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Bayer, Degussa sign up for laser-based MID technology

Laser technology specialist LPKF Laser & Electronics AG (Garbsen, Germany) has signed know-how and license agreements covering compounds for use in molded interconnect devices (MIDs, sometimes known as 3-D circuit boards) with engineering thermoplastics suppliers Bayer and Degussa. MID technology enables the integration of circuitry and housing into a single component. It also enables development of mechatronic systems that combine both mechanical and electrical functions.

Technology from LPKF enables circuit structures to be directly created on the surface of single-component moldings via laser direct structuring (LDS) and subsequent additive metallization. An ultra high-resolution conductor pattern is "printed" on the surface of the part with a laser beam. The uppermost polymer layer is ablated and the underlying metallization seeds of an organometallic complex compound are activated. At the same time, a surface structure is created that ensures very good adhesion of the conductors applied during subsequent metallization.

Bayer says that compared to other processes used to make MIDs, such as two-component injection molding, hot embossing, or film insert molding, the laser-based structuring method is simpler and less costly. Because the laser works directly from CAD data, the circuit layout can be varied right up until laser structuring.

Degussa AG''s High Performance Polymers division (Marl, Germany) has acquired the rights to produce and market molding compounds based on its cross-linkable Vestodur CL polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), containing a special LDS additive. Bayer Polymers (Leverkusen, German) will modify PBTs and polyethylene terephthalates (PET) from its Pocan range.

U.S. manufacturers get government advocate

In a Labor Day speech to union workers, President Bush announced the creation of a new federal position, assistant secretary of commerce for manufacturing, though the position had not been filled by press time. Since 2000, about 3.1 million jobs have been lost in the U.S., with about 2.5 million of those in manufacturing.

The step may be a bit late, as it comes only a few weeks after congressional testimony by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, who said that many U.S. manufacturing jobs are gone for good and the U.S. should focus on producing ideas rather than goods.

A study completed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York confirmed Greenspan''s statements. According to the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), the industry''s trade surplus of $894 million has become a $1.4-billion trade deficit in the last two years.

SPI boss decries natural gas pricing

Recent petitions and speeches from the SPI are making U.S. lawmakers more aware of the detrimental affects of higher natural gas prices on the plastics industry. A petition delivered to Congress and the White House informs those decision makers that "plastics manufacturing matters" and details remedies needed to promote the industry. Chief among these are energy initiatives, says Donald Duncan, SPI president. "For the U.S. plastics industry, natural gas is its very life''s blood," says Duncan, noting that 70 percent of plastics'' feedstock materials are derived from natural gas.


One less gas-assist court case

Gain Technologies Inc. and Ferromatik Milacron GmbH have dropped a U.S. lawsuit that alleged infringement of Ferromatik Milacron''s Airpress III process, against Steelcase Inc., Cinpres Gas Injection Inc., and Morton Custom Plastics. Steelcase is a licensee of Cinpres'' Plastics Expulsion Process (PEP), which it sub-licensed to Morton for production of office chair components (July 2003 MP/MPI). Terry Pearson, Cinpres Gas Injection chairman, says the move is "perhaps a realization that the Airpress U.S. and EP patents are not as broad as Melea [which holds Gain''s patents] had originally thought when persuading Ferromatik Milacron in Germany to agree to allow Melea to license and enforce the Airpress patents." However, Gain says the suit "was voluntarily dismissed and without prejudice to later reinstatement. The action was taken…in part due to the bankrupt status of co-defendant Morton Custom Plastics LLC. The plan is to reinstate the suit once the status of the defendants is settled." A second case by Gain against Steelcase, accusing infringement by PEP of an "overflow wells" patent that Melea owns, continues.

Madison acquires Synventive

Hot runner supplier Synventive Molding Solutions (Peabody, MA) has been acquired by investment group Madison Capital Partners (Chicago, IL). Madison already owns several companies in the plastics industry, including some previously owned by Berwind Industries LLC, which sold it Synventive.


Auto plastics for all budgets in Frankfurt

This year''s IAA motor show in Frankfurt in September saw the debut of two plastics-bodied cars from the DaimlerChrysler group. At one end of the price scale is the smart forfour, smart''s first family sedan featuring the same hang-on body panel design as used for the company''s city car and roadster (as well as the same absence of capital letters), although paint is used for the body color, rather than pigment in the plastic (GE Plastics'' Xenoy PC/PBT). The car, available in April, will be made in The Netherlands using panels made by Venture Peguform. Prices will start at around e13,000.

Costing more than 25 times as much is the Mercedes-Benz SLR Maclaren, which is full of Formula One racing car technology. It has a monocoque design made in carbon fiber-reinforced composites. The weight advantage over steel is around 50%. The SLR is the world''s first series-produced car to have a front crash structure manufactured entirely from such materials, which DCX says have four to five times higher energy absorption than steel or aluminum.

More nylon getting under the hood

Molder Mann + Hummel GmbH (Ludwigsburg, Germany) has molded the first complete all-plastic oil module, using Bayer Polymer''s Durethan AKV 35 H2.0, a 35% glass fiber-reinforced nylon 66 specially designed to withstand high temperatures. The module, used in the Audi A3 2-liter FSI engine, costs less to make than an aluminum one, has more functionality, and weighs 300g less.

Another German molder, KTSN (Ottendorf-Okrilla) won the special award for engineering innovation from the Society of Plastics Engineers for the development of the world''s first thermoplastic truck engine oil-sump. It cooperated with BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany), whose Ultramid A3HG7, another 35% glass-fiber reinforced nylon, is used. The sump, used on a range of Mercedes-Benz trucks, holds 30% more oil than an aluminum one, enabling the oil change interval to be increased by half, and is 50% lighter.

According to DuPont Engineering Polymers'' Global Technology VP Bill Hsu, the first detailed studies of materials produced at a prototype recycling plant in Canada confirmed the capability of the company''s Composite Recycle Technology to convert nylon auto parts recovered from scrapped vehicles into compounds with properties equivalent to those of virgin materials.


Mauser buys one, signals further U.S. expansion

Industrial packaging processor Mauser Group (Bruhl, Germany), which also makes industrial blowmolding machinery, has acquired the blowmolded packaging business of Hoover Material Handling Group Inc, a former customer for its machines. The acquisition includes four processing sites in the U.S. making drums and intermediate bulk containers. Financial terms were not announced.

Mauser was acquired in early May by investment group One Equity Partners (OEP) and said then one goal was growing its North American presence. Prior to the Hoover acquisition it had only one U.S. site, Vanguard Container Corp. (East Brunswick, NJ); it has 10 manufacturing sites in Europe. Mauser''s top competitors in industrial packaging are Greif Bros. in the U.S. and Germany''s Schutz-Werke.

M&H coming stateside

Cosmetics packaging blowmolder M&H Plastics (Beccles, Suffolk, U.K.) says it will start blowmolding in the U.S. next year to serve current customers to whom it now exports product, plus process for new customers. The firm, bought by management in March, will lease a standing facility on the East Coast, with exact location not decided by mid-September, and add extrusion blowmolding and other equipment. About 50% of M&H Plastics'' production is of standard packaging and the other half custom bottles.


Barrier coating technology gains continue

PPG Industries (Milford, OH), a supplier of glass fibers, coatings, glass, and chemicals, has developed an improved version of its Bairocade coating for use in packaging of highly oxygen-sensitive products. According to the supplier, the new spray coating, called Bairocade HP, provides enough gas barrier that processors can reduce materials used per package by up to 40% with no loss of barrier performance.

In related news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the PICVD coating process, developed by Schott HiCotec (Mainz, Germany), for use in PET food and drinks packaging. The coating on the package interior improves packages'' barrier performance to hinder carbon dioxide egress and oxygen ingress. (December 2002 MP/MPI)

Stretch blowmolding machine maker SIG Corpoplast (Hamburg, Germany) has exclusive global rights to market the PICVD (Plasma Impulse Chemical Vapor Deposition) coating units for food and drinks packaging. Swiss fruit juice bottler Bischofzell Nahrungsmittel AG is the first beta user. Corpoplast expects to begin commercial sales this year.


PPO finds use in cable ducting

GE Plastics Japan (Tokyo) has developed a grade of MPPO targeted specifically at replacing PVC in electrical cable protective ducts. The Noryl grade was developed with the assistance of cable manufacturer Fujikura Ltd. (Tokyo) and is already being employed by electric utilities in Japan. Among benefits derived are a deflection temperature under load of 100C, high heat resistance (Vicat softening point of more than 93C), stable impact strength over a wide temperature range, and 20% lighter weight than PVC.

Possible shopping bag dumping is investigated

Following complaints by a coalition of North American polyethylene (PE) retail carrier bag converters, the U.S. Department of Commerce is conducting an anti-dumping investigation of merchandise sacks in film gauge of .00899 to .889 mm, with preliminary determinations expected next month. The investigation covers imports of PE retail carrier bags from China, Malaysia, and Thailand, which are reportedly sold in the U.S. below market value.

The Polyethylene Retail Carrier Bag Committee, made up of PCL Packaging (Barrie, ON), Sonoco Products (Hartsville, SC), Superbag (Houston, TX), Vanguard Plastics (Farmers Branch, TX), and Interplast Group (Livingston, NJ) pushed for the investigation. In their domestic market last year, U.S. bag processors shipped 59.6 billion bags valued at $652.9 million. Domestic producers have 61.8% of the total market of 96.5 billion bags, valued at $883.3 million. Sack imports in 2002 totaled 36.8 million bags, of which 27.4 billion come from the three countries under investigation.


Sumitomo, Mitsui dissolve polyolefins joint venture

Sumitomo Chemical Co. (Osaka) and Mitsui Chemicals (Tokyo), have dissolved their polyolefins joint venture Sumitomo Mitsui Polyolefin Co. Ltd. (SMPO). The merger was canceled due to differences over the valuations of the two companies. SMPO had annual capacity of 950,000 tons of polyethylene and 1 million tons of polypropylene. Since its establishment in February 2002, it had prompted other suppliers to restructure in Japan.

Now the SMPO partners say they will pursue their respective PO businesses separately, with Sumitomo''s likely to remain independent, whereas Mitsui is considered more likely to form an alliance with other suppliers.

Dow idles more PE capacity

Dow Chemical Co. has idled another 885 million lb of PE capacity in North America, bringing its total idle PE capacity there to more than 1.4 billion lb. "Profits in the global petrochemical industry are somewhat dependent on running plants at high operating rates," says Bob Bell, commercial vice president. "At this point in time, it is less costly for us to idle these plants than to run them."


California is first U.S. state to ban PBDE flame retardants

Effective Jan. 1, 2008, penta and octa types of polybrominated diphenyl ethers may no longer be used as flame retardants in California. Both South Korea and China are considering similar measures as are some other states including Massachusetts, which debated the issue late last month.

Silicones go in deal between GE, Crompton

Crompton Corp. (Middlebury, CT) has sold its OSi Specialties organosilicones business to GE Specialty Materials (Wilton, CT). A raw material supply arrangement with market leader Dow Corning, which supplies about half of OSi''s needs, is included in the deal. GE''s Specialty Chemicals division of plastics additives covering phenolic and phosphate antioxidants, phosphate and melt process stabilizers, custom antioxidant blends, and ABS modifier polymers is being transferred to Crompton along with a cash payment of $633 million. Crompton hopes to receive an additional $12 million from GE for additional OSi assets overseas.


Xaloy expands position in North America

Barrel, screw, and nozzle producer Xaloy (Olten, Switzerland; Pulaski, VA) has acquired competitor New Castle Industries (New Castle, PA) for $17 million. "The acquisition strengthens our business three ways. New Castle''s substantial business in extruder screws fits well with our strength in injection molding screws," says Xaloy Group CEO Walter G. Cox. "[It] gives us a high-level entry into the roll business with New Castle''s three brands: F.R. Gross, Keystone, and Tanner. Finally, [it helps reduce] excess production capacity in North America."

Cox says the acquisition also enhances Xaloy''s market value since the company''s present owner, the Swiss Saurer Group, previously announced its intent to sell Xaloy to concentrate on its core textile machinery business. Last November Xaloy bought the twin-barrel business of Spirex. Last month Xaloy officially opened a new screw manufacturing facility in Modrice, Czech Republic.

In related news, Spirex Corp. (Youngstown, OH) has acquired exclusive rights to market Hitachi bimetallic barrel blanks in North America. Spirex will make finished barrels using the blanks.


Micro-embossing prototyping service kicks off in Japan

Trading company Itochu Plastics Inc. (Osaka) and machine toolmaker Mori Seiki Co. (Osaka) have started a "foundry service" in Japan for prototyping of nano- and microembossed plastic components using the HEX hot embossing system from Jenoptik Mikrotechnik GmbH (Jena, Germany). Itochu and Mori formed a strategic alliance in the field of microprocessing last October. Itochu is also the exclusive agent for Jena in Japan.

The HEX hot embossing system reportedly is more flexible and economical than microinjection molding. It can be used for rapid prototyping through pilot production to volume production. Key applications are in the microstructuring of thermoplastics, especially the production of high-precision microfluidic components with a large aspect ratio and micro-optical components. Mori Seiki will fabricate master molds for use in the HEX equipment. Itochu and Mori Seiki report considerable interest in microembossing technology with target applications including DNA chip substrates, microelectromechanical systems, electronic micropackaging, microflow sensors, and light guides.


Burghoff succeeds Eschwey

Last month Steffen Burghoff (35) took over as president of SMS Plastics Technology, a privately held manufacturing group that includes brand names Battenfeld, Battenfeld Gloucester, Cincinnati Extrusion, and American Maplan in its plastics machinery group. Burghoff had been executive manager at the SMS holding company. He succeeds Helmut Eschwey, who last month took charge at precious metals concern Heraeus Holding AG.

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