Plastic sheet, usually 10-12 mils in thickness, can either be extruded or cast, clear or opaque with a variety of colors and textures, and, most importantly, is the starting point for thermoformed resins, which have enjoyed outstanding growth, especially in packaging.
According to a soon-to-be-released report RP-237 Plastic Sheet Processing Market from Business Communications Co, Inc, the North American plastic sheet/thermoformed product market was significant in 2004 with an estimated consumption of 6.3 billion lb, which will increase to nearly 8 billion lb by 2009, a 4.8% average annual growth rate (AAGR). The growth in this market is driven by the increasing use of thermoformed plastics, especially in the rigid packaging market led by the food industry.
Wide arrays of resins are used to produce sheet/thermoformed resins. Major applications include: food and healthcare packaging, building/construction products, appliances, signs/displays, automotive and aircraft products. Technology advances both in plastic sheet and thermoformed products have enhanced their respective competitive positions vis-a-vis nonplastic materials such as paper/paperboard, glass, and aluminum.
The plastic sheet can be either clear or opaque with the former being more prominent while most of the opaque plastic sheet is converted into thermoformed products. In turn most of the sheet is made with commodity thermoplastics led by polystyrene and including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene, and PVC.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene terpolymer (ABS) are also popular sheet compounds, as well as the two major clear plastic sheet resins, acrylics (polyacrylates) and polycarbonate.
Several plastic producers have integrated into sheet production; others just supply the resins that are converted to sheet by extruders. Plastics producers, per se, do not forward integrate into the thermoforming part of the business.
Packaging will remain the single largest application with its share increasing from nearly 60% in 2004 to 61.3% in 2009, at an AAGR of 5.5% through the forecast period.
Some of the major companies involved in the plastic sheet/thermoformed product business include: Alcoa Packaging, Aristech Acrylics, Atoglas, Cyro Industries, Dart Container, Fabri-Kal, GE Plastics, Genpak, Lucite International, Pactiv, Plaskolite, Sheffield Plastics, Spartech, and Tyco.