The world’s leading event for the plastics industry projects the image of an industry in upheaval. Demand remains strong for lightweight materials and composites, but new competitors are putting chemical companies under pressure. Hopes are pinned on customer-specific solutions and alternative raw materials to provide a breakthrough.
Aircrafts, running shoes and car tires on display at this year’s K show might at times give you the impression that you are at a lifestyle event. Chemical companies and plastics manufacturers in particular try to attract attention with impressively designed booths and spectacular exhibits. The message is clear: Five years after the onset of the economic crisis, the time has come to go on the offensive.
Plastics makers are relying on state-of-the art materials to regain lost ground and take advantage of the economic upswing. However, there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty. The recovery in Europe remains fragile. China has failed to live up to expectations and new players are forcing their way into the ring. How much impetus can the industry‘s biggest trade show generate?
The Golden Age of Plastic – a Thing of the Past?
Years have passed since the golden age of plastics when patents were issued en-gros for a steady stream of new molecules. While the development of new basic materials was the priority during the second half of the 20th Century, the emphasis in the industry has now shifted to applications. New utilisations are being identified for familiar basic chemicals which now play the role of “functional materials”. Foamed, welded and laminated, they provide user-friendly solutions, at least in theory.
Is this merely a case of “re-packaging”? Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Vice-Chairman of the BASF Executive Board, would disagree. “The critical mass of our scientific expertise rather than the development of new chemicals is driving the devlopment. Materials and system solutions rather than individual molecules are the source of innovation.” 20 % of the € 17.7 billion research budget at BASF is allocated to the Functional Materials segment which includes the plastics business.
Others are taking a different approach: Patrick W. Thomas, Chairman of the Board at Bayer Material Science, says that alternative raw materials create a whole range of new opportunities for the chemical industry. Gas for instance, could be a better feedstock for polymers than oil as cracking is not necessary, he states.... discover what he means in detail on page 2!
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