Plastics Manufacturing in India: Moulding the Path Forward
Plastics have become ubiquitous in our lives despite the controversies surrounding them. It is not possible to think of any area of our lives where plastic in some form or the other is not used. The modern advancements in plastic manufacturing technologies have led to improved plastic manufacturing. Plastic industry is one of the fastest growing industries across the globe. It has witnessed incredible growth over past few decades primarily due to the need to find alternative materials which were easy to process, lighter, more versatile. energy efficient and above all ‘cost effective’.
The Indian plastics industry made a promising beginning in 1950’s with the production of polystyrene. Significant progress has been made thereafter and the industry has grown and diversified rapidly. Plastics industry is currently employing about 4 million people across the country. The industry operates more than 30,000 processing units, of which approx. 85% are small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Demand for plastics in India has tripled every decade since seventies. Besides IT, no other industry has grown as rapidly as plastics. This demand includes both commodity plastics like PE, PP, PET, PVC and engineering plastics like PA, PBT, PC, ABS and Polyacetals. Indian plastic industry continues to grow at double digit rate, well ahead of our current GDP growth.
India has achieved great strides in the last few decades and this was made possible because of Advancement in Plastics Manufacturing Technology in the country. It is because of this, products from the Indian plastics industry are now exporting to more than 150 countries; major trading partners being US, China, UAE, Turkey, Italy, the UK, Indonesia, South Africa, Germany, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Brazil, Singapore, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Nepal and Egypt.
Indian plastics exports have grown at a rate of approx. 12% in 2014-15, compared to the previous financial year. The Plastics Export Promotion Council (PLEXCONCIL) is the apex government body for the promotion of exports by the Indian plastics industry. The members of the council comprise of small, medium & large scale manufacturers and exporters. PLEXCONCIL facilitates exporters through various export promotion activities such as participating in international trade fairs, exploring newer markets, organizing buyer seller meets both in India and overseas.
The latest plastic manufacturing technologies ensures that plastic can be recycled and thus eco-friendly plastics can be created. Over the last few decades, the plastic manufacturing equipments has also changed greatly and for the better only. Instead of using a virgin plastic for a new product, recycled or scrap plastics are regularly being put to use. Integrated computer technology has ensured that plastic factory equipments for manufacturing has become much superior and thus complicated shapes, sizes and designs can easily be manufactured. Molds now have a huge number of uses. Manufacturers who specialize in plastic molding equipment use a variety of molding machines. From the simplest of things to the most complicated like life-saving devices, plastic molding technology is capable of churning out high quality products. Although, plastics generate a lot of controversy, the fact remains, that plastic has permeated every aspect of our lives. With constant developments in plastic manufacturing technologies, it is now much possible to manufacture environmental-friendly reusable plastic products.
Plastic industry keeps searching new high performance plastics for manufacturing and thus improving the quality of our lives. Some newer trends currently entering the market include:
Smart Polymers: These are a set of polymers which can manipulate their dimensions according to changes in environmental parameters such as amount of light, availability of water, temperature conditions and so on. Smart materials find enormous applications in the medical sector.
Nanocomposites: Performance of plastics is enhanced at the molecular level when nanotechnology combines with plastic engineering. Nanocomposites generally include materials like carbon nanotubes, Nanoclays and Nanotalcs. These materials are characterized by high flame retardancy, electrical conductivity, dimensional stability, along with resistance to heat, scratch and dent. These nanocomposites are frequently used in the aerospace and automotive sector as well as in electronics, military hardware, food packaging and more.
Radio Frequency embedded plastics: A plastic medium embeds a signal generator and can assume various shapes in these types of plastics. These are used in security system badges, clothing inventory tags, highway toll tags, cargo container seals, hospital patient tracking and many similar industrial applications.
Bioplastics: The world is increasingly becoming aware of the environmental effects of these materials ever since the pioneering advancements being made in this industry. Environmentally friendly plastics are increasingly in demand and find a wide array of applications in medicine, packaging, aerospace, transportation, telecommunications, automotives & electronics etc. Plastics that decompose with the help of microorganisms like bacteria, popularly known as organic bio-plastics, have also been introduced on commercial scales.
Advanced Manufacturing Technologies are required for fulfilling these recent trends of the plastic industry. The demand for these newer materials is widespread in the exports market. India has now become the most promising exporter of plastics among developing countries. The domestic plastics industry produces and exports a wide range of raw materials, polyester films, plastic molded extruded goods, laminates, writing instruments, molded/ soft luggage items, packaging, consumer goods, sanitary fittings, PVC leather cloth and sheeting, electrical goods & accessories, laboratory ware, medical /surgical ware, plastic woven sacks, travel ware & accessories and many similar other products.
Developments in manufacturing technologies have made plastics and particularly plastic packaging an inherent part of our daily life. Plastics find as diverse applications as sterile storage of pharmaceutical & medical goods, enhancing the shelf-life of foodstuffs such as vegetables, fruits & meat and protecting sensitive products from damage. Ironically, current expenditure on R & D for further enhancement of manufacturing technologies is less than one per cent of industry’s turnover. It should be understood that only new manufacturing technologies can device solutions for problems like plastic waste management, recycling and development of biopolymers and biodegradable polymers, energy recovery from plastics. Institutions and centers of excellence like CIPET, NITs or IITs shall be provided with advance manufacturing set ups so that research can be done in the field of polymer manufacturing.
Plastic industry simply cannot be ignored in meeting India’s development challenges. Plastics owing to their innumerable advantages and applications offer enormous growth potential in view of India’s explosive growth and the fast changing lifestyle of its people. Present dynamic new generation will continue the aggressive growth approach with substantial investments in research and innovations to make presence of Indian plastic industry felt in global market.