The COVID-19 pandemic tremendously impacted the plastics manufacturing market in 2020.
The plastics industry has played a significant role in contributing to global economic development and the growth of various key sectors such as automotive, healthcare, electronics, construction, textiles, and FMCG. Globally, the production of plastics is expected to grow from 370 million metric tons in 2020, to 590 million metric tons by 2050.
The COVID-19 pandemic tremendously impacted the plastics manufacturing market in 2020. Governments worldwide imposed strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus. This lockdown resulted in manufacturing activities coming to a standstill for an extended period, resulting in trade restrictions globally. This, in turn, affected the global supply chain, resulting in further decline in consumption and impacted businesses negatively worldwide.
Additionally, the growth of the packaging industry also impacted the plastics manufacturing industry. As per a McKinsey report, the pandemic resulted in a significant decline in demand for plastics for certain types of packaging including food services, cosmetic make-up products and apparel. On the other hand, it accelerated growth for others such as packaging for healthcare products and grocery.
Global production decline due to COVID-19
Plastic output has been reported to have fallen only twice since the Second World War – during the 1973 oil crisis and the 2008 financial crisis. The industry federation PlasticsEurope pegs that the worldwide output slipped from 368 million tons in 2019 to 367 million tons in 2020.
One of the impacts of the fall in oil prices due to a decline in demand during the pandemic is the resultant lower costs for plastic resin production for the plastics industry. Its production in the US saw an annual growth of 0.9% in 2020, as against 1.2% in 2019.
The decline in plastic production affected other industries using plastic materials in their production as well. PlasticEurope further states that the automobile sector, one of the industry’s biggest customers, saw its plastics consumption nosedive by 18% in Europe alone in 2020.
This also resulted in the automotive industry facing challenges such as limited supply of vehicle parts, decline in new vehicle sales, closing production facilities, and decline in working capital. Thus, volatile raw material prices, lack of skilled labor, the complexity of the global supply chain, and shifting geopolitical dynamics contributed to the decline in the industry last year.
Post-recovery industry outlook
However, the industry outlook remains positive, and manufacturing is expected to bounce back as the world moves towards the post-pandemic recovery phase. Demand for plastics currently is understood to be driven by two megatrends: global population growth and the expanding middle class. Nearly two-thirds of the increase is projected to be in the Asia-Pacific region.
As per market estimates, India and China are expected to reach middle-class populations of more than one billion by 2040, driving demand for packaging and polyethylene (PE), in particular. According to an industry report, the engineering plastics market in Asia-Pacific is expected to achieve a growth rate at a CAGR of 5.7% over the forecast period of 2018-2023. The study further estimates that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins are projected to stand out in the segment, with a 51% share in the engineering plastics’ product share and a growth of 6.6% over the next five years.
Plastics will be the fastest-growing part of the chemical industry through 2030 while considering factors such as economic recovery, the end of the pandemic and other variables. Demand for plastic, in part, could also be attributed to public perception of it as being COVID-19 repellant. The reason may be that masks, gloves and other protective equipment are made from plastics. Even products like delivery packages and soda bottles.
According to Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the plastic industry in India deals with more than 2,000 exporters. As of March 2021, India exported plastics raw material worth USD 280.38 million, while the total export for the financial period April 2020 to March 2021 stood at USD 3.29 billion.
IIoT adoption can streamline production challenges
With the emergence of Industrial IoT (IIoT), the plastic industry can drive effectiveness and productivity in the process of manufacturing plastic.
Countries like Germany, France and China have also made significant progress in terms of IIoT adoption in plastic manufacturing. Industry 4.0 and IoT transform industrial production and create new opportunities in the PE value chain.
Industry 4.0 comprises the emergence of new technologies that include additive manufacturing, IoT, cloud computing, big data, and CPS. IIoT is also helping to ensure traceability from production to the final product being placed on the retail shelf, improving efficiency on the shop floor and output capacity.
These technologies can enable one to gain control of operations and workflow, thus enabling real-time adaptation and flexibility to meet the demands. The significant benefit these emerging technologies provide is towards creating an environment of intelligent systems, which offer better energy consumption efficiency at the factory level. A study also points to how this has a positive impact on the environment.
IIoT can thus enable plastic manufacturers to analyze equipment effectiveness with the help of metrics like downtime and production time in real-time. Manufacturers can also gather data about the operational parameters of equipment such as machine reset signal without physically accessing it. It can therefore drive significant operational efficiencies across various functions to improve productivity and detect critical issues faster.
Simply put, IIoT can not only help solve machine performance data issues in real-time, but also help present the analytics via mobile applications or online to enable faster resolution.
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This is a partnered post written by Mr. Ankush Khanna, Director – Commercial Brand Marketing (South Asia Pacific), ExxonMobil Lubricants Pvt. Ltd.