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Market Report: Plastics Focuses on Diversification to Thrive

The plastics industry is focusing on diversifying the industries it serves - and the locations it selects - to grow.

March 2011
The plastics industry has slowly started coming back from the recession but several obstacles stand in the way of another 1990s boom time. For one, rising raw material prices for resins are impacting consumer prices for plastic items and those goods packaged in plastic. In fact, it's been a wild ride for plastics processors as they've struggled to keep up with the near constant price increases. The industry overall, however, is seeing decent growth. New injection-molding machines are beginning to sell, as the newer used equipment that flooded the market during the first recession (2002-2006) was picked over and bought up. Processors are expanding, albeit more cautiously, as they become more "market centric."

Medical Device Market
Specific market segments are becoming more attractive to plastics suppliers across processes including injection molding, extrusion, and thermoforming. Medical is one of those that remains particularly appealing, as there will continue to be good demand for medical devices due to the aging of the U.S. population. Processors are investing in cleanrooms and FDA certifications as they gear up for what is perceived as a lucrative market segment for plastics components and devices.

For example, Mastercraft Companies of Phoenix, Arizona, has grown its medical business from under 50 percent of its custom molding business a few years ago to approximately 70 percent today. Among its 33 molding machines ranging from 50 to 500 tons clamp force, the company has installed 12 of what it calls Clean Environment Manufacturing Cells (CEMCs) - portable acrylic enclosures that fit around the back half of the molding machine to create a Class 8 (100,000) clean environment to accommodate medical molding. The CEMCs help keep costs down while meeting the demands of Mastercraft's medical device customers.

The medical market has also been good for custom molders Ven-Tel Plastics Corp. of Largo, Florida, which recently purchased 13 injection-molding machines from one of its medical customers that is shuttering its in-house molding operation. Medical accounts for about 60 percent of Ven-Tel's business.

Mergers and acquisitions are also picking up steam in the plastics industry. Most recently, medical molder Phillips Plastics Corp., a Hudson, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of engineered injection-molded plastic and metal products with annual sales of over $250 million, was acquired by Kohlberg & Co. LLC, a private equity firm based in Mount Kisco, New York. The company employs 1,300 people in 14 locations throughout the United States, including at design centers in Wisconsin and California.

The recession has also resulted in a number of consolidations, particularly in the automotive supplier segment of the plastics industry. For example, Key Plastics LLC, a major automotive supplier based in Northville, Michigan, announced in January that it plans to close its Hartford City, Indiana, site and consolidate that injection molding plant's operations within its other North America manufacturing sites over the next year.

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