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Market Focus: Industrial products

May 31, 2001

9 Min Read
Market Focus: Industrial products

It's no secret that over the past year, the global marketplace has seen a decline in revenue. For example, the automotive and semiconductor industries have seen a 5 to 10 percent decline. However, there is one segment that's seen some growth, thanks, in part, to the energy crisis in the U.S. Many of the industrial parts associated with the distribution of oil and gas are injection molded. And according to one supplier in this market, molding opportunities abound. 

"All the components associated with keeping oil flowing and energy moving, whether it's natural gas or energy of any type, have been booming," says Kevin Jennings, gm at Victrex Corp., a worldwide resin supplier that does a lot of business in the industrial products sector. He relates a large part of the boom to energy companies looking for sources of oil that are more difficult to obtain. Companies are drilling deeper, at higher temperatures, and for longer periods of time. 

"You need high-temperature materials to combat that environment," says Andrew Walker, North American sales manager for Victrex. "They're drilling on land and sea. Electrical connectors have to go down there and stay for 25 years." 

Though aluminum and steel have dominated the industrial market, Walker sees a changing mindset among manufacturers as plastics become the material of choice where once metal was the standard. "Ten years ago," he says, "the thinking was, 'We can't use plastic because it's not strong enough.' Now there's a new generation of engineers that understand high-performance materials. Companies are producing high-performance products with plastic, and taking some cost out, too, because three components can become one through the use of injection molding. This has led to a number of diversified applications over the past five to 10 years." 

In addition to overcoming the metal factor, Jennings believes companies in the industrial market need to get customers over the sticker shock factor of resin prices. Many of the materials used in the industrial market are expensive because they are usually high-performance materials that withstand harsh and corrosive conditions. 

The outlook for the industrial market depends on the ability of molders to balance innovative applications against a less-than-ample budget.

It's important that engineers in the industrial market be educated on the fact that expensive materials can still be cost effective, says Jennings. Replacing a number of materials and separate components with one component can be very cost effective. Victrex's high-heat polyaryletherketone, for instance, typically costs about $35/lb. "In the plastics world that's in the high end," says Jennings. "So, you have to carefully think about what you're asking that material to do, what it's replacing, and look at the cycle life of the components." 

According to Jennings, the outlook for the industrial market depends on the ability of molders to balance innovative applications against a less-than-ample budget. "Markets such as medical and electronics are more driven by innovation and speed and less driven by cost. They have more flexibility. However, industrial segments are under enormous cost pressures because they are mostly old line, old world competitive markets." 

The market also faces strong global competition. Companies from around the world support the raw materials that are used in the industry. "Profit margins are probably lower for the companies that build semiconductors or software," says Jennings. "There's pressure to be innovative and reduce cost." 

Part of being innovative is convincing manufacturers that a plastic part will work better than its metal counterpart. Walker offers an example of a typical customer situation. "A company will say, 'We're in a competitive market with a pump. It's used in a chemical environment and flushed with water, but we're using stainless steel for the gears and it keeps galling.' So, we'll use plastic instead of metal and injection mold that gear wheel. We'll make the gear cheaper and gain an advantage over our competition. Those are the key elements in this industry: efficiency, innovation, and getting an edge over your competition." 

0601i57a.jpg Resin Adds Color to Escalator Steps 

• Application: Smartsteps escalator steps. 

• Material used: Pocan, a blend of polybutylene terephthalate and polycarbonate (Bayer Corp.). 

• Manufacturer: Not available. 

• Molder: Cokowerk GmbH & Co. KG (Bad Salzuflen, Germany). 

• Moldmaker: Thyssen Fahrtreppen GmbH (Hamburg, Germany). 

• Functionality: A total of five escalators will be manufactured to carry visitors up to rented lounges in the Schalke Arena soccer stadium (Germany). 

• Manufacturing details: Unlike metal steps, plastic steps do not need any secondary treatment. Molding tools are also subjected to less stress and last longer than the tools required for metal steps. 

• Challenges/innovation: Using plastic rather than metal created several advantages in design, upkeep, and safety. First, the steps can be manufactured in different colors. Although aluminum treads can be painted or powder coated, the color layer produced is thin and wears off quickly. The plastic's color, of course, is molded in, thus allowing the design to last for the lifetime of the steps. In this case, the stadium's escalator steps were made to match the team uniform color of royal blue. Cleaning is simpler because plastic is scratch resistant and has pore-free surfaces so dirt cannot become ingrained. Assembly and maintenance are also easier: A 1000-mm-wide plastic step weighs 10 kg, compared to 16 kg for aluminum. This reduction in weight helps lower escalator operating costs. With respect to safety, the roughened tread surfaces are reportedly slip-resistant in all directions, even to wet shoe soles. The plastic steps also help deaden noise from the escalator motor and footsteps. 

Bayer Corp., Pittsburgh, PA
Phone: (412) 777-2000
Fax: (412) 777-2758
Web: www.bayer.com/polymers-usa 

0601i57b.jpg TPE protects light rail circuits 

• Application: Porce-A-Clamp conduit clamps for light rail tunnel. 

• Material used: Dytron XL TPE (Advanced Elastomer Systems). 

• Manufacturer/molder/designer: Zsi Inc. (Westland, MI). 

• Moldmaker: Craig EDM (Farmington, MI). 

• Customer: SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority). 

• Functionality: The clamps protect critical electrical circuits and pipes from exposure to hazardous elements in SEPTA tunnels. 

• Manufacturing details: A stainless steel cup surrounds the injection molded Dytron XL TPE cushion. 

• Challenges/innovation: Finding a material that can withstand the harsh environment of a light rail tunnel was the big challenge. Electrical components need to be protected from any potential hazards. With the combination of solid steel and Dytron, which is built to perform in temperatures ranging from ­5 to 275F, the clamps have good chemical resistance and are flame retardant. Both properties are essential to protect vital electrical components from potential hazards such as water, fire, and heat. 

Advanced Elastomer Systems LP, Akron, OH
Phone: (330) 849-5000; Fax: (330) 849-5599
Web: www.aestpe.com 

0601i58a.jpg Microcellular foaming improves press performance 

• Application: Pipe insulation part for injection molding machines. 

• Material used: Zytel 70G33L glass-reinforced nylon (DuPont Engineering Polymers). 

• Manufacturer/molder/customer: Arburg Inc. (Newington, CT). 

• Designers: Arburg Inc., Trexel Inc. (Woburn, MA). 

• Functionality: Housing mounts on the pipe to isolate vibration caused by the machine's pumps. 

• Manufacturing details: In the employment of MuCell technology, nitrogen is introduced into the polymer melt in the machine barrel. When the polymer is injected into the mold the pressure drop causes the formation of microcells in the interior of the parts. 

• Challenges/innovation: Requirements for the part included the need for good hydraulic oil resistance, as well as strength and stiffness in a microcellular structure. The housing, molded with MuCell, reportedly exhibits 75 percent less warping than solid parts. The potential for oil leakage is reduced because the flatter housing achieves a reliable seal against the steel wall of the machine's hydraulic oil reservoir. Cycle time was cut by 25 percent and additional cost savings were realized with the reduction of material use. Under specific conditions, using MuCell for the housing results in a 27 percent weight reduction. 

DuPont Engineering Polymers, Wilmington, DE
Phone: (302) 999-4592; Fax: (302) 999-2311
Web: www.dupont.com/enggpolymers 

0601i58b.jpg PP reduces fan noise, cuts cost 

• Application: 30.5-inch-diameter fan. 

• Material used: Celstran PP-GF40-02 LFRT polypropylene (Ticona). 

• Manufacturer: Carrier Corp. (Farmington, CT). 

• Molder: Carlisle Engineered Products (Chardon, OH). 

• Functionality: The fans are used in air-cooled chillers for apartment and office buildings, shopping malls, and other large structures. 

• Manufacturing details: The long-fiber PP is reportedly easy to mold because of its relatively wide processing window. 

• Challenges/innovation: Part construction was required to meet demanding specifications for toughness, strength, dimensional stability, and chemical resistance. The ability to withstand rotational stress is also important as the fan turns at 11,400 rpm. Celstran PP reportedly proved to be less expensive than other materials investigated. It also withstands extended UV exposure, retains its mechanical properties at temperatures ranging from 10 to 155F, and has a high Izod impact strength of 5.1 ft-lb/in. The fan also has an aerodynamic design that was impossible with metal. It enables noise to be reduced by 10 db and moves more air at the same power than the metal fan. 

Ticona, Summit, NJ
Phone: (908) 598-4000; Fax: (908) 598-4165
Web: www.ticona.com 

0601i60a.jpgCarbon Fiber Compound Proves more Cost Effective than Metal

• Application: Probe arms of the Discus rotor measuring system used to measure brake rotor wear. 

• Material used: 4000 Series polyphthalamide (PPA) compound with 50 percent fiber (RTP Co.). 

• Manufacturer/molder/designer: Advantage Plastics Products (Manchester, NH). 

• Customer: Pro-Cut International (West Lebanon, NH). 

• Functionality: Spring-loaded arms measure brake rotor wear without removing the automobile's tires. 

• Manufacturing details: The system is comprised of 12 molded components. 

• Challenges/innovation: Pro-Cut was going to use cast zinc or machined aluminum until it realized how costly that would be. Injection molding was recognized as the best solution only if the right material was found. The material had to allow the two spring-loaded arms to remain parallel, even through a 90° bend. The RTP 4000 PPA compound proved to be the right choice; its tensile strength (41,000 psi) and flexural strength (60,000 psi) provide ample stiffness and maintain dimensional tolerance over perpendicular and parallel planes. 

RTP Co., Winona, MN
Phone: (507) 454-6900; Fax: (507) 454-2041
Web: www.rtpcompany.com 

0601i60b.jpg Resin Saves Thermal Cameras for Firefighters 

• Application: Thermal imaging camera. 

• Material used: Ultem polyetherimide (GE). 

• Manufacturer/Customer: Bullard Power Systems Inc. (Vancouver, BC). 

• Functionality: Firefighters use these cameras to find lost survivors amidst smoke and fire. 

• Challenges/innovation: Bullard needed a material for its thermal imager that offered excellent resistance to heat and impact, common challenges for equipment designed to withstand a fire. The overall strength, dimensional stability, and heat resistance of Ultem (up to 356F) made it the logical choice for the thermal imagers. Recently, one of Bullard's imaging cameras survived a fire when a firefighter searching a building dropped the camera. It wasn't until the fire was doused that the camera was discovered on the structure's lower level, still functional. 

GE Plastics, Pittsfield, MA
Phone: (413) 448-5800; Fax: (413) 448-7493
Web: www.geplastics.com 

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