material,” says Dr. Rosato.

The initiative to build an all-polypropylene, fully recyclable car roof using PURE is likely to get more exciting with the implementation of the end-of-life vehicles directive by the European Union. This directive includes a target of recycling nearly 85 percent of every car by 2006 and 95 percent by 2015.

The use of a polycarbonate copolymer film — that is scratch/chemical resistant and capable of withstanding ten-year weathering tests — to form a paintless Class A decorative finish is a remarkable advancement generating considerable excitement in the global automotive industry.

Corn-derived polylactide plastics is yet another new material that is rapidly gaining acceptance in bedding and upholstery fibers and packaging films, thermoformed part applications, and injection molded products.

Conductive and light-emitting electronic polymers and plastic transistor chips are poised to revolutionize the human-machine interface. Among the exhilarating possibilities are radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs), pillboxes that serve reminders for taking medications, and rooms that change color in accordance to the weather.


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