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October 8, 1999

10 Min Read
Market Focus:  Lawn & garden/power tools

This is not rocket science,"says John Flannery, group product manager at Ames Lawn & GardenTools. Indeed, the lawn and garden market is among the oldestin the country, and its dominant products are made from simple,beloved, traditional favorites like wood (for handles) and steel(for blades and wheelbarrow trays). Yet, when it comes to manufacturingfrom alternate materials-like plastics-achieving customer acceptanceis much more of a science.

Parkersburg, WV-based Ames is a large manufacturer of nonpoweredlawn and garden products, and it knows the traditional materialswell. It produces 25,000 long-handled products (rakes, shovels,hoes) a day. "That's a lot of wood," says Flannery.It's also a lot of money. The cost of traditional materials likewood are on the rise. "We've got to come up with a more economicalmaterial than wood," he says.

As a result, this longtime player in the lawn and garden markethas become an injection molding expert, parlaying that specialtyinto new applications that are shaping the future of this market.The company does most of its own molding and assembly out of threeOhio plants.


Lawn and garden index (3Q 1995 = 100)

 

1997

1998

1999

Power tools index

 

1997

1998

1999

 Total retail sales, billion $

 Electrical products, hand tools, hardware, lawn and garden, paint and sundries, plumbing and heating, power tools.

1995

1996

1997

1998


Flannery says the market is slowly accepting the inevitableshift to the use of plastics in traditional products and components.The Ames molded hose reels, for example, are among the company'sbest-sellers-a high-dollar product that remains consistently indemand. And thermoplastic wheelbarrow trays are gradually displacingthe well-known steel tray. Snow shovels, as many cold-weatherinhabitants are painfully aware, have long since converted tomolded plastic blades.

Currently Ames is assessing the use of plastics in short andlong handles for some products, and may integrate gas assist orcomposite materials in some applications to provide high strengthwith low weight. On some products, the company is already usingpolyethylene handles with an elastomer overmolded for a soft grip.For some rake heads Ames uses nylon, or a thermal polyolefin,to enhance temperature tolerance. On the horizon? How about aplastic shovel blade? "I think down the road we'll see plasticin the tool head," says Flannery. He describes a shovel thatmight combine a plastic molded blade with an insert molded steeltip.

The biggest change Ames and this market have endured in thelast few years is a demand for fully assembled products. Flannerysays snow shovels, hose reels, and other products used to be shippedin pieces, and then assembled by the retailer or the customer.Today, most of the assembly is performed by Ames operators besidethe press.

Revenue growth at Ames, Flannery reports, has been strong.He attributes it, not surprisingly, to the propagation and patronizationof such big box stores as Home Depot, Eagle Hardware, Lowe's,Ace Hardware, and Wal-Mart. "We're riding that wave,"says Flannery. Also, although he has no data to back up this assertion,Flannery thinks that baby boomers at the consumer level are payingmore attention and money to lawn and garden maintenance. "Peoplepay a ton of money for landscaping today and they have to maintainit after they get it," he says.




Flame-retardant nylon 6/6 reduces router cost


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An important part of the Leap1/2-inch router is its lower bearing plate. This part, which isoften made of diecast aluminum, holds the bearing in place, whichin turn holds the end of the shaft that's doing the routing work.Needless to say, it's a critical part.

The router's designer, Ryobi Motor Products (Pickens, SC),chose LNP Engineering Plastics' Verton RF FR, a long-glass-fiber,flame-retardant nylon 6/6 to mold the part. It reportedly offersthe dimensional stability, impact strength, and stiffness required.These characteristics are particularly important because the materialis in a high-temperature environment with constant vibration.Ryobi also chose the material because it eliminates secondaryfinishing operations required with metal parts. The cost per unitwould have been at least 25 to 35 percent higher if aluminum wasused, reports Ryobi.

The material's creep resistance was also a factor in the decision."We've torn units down that have been assembled for a numberof years and we still have excellent press fit between the plateand the bearing," says Ryobi's senior project engineer, RonnieMcCurry.

Accurate Mold & Plastics Corp. (Nixa, MO) molds the parts ona 250-ton Cincinnati Milacron in a single-cavity mold. Ryobi assemblesthe tool.

For more information:
LNP Engineering Plastics
Exton, PA
Phone: (610) 363-4500
Fax: (610) 363-4749
Web: www.lnp.com


Drill housing goes where no housing has gonebefore


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Makita is one of the few powertool manufacturers that can claim its products are the choiceof astronauts worldwide. The Makita 6213D cordless drill, witha modified 12v battery, was used by astronauts aboard the spaceshuttle Endeavour to construct components of the InternationalSpace Station.

The drills were the first commercial power tool used on theSpace Station, which is being built in stages by astronauts fromvarious participating countries. In orbit 250 miles above theearth, the drills are used to attach handrails and fasteners tothe walls of the Unity Module.

The housing of the drill is injection molded from Makrolon3105 polycarbonate from Bayer. Chosen for its strength, toughness,thermal stability, dimensional stability, and insulation properties,the resin reportedly processes well and releases easily. Wallthickness in the housing, molded at Makita's Buford, GA plant,ranges from .072 to .080 inch, which is thinner than the .1-inchthick housing used on previous models.

Makita also reports that the housing is molded in a cycle that's33 percent faster than what's measured for typical housings. Afterthe press, drills are hand-assembled at the Buford facility beforebeing tested. The drill weighs 4.2 lb (not that it matters inspace).

For more information:
Bayer Corp., Polymers Div.
Pittsburgh, PA
Phone: (800) 622-6004
Fax: (412) 777-5585
Web: www.bayer.com/polymers-usa


Power saw's 12 components comprised of nylon,PET


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TheTilt-Lok circular saw from Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. (Brookfield,WI) is designed to provide users with comfort and control, thanksto its eight-position, user-adjustable main handle. This powerfulsaw is lightweight, yet designed to endure rough use. It is comprisedof 12 components molded from three families of DuPont engineeringpolymers: Eight parts are molded from Zytel nylon, three fromMinlon mineral-reinforced nylon, and one from Rynite PET thermoplasticpolyester resin.

The saw has several unique features. The new motor hub hasan insert molded metal bearing that replaces a machined aluminumhub and bearing retained by a snap ring. The design cuts the hubcost by two-thirds. The hub and fan are made from Zytel 70GL43L,a 43 percent glass-reinforced grade of nylon 6/6 that combineshigh strength and stiffness. The motor housing is reportedly thefirst in the industry to feature insert molded power circuit tracesthat eliminate the need to connect wiring during assembly. Thisdesign allows connectors on a terminal board at the rear of themotor's field simply to plug into terminals in the housing.

The housing also has integrally molded teeth that assist thesaw's Tilt-Lok feature. It is molded from Rynite SST35, a 35 percentglass-fiber-reinforced grade that offers toughness, stiffness,heat resistance, and dimensional stability. It endured repeatedfalls of 6 to 9 ft during testing. The saw's terminal board, handleadjustment, and lever lock plate are made from Minlon 10B40, anylon 6/6 with filler technology that meets requirements of lowwarp and high-temperature strength.

Juno Inc. (Plymouth, MN) molds the larger parts, such as themotor housing, handle, and motor cover on a 220-ton CincinnatiMilacron. The handle halves are molded in a family mold and thehousing and cover are molded in a single-cavity mold. PlasticComponents Inc. (Germantown, WI) molds the internal mechanismsand adjustment components. Assembly is done at Milwaukee ElectricTool's Arkansas plant.

For more information:
DuPont Engineering Polymers
Wilmington, DE
Phone: (800) 441-0575
Fax: (302) 999-2311
Web: www.dupont.com/enggpolymers


Overmolded TPE gives tool a good push


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ThePush Stick is a handheld woodworking accessory used to safelyguide a piece of material or stock against the blade of a circularsaw or other cutting device. Designed with a handle far from theportion of the tool that pushes the material towards the blade,the device provides a safer alternative to using the bare hand.

The Push Stick is a polypropylene part overmolded with DynaflexG7940-9 high-performance TPE compound in two places at the bottomof the stick, providing two different angles to push the wood.Designed to provide a better grip between the device and the wood,the TPE also reportedly has good processibility and reduced cycletimes. It also exhibits uniform gloss and reduced surface blemishes.The device's designer and manufacturer, Woodworkers' Supply Inc.(Casper, WY), molds the part on a 60-ton TMC machine, using atwo-cavity mold. The part is first molded from polypropylene,removed, and then manually placed back into the second cavityfor the TPE overmolding process.

For more information:
GLS Corp.
McHenry, IL
Phone: (800) 457-8777
Fax: (815) 385-8533
Web: www.glscorporation.com


Tool grips do the job with specialty TPE


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Nonslipgrips are used with a variety of tools and equipment in professional,industrial, and consumer applications for the lawn and gardenmarket, among others. The grip's durability, chemical resistance,and weatherability is provided by Alcryn, a thermoplastic rubbersupplied by Advanced Polymer Alloys (APA).

The material, says APA, has a higher coefficient of frictionthan thermoset elastomers and other competing thermoplastic elastomers.It provides tools with a tactile feel that can prevent slippingcaused by hand perspiration. The material also reportedly standsup to cleaning agents, the body's natural oils, and deteriorationfrom UV exposure.

These or similar grips can be used on drills, screwdrivers,chain saws, lawn mowers, snow blowers, and flashlights. The rubberis fully thermoplastic and requires no vulcanization, predrying,or any compounding prior to processing. Also, scrap can be recycledwithout significant performance degradation. Finally, Alcryn bondswell with TPUs, copolyesters, and PC/ABS alloys.

For more information:
Advanced Polymer Alloys
Wilmington, DE
Phone: (888) 663-6005
Fax: (302) 478-8166
Web: www.apainfo.com


Metallic nylon makes tool rugged, attractive


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Vemantes, France-based Maxicraft SA manufactures a complete line of handheld tools used by do-it-yourself consumers throughout Europe. When the company needed a sturdy, yet aesthetically pleasing material for its portable drill housing, it ultimately selected a mineral-filled nylon 6 compound from RTP Co. The selection is an example of the tool manufacturers' trend of replacing metal housings with lighter, less-expensive reinforced thermoplastics.Thermoplastic compounds also absorb electricity and are warmerto the touch when used outdoors in cold weather.

The nylon 6 compound exhibits a tensile strength of 10,000psi, with a flexural strength of 17,400 psi. It also featuresunnotched impact resistance of 16.5 ft-lb/in and good weldlinestrength. Because of proximity to the enclosed motor, the compoundhad to meet heat requirements of 383F at 66 psi. A combinationof blue and gray pigments achieved the metallic appearance ofthe tool. The molding is done by AIP in Chessieux, France.

For more information:
RTP Co.
Winona, MN
Phone: (800) 433-4787
Fax (507) 454-8130
Web: www.rtpcompany.com

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