Compression molding was one of the original plastics processing methods developed at the dawn of the commercial plastics industry. The objective was to produce light-weight, structurally strong, creatively designed plastic parts that could replace parts made from the traditional engineering materials - metals (steel, aluminum et al.), wood, ceramics and porcelain. As the inherent cost/performance advantages of this process gained acceptance in the marketplace, the resins in the compression molders' repertoire gradually expanded - from the early thermoset resins (phenolic, epoxy, melamine and urea) to unsaturated polyester (the ideal material for glass fiber-reinforced composite parts). With the development of polyethylene and polypropylene in the 1950s, the compression molding process was modified to accommodate these low-cost commodity thermoplastics as well.
Yet as the North American economy grew and the demand for engineering materials grew accordingly, manufacturing industry OEMs increasingly sought fast-cycling plastic materials and processing methods to accommodate their mass-production methods. Compression molding and other thermoset processing methods fell into disfavor whereas the shares of thermoplastics molding methods advanced. The compression molding business underwent massive corporate consolidation as players determined to remain in the business sought economies of scale. By 2000 the number of companies with compression molding operations had been drastically reduced, many long-term players in machinery manufacturing had exited the business, and the share of compression molding in total plastics production ebbed close to 1%. Then came the recession of 2001 and the events of 9/11, and the compression molders, like all other plastics processors, experienced a further production downturn.
Since 2001, however, there has been a veritable renaissance of the compression molding business, driven by a range of domestic and global economic exigencies. Energy pricing has soared, and with it the cost of resins. The impact on thermoset resin pricing has been more benign relative to the pricing of thermoplastics. Moreover, compression molding has been 'rediscovered' as a highly cost-effective production process with low-cost molds and low-maintenance machinery. The car and heavy truck OEMs are intensifying their search for light-weight materials to produce exterior, interior and under-the-hood parts to enhance vehicle fuel efficiency. Builders and home-owners are converting from steel to light-weight and creative composite-skinned exterior residential doors. And although much of the domestic electrical component and electronic equipment industries has gone offshore, the domestic OEMs continue to regard compression molding as a critical component of their operations..
This report distills data and insights gathered from a telephone-based survey of over 100 companies involved on the supply and demand sides of the compression molding business. It provides a detailed, balanced, and realistic perspective on the opportunities and the challenges that the compression molders and the companies on their material/machinery/mold supply chain confront - today and into the near-term future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Peter J. Mooney is the founder and president of Plastics Custom Research Services. Dr. Mooney holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of North Carolina, and he has covered the plastics industry as a technical/economic market research analyst and consultant since 1980. He is a member of several plastics industry associations such as the Society of the Plastics Industry, the Society of Plastics Engineers, and the Association of Rotational Molders International. He is also a member of the National Association of Business Economists. He has researched and written over 75 multi-client reports, as well as over 100 single-client reports, in the field of plastics and related industries. He has organized, chaired, and made presentations to numerous conferences on critical issues facing the domestic and global plastics industry.