Chemical Manufacturing

Significant Points:

* Workers involved in production and in installation, maintenance, and repair hold more than half of all jobs.
* Earnings are higher than average compared with other manufacturing industries.
* Employment is projected to decline, and applicants for jobs are expected to face keen competition.

Nature of the Industry

Goods and services.

Chemicals are an essential component of manufacturing and are vital to industries such as construction, motor vehicles, paper, electronics, transportation, and agriculture. Although some chemical manufacturers produce and sell consumer products such as soap, bleach, and cosmetics, most chemical products are used as intermediate products for other goods.

Industry organization.

Chemical manufacturing is divided into seven segments, six of which are covered here: basic chemicals, synthetic materials, agricultural chemicals, paint, coatings, and adhesives, cleaning preparations, and other chemical products. The seventh segment, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, is covered in a separate Career Guide statement.

The basic chemicals segment produces various petrochemicals, gases, dyes, and pigments. Petrochemicals contain carbon and hydrogen and are made primarily from petroleum and natural gas. The production of both organic and inorganic chemicals occurs in this segment. Organic chemicals are used to make a wide range of products, such as dyes, plastics, and pharmaceutical products; however, the majority of these chemicals are used in the production of other chemicals. Industrial inorganic chemicals usually are made from salts, metal compounds, other minerals, and the atmosphere. In addition to producing solid and liquid chemicals, firms involved in inorganic chemical manufacturing produce industrial gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and helium. Many inorganic chemicals serve as processing ingredients in the manufacture of chemicals, but do not appear in the final products because they are used as catalysts—chemicals that speed up or otherwise aid a reaction.

The synthetic materials segment produces a wide variety of finished products as well as raw materials, including common plastic materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene. Among products into which these plastics can be made are loudspeakers, toys, PVC pipes, and beverage bottles. This industry segment also produces plastic materials used for mixing and blending resins on a custom basis. Motor vehicle manufacturers are particularly large users of synthetic materials.

The agricultural chemicals segment, which employs the fewest workers in the chemical industry, supplies farmers and home gardeners with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals. The segment also includes companies involved in the formulation and preparation of agricultural and household pest control chemicals.

The paint, coating, and adhesive products segment includes firms making paints, varnishes, putties, paint removers, sealers, adhesives, glues, and caulking. The construction and furniture industries are large customers of this segment. Other customers range from individuals refurbishing their homes to businesses needing anticorrosive paints that can withstand high temperatures.

The cleaning preparations segment is the only segment in which much of the production is geared directly toward consumers. The segment includes firms making soaps, detergents, and cleaning preparations. Cosmetics and toiletries, including perfume, lotion, and toothpaste, also are produced in this segment. Households and businesses use these products in many ways, cleaning everything from babies to bridges.

The “other chemical” products segment includes manufacturers of explosives, printing ink, film, toners, matches, and other miscellaneous chemicals. These products are used by consumers or in the manufacture of other products.

Chemicals generally are classified into two groups: basic chemicals and specialty chemicals. Basic chemical manufacturers produce large quantities of basic and relatively inexpensive compounds in large plants, often built specifically to make one chemical. Most basic chemicals are used to make more highly refined chemicals for the production of everyday consumer goods by other industries. Conversely, specialty chemical manufacturers produce smaller quantities of more expensive chemicals that are used less frequently. Specialty chemical manufacturers often supply larger chemical companies on a contract basis. Many traditional chemical manufacturers are divided into two separate entities, one focused on basic and the other on specialty chemicals.

The chemical industry segments vary in the degree to which their workers are involved in production activities, administration and management, and research and development. Industries that make products such as cosmetics or paints that are ready for sale to the final consumer employ more administrative and marketing personnel. Industries that market their products mostly to industrial customers generally employ a greater proportion of precision production workers and a lower proportion of unskilled labor.

Recent developments.

Nanotechnology will continue to benefit all of the manufacturing industries. The advantages of the applications of nanotechnology have far from reached their limits, but research and development in nanotechnology are both expensive and time consuming. In the chemical manufacturing industry, developments in nanotechnology will help conserve energy needed to produce chemicals and reduce the amount of waste products, making the manufacturing process more efficient.

Some localities are imposing or considering restrictions on the use of plastic bags, a product of the chemical manufacturing industry. Whether the outcome is a ban on plastic bags or a tax on plastic bags, demand for such bags will be affected negatively. In addition, many grocery stores offer reusable bag discounts for customers who forgo the plastic bags.

Source: bls.gov, mediaclubsouthafrica.co.za

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