Thermoforming in Dubai

The inaugural ANTEC Middle East in Dubai drew over 150 attendees from the Gulf Region, Europe, North America and Asia. While the technical program featured papers on technological advances in materials and machinery for a range of plastics processing, break-out workshops allowed for more a conversational approach between the presenters and attendees.

The plenary session featured a keynote from Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, the Secretary General of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). The GPCA consists of 235 members from the Gulf Region, including companies from the chemicals, plastics and fertilizer industries. With high rates of growth set to continue into the next decade, the Gulf region continues to be a major hub of petrochemical development with significant impacts on downstream plastics.

Bill Carteaux, president of SPI, delivered a talk on the impact of shale gas on the US plastics industry. With a 440% increase in shale gas production between 2007 and 2012, shale gas will increase plastics production by 10% by 2020. The SPI data on plastics shipments, jobs and growth rates will certainly cheer up anyone who has been pessimistic about US manufacturing and specifically the plastics industry:

          Plastics is the 3rd largest manufacturing sector on a dollar shipment basis (after oil & gas and automotive) with $373bn in 2012.

          The plastics industry employs almost 900,000 people in about 16,000 facilities.

          10,000 new jobs were created in 2013.

          There is a $12.9bn trade surplus in plastics.

Thermoforming was represented on both days and we were right in the middle of the action. On day 1, we were the first to present. The topic was transparency in polypropylene and our statistical approach to which type of plug material is best suited to thermoforming PP was well-received by the audience. On day 2, we co-led a thin gauge thermoforming seminar with Mark Strachan of uVu Technologies. Many of the attendees were relative novices in thermoforming, with expertise acquired via European machinery builders and toolmakers. That said, the participants indicated that their companies were expanding both into new markets, i.e. other countries in the region, and looking at new processes. The majority of applications were for food-related packaging – PS and PET trays / cups.

The Gulf region remains dependent on technical expertise from western companies, for now. This is true for both technology and human capital, as evidence by the large ex-pat communities in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, for example. But there certainly is no shortage of capital. Dubai was recently selected as the host city for the World Expo in 2020, an event that will see $9bn invested in infrastructure. In addition to having the 4th largest container port and the tallest building in the world, Dubai will probably see a few more superlatives in the years ahead.