Plastics Foam Products

SIC 3086

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing plastics foam products.

Industry Snapshot

Total industry shipments in the plastics foam products market segment dropped from $6.05 billion in 2002 to $4.4 billion in 2008. The largest number of plastic foam products establishments were in the central Northeast region, followed by the Mid-Atlantic and the Pacific. However, when ranked by the number of establishments per state, California was first, followed by Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The largest five companies were estimated to produce more than 69 percent of plastic foam products for the entire industry.

Background and Development

Plastics foam, sometimes called expandable plastics, is a versatile material that was first used in the post-World War II plastics boom. Plastic foam products are used as original as well as replacement materials in industries. Foam products emerge out of a unique chemical process. Foamed plastic is an expanded material with a distinct cellular structure that can be either rigid or flexible. Rigid foam consists of hollow spheres attached together, while flexible foam has its cells connected, thus giving it a spongy structure. Polystyrene and polyurethane are used for rigid foams, vinyls, and cellulose acetate. Linear polyurethanes traditionally have been used in flexible foams. By 1969, flexible urethane dominated the market, with polystyrene running second, rigid urethane third, and polyvinyl chloride fourth.

Following World War II, plastics foam consumption in the United States grew tremendously, increasing more than tenfold from 1955 to 1970. By 1967, consumption of plastics foam products rose to 700 million pounds, or $60 million, and by 1970, output weight was 1 billion pounds. It took only five years for this figure to double. More than 700 companies in the 1970s were somehow involved in the production of plastics foam, including most major chemical companies, rubber and tire companies, textile mills, and drug companies.

By the end of the 1960s, the threat of oversupply prompted the industry to step up research and development to improve materials and develop new market outlets, notably tires, sporting goods, advanced military equipment, and highway safety barriers. Rigid urethane and polystyrene were used for industrial purposes, such as industrial walls and cold storage insulation. The foams came in many forms, including slabs, logs, sheets, rods, tubes, and particles.

In general, plastics are manufactured following many steps. First, plastic materials (monomers) are chemically altered to produce complex materials called polymers, which are mixed with certain materials to create characteristics like durability, flexibility, and chemical resistance. Subsequent manufacturing processes produce final products, such as the rigid and flexible foam used in consumer durable goods, buildings, and refrigerated transport. Foam production processes involve a variety of methods, and the output takes the form of slabs, blocks, boards, sheets, molded shapes, and extruded insulation. Foam can also be produced on site for building insulation and cushioning applications. Extrusion and injection moldings are used to produce most grades of foam. More than half of foamed plastic is polyurethane, and the rest consists of expandable polystyrene and vinyl, phenolic, epoxy, urea, and silicone.

The post-World War II boom in plastics foam products was intertwined with the growth in general plastics manufacturing, which stemmed from a burgeoning U.S. consumer base and the substitution of plastics for materials such as copper, aluminum, and steel. Plastic products seriously challenged metals and alloys in the aerospace, transportation, electricity, and engineering industries. In general, the plastics industry is the single most important "downstream" industry in the petrochemicals value-added chain. Plastics are produced by various chemical processes that allow end products to be formed through heating, milling, or extrusion. Plastics soften but do not melt when heated, thereby allowing them to change shape without losing cohesion. Before the 1930s, industrial products were largely based on coal as the basic chemical feedstock. The surge in production and consumption of plastic was directly related to the availability of petroleum, which is plastic's main chemical feedstock. The petroleum and plastics industries are closely linked, with petrochemicals providing the basis for the mass production of plastics and, conversely, plastics providing petroleum with their main downstream market.

Total plastics foam production tripled from 1970 to 1980. Increased production was fueled during this period by skyrocketing demand for consumer goods such as furniture cushioning, mattresses, bedding, and other items that use mostly urethane foams. Rigid foam was used increasingly in buildings, refrigerated transports, household refrigerators and freezers, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, packaging, and marine salvage.

The main concern of industry leaders is market growth and expansion. Of particular interest are consumer durable goods, construction, and health care, which make up a large portion of demand for the industry's products. The upturn in consumer spending in the early 1990s, especially for durable goods such as appliances (which use large quantities of rigid foam and adhesives), buoyed the market for plastic foams. Construction, another rigid foam user, underwent similar growth.

In the mid-1990s, the industry manufactured products estimated to be valued at $10.1 million dollars. This figure was in line with a generally upward production trend in the industry that began in 1987. Total value of shipments increased by over 31 percent from 1987 to 1993, higher than the increase in general plastic production, which grew at a 17 percent rate over the same period. By 1996, the value reached $12.1 billion.

By 2005, the value of shipments in the plastics foam industry had reached $15.76 billion. About 48 percent of the shipments were polystyrene products, and 52 percent were urethane and other foam products. The majority (47 percent) of polystyrene foam product was for consumer and institutional uses, such as foam cups, trays, coolers, plates, and bowls, followed by packaging (21 percent), building and construction (14 percent), and transportation (6 percent). The remainder went to furniture and miscellaneous uses. Of the total of urethane and other foam products shipped, most (41 percent) was used in furniture (i.e., pillows, seating, and cushioning) and furnishings (i.e., carpet underlay and foam mattresses); 24 percent went to transportation (i.e., molded seating, headrests, and armrests in vehicles); 7 percent was for building uses; 5 percent was for packaging; and only 2 percent went to consumer and industrial sectors. The rest of the shipments were for other miscellaneous foam products.

Current Conditions

According to industry statistics, there were an estimate 1,486 establishments engaged in the production of plastics foam products in 2008. Products were valued at $4.4 billion and industry-wide employment was 57,543 workers. Approximately 41 people were employed per establishment, with each company generating $5.1 million. When ranked by the number of establishments per state, California was first with 186, followed by Texas with 99, Florida with 98, North Carolina with 88, and Pennsylvania with 61.

Plastics foam products was the highest-grossing segment in 2008 with shipments totaling $2.51 billion, while foamed plastics packaging and shipping materials had shipments of $1.03 billion. Manufacturers of foamed plastics insulation or cushioning material shipped $395.1 million in products, and producers of foamed plastics carpet and rug cushions shipped $350.1 million.

Industry Leaders

Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan, led the industry in overall sales with $57.5 billion in 2008 sales and 46,000 employees. These totals reflect all industries in which Dow was active. Of the companies that focused primarily on the plastics foam products industry, Sealed Air Corporation of Saddle Brook, New Jersey, led with 2008 sales of $4.8 billion and 17,000 employees. W. R. Grace and Co. of Columbia, Maryland, earned $3.3 billion in 20088 sales with 6,300 employees.

Workforce

Between 1997 and 2004, employment in the plastics products industry rose from 64,504 in 1997 to a peak of 71,207 in 2000, then dropped back to 67,401 in 2005. Production employment during that time grew from 51,523 in 1997 to a peak of 57,292 in 2000, then dropped to 52,657 in 2005.

While average hourly earnings of production workers in plastic products production rose from $3.27 in 1972 to $8.43 in 1987, the purchasing power of these wages actually declined 10 percent. General payroll per employee, adjusted for inflation, fell from an average of $18,215 to $17,903 during that time. From 1987 to 1996, average hourly earnings rose about 28 percent to $11.62. From 1972 to 1987, in terms of value added per production worker, wages per hour rose about two and one half times, while the value added per hour by these production workers rose over three times, a shift in income distribution away from wages and toward profits. By 2005, production workers earned an average of $14.71 an hour.

Research and Technology

The plastics industry faces challenges due to environmental damage caused by its use of certain processes and chemicals. The industry had to comply with federal and worldwide environmental rules aimed at banning the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are said to deplete the ozone layer. The rules have led to a competitive race to develop replacements for CFCs. In addition, political pressure is forcing companies to develop recycling processes.

The industry devoted significant resources to developing alternatives to CFCs. It was very successful in the flexible foam sector, but rigid foam makers made less progress. For rigid foams, some firms are developing new formulations that use hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which have a lower ozone depletion potential than CFCs while retaining some of CFCs' desirable properties. Flexible foams were also being reformulated. New machinery was developed that is tailored to the low boiling point agents that are gradually replacing CFCs.

Recycling efforts are also under way. For example, construction board has been made from rigid foam scrap, and carpet pad has been produced from auto seating scrap. Although most of the focus in the recycling movement has been on bottles and foamed polystyrene containers, the push is on for polyurethane recycling. The plastics foam products industry and federal, state, and local governments are evaluating the merits of various recycling policies.

Finally, in addition to their recycling efforts, firms in the industry hope to improve the aesthetic of urethane foams, particularly in automobiles. For example, technology is being developed to reduce foam scorching at high temperatures. In another effort, some are attempting to eliminate fogging that occurs on the insides of car windows when sunlight heats up plastics in passenger compartments.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

News and information about Plastics Foam Products

United Kingdom : Wear It Pink Fundraising Event at DS Smith Plastics, Foam Products
Mena Report; October 28, 2017; 406 words
DS Smith, Plastics Foam Products in Northampton UK organised a fundraising event on behalf of Breast Cancer Research Wear It Pink on Friday 20th October. The event...
Research and Markets Adds Report: 2013 U.S. Polystyrene Foam Product Manufacturing Industry-Industry & Market Report
Manufacturing Close-Up; March 4, 2013; 494 words
...estimates on up to 10 sub-industries, including plastics foam products, isulation products, shipping products, cups...3086 - Plastics foam productsSub-Industries- Plastics foam products- Carpet and rug cushions, foamed plastics- Cups...
Research and Markets Offers Report: 2013 U.S. Polystyrene Foam Product Manufacturing Industry-Industry & Market Report
Manufacturing Close-Up; March 13, 2013; 495 words
...estimates on up to 10 sub-industries, including plastics foam products, isulation products, shipping products, cups...3086 - Plastics foam productsSub-Industries- Plastics foam products- Carpet and rug cushions, foamed plastics- Cups...
CHAIRWOMAN STABENOW: RURAL JOB SECTOR POISED TO GROW THROUGH BIO-BASED MANUFACTURING, ENERGY EFFICIENCY BOOM.
States News Service; July 14, 2011; 700+ words
...their products. And these products aren't just for cars - they are cleaning products, soaps, insulation, plastics, foam products, and fabrics. Manufacturing accounts for roughly a quarter of rural private sector earnings, and accounts...
STABENOW AND U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK MEET WITH MICHIGAN FARMERS.
States News Service; August 22, 2011; 700+ words
...using bio-based materials in their products. These products include cleaning products, soaps, insulation, plastics, foam products, and fabrics. Manufacturing accounts for roughly a quarter of rural private sector earnings, and accounts...
CHAIRWOMAN STABENOW: RURAL JOB SECTOR POISED TO GROW THROUGH BIO-BASED MANUFACTURING AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY BOOM
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; July 16, 2011; 700+ words
...their products. And these products aren't just for cars - they are cleaning products, soaps, insulation, plastics, foam products, and fabrics. Manufacturing accounts for roughly a quarter of rural private sector earnings, and accounts...
SEN. STABENOW AND US AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK MEET WITH MICHIGAN FARMERS
US Fed News Service, Including US State News; August 24, 2011; 700+ words
...using bio-based materials in their products. These products include cleaning products, soaps, insulation, plastics, foam products, and fabrics. Manufacturing accounts for roughly a quarter of rural private sector earnings, and accounts...
Get smart about safety.(Editorial)
Plastics Technology; February 1, 2005; 685 words
...5.2 9.6 Plastics Bottles 5.0 4.0 4.7 Plastics Foam Products 6.8 6.1 5.5 Custom Compounding 3.9 7...3.7 3.9 Plastics Bottles 2.6 3.5 4.2 Plastics Foam Products 5.9 4.7 -- Custom Compounding 4.6 5.2...

Search all articles about Plastics Foam Products