COVER S TORY Jaco b Barro n | Ma na ge r, Communic a tions, SPI
ost people never consider just how much of their life is made possible by plastic products.
From how you prepare food to how you store it, from how you spend your workday to how you spend your leisure time, from how you maintain your relationships with others to how you take care of your own body, no one has to go very far in today’s world to find a product that they depend on that also depends on plastic.
MICHAEL ARATEN, PRESIDENT & CEO, K’NEX BRANDS
Professionals in the plastics industry across the world take pride in knowing just how much they contribute to these everyday tasks. Here are just a few stories about those professionals, and the products they make. TOYS
When you think of toys, the first material that comes to mind is probably plastic. This is for many reasons, like the fact that plastic is more durable, affordable and non-toxic. For K’NEX, however, the colorful construction toys that enable kids to build planes, cars, tracks, bridges and anything else they can imagine, even if another material made sense (and it doesn’t), the nature of the toy actually demands that it be plastic. “In order for K’NEX to work you need to be able to snap and unsnap it,” said Michael Araten, CEO of K’NEX. “There’s only the plastic materials that have memory associated with them, that allow snapping and unsnapping along with the precision that you need,” he added. “K’NEX couldn’t exist as a product without plastic.” The “memory” Araten refers to? Plastic materials can return to their original shape after they’ve been manipulated. K’NEX’s appeal is users being able to build and dismantle things over and over again. So, the pieces need to be both precise and flexible, two equally important qualities that ultimately disqualify a lot of materials from being used in K’NEX and other toys. “That’s one of the reasons why metal doesn’t work, and it wouldn’t work with wood,” Araten said. 6 THE SPI MAGAZINE Fall 2016
Longevity is also key. “It was important to drill down into that point, and make sure that you’d be able to do that for a decade or more,” Araten said, “that you’d be able to give these to your little brother and sister when you grew up.” K’NEX’s goal was to create a toy that could inspire imagination in more than one generation of kids, the kind of imagination and STEM-focused thinking that the plastics industry and other American manufacturers are looking for in potential new hires. “Kids can have fun while learning the geometry of physics, and they can build a roller coaster and see why you don’t fall out,” Araten said. “That kind of thing inspires kids to become engineers and programmers and all the kinds of wonderful technology-based jobs that now will dominate the rest of this decade and, I think, the rest of this century.”
Some readers that aren’t currently part of the plastics industry might not know what micro-injection molding is. Come to mention it, they might not even know what regular injection molding is, but put simply, it’s a way that molten plastic is pushed into a previously designed mold. The molten plastic cools, then comes out of the machine as a usable plastic component, to be used in any number of different applications. Micro-injection molding, you might’ve guessed, is injection molding that takes place on a much smaller scale, sometimes even a microscopic scale.
SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association