Plastics and polymers trends for 2012

We asked our Zintro experts to tell us what they see as some big trends in plastics and polymers industry-wide for 2012.

Vivek Patel, an expert in market research, says that he has recently observed the big trends in plastics and polymers from the molders/ fabricators and end-user side, such as a great demand of low cost products, design intensive, that can outperform traditional materials and replace those that are scarce. “The trends for the nanotechnology-enabled plastics products, biodegradable polymer, bio-plastics, and recycled based products have been increasing. They are finding industry acceptance,” he says. “The biggest issues are the fluctuating price of commodity plastics (largest consumption), crude oil prices, low profit margins, environmental regulations, and IPR (patent and trademarks) activities. The challenges are energy cost, attitudes of consumers, global recession, product copy cat, product differentiation, and stiff competition from China.”

Lawrence Chapoy, a materials scientist, says the plastics industry is now very mature. “Big changes involve only changing the relative competitiveness of materials, recycling controversies like the Coca-Cola/Yellowstone issue, and toxicity issues such as PBA,” he says. “The real innovation seems to be coming from the bio plastics and biorefineries with new streams of feedstock to be used in a variety of ways. The bioplastics started with the corn-based materials PLA and PBA, but have now diversified with numerous product and process improvement additives. Also, the DOW initiative to make PE from sugar-ethanol-ethylene in Brazil deserves mention.”

Polymer expert, a polymer scientist, says that hydrogels represent a broad class of polymer-based materials that are experiencing increased research and product offerings in the biomedical community. “The hydrophilic nature of hydrogels, coupled with their compliance and tunable properties, make them idea candidates for in vivo applications. Arguably the largest growth areas in hydrogels have been in tissue bulking, cartilage repair, drug-release, nucleus pulposus replacement and scaffolding,” he says.

Hydrogel-based constructs face similar challenges as any polymer to be used in the body, namely biocompatibility, degradation, and the ability to handle the loads and fluid environment of the body, he points out. “In addition to experience in formulating hydrogels for biomedical applications, Cambridge Polymer Group has spent considerable time on characterizing the mechanical behavior, morphology, and cure behavior of hydrogels in relevant biological conditions. It continues to see new applications for hydrogels in biomedical applications as the utility of this class of materials continues to expand,” he says.

Mark Bonifacio, a medical device manufacturing expert, says cost and pricing is always an issue and challenge as well as the continued Far East demand and feedstock volatility. “The environmental aspect of plastics manufacturability, recycling, and overall environmental impact will continue to be a main driver in innovation and new solutions,” he says. “Designs of the future will be asked to do more while reducing the overall impact on the environment. With these challenges, the opportunities are many as we continue to try to reduce the size and weight of products and more polymers are being produced with greater properties than ever. Plastics will continue to be a material of choice due to it’s many processing possibilities and the cost /benefit /performance advantages.”

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