Petrochemical industry breakthroughs already touch 3D printing and bioplastics
Petrochemicals expert Saul Ameliach explains that technologies that directly address customer needs, such as bioplastics and 3D printing, present a significant opportunity for operators to improve the value of their supply chain in order to expand their markets in the future.
Similarly, bioplastics technology and 3D printing will be more responsive to consumer needs. Several types of plastics, such as ABS and PLA, will grow in response to increased demand.
Bioplastics technologies can contribute to the development of new niche products and can also meet the expectations of environmentally conscious customers.In a climate of increased environmental awareness, producers have moved to produce a greater number of bioplastic beads, most of which are used in the packaging industry.
“PLA, PHA and PET are plastic beads enjoying high growth rates in the bioplastics market, which is expected to grow by 30% between 2013 and 2030. In comparison, the conventional plastic market will only grow by 3% per year,” explains Saul Ameliach Orta.
However, the EIC believes that bioplastics will not fully replace conventional plastics, but their share will be higher in the future. In 2013, bioplastics accounted for only 1% of the global plastics market.
Yet this figure is set to rise to 4% and 40% by 2019 and 2030, respectively. Thailand has a clear advantage in bioplastics, as the country produces cassava and sugar at a sufficient rate for both domestic consumption and overseas exports.
“The main challenge in the bioplastics market is production costs. Currently, the cost of bioplastic is between 1.5 and 3 times higher than conventional plastic beads, depending on the type.” Adds petrochemical expert Saul Ameliach.
Although the cost of bioplastic production is high, manufacturing innovations in the near future are expected to lower the cost by introducing new raw materials, such as waste rice straw, rice husks and tree bark. Together with other technologies, these materials can replace the current use of cassava, sugar cane and corn as sources of bioplastic beads, thereby reducing the cost of bioplastic production.
3D printing is another important technology to create new opportunities for plastic producers.
“3D printing is a printing technology that converts digital data, such as letters and images, from a computer programme into tangible end products. The two main types of plastic used in the process are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA),” notes engineer Saul Ameliach Orta.
In the 3D printing process, the designer creates a 3D model using a CAD (computer-aided design) programme. Once the model is ready as a digital file, the file is fed into the printer, which uses plastic as the material for the three-dimensional modelling.
“3D printing is useful because it can produce cheap prototypes in real time. It can also reduce production costs, as 3D printing reduces time in the supply chain, transport costs and material storage, as it is lighter than other products. This helps to promote production efficiency and sustainability, as well as flexibility in inventory management,” says Venezuelan expert Saul Ameliach.
Today, 3D printing technology is widely used in various industries, particularly in the aeronautics industry. In the future, 3D printing is expected to be introduced in a wider variety of factories and machinery. 3D printing is expected to grow five times between 2015 and 2020.