Canadian Plastics

NPE, China and Star Trek

By Rebecca Reid, managing editor   



Personally, I blame Star Trek for North America's myopic vision of the future....

Personally, I blame Star Trek for North America’s myopic vision of the future.

While the original series may have pretended to racial equality by including a black, a Japanese and a Russian character — but only one of each, of course — it was always a given that the Enterprise’s important positions, from Captain on down, would be manned by the white crew-members.

For a slightly more “realistic” glimpse at the future of humankind, however, I prefer the sci-fi series Firefly.

In Firefly, Chinese culture is shown as the equal of Western culture, and the show’s futuristic characters switch from English to Mandarin with ease.

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But what, you’re wondering, does any of this have to do with plastics?

Well, like the characters on Firefly, the Canadian plastic industry has to adapt to the idea of sharing the stage with other cultures — specifically, Asian culture.

In June, a record-breaking number of Chinese firms exhibited at the National Plastics Exhibition (NPE) 2006 in Chicago. Overall, 127 companies from Hong Kong and Mainland China showcased their wares at the show — a better turnout than the Canadians, who had 118 companies exhibiting. That’s an impressive figure, accounting for 45 per cent of all international exhibitors, and this single NPE statistic should tell us that it’s impossible to work in today’s North American plastics industry without considering the influence that China exerts on our processors, machinery manufacturers, moldmakers, raw materials suppliers and more.

Still, I’ve heard many Canadian plastics processors and moldmakers complain that it’s hard to find trustworthy partners in China; and that, anyway, it’s too expensive to travel to China to do the research to find one; and that, even if it wasn’t too expensive, how would you ever actually find the right partner once you got there?

The answer to this last question is simple: You don’t have to go to China because, as NPE 2006 demonstrated, the Chinese are coming to you.

Finding that elusive partner could be as simple as going to a North American plastics trade show — such as NPE — visiting the booths of the Chinese exhibitors, and following up later with those that piqued your interest.

Or it could be even simpler. Toronto-area injection molding and moldmaking firm Patrick Plastics Inc., has a sister firm, Season Components, which has locations in Hong Kong, on Mainland China, in the U.S. and Kuala Lumpur. (see pgs. 10-11)

Patrick Hung, who owns both companies, suggests Canadian plastics processors can partner with Season Components to produce commodity components at a reduced cost by taking advantage of the lower cost of labour. This would allow the processor to manufacture IP-intensive parts locally and assemble the final part locally, and still be able to stamp it with “Made in Canada.”

If strategies like this catch on, Canadian processors may want to adapt them to the next great wave as well, coming after the Chinese; it’s estimated that in 10 years India will exert as much influence on the global market as China does now.

If your prime directive is profitability, I’d recommend you set your sights towards the east.

e-mail: rreid@canplastics.com

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