Moulding Automotive Bioplastics in Ontario: Is it a Cluster?
by Jeremy Vasil
The province of Ontario has experienced economic disruptions in the past several years that have affected automotive industry employment, and had negative ramifications throughout the provincial economy. The industry has been fundamental to the province, and has been able to overcome numerous obstacles since its inception.
It has been shown that industrial clusters help encourage innovation and technological advancement, leading to economic development. Understanding interactions that occur between firms within these alliances will help to display whether a cluster is existent.
Bioplastics are a focus of efforts to revitalize both the agricultural and the manufacturing sectors in the province, while aiming to improve environmental performance at the same time. Bioplastics producers located in the province may utilise locally grown agricultural commodities as feedstocks for plastics and these can be used as interior automotive plastic components. Biobased materials from renewable resources displace the use of conventional non-renewable petroleum resource based plastics.
To understand the potential for economic transformation in the province this study considers a case study and nodal network analysis of firms associated with bioplastics in Ontario’s automotive sector. The study considers if there is a bioplastics cluster related to the automotive industry, existing or evolving, and its possible impact.
The case study on bioplastics in Ontario looks at one formal alliance focused on bioplastic development in the automotive industry. An analysis of the network of formal alliances is then presented that considers numerous firms and their involvement with bioplastics for the automotive sector. Nodal maps were used to see the different connections between the firms in the identified alliances. Graphics were used to visually represent firms and see linkages between them. Analysis then considered alliance members with operations within Ontario in order to gain an understanding of how many organizations operate within these networks in, helping to identify the presence of a potential cluster.
Results showed that a cluster is not present for automotive bioplastics in Ontario. There are insufficient numbers of organizations that are directly involved in bioplastics for the automotive industry within the province to justify calling this formation a cluster. However, many alliances are currently generating positive research results, allowing for the production of components that use bioplastics. As technology evolves and the automotive industry adopts these materials more, production is expected to increase and bioplastics may displace some of the use of traditional plastics in the automotive industry. It is possible that these biobased products will one day compete with traditional plastics in terms of price, quality, and possible volume.
This paper identifies the historical significance of the automotive industry in Ontario and how it has led to the current circumstances. Clustering and innovation have been important for the industry to improve and remain profitable throughout much of this history. More recently, customer preferences have moved towards the more environmentally friendly options. These preferences have suggested a move towards bioplastics where possible to help improve the sustainability of automobiles. In response, many members of the industry have formed alliances in order to try and advance these interests, and have been able to produce effective results. Though there do not appear to be enough organizations focusing on this sector to justify calling this a cluster.
Jeremy Vasil: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeremy-vasil/34/b17/161
LED program: http://www.environment.uwaterloo.ca/led/index.html