NPE 2024: Top Plastics Manufacturing Trends to Track

Visit DELMIAWorks at NPE 2024


Here at DELMIAWorks, we’re all looking forward to NPE 2024. It’s been six years since the industry came together at this scale. Everyone from machine makers to producers of axillary equipment and robotics to material suppliers and even software vendors will be in attendance.

At NPE 2024, we will be looking at the industry from two aspects. One aspect will be equipment, technology, and materials, and the other will be the business and commercial direction of the plastics manufacturing industry.

Production Technology to Pay Attention to NPE

On the production equipment side, we will be paying particular attention to the additional intelligence being built into the equipment. We ask: How much can a machine tell us digitally about the state of the machine and the processes it’s performing? We use this information in our manufacturing execution system (MES) functionality to monitor performance in real-time, so we can update schedules, report product availability, manage inventory, and ensure quality control checks are being performed. Additionally, we store this information in our historian database, so postproduction diagnostics and documentation can be created. The more information we can get from the equipment, the more we can inform and automate all up- and downstream manufacturing activities.

In addition to machine intelligence, we will also be looking at equipment efficiency in terms of energy use. The energy requirements of equipment are a major factor in the carbon footprint of a manufacturing operation, and we expect to see significant advances in this area.

On the robotics side, we are excited to gauge advances in the collaborative robot, or cobot, technology. We believe cobots—with their inherently simpler training interfaces and superior ability to work safely with human operators—will open new doors for plastics processors and other mainstream manufacturers to automate their typically lower-volume and high change-over job mix. The same applies to the vision systems; we expect to see smarter, lower-overhead vision systems that will enable further automation in the mid-market.

We will also be looking for advances in the materials sector, particularly with packaging materials that either have greater recyclability, are compostable or leave a lower post-usage landfill impact. We believe that the pressure to reduce plastic’s environmental impact is going to grow, especially in consumer disposables, and that advances in material science will be a big factor in achieving these goals.

In the software space, our attention will be on MES providers and artificial intelligence (AI) adoption. The MES features of our end-to-end ERP solution is a key differentiator. Keeping track of what our competitors in the MES sector are offering is an important market research function for us at the show.

AI will certainly be an overarching topic at NPE 2024. Like nearly everybody at the show, we will be looking for concrete examples and strategies for AI utilization in the industry. Explicitly, we will be looking for how AI can advance the training and application of robotic and vision systems, how AI is enabling advances in digital simulation software, and how generative AI is being used to create tools for a more connected workforce. Automation, effective simulation, and an enabled workforce are essential factors for the onshore success of the industry.

Monitoring the Pulse of the Mid-Market Plastics Processors Industry

Since the last NPE show, we have seen major changes in the business and commercial nature of mid-market plastic processors. Certainly, the pandemic played a major role in altering the state of the industry. Labor shortages were exacerbated; supply chains were disrupted; some market sectors peaked, and other sectors bottomed out.

During the same time period, mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations in the mid-market changed the landscape. Today there are fewer owner-operator businesses and more investor-owned plastic processors. Vertical and horizontal integration have become widespread.

As much as looking at and understanding the technology at the show, we will be taking the pulse of plastics industry in terms of which business sectors are growing and which sectors are over-served. The same applies to merger and acquisition strategies. What is the thinking of the remaining owner-operators? And what are the growth strategies of investor-led manufacturing groups?

What to Expect from DELMIAWorks at NPE

With regard to our own product offerings, we will be featuring the end-to-end nature of our plastic processing ERP solution: everything from design to planning and production to warehousing in a single system. In particular, our focus will be on showing customers and prospects how the embedded AI in our DELMIAWorks manufacturing ERP software—for processes like forecasting, real-time scheduling, statistical process control (SPC), and alerts—delivers all the benefits of a data-driven operation without excessive cost and complexity.

We look forward to meeting all our friends, customers, prospects, and industry colleagues at NPE 2024 in Orlando. You can find us at booth S22171. Add us to your NPE Show Planner. NPE promises to be a great and productive show.

Steve Bieszczat, DELMIAworks (IQMS) Chief Marketing Officer, is responsible for all aspects of DELMIAworks' (IQMS) brand management, demand generation, and product marketing. Prior to DELMIAworks (IQMS), Steve held senior marketing roles at ERP companies Epicor, Activant and CCI-Triad. Steve holds an engineering degree from the University of Kansas and an MBA from Rockhurst University.