What’s Next For Plastics?

January 31, 2018 • Posted in Market Insights

2018 Market Trends From M. Holland’s Market Managers

What do robots, global warming, autonomous vehicles, and Amazon have in common? According to the market managers in M. Holland’s Business Development Group, these are the trends on deck for the plastics industry in 2018. Prepare to see new plastic tools for robotic surgeries, customized vehicle interiors due to the rise of autonomous vehicles, and an increased need for shipping materials due to the ‘Amazon effect.’ In addition, global warming will be driving development for U.S. Navy shipboard cables.

With 2017 in the rearview, we spoke with each market manager to hear about the top trends they saw last year and to learn about what they are most looking forward to in 2018. If their responses below are any indication, the coming year will bring unique challenges and uncover exciting new opportunities for M. Holland.


“We expect to see stable growth in the greater healthcare market in 2018. I expect to see higher growth rates for plastics in a few healthcare areas, most notably in drug delivery devices, point-of-care diagnostic tests, and in new tools for robotic surgeries.

As the rate at which biologic drugs are being launched increases, drug delivery devices are becoming more integral to biopharma. This is good news for medical plastics considering these devices, like injection pens and inhalers, are made of plastics.

The use of sophisticated diagnostic testing at the point of care and into the home will continue this year. This trend started with devices such as EPT for pregnancy testing and was burnished by FitBit, enabling and driving the demand and acceptance of additional classes of tests conducted and processed in doctors’ offices and patients’ homes. Again, this is good news for the medical plastics industry as these devices have a high demand for sophisticated miniaturized plastic internal parts and housings.

Lastly, robotic surgery is making it possible to deliver minimally invasive surgery at record rates and improved patient outcomes are proving the technology to be worth it. In 2018, I think we will see an increase in plastic surgical tools as they are re-designed for robot compatibility.”

– Josh Blackmore, Market Manager, Healthcare


“This past year was an exciting one in the automotive sector. We saw growth and a greater need for plastics materials as a result of larger automotive industry trends such as light weighting, connectivity, and the continued rise of autonomous vehicles. We expect each of these trends to continue into 2018, bringing an opportunity for M. Holland to grow and expand its market expertise.

The coming year, just as 2017 was, will continue to be about light-weighting as OEMs develop vehicles that help them meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. True for traditional combustion engines and electric vehicles, this trend is changing vehicle design and driving OEMs to shift to new high-quality plastic resins that are lighter weight and more durable than their metal counterparts.

Connectivity will also continue to be a focus for automakers this year. Driven by consumer demands for savvier technology, we expect to see an increasing need for plastics resins that support sensors and touch screens, and the wiring and cabling that power them. Connectivity is a growing segment M. Holland is eager to be more involved with and I think our recent acquisition of T&T Marketing sets us up nicely to expand our market expertise.

Now the trend I’m most excited for, the continued rise of autonomous vehicles. Every OEM is testing technologies that get us closer to self-driving cars, which will function more like meeting spaces or living rooms. I foresee plastics playing a significant role in the transformation of interior applications and expect that plastics will be vital in allowing consumers to customize their vehicle’s interior based on their lifestyle.”

– Matt Zessin, Market Manager, Automotive


“We expect key trends from 2017 to continue in 2018 in the film and flexible packaging market through mergers & acquisitions (M&A); continued growth across e-commerce, portion control, light-weighting and sustainability; and capital investments in equipment and plant expansions.

Film and bag manufacturers, print converters, and distributors will continue merging and aligning themselves to capitalize on the explosive growth in PE capacity in North America. We have observed a lot of M&A activity both upstream and downstream since the 2007 recession and anticipate it to continue with vigor in 2018.

It’s no secret the packaging wants and needs of consumers has and will continue to evolve. For example, the rise of e-commerce and the ‘Amazon effect’ are driving the need for shipping materials like pillow packs, foam, shrink, and bubble pack. In 2018, we will also see an acceleration in the conversion from rigid to flexible packaging, known as “light-weighting” throughout North America, a trend the region is working to catch up with the rest of the world on. This combined growth across the sector will drive innovation in 2018 for resin producers and manufacturers who will need to provide tougher packaging for shipping and portioned control packaging that preserves food longer with visual appeal for the consumer and less waste.

Finally, the pace of capital investments for innovative equipment will maintain the same momentum it has kept since the end of the recession. We saw many of our clients add extruders, printers, and conversion equipment in 2017 and expect to see them add even more in 2018 because of an expanding marketplace and changing consumer needs.”

– Frank LaRocque, Market Manager, Film and Flexible Packaging


“Last year was an exciting year for M. Holland as we completed our acquisition of T&T Marketing, a leading distributor of polymer resins and compounds to the wire and cable market, making our debut in the marketplace official!

In 2017, we saw the greater wire and cable market shift to new and different compounds as a result of growing environmental concern. First, the industry saw good traction with Low Smoke Zero Halogen with manufacturers benefiting from the moisture cure from post-processing cost optimization and eliminating alternative cure systems. Second, climate change played a role in driving development for marine shipboard cables to have -100-degree C cold properties. With ice caps melting, ships are now navigating Arctic waters. The new U.S. administration is planning a substantial combat vessel expansion and the U.S. Navy is requesting more than 80 ships. This is creating the need for millions of feet of wire and cable and presents a good opportunity for the industry.

We also saw an increasing need for wire and cable in automobiles and homes in 2017. Growth in the automotive market is driving the need for higher cable content in electric and hybrid cars, which use more cable than vehicles with combustion engines. This is expected to increase the demand for compounds such as fluoropolymers, which can withstand higher temperatures.

In homes, consumer cravings for high-speed data continue to support fiber optic cable investments with broadband cable being one of the fastest growing areas. Services such as video streaming and VoIP require network expansion and the need for faster speeds, beyond what copper can deliver, are increasing data cable manufacturing. Lastly, rebuilding Florida and Texas following last year’s major hurricanes will stimulate building wire, as well as energy and communications infrastructure. The low cost of feedstocks (PE and PP) in the U.S. will help keep business domestic and reduce the need for imported cables.”

– Todd Waddle, Market Manager, Wire & Cable and Color & Compounding


“This year promises to be another year of growth for M. Holland’s rotational molding business. Given the unprecedented domestic expansion of PE resin capacity and strategic support from Nova Chemical, our rotational resin supplier, we see our client base and targets growing to meet demand.

New developments and opportunities are driving our efforts to bring on new business to demonstrate M. Holland’s leadership and expertise in the market.”

– Steve Emminger, Market Manager, Rotational Molding


“For the compounding market in 2017, engineered thermoplastic solutions were challenged by glass-filled commodity polymers as engineers took a more conservative approach to material selection when developing new products. Depending on design robustness, manufacturing engineers will continue seeking compounded products they can process easier for faster cycle times in 2018.

In 2017, concentrate producers found new ways to make products more desirable to consumers. Enhancements in color and performance, additives for special effects, and touch and feel elements will be critical to the new product development cycle in 2018.

Sustainability initiatives in 2017 led to more large box and chain stores adopting LED lights, which depending on the light source, can make product colors appear different from store-to-store. The need for LED color reading technology to keep up with this lighting shift presents a unique challenge for the marketplace in 2018.”

– Todd Waddle, Market Manager, Wire & Cable and Color & Compounding

At M. Holland, we’re looking forward to the new opportunities 2018 will bring to the plastics industry. As the year progresses, we’ll keep you informed with regular market-specific updates and quarterly Fireside Chats. What are you most excited about for plastics in 2018? Let us know by giving us a shout out on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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