Interview by Beth Politsch
Between consulting for major chemical companies, attending Maker Faires, running his thermoplastics material supply business and becoming the newest contributing writer for Prospector’s Knowledge Center, Matthew Howlett stays busy. We were excited to get an hour of his time to find out more about his involvement in the plastics industry, including his business, his interest in emerging technologies and his excitement over a new generation that’s embracing manufacturing from an early age.
Q. You run a very successful consulting firm, as well as a thermoplastics material supply business for 3D printing materials. How did you get where you are today?
A. I’ve been fortunate to work at a number of very good resin companies over the last 20 years where I learned a great deal about materials and how they are used in in a wide array of markets and applications. I have held positions that range from technical service to sales and market development to global market management. In each of these roles, I concentrated on meeting the customer’s needs and addressing their unmet needs.
My focus has been in the high-performance materials market, because the technical problems my customers face are often incredibly demanding, and the solutions need to be tailored to the specific needs of that application. For me, these areas are simply more interesting than the dynamics of bulk commodities that are indexed to some key raw material. Today, this experience allows me to work with companies who wish to enter or expand their presence in the high-performance materials segment. I help them develop actionable strategic marketing and implementation plans custom-tailored to what values they can bring to bear and the needs of their target markets.
Q. What’s fun about what you do?
A. I have the ability to be involved in many different projects with a lot of different companies. At any given time, I might be involved with three different chemical companies on three different projects. The overall breadth of exposure keeps me on my toes.
Q. What’s the hardest part of your job?
A. Saying no. I want to take every project, but I also have to limit myself to a few projects at a time, so that I can do my best for my clients.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge you see for plastics manufacturers currently?
A. There are actually a couple of common issues. First, I’d say sustainability is a big one, with customers looking more and more at the carbon footprint of the materials they choose. There’s increasing emphasis on bio-materials at all levels of the supply chain.
Second, there’s the issue of capacity. For certain sectors of the plastics industry, overproduction of materials is creating an imbalance that is unsustainable. Many countries and companies think it’s in their best interest to have a thriving chemicals sector – including plastics. But there’s not enough demand for many of these materials, and this could create instability in the market. Short-term, pricing will be impacted, but longer-term, security of supply could be a real issue.
Q. One of your areas of interest is 3D printing. What about this emerging market captures your interest?
A. 3D printing engages people from all walks of life, especially young people, who would never have been involved in manufacturing in the past. I recently attended a Makers Faire and sat between a young girl who had created a fantastic mechanical computer and a large company with hundreds of products. There was even a booth where someone was 3D printing with chocolate. It’s fun for me to see young kids engaged in manufacturing projects using plastics. At this show, a teenage boy asked me what was different about my ABS compared to someone else’s – and amazingly, he understood my answer. Because of the accessibility of 3D printing, manufacturing will be a part of these kids’ lexicons as they grow into adults.
Another great aspect of 3D printing is that it enables the manufacture of components that historically would have been too costly to be made by traditional means. Traditional manufacturing is geared to high output. But 3D printing allows for the production of smaller quantities in a cost-effective manner.
Q. What’s the coolest example of a 3D printed product you’ve seen?
A. Most definitely prosthetic limbs for kids and returning veterans. There are multiple organizations popping up across the world that use open source technology to engage people in making prosthetics. One guy built a hand for a child with little claws that would click in just like Wolverine. Now, instead of being seen as handicapped, he’s the cool kid in class. On top of that, the hand cost about $50 to manufacture and he gets a new one every 6-9 months as he grows out of the previous one.
Q. Do you have any current consulting projects you can tell us about?
A. I’ve been involved in helping a large chemical company enter the high temp market with a new material for the last two years. I’ve helped them write their business cases, marketing plans and product strategies. We have taken the project from the conceptual phase all the way to putting production-quality product in front of customers. It has been very rewarding to be involved from the beginning on this project and watching it mature into a real business.
About the Author
|Matt Howlett, President
Global Polymer Group
E-mail: Matt Howlett
|Matthew has been the President and CEO of Global Polymer Group (GPG) since he founded the company in 2007. His strategic marketing services assist clients who wish to enter or expand their presence in the high-performance polymer market by creating proprietary market strategies and implementation plans. Through GPG, Matthew also offers contract sales and market development support in target markets that are especially suited for high-performance polymers. Furthermore, through it’s subsidiary 3DXTech, GPG offers specialty products to the 3D Printing market.|
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