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Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment
Department Industrial Engineering – Skills Development
merSETA Sub-Sectors
The plastics manufacturing sub-sector is part of a supply chain stretching from the
polymer manufacturing industry (chemical companies) through to a variety of end-use
markets, and is characterised by ease of entry because of its low economies of scale
and a high degree of mechanisation. This means that:
There are many micro and small companies and a few medium sized plants;
The sub-sector is not a large scale employer;
Plastics manufacturing cells can be found within manufacturing plants of other
manufacturing industries.
Some plastic products are in themselves a final product, but the vast majorities are
inputs into other industries where they form components for the manufacture and
assembly of other products and an analysis of the economic performance of the
plastics sub-sector without reference to other manufacturing sectors would not be
There are some 1600 companies in this sub-sector, employing around 45 000 staff.
Plastics manufacturing is also a very diverse sub-sector and can be further broken
down into several subindustries related to the raw material (input) and the
manufacturing process. These are:
• Plastics products and components;
• Industrial rubber products and components (this excludes manufacture and retreading of tyres);
• Polymer composite products and components, sometimes colloquially referred to
as ‘fibre glass’ because glass fibres form one of the constituents;
• Other fabrication methods and services.
The main markets for the plastics industry are set out in Figure 2, below.
The market share is based on polymer consumption by mass: tonnes of polymer
converted. Although these figures reflect the situation for 2006-7 it is unlikely that
proportions will be much different in the current year. No similar figures could be
found for rubber products. The main markets for rubber are industrial, mining and
automotive. As in other industries, the performance of the rubber and plastics
industries are subject to the same constraints affecting manufacturing in general, as
pointed out in the 2010-11 – 2012-13 Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP 2).
Low profitability has been the consequence of a number of key driving forces which
• An exchange rate which is volatile and generally over-valued;
• The high cost and limited allocation of capital to productive sectors, particularly
the relatively more
• labour-intensive and value-adding sectors of the economy;
• Failure to adequately leverage domestic supply opportunities of the public capital
expenditure programme, other large public ‘fleet’ expenditure, as well as private
procurement spend;
• The monopolistic provision and pricing of key inputs into manufacturing and other
productive processes, and concentrated purchasing power of outputs of these
• A weak skills system, which does not adequately respond to the needs of
productive sectors;
• An aged, unreliable and expensive rail and ports system;
• Further, imminent electricity price increases will also introduce a negative shock
to the production side of the economy’ (Source: DTI 2010)
Figure 1 Markets for manufactured plastics products 2006/7
Adapted from merSETA’s Sector Skills Plan, 2010/11 – 2015/16