The plastics industry is constantly shifting as technological innovations and new, cutting-edge materials come on the market. Designing by reverse engineering is one trend that began in 2015 that will continue to play out in 2016. The focus is increasingly on improving old designs, adding innovations where necessary, and eliminating or improving upon poorly designed parts. Manufacturers are innovating by looking at what is working and making adjustments that allow parts to perform better. Here are some of the top trends in plastics manufacturing in 2016

Small Parts

This year will see an increased concentration on small precision parts manufacturing. The chemistry of plastics manufacturing has given the industry new capabilities to make parts smaller than ever and to very precise specifications. Manufacturing methods will become increasingly exact as the potentials of plastic parts improve. This year will be the beginning of a new age of innovation in small, customized plastic gears, sprockets, bearings, and clamps.

Precise and innovative new chemistries will increase the capacity of plastics in electronic components, as well. Lightweight, sturdy plastics with various electrochemical properties are increasingly built into consumer electronics, internal components, as well as outer casings.

Three-D Printing

Three-D printing using innovative plastics will become a fast-growing trend this year and is sure to become a staple in plastics manufacturing. The new plastics-based three-D printing technology has captured public attention and is making exciting contributions to medical manufacturing and custom product design.

Companies will increase the use of three-D printing to manufacture prosthetic body parts, which are made to custom fit individual needs. Three-D printers themselves will become increasingly versatile and precise. They will also become increasingly user-friendly, as new and improved software begins to appear. As a result, be on the lookout for new three-D printed designs entering the marketplace.

Robotics

Smart manufacturing will make the plastics industry leaner, faster and more efficient in 2016. Manufacturing is making increasing use of digital innovation. Companies are quickly learning how to collect and use valuable process data. Sensors are getting ever more sophisticated and sensitive to provide feedback, metrics, and reduce costly errors, and wireless technology is increasing manufacturers’ ability to access and use those sensors.

Watch for big leaps in the use of sensors and imaging in the manufacturing process. This year, you can expect to see the manufacturing Internet of Things (IoT) play a greater role in manufacturing processes, giving manufacturers greater control and precision.

Robotics is a major 2016 trend. Manufacturing robots have become agile, adaptable and even trainable. New automated factories will utilize collaborative robots to work with staff. They will be equipped with vision systems and other sensors and can be trained to perform various tasks. Ultimately, these robots will give factories more flexibility when it comes to re-tooling for production-line design changes.

New Materials

This year, experts are also predicting advances in polymers and additives. Plastic resins and additives will continue on the forefront of advancements in lightweight materials. Manufacturers will accelerate the process of replacing more and more metal parts with plastic ones. Watch to see plastics replacing many forms of metal in large and small products this year.

The auto industry, for example, will continue to influence the way parts are manufactured using new plastic materials. Along with improved product designs, engineers will work with molders and resin suppliers. They will be customizing special formulations for specific product designs.

New polymers have extraordinary strength. They are being tested in automotive impact studies. More sports equipment like guards, boots and helmets are being manufactured of resin materials this year because of their improved safety. Plastic is replacing wood, as well as metal and concrete, in housing materials. Recycled plastic materials are even being used to create structural components for buildings, bridges, and railroads. This trend in the construction industry will continue to grow throughout 2016.

Eco-Sensitivity and Recycling

In light of the global environmental talks and an increasing awareness of sustainable business practices, recycling, reclaiming, and reusing plastic materials will become a much more widespread practice in the coming year.

New uses are being found for re-ground and recovered plastic materials. The real challenge is in the creation of renewable bio-based plastics. Large companies like John Deere and others are developing new composite materials made from soybeans and flax. Recyclable plastics will continue to replace the non-recyclable thermoset plastics currently used in large part molding.

With each passing year, the plastics manufacturing industry continues to evolve and become better equipped. 2016 is sure to be another exciting year, with these trends taking the forefront.