The plastic fabrication industry is a robust segment of the North American market that has shown steady growth in real shipments and real value over the last several decades. It is the third largest manufacturing sector in North America, with over a million employees in the U.S. alone. Between 1980 and 2006, employment in the field increased by approximately 1.1 percent each year, while added value increased by 184 percent over the same period. Although part of this growth may be attributed to overall economic conditions, the plastic fabricating industry has driven increases in production capacity and technological innovation, which have likely influenced the demand for plastic products.
As an industry group, plastic product manufacturing is characterized by the processing of new or reused synthetic polymer resin, fibers, and film into intermediary components or final products. This is accomplished using a range of different fabrication methods, the most common of which are extrusion, injection molding, compression molding, casting, and blow molding. While manual labor still forms a part of fabrication, most processes can be automated through computer numerical control systems. Plastic manufacturers produce a wide variety of commercial and industrial products, from plastic bags and bottles to construction materials and medical devices.
Plastic resins, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), form a major portion of the raw materials used in plastic fabrication. According to market distribution, roughly one-third of resins are employed in packaging production, with 21 percent expended on consumer goods, 17 percent on building and construction, and 15 percent exported. The remaining portion is divided among transportation materials, furniture, and electronics.
Since 1980, plastic manufacturing productivity has increased by an average of 2.3 percent per year, with the total value of plastic shipments in the U.S. reaching $275 billion in 2006. In the first quarter of 2007, American manufacturers and importers shipped approximately $219 million worth of plastic fabrication machinery, with a 46 percent increase from the previous year in demand for extrusion equipment.