The materials of machine and device construction are currently undergoing a major modernisation. There are many forces driving humankind to find new materials for production and utilisation. Old material solutions have often worked for a long time, if only on the strength of tradition. However, they just eat up a lot of resources while failing to truly meet most of the needs of the modern world. The need to save in weight, maintenance, consumption, time and all other resource use is inevitable. This means that we have to start using more plastics, rubber and composite materials. They can be strengthened with many fibres and modified with nanomaterials, ceramics, metals and bio-fillers, or whatever the customer’s product requires.

Luckily, we have passed the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages and have risen to a level where we can construct exactly the material we want for a specific need from the molecular level up. This makes it possible to leave out everything unnecessary, and also creates features and functions for the final product that simply could not be done before. Or if they could, the products were only available to very few people.  Additive manufacturing, the Internet of Things, the rising living standards in Asia and Africa, climate change, the environment, health and safety: A large number of megatrends will inevitably redefine the world’s material selections and product design. Even the boundaries between materials are blurring with the coming of hybrid materials, which are being produced even here in Finland for important brand products on the global market.

It feels like even time is standing still to take a breath whenever another new polymer or polymer composite successfully seizes a foothold on an everyday product that was previously always made of another material. Vehicle gearboxes, solar thermal collectors, entire bicycle and rifle frames, egg cartons, work machine tyres – these are just a few of the items that I have come across in recent years and have been surprised to see that they are all plastic or plastic/rubber composites.

The early plastics and rubbers were quite different from what we have today. Material production and design and their combination have taken huge leaps forward. The development of the calculation and simulation of these leaps and the development of machining techniques have strengthened immensely. In Finland, we have extremely high competence in the field of specialty injection moulding, for example. We can also create an extremely diverse range of other rubber and plastic products with almost all the known manufacturing techniques. The scope and sophistication of our knowledge of materials have been left somewhat in the shadow of other things in the search for something new.

Luckily, new materials have been chosen as one of the main themes of the Subcontracting Fair 2015. This is a great thing! It will also promote entrepreneurship, parts production, design, agility and many other things.  I would like to give a small assignment to all the attendees: Mark down the products and components that you see at the fair that will certainly never be made of any other material than the current one. Review the list every couple of years…and prepare to be surprised. But let us try to continue to also make the solutions for the new materials in Finland!

Vesa Kärhä
Finnish Plastics Industries Federation

Vesa Kärhä the CEO of Finnish Plastics Industries Federation (FIPIF). FIPIF is an organisation for plastic manufacturers and companies that refine plastic and use it as a raw material. FIPIF brings plastic companies together and acts as their voice towards legislators and other organisations.