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The Virtual Plastics World ... When and How?

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The Virtual Plastics World ... When and How?

Previous Article      Next Article


The Virtual Plastics World ... When and How?

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The question is not IF the classical business model, which most companies in the plastics value chain use, will be disrupted. The question is when? And how?

At SPE we are focused on innovation, and, as well-trained engineers, we think about product, material, and equipment innovations—but what about business model innovations? News sites and social media are disrupting newspapers and the printed press, Uber is disrupting taxi services, Airbnb is disrupting the hotel business, internet retailers are disrupting physical stores, and so on.

We are clearly evolving into a “sharing economy.” Young people in the city are starting to use Zipcar; they drive to work, park the car, and it becomes available for anyone to use.

This kind of business model innovation has and continues to impact SPE. Our business model of
“selling” someone access to a knowledge database and a person’s contact information via a membership directory  is being disrupted by the information on the World Wide Web and its many social networks—creating a perception that one does not need a physical network.

And how does this apply to SPE’s scientific journal business? The old model used to work as follows: the author “provides” us with a (peer-reviewed) paper which gets published in our journals, which are purchased by customers. Well, the new model is changing to this: the author and his organization pay SPE to publish his/her (peer-reviewed) paper in an open knowledge platform, accessible to everybody, free of charge! (And note that the papers will be peer-reviewed and edited to same high standards as before.)

This fits a world where people want to share immaterial and non-physical assets. Think about Tesla opening its patents for use by the market (read: its competitors) free of royalties of any kind.

So, what new business model will fundamentally change our plastics industry in the future? Will resins be available on a virtual global commodity materials marketplace, perhaps ending shortages and force majeure situations? Will compounders have their formulations in the cloud for download? Will the customer be able to have the formulation compounded at any nearby plant?

Or will we simply order a pre-customized set of materials and pay for a download of a new smartphone to be produced in our home on our very own 3-D printer? Three-dimensional printing comes closest to having real disruptive potential to today’s polymer materials, processing, and equipment markets.

But let’s be clear: other business models, whose existence we ignore today, will one day drastically change how our plastics supply chain functions.

With SPE being at the forefront of novelties, chances are high that as an SPE member you will become aware of these changes at their earliest stages.


Wim De Vos




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Note: The Chain is an online technical communication platform for Premium and e-members of SPE. Simply create a profile and “connect” with the engineering world in plastics.