by Brittany Willes, editor, Plastics Decorating
To say the least, 2020 has been a strange and challenging time. The plastics industry, like many others, has suffered its share of setbacks. According to a report by Business Wire, “The global plastic products market is expected to decline from $1008.5 billion in 2019 to $987 billion in 2020 … The decline is mainly due to economic slowdown across countries owing to the COVID-19 outbreak and the measures to contain it.”
Despite the unexpected downturn, however, there is reason for plastics molders and decorators to look to the coming year with optimism. “The market is then expected to recover and grow at a CAGR of 8% from 2021 and reach $1201 billion in 2023” (Business Wire). While the market is expected to recover beginning next year, that doesn’t mean it won’t be without continued challenges.
“With COVID-19, the biggest challenge is the lack of face-to-face interaction,” remarked Michael Kammann, marketing director for Digital Decorations, LLC. “As our products are not as simple or well known as a pressure sensitive label, we rely a lot on direct communication to explain what we do and how to benefit from this. It is especially challenging given most tradeshows are currently being cancelled or postponed.”
The lack of in-person interaction has been a struggle for many companies. As a result, many – including Digital Decorations – are having to find alternate means of connecting with customers. “Even though the traditional communication channels are closed, we will keep offering our services as they are but with an even higher focus on digital communication and flexibility,” Kammann explained.
As part of its efforts, the company has been working to improve its social media activities, as well as exploring other digital tools with which to offer customers more information. The result is that clients are able to make more use of the company’s contract decorating department for high quality digital printing with no investment at all. “Thus, our clients can make the call as to when the time is right to invest in their own equipment,” Kammann said.
Digital Decorations is not the only company working to find a new normal amid the challenges of COVID. Engineered Printing Solutions has likewise had to reimagine its usual business strategies.
“Since many of our products represent a significant capital investment for our customers, our challenge is always to make the case for them doing so,” said Marketing Manager Peter Baldwin. “The challenge is greater when the economic forecast is murky. Assuming the pandemic has a vaccine solution somewhat early in the year, the influx of pent-up demand could put us into a short-term position of chaos.”
As such, Engineered Printing has taken steps administrators hope will mitigate some of that potential chaos. “Internally, we are taking the opportunity – albeit with a little risk – to prebuild standard machines to cut lead and delivery times by 50%,” said Baldwin. “As order volume spikes up, we will be in a position to fulfill orders promptly and smooth out the production bottlenecks.”
Working ahead is not the only measure the company has taken. “As a manufacturing company, we feel we have created the appropriate balance between on-site and remote work,” Baldwin continued. “All meetings are virtual, masks are mandatory and available for all, as well as hand sanitizer available at locations throughout our facility.”
By creating an environment combining working from home where possible and engaging in low-density in-person employment where not possible, Engineered Printing has been able to retain its full complement of approximately 80 employees – an impressive achievement.
Despite the continuing pandemic-related challenges, increased opportunities for plastic products and packaging is predicted for the coming year. According to a Market Analyst Report by Grand View Research, “In terms of revenue, packaging dominated the market with a share of 36.5% in 2019…The impact of coronavirus pandemic on the packaging industry is expected to remain moderate over the forecast period. The demand for packaging for healthcare products, groceries and e-commerce transportation is expected to increase sharply.” Industry veterans are likewise optimistic about potential opportunities in the new year.
“We see great opportunity for growth and demand for smaller quantities and fast turnaround,” said Kammann. “Luckily this is something we have been focusing on since day one. Thus, we will keep our focus on the products that we know best. Furthermore, we will be offering new heat transfer equipment for the cosmetics industry to decorate cosmetic tubes, airless dispenser and other mandrel carrier products.”
“We see the greatest opportunities in growing our customer base due to competitive shrink and offering new products that are better than ‘me-toos’ offered by our competition,” said Baldwin. “We see opportunity in the continuation of building bespoke/custom machines that turn into standard models for specific applications and industries. We have always felt that our products are a good investment, or else we wouldn’t be in this business. As part manufacturers reexamine their global supply chains in light of interruptions brought on by the pandemic, we feel that – as an American manufacturer – our value proposition is only increased.”
While there is potential for growth in the new year, the sting of COVID will no doubt continue to be felt long after the threat is over. The industry will have to continue to change and evolve as society adjusts to new ways of conducting business.
“The biggest impact will be in the way we communicate to our clients,” said Kammann. “Both on the social and business level. The use of digital meetings with tools like Zoom, Skype or Teams will be something we have to continue to implement. Furthermore, it’s possible tradeshows will never recover to the size they had before, making it even more important to improve sales and customer service in a more digital world.”
“There will be consolidation/shrinkage as well as the diminishment of certain industries, such as ad specialty, which could be offset by increased opportunities in medical and safety,” said Baldwin. “We also see more companies adopting automation in their production process.”
No matter what the coming months might bring, one thing is sure: The plastics industry will continue to play an essential role. While some traditional doors may be closing, new ones will open – leading to new opportunities and new ways for plastics to shape the market.
“Global Plastic Products Market Set to See a Resurgence from 2021 Post COVID-19 Impacts.” www.businesswire.com.
“Plastic Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (PE, PP, PU, PVC, PET, Polystyrene, ABS, PBT, PPO, Epoxy Polymers, LCP, PC, Polyamide), By Application, By Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2020-2027.”