Free Trade and Plastic Parts – The K Show Meets CETA


Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

What is the German word for “plastics”? Yes, you can Google it – but you probably don’t need to if you attended last week’s K 2013 Trade Fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. From October 16 to 23, the K Show was the greatest place on earth to learn about innovations in kunstoffe (plastics). Held just once every three years, the world’s leading plastics event connected 3,000 companies with 220,000 visitors in the massive Messe Dusseldorf tradeshow center.

As the co-founders and co-owners of Elasto Proxy, Donna Sharpe and I met with potential supply chain partners who were eager to exchange ideas and explore business relationships. With its special focus on meeting the needs of the medical marketplace, the K Show allowed us to explain how Elasto Proxy supplies high-quality, low-to-medium volume quantities of custom-fabricated seals and insulation. From durable medical equipment to medical assist devices, medical plastics are in demand.

International Audiences and Auto Parts

Although many of the K Show’s participants came from Europe, nearly 60% were from outside Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Belgium, European Commission president Jose Manual Barroso was meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After five years of bilateral negotiations, the two leaders agreed in principle to a Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) that could boost trade by an estimated 20% and add $12 billion to the Canadian economy.

If the K 2013 Trade Fair was big for the plastics industry, CETA could be huge. For example, according to a joint study, Canadian automakers would be able to export 100,000 cars a year – 12 times their current limit. As a custom fabricator of rubber and plastic parts for the auto industry, Elasto Proxy works with Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers whose operations cross continents. Will CETA lead European automakers to import more custom-molded parts from Canada?

Meeting European Demand

According to Plastics Europe, automotive applications (8.2%) are just one part of the continent’s overall demand for plastics. Packaging is the largest application sector at 39.4%, with building and construction a robust 20.3%. As a custom fabricator of seals for doors, windows, and skylights, Elasto Proxy wonders how the CETA agreement could affect exports of building and construction products. Will builders in Europe import more lighting fixtures, hatch covers, and rooftop HVAC units from Canada?

As the study from Plastics Europe also explains, the continent needs plastic parts for electronic and agricultural applications. Again, these are markets that our Canadian company has long-served. From enclosure gaskets to limit-stop rubber bumpers, our solutions providers have worked closely with the electronics industry to meet sealing challenges. Makers of mobile specialty vehicles such as tractors also need custom-fabricated parts for roll-over protection structures (ROPS).

Tradeshows and Trade Agreements

With K 2013 complete, the next K Trade Fair is three years away.  Will Canada and the European Union (EU) ratify the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) by then? Although some industries support CETA, others (such as Quebec cheesemakers) are strongly opposed. Where do you stand in the upcoming CETA debate? And how could the proposed free-trade agreement affect your industry?

Sustainable Skyscrapers and Net Zero Energy Buildings

John_Molson_School_of_BusinessConcordia University’s LEED Certified John Molson School of Business building. Image source:

Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

Did you know that buildings require 40% of the energy that’s consumed by the European Union (EU)? According to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), buildings in the United States are also major energy consumers, especially of fossil fuels. As businesses, homeowners, and governments seek to contain energy costs and demonstrate a commitment to the environment, architects and engineers are joining builders and construction companies in learning about zero-energy building (ZEB).

What Is a Net Zero Energy Building?

A net zero energy building (NZEB) produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. This definition seems simple enough, but there’s room for disagreement over specifics and metrics. Can true NZEBs be connected to the grid? Should zero energy buildings have zero carbon emissions and use only renewable resources? Designers have complained that a canvas tent with a solar panel could be an NZEB, but a new Net Zero Energy Building Certification provides some guidelines.

For our purposes, let’s use a basic NZEB definition from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  “A net zero energy building,” explains an NREL publication, “is a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies.” NZEBs can feature net zero site energy, net zero source energy, net zero energy costs, and/or net zero energy emissions.

Real-World Examples

Net zero building projects may sound futuristic, but there are residential, industrial and commercial structures that meet our definition. Examples include the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, and Phase 1 of NREL’s 220,000 sq. ft. Research and Support Facility (RSF) in Golden, Colorado.  The California headquarters of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation was also designed to be a zero energy building or ZEB.

What do these green buildings have in common? In each case, on-site electricity production from renewable resources is coupled with energy-efficient lighting, heating, and appliances. Both the Adam Joseph Lewis Center and the Packard Foundation headquarters generate enough electricity to sell power back to the grid.  The NREL’s Colorado facility uses solar power, too, but meets some of its energy needs with advanced heat recovery technologies that were developed there.

The Sky’s the Limit

Are sustainable skyscrapers on the horizon? Nashville, Tennessee is best-known as the home of the Grand Old Opry, but one architectural firm is planning to put the country music capital on the map with one of the world’s most energy efficient skyscrapers. The 605-ft. tall building, designed by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture, will capture “solar heat” from outdoor air in the summer and warmer air from within the building during the winter months.

Additional energy-saving features will include integrated solar panels, under-floor air distribution, and a shiny “double-skin façade” that promotes energy efficiency. The mixed-use building will house a 200-unit, five-star hotel and two-story conference center along with a restaurant, health spa, pool, and business center. Sounds like a great place for a conference about green power or green construction!

Building and Construction Products

As builders pore over blueprints for zero-energy facilities, buyers will need to acquire more than just power generation and electrical distribution systems. As an experienced supplier of specialized seals and insulation for the green power and construction industries, Elasto Proxy is ready to strengthen supply chains. How can we help you?

For over 20 years, Elasto Proxy’s technical designers and custom fabrication specialists have helped quality-conscious partners find sealing solutions for lighting fixtures, rooftop HVACs and hatch covers, and windows, doors, and skylights. Our solutions providers have also supplied windmill seals and rubber gaskets, sounds insulation for power generations, and protective profiles for PV panels.

Is your business ready to benefit from a potential net zero energy building boom? I hope you’ll comment on this blog entry, and connect with me on LinkedIn.

October is Manufacturing Month in Canada

Manufacturing Month
Manufacturing Month

Clyde Sharpe
President of International Sales for Elasto Proxy

Did you participate in Manufacturing Day on Friday, October 4th? Don’t worry if you missed it. There’s still time to celebrate. What began as a day-long event to end misperceptions about manufacturing is now a month-long attempt to emphasize the importance of industry. Manufacturing Month

Three Myths about Manufacturing

Not everyone is in the mood for a holiday, however. According to critics, manufacturing pollutes the environment and burdens workers with low-skilled, repetitive jobs. In short, the naysayers claim that manufacturing is dirty, polluting, and boring! What critics miss, however, are firsthand accounts of how manufacturing supports green energy and rewards highly-skilled employees with meaningful work.

In honor of Manufacturing Month, Elasto Proxy is dispelling misperceptions about manufacturing by “opening its doors” with this blog entry. We’re not alone in this effort, of course, as scores of companies participated in the second annual Manufacturing Day earlier this month. By raising awareness and debunking three common myths, however, our Canadian company is proudly doing its part.

Myth 1: Manufacturing is Dirty

If you could take a tour of Elasto Proxy’s production facility in Boisbriand, Quebec, you’d see that custom fabrication doesn’t have to be a dirty business. As Andrew Yang, our sales representative from China, wrote when he visited, “Although I’d expected to find a rubber shop with plenty of dust, there weren’t even any dark spots on the floor. I could have eaten the beans that I dropped there.”

The way that manufacturers maintain their shops isn’t just a matter of cleanliness. Companies that are committed to quality understand that attention to detail extends to all aspects of the operation. That’s why so many manufacturers seek ISO 90001:2008 certification, a goal Elasto Proxy achieved in 1991, and remain committed to continuous improvement.

Myth 2: Manufacturing is Polluting

Manufacturing’s critics paint a picture of sooty, gritty smokestack industries that spread pollution by land, water, and air. Although many manufacturers still burn fossil fuels, some companies are exploring alternative sources of energy. Stricter pollution controls and a strong commitment to local communities also disprove the “manufacturing is polluting” myth.

Green power projects require manufactured components, and some production processes reuse natural resources. As a customer fabricator of sealing solutions for windmills, wind turbines, photovoltaic (PV) panels, and hydroelectric turbines, Elasto Proxy supports green power projects. Moreover, our water jet cutting equipment reuses water resources while making rapid, cost-effective cuts.

Myth 3:  Manufacturing is Boring

When critics describe manufacturing, they complain that the work is low-skilled and repetitive. In short, they say manufacturing is boring! At Elasto Proxy, however, highly-skilled workers hand-craft seals for a wide variety of industries. Some artists work with paint, pottery, or stone. Ours work with rubber and plastic to provide our partners with the benefits of the art of sealing.

October is Manufacturing Month in Canada, at least here at Elasto Proxy. What are you doing to dispel myths about manufacturing? Will you help us to raise awareness about how manufacturing strengthens supply chains, communities, economies, and individuals? I hope you’ll comment on this blog entry, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Plastic Bags and the Environment: It’s Not That Simple

Plastic Bags and the Environment
Plastic Bags and the Environment

Image source:

Doug Sharpe
President of Elasto Proxy

Chennai, India generates hundreds of tons of plastic waste every day. Plastic bags like the ones used at take-out counters in local restaurants are used briefly and then discarded. Eventually, this plastic waste finds its way to landfills, where it can remain for hundreds of years.

“We have spoiled the entire world with plastic,” says T.S. Shankar, Director of Biotech Bags.  His Chennai company has yet to turn a profit, but Shankar prides himself on making bags from what CNN calls “the world’s first 100% biodegradable plastic.”

Biodegradable Plastic Bags

Biotech Bags cost more, but clients such as Kentucky Fried Chicken in Mumbai are willing to pay the higher price. The environmentally-conscious owner of Sangeetha Restaurants also wants customers to understand how Shankar’s technology works, and prints a brief description of it on the bags themselves.

As customers can learn while enjoying a quick meal, Biotech Bags contains an enzyme that acts as a catalyst when the material comes into contact with soil. Within six months, the plastic bag degrades completely and, according to CNN, leaves no “toxic” residues behind.

Compostable Bioplastic Bags

Shankar’s technology is impressive, but other entrepreneurs are replacing petroleum-based plastics altogether. BioBag is a U.S. and Canadian company that makes shopping bags, commercial liners, and packaging films from plants and vegetable oils instead of polyethylene (HDPE, LDPE, and LLDPE).

Because micro-organisms that live in the soil consume plant-based materials, BioBag products are both biodegradeable and compostable. The company’s claims comply with California law as well as ASTM D6400, a standard specification for the labeling of plastics designed for aerobic composting in municipal and industrial landfills.

Government Regulation and Job Creation

California isn’t the only place that regulates “green marketing”, and cities like Los Angeles aren’t the only municipalities that restrict or even ban plastic bags. Here in Quebec, shoppers in the town of Deux Montagnes (Two Mountains), must ask for papier or bring their own recyclable bags. In other Canadian communities, plastic bags are available for a small fee.

According the Plastic Bag Ban Report, U.S. communities from coast-to-coast are following suite. In recent months, cities like Santa Fe, NM and villages like Great Barrington, MA have banned thin-film, single-use plastic bags. At the same time, Cereplast – another California company that makes bioplastic bags – may need to boost production to meet international demand from India and Italy.

Petroleum-Based Plastics and Carbon Nanotubes

In Australia, researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a nanotechnology process that could trump the efforts of companies like Cereplast, BioBag, and Biotech Bags altogether. Using what Dr. Dusan Losic calls “nanotechnological recycling,” professors at the School of Chemical Engineering have found a way to convert non-biodegradeable plastic bags into carbon nanotubes.

Hundreds of times stronger than steel, carbon nanotubes are comparatively lightweight materials with unique electrical, mechanical, and thermal transport properties. Today, applications include electronics, energy storage, wind turbines, and sensors. By recycling polyethylene plastic bags into nanomaterials, applications could also include filtration and biomedical products.

Plastic Bags and the Environment

So are plastic bags ever “good” for the environment? The petroleum-based products from Biotech Bags may not pollute the soil, but do the compostable bioplastics from BioBag and Cereplast truly enrich it?  If these biodegradable, compostable plastics wind up in landfills alongside other, harmful materials, how much is gained?

As manufactured products, all plastic bags require energy – and some of these energy sources may cause pollution. At the same time, manufactured products come from workplaces where employees earn paychecks and spend money that supports other industries and the people who work there.

Could recycling plastic bags into carbon nanotubes help the environment – and perhaps the economy – most of all? Or does our a continued reliance on disposable products inevitably lead to more pollution, especially in fast-growing parts of the developing world? I look forward to your comments.