If only for a few days, major trade shows focus the plastics industry on those nations where the shows are held. And the focus in June was on the U.S. and the National Plastics Exhibition (NPE) in Chicago.
NPE veterans could see that the number of attendees at this year’s edition had fallen sharply compared to 2000. Show organizer Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI; Washington DC) says the drop was just shy of 30 percent to 63,238 attendees. Plenty of money changed hands as visitors queued for 10 minutes or more to buy coffee at Starbucks; but were they willing to buy more than frappucino while in Chicago?
The answer will determine whether the impact of NPE 2003 can yank the U.S. industry out of the funk that began almost as NPE 2000 ended. A final accounting may be long in coming since months often pass before trade show chit-chat becomes confirmed orders. According to the Institute for Supply Management (ISM; Tempe, AZ), average commitment lead time for capital expenditures in the U.S. was 101 days in June.
At NPE the editors of Modern Plastics spoke with hundreds of exhibitors, and the feedback from most echoed the quality-over-quantity determination sounded by Donald Duncan, president of SPI.
"These visitors came in a buying frame of mind, which indicates the start of an upward trend for the industry," Duncan said in a post-show statement.
Indeed, some processors made substantial purchases at the show; Davis-Standard (Pawcatuck, CT) says it booked better than $6 million in sales.
Giving little cause for hope, however, was the announcement on July 1, only days after NPE ended, of ISM’s manufacturing index, which is a closely watched monthly indicator of U.S. manufacturing activity. For June, the index was 49.8—a slight rise from May’s 49.4 but still below 50, the level at which the index indicates an expansion in manufacturing. Analysts had been expecting 51. A separate report says U.S. unemployment rose to 6.4 percent in June from 6.1 percent in May, with the increase attributed to job cuts in manufacturing. Both reports appear negative for plastics processing and the industries served by processors.
Pessimism stemming from the reports may be unwarranted. Manufacturing supply managers in 20 industries cite high energy costs as their greatest concern, which could energize processors to increase adoption of lower-energy-consuming electric servodrive processing equipment. Though purchasing managers say that plastics pricing rose in June, they singled out polypropylene as being lower priced—and PP clearly is gaining favor in a greater number of applications.
Although rising unemployment is a serious problem for the economy in general, many NPE exhibitors say processors’ inquiries centered on automating processes—an indication that plastics consumption could increase at rates well ahead of employment.
Look for more detailed reporting on NPE 2003 in the September issue of Modern Plastics.
Molds turn on a new axis
Technology suppliers at the show urged North American processors to invest in new technologies to counter the drift of low-value-added business to China.
Spin-stack molds for high-speed production of multi-component or insert-molded parts on regular machines were to be seen on several stands. Foboha GmbH (Haslach, Germany), a pioneer of the technology, demonstrated production of mobile phone covers. MGS Manufacturing Group (Germantown, WI), had molds for phone covers and technical parts running on the Krauss-Maffei and Toshiba booths. Gram Technology (Birkerød, Denmark) showed a mold for bottle caps with integral seals on the Ferromatik Milacron stand.
Possibly the major novelty was the 1100-ton clamp unit on the HPM (Mt. Gilead, OH) stand (photo). This is a two-platen concept, in which the entire, twin-faced moving platen can rotate 180º so that parts can be removed while the mold is closed, and, if necessary, inserts can be put into place. HPM’s regular two-platen machines, based on original designs from the now-defunct German company Hemscheidt, have the tiebars mounted on the moving platen. To facilitate rotation, the tiebars in the rotating-platen concept are mounted on the fixed platen.
Developments truly hot
The world’s top hot runner suppliers demonstrated a dazzling array of technology developments. Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON) and Mold-Masters (Georgetown, ON) both confirmed they will soon be slugging it out in China, when their respective plants are complete (see Plastiscope, p. 10).
Husky introduced Ultraheater, a new technology intended for thermally-gated nozzles. Electric circuits are printed on thick films that are wrapped around the nozzle shaft (and should also be suitable for heating manifolds).
Husky says the heaters give a highly uniform temperature profile along the full length of the nozzles and also are completely resistant to damage from water ingress (two nozzles were shown running under water). The technology is similar to that offered by heater supplier Watlow (St. Louis, MO), whose thick films are already used by Günther Hot Runner Systems Inc. (Buffalo Grove, IL), Kortec Inc. (Beverly, MA), and Osco Inc. (Rochester Hills, MI). Jeff MacDonald, Husky VP marketing, says this is likely to become the default heater system on Husky hot runners.
Mold-Masters, which has also considered thick film heaters, took a different tack with its new Master-Series, which President Jonathon Fischer says incorporates dozens of improvements regarding wear resistance, speed of color change, heat profiling, and leak-proofing, creating a new benchmark in the industry. He says the nozzles have an unsurpassed heat profile, thanks to "conductive infusion coating" technology for which the company has patents pending, and an enhanced heating-circuit profile. Nozzle tips are far harder than before, and have much greater corrosion resistance. The new runners are backwards-compatible with Mold-Masters’ Dura products. The first hot runner using Erie, PA-based Beaumont Technologies’ MeltFlipper melt rotation technology (see Oct. 2002 MP, p. 68; MPI, p. 87) was introduced by Incoe Corp. (Troy, MI). The Opti-Flo design, incorporated in Incoe’s manifold, is "the first scientifically designed hot runner system providing a homogeneous melt distribution and balanced filling to and across all cavities while avoiding invasive and restrictive mixers." It eliminates the need for melt temperature variations in the drops to balance cavity filling. Incoe has exclusivity for the use of MeltFlipper technology in hot runners.
Auto glazing moves to commercial stage
Exatec, the joint venture between Bayer Polymers (Leverkusen, Germany) and GE Plastics (Pittsfield, MA), launched Exatec 500, its first complete, market-ready polycarbonate glazing system, which provides injection molded glazing with superior weatherability and abrasion resistance. Exatec CEO Clemens Kaiser, based in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, says the system "is the starting point for a new ‘tier’ industry, polycarbonate glazing system suppliers." He says the company has completed the development of the technologies necessary to meet OEM specifications for window glazing applications.
Exatec's research focuses on the manufacturing processes needed to design, mold, print decorate, UV protect, plasma hardcoat, bond, and assemble windows. It has also developed prototype windows that have molded-in heating elements for defrosting. The company will license its technology.
GE says that styling departments of vehicle manufacturers can now consider highly 3-D-shaped windows, innovative window designs and locations, as well as different opening mechanisms for windows and doors. Plus, PC yields weight savings of up to 50 percent, and the glazing is safer for occupants in accidents.
Exatec 500 first will be used in panoramic roof systems and new solutions for backlites and liftgates. Models should debut in late 2005. U.S. legislation still mandates glass for glazing ahead of the B pillar (the pillar between the front- and rear-seat windows). But technology suppliers are lobbying hard for changes that they hope will do for front glazing what other legislative changes have done for front lighting, which was once a glass-only market and is now virtually PC only.
Battenfeld (Meinerzhagen, Germany) which collaborates with Exatec, demonstrated the novel IMP molding technology codeveloped with Summerer Technologies (Rimsting, Germany; see May 2003 MP/MPI, p. 44). IMP uses a novel form of injection compression to produce large parts with high optical quality and extremely low molded-in stress, with about half the clamp force of conventional methods. Melt is injected through a single gate at the top edge of the part, and as it moves to the bottom, rows of pistons at the top and bottom of the mold cause the cavity gap to open and then close as the flow front passes. All movements are internal to the mold, and the machine platens stay fixed.
Basell’s new PP grades
Basell Polyolefins (Elkton, MD) pulled several rabbits out of its hat, including: a new generation of Metocene polypropylenes for injection, stretch, and blowmolded bottles and jars; Adstif extrusion-grade resins for thermoformable sheet and cast film; and oxypolypropylene, a functionalized PP made using proprietary radiation technology that improves dispersion of flame retardants in compounds, thereby halving required addition levels (it can also be used in ionomer form in blends with nylons).
Seetha Coleman-Kammula, senior VP for innovation and asset management, says bottles made in Metocene grades— polymerized using metallocene catalysts—can be blown on standard equipment. They are almost as clear as PET bottles (haze in side walls is 1.5 percent, and gloss is 82 percent—significantly better than regular PP), and are lighter.
Target applications are those where gas barrier needs are low, including still water and juices, but not carbonated soft drinks or beer. Bottles can be hot-filled without special treatment.
New Adstif resins are made in Spheripol reactors using new (and unidentified) catalyst technology, yet have the wide processing window normally associated with slurry resins. Earlier Adstif grades were made using Catalloy technology. There are homopolymers and random copolymers for various types of thermoformed cups and containers. They score higher than polystyrene (HIPS/GPPS blends) in clarity, top load, and impact strength, reducing weight by about 35 percent.
DuPont addresses wish list
Industry executives were on the prowl for ideas and materials to improve aesthetics, increase design freedom, and reduce costs, according to a DuPont survey of designers and processors.
Toward that end, DuPont introduced six materials at the show, including: DuPont Delrin Decorating Systems, a product and processing solution for painting, printing, plating, and inmold decoration of acetals; DuPont Shine-E-Rynite, a thermoplastic polyester that delivers a Class A surface and withstands automotive e-coat oven temperatures of 200C (making it suitable for on-line painted exterior panels as well as for high-gloss unpainted parts); and platable DuPont Zytel HTN high-temperature nylon, which provides an economical alternative to plated metal in situations where ABS and other platable plastics fall short, such as temperature resistance, stiffness, or chemical resistance.
DuPont also debuted two tough, flame-retardant grades of Zytel nylon, intended as lower-cost alternatives to thermosets in circuit breaker housings, switches, fluorescent lighting, and other applications. Zytel FE310014 is a molding aid for unreinforced nylon 66.
Verbruggen tests North America
Belgian cast-sheet-and-film die maker, Verbruggen (Temse), announced that it is entering the North American market, where it will go up against its two biggest competitors: Cloeren (Orange, TX) and Extrusion Dies Inc. (Chippewa Falls, WI). Emmanuel Boxus, Verbruggen sales engineer, says the U.S. offers an interesting alternative to its traditional—and stagnating—European markets. Montesino Technologies (Wilmington, DE) represents Verbruggen in North America.
Sidel angling for dairy market
Leading stretch blowmolding machine maker Sidel (Octeville sur Mer, France) is in talks with Graham Machinery Group (GMG; York, PA), as well as other extrusion blowmolding (EBM) machine suppliers to strengthen Sidel’s share of the dairy products market. Sidel’s machines are used almost exclusively for PET processing, but most dairy products remain packed in extrusion blowmolded HDPE containers.
Tetra Laval, which owns packaging giant Tetra Pak, recently completed its acquisition of Sidel. Tetra Pak buys large-cavity rotary blowmolding machinery for HDPE bottles exclusively from GMG. Sidel’s roots, however, are in extrusion blowmolding, and the firm does occasionally still make such machines, so the Tetra/Sidel merger would seem to put GMG’s position in question. Quite the contrary is true, says Joe Spohr, GMG’s senior VP global sales.
"Sidel has a lot of interest in dairy, so they are also interested in polyolefin solutions," he says. "The merger of Sidel into Tetra introduced us to Sidel. We’re in the process of installing two Hesta [Hesta Graham, GMG’s European subsidiary] shuttle machines in a French dairy," in a project coordinated with Tetra Pak and Sidel.
Bertrand Guillet, VP communications at Sidel, says that Sidel is keeping its options open as to whether it develops its own extrusion blowmolding machinery or forms some sort of strategic alliance with GMG or another partner. Sidel CEO Gérard Stricher says the firm is likely to add to its arsenal with the acquisition of a labeling machine manufacturer in the next two years.
3-D blowmolding gaining in U.S.
It’s been a long time coming, but more U.S. processors are showing interest in
3-D blowmolding—both suction blowmolding and parison manipulation via robot—according to Roger Stehr, president of machine supplier SIG Kautex (Bonn, Germany). At NPE his firm displayed its SB-8 suction blowmolder and announced it would collaborate with automotive parts engineering-and-prototyping firm Roush Manufacturing Inc. (Livonia, MI) on development of 3-D blowmolding machinery for North American processors.
Roush will host a joint development center and have an SB-8 onsite for parts development. 3-D blowmolding methods—primarily used for automotive hoses—produce almost no flash and allow for very difficult part geometries. Stehr says an SB-8 was recently delivered to a U.S.-based Tier 1 to make under-the-hood parts for a 2004 model-year pickup truck.
Other manufacturers of 3-D blowmolding machinery include Japan’s Tahara (Tokyo) and Germany’s Maschinenbau Koetke GmbH (MBK, Reinstorf). Jackson Machinery (Port Washington, WI) is now North American agent for MBK, says Bob Jackson, company president. He says processor Miniature Precision Components (Walworth, WI), Kautex’s largest North American 3-D machine customer with three units, has shown interest in the MBK units, which Jackson says cost less than Kautex’s.
In related news, the rumor mill at NPE moved at a much faster clip than parent firm SIG’s attempt to sell its Kautex industrial blowmolding equipment business. Though officials at Uniloy Milacron (Batavia, OH) and GMG would not comment on Kautex, one well-informed insider says both firms, as well as Davis-Standard (Pawcatuck, CT), are considering acquiring Kautex. Stehr also would not comment on his business’s potential future ownership. SIG announced last summer that it intended to sell Kautex, saying it did not fit the parent firm’s focus on packaging.
ZED pushes 60 cycle/min
Leveraging developments in affordable servomotor technology, ZED President Peter Zelnick says the firm’s SF (Servo Form) series of thermoforming machinery should be able to reach 60 cycles/min for low-draw applications such as cup lids. Late in the week at NPE, the firm (Vandalia, OH) ran the machine—completed just one week before the show—at 57 cycles/min with no hitches, using a 48-cavity tool.
"We anticipate breaking 60 cycles/min for cup lids," Zelnick says. Most thermoforming machinery is limited to 30 to 40 cycles/min.
Unlike competing machines, the camshafts on the ZED machine move only in one direction, with no accumulated backlash, so the machine can run faster cycles with no loss of time as shafts rotate back to a start position. Processors choosing the machine "can go 50 to 60 percent faster than competing machines, and don’t need to buy a rotating machine with the associated expensive tooling," Zelnick notes.
OMV-USA opening new facility
In upcoming months, thermoforming machine manufacturer OMV-USA Inc. (Genoa City, WI) is moving to a new 40,000-sq-ft plant in Elkhorn, WI to give the firm space for manufacture of its new F57 roll-fed machines. Kent Johansson, OMV president says, "[The F57s] are too big to make in our old site."
Manufacturers extend portfolios
A number of NPE announcements point to equipment manufacturers’ aims to become one-stop shops for processors. Coperion (Stuttgart, Germany) said it will offer various lines of dosing units, melt pumps, and screen changers from outside suppliers on a non-exclusive basis. Coperion believes its buying power allows it to source such auxiliaries at better rates than individual processors would receive. Its global presence also should allow it to serve internationally located compounding and masterbatch operations.
In related news, size reduction and downstream extrusion machinery manufacturer Cumberland Engineering (Attleboro, MA) announced it now will distribute dumpers, mixers, conveyors, bins, tilters, and other material handling equipment made by International Material Control Systems Inc. (IMCS). Cumberland was granted exclusive worldwide distribution rights for all of IMCS' equipment to the plastics industry, and non-exclusive rights to other industries. The equipment will be distributed under the Cumberland brand.
Motan puts control in pockets
A highlight at NPE was the introduction of the POCKETnet control system from Motan (Isny, Germany), which allows processors to control their materials handling equipment by a personal data assistant. Graphic menus give the operator access to real-time system parameters, such as equipment set-up, monitoring operations, and setpoints. A wireless access point (WAP) for communication with the PDA can be installed inside a facility. This system is available in North America, and will be offered globally by October 2004.
Maguire Products Inc. (Aston, PA) touted its LineMaster software as a means for profile and film extruders to do away with loss-in-weight yield-control blenders. The software can be integrated into the firm’s established blenders and allows for simultaneous adjustment of extruder throughput and line speed to reach target yield.
"It is now possible to achieve consistent accuracy in material consumption and product quality using nothing more elaborate than the Maguire weigh-scale blender," says B. Patrick Smith, vice president of marketing and sales.
The first announced commercial user, Coextruded Film Technologies Pty Ltd. (Johannesburg, South Africa), claims it raised film quality and slashed setup times after integrating the software into a three-layer blown film line making films from 10 to 20 µm thick.
ColorMatrix adds oxygen absorber
Color-Matrix (Cleveland, OH) acquired exclusive rights for global sales and marketing of Amosorb DFC oxygen scavenging additives from BP (Houston, TX). Amosorb is used in PET packaging. The license covers beverages other than beer.
"We’ve been involved [with supply of] other additives such as UV agents, slip agents, and so on, but we see—especially in the PET processing industry—that barrier is always on the wish list," says Dave McBride, business unit manager packaging. Neither firm would reveal financial details.
Amosorb is a copolyester that chemically bonds with oxygen as it permeates packaging. BP will remain involved in development for PET beer packaging, a market it expects will prove lucrative.
PolyOne, GeoTech ink agreement
PolyOne Corp. (Cleveland, OH) signed a licensing agreement with GeoTech Chemical LLC (Tallmadge, OH) giving PolyOne exclusive rights to manufacture and market Teslart inherently conductive polymers (ICP)—based on lignosulfonated polyaniline technology developed by NASA—as well as Catize corrosion-control additives developed by GeoTech. The Teslart ICPs, intended as additives, offer electrical conductivity properties similar to metals and inorganic semiconductors.
Teslart ICP additives can be used in EMI/RFI shielding and electronic products, and combined with solvent—or water-based resins—for use in corrosion-resistant and anti-fouling coatings, anti-static fabrics and packaging, conductive inks, and adhesives. Catize products, containing ICPs and metal particles, can be added to paints, coil coatings, pretreatments, and other systems to prevent corrosion.
"The innovative technology behind the Teslart ICP and Catize corrosion-control products is a key growth opportunity for PolyOne," says Cindy Kerker, director of new business ventures for PolyOne. "We offer market research, capacity, and resources to expand the inherently conductive polymer market beyond its current niche positioning."
Omnexus transactions up sharply
Materials purchased through independent e-commerce website Omnexus (www.omnexus.com; Atlanta, GA), will reach nearly $400 million this year, a leap from $120 million last year, and just $28 million in 2001, says Michael Walsh, Omnexus COO and acting CEO.
Walsh says the firm’s UltraLite purchasing system, which negates the need for processors to double-enter order data, is the driving force behind increased traffic at the site.
"We’re finding this [Ultralite] to be a huge traction point," he said at NPE. "UltraLite is powering the growth; it’s our big winner. Processors try it with one supplier, like it, and then use it for all of their orders."
Plastics suppliers have taken note, too, with BASF, Bayer, and Ticona—three founders of Omnexus—considering transitioning their e-commerce system to Omnexus’ UltraLite.
"Up front, e-commerce costs you a lot of money," Walsh says, explaining why suppliers would prefer Omnexus’ off-the-shelf system. Omnexus has a patent pending on UltraLite as part of its orders process.
GE Polymerland, the distribution arm of GE Plastics, has been at the vanguard of e-business in the plastics industry; the value of plastics purchased through that firm’s website passed $1 billion in 2001 and $3 billion last year. But a strategy now being implemented at the firm will limit distribution of materials other than those from GE Plastics and its LNP compounding business. Omnexus officials believe their site may benefit from suppliers now searching for other Web-based marketing alternatives.
Staff report by Peter Mapleston, Bob Colvin, Matt Defosse, and Greg Valero