A few novelties and an abundance of optimism

Blowmolding machine makers at NPE displayed notable developments to existing machine platforms, and discussed at least two very new equipment ideas, both of which have yet to come to market.

The first truly novel machine concept, shown on a video display by Wilmington Machinery (Wilmington, NC), was the RLS-3 rotary long-stroke blowmolding system. With it, the firm hops on a trend sweeping U.S. extrusion blowmolders-the growing use of long-stroke machinery (more on this next month)-while entering that market with something unique.

The video showed an extruder feeding a head located in the center of three sets of molds, with the molds oriented as if at the corners of a triangle. In turn, the molds shuttle to the center of the triangle to grab parisons dropping from the head, then return. In effect, a third set of molds has been added to a shuttle machine, increasing output by about 50 percent if parison drop, bottle cooling, and parts removal can be synchronized as well as Wilmington claims.

"It will not be long before we have an RLS-3 ready to run customer trials; we'll probably start building one in the next three to six months," says Seth Newman, sales/service manager. The RLS-3 has 1100 mm of mold length, so many combinations can be realized. The three stations could fit three 10-cavity molds on 100-mm centers, for instance. A single takeout station and deflashing unit are envisioned.

Another new idea was bandied about by officials at Magic SpA (Monza, Italy; Markham, ON), where development continues on a mold carrier of electromagnets, as used already by some injection molders. Using magnets instead of chain linkage would facilitate shorter mold changeover time, and likely would reduce manufacturing cost and maintenance.

All cite tough times but most say business is improving. According to Joe Spohr, senior VP global business development at Graham Machinery Group (GMG, York, PA), "Total blowmolding machine sales have dropped 40 percent in the last three years, but we've tripled our market share and doubled our sales in that time period." CEO Steven Wood, says sales have in fact nearly tripled during the period. Spohr notes the firm boosted sales and kept prices steady.

At Jomar (Pleasantville, NJ; Minerbio, Italy), President Bill Petrino says the Italian facility, which makes EBM machinery, is "sold out for the rest of the year and has to add employees." Yet none of those machines are bound for the U.S., which is proving "a terrible market right now," he says. At Magic, sales director Lorenzo Borghi indicates his firm also is at capacity, saying, "Deliveries start in January on orders taken today." The firm, a leader in EBMs with electric servomotors (See July 2003 MP/MPI, p. 24), has sold more than 100 of these types.

EBM machine manufacturer Bekum (Williamston, MI; Berlin, Germany) introduced two large double-station shuttle machines, the BM-406D and 506D, both slightly larger and with more clamp force than machines introduced at NPE 2000. New for Bekum is that its molds now shuttle horizontally, rather than vertically as on past units. "It's what the market wanted," says Martin Stark, president of Bekum America Corp., noting the increased carriage speed and reduced energy consumption. Uniloy Milacron (Batavia, OH; Magenta, Italy) also is transitioning from vertical to horizontal shuttles on its machines. Uniloy and Bekum compete globally for the top spot in shuttle machine sales, and Uniloy is now making a specific push into the North American market, says Rich Morgan, shuttle blowmolding program manager.

To that end, Uniloy now markets its BWF 16 D machine in North America, featuring two to six parisons and single- or double-station configurations. The machines, designed by Uniloy's B&W subsidiary near Berlin, Germany, are made at the B&W plant in the Czech Republic for export to North America, where Uniloy works with FGH Systems Inc. (Denville, NJ). FGH makes spare parts and tooling for blowmolding machines and helps develop processing solutions for customers.

Re-importing machines

Many machine makers began production in Asia and South America during the last decade, using lower wage rates to reduce costs for machines sold into those regions. Now, those machines also are being marketed in North America and Western Europe.

For instance, Bekum displayed its BA-25, a single-cavity EBM with 30-liter capacity built at the firm's facility in Brazil. Stark says the "very competitively priced" machine has sold well in Europe for about one year and now is being offered globally. EBM machine maker SIG Blowtec (Bonn, Germany; North Branch, NJ) has made machines in China since 1995 but only recently began marketing these outside the country, says Andreas Kandt, Blowtec president. He says processors in Asia attach no stigma to machines made in China, as quality has risen dramatically, and expects processors elsewhere to show interest. The Blowtec machines from China pass safety requirements and are priced 30 to 50 percent less than Blowtec machines made in Germany.

Jackson Machinery (Port Washington, WI) plans a partnership with an unnamed Chinese firm that will make some machine parts for Jackson (not molds or other critical parts), says firm president Bob Jackson. His firm has long been known for refurbishment expertise, but Jackson says, "We're getting away from refurbishment, as our new machine sales are going so well."

GMG formed joint ventures with the CEH Group (Singapore), which will make and market Hesta-Graham EBM machinery in Asia, and with Fu Chun Shin Machinery (FCS, Taiwan) under which FCS makes GMG's accumulator machinery for the Asian market. Accumulator heads will be made in York, PA at least initially, says Spohr. There are as yet no plans to market GMG machines made by CEH or FCS to North America or Western Europe. "First the machines will be sold into Asia, and maybe later Latin America," he explains.

Bigger, faster machines

Nissei ASB (Atlanta, GA; Nagano, Japan) presented the ASB-150DP (150-ton clamp) injection stretch blowmolding (ISBM) machine, designated successor to the ASB-650, the firm's best seller in North America, says Rob Hyams, VP sales. With new adapter plates, the 150 can run molds used on the 650 units, but uses about 40 percent less energy thanks to variable displacement pumps, rather than fixed. Clamp force is 50 percent greater, so more cavities and larger parts are possible. The firm also displayed its ASB-50MB, made in Mumbai, India, which sells for $99,000 in North America (from $114,000 with molds).

Competitor Aoki Technical Laboratory Inc. (also Nagano) has improved its SBIII-250LL-50S, which is now able to run eight-cavity tooling, as opposed to seven. And with increased injection pressure, cycles have been reduced from 8 seconds on the old machine to 5.7 seconds on the new version, says Eiji Nishizawa, deputy section manager.

Uniloy highlighted its U750-130 ISBM for processing wide-mouth containers, with 130 tons of clamp force on the injection station and 60 tons of blow clamp force. At Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON), Mike Urquhart, VP PET systems, says the firm now has 20 active programs with customers for its IndexSB ISBM machine, marketed since K 2001.

Two-stage stretch blowmolding machine makers highlighted speed. Sidel (Octeville sur Mer, France) and Krones (Neutraubling, Germany) both claimed speed records of 60,000 bottles/hour from their machines-Sidel processed 16-oz bottles on a 20-station SBO20DC (dual-cavity) machine running at the show. Krones made .5-liter bottles on a Contiform SK 40 (40-station) unit installed early this year at U.S. processor South Eastern Container.

SIG Corpoplast (Hamburg, Germany) is developing 16- and 20-station dual-cavity machines, says company president Olaf Weiland. He says the firm has boosted its North American services such that "we're now getting much better shots at new business."

Sipa (Vittorio Veneto, Italy) is pushing its ECS linear single-stage machines in the United States.

"We don't want people to forget that we are leaders in this," says one firm official, noting 450 ECS units installed.

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

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