Little new, big improvements for existing machines

Many of the bells and whistles were missing from film and sheet extrusion equipment shown at this year's NPE in Chicago. Instead, equipment makers were concentrating on providing scaled down, more economical solutions to match processors' thinner wallets in tough economic times.

Manfred Göllner, area manager, Hosokawa Alpine America (Natick, MA; Augsburg, Germany), confirmed what many said at the show: "The North American market for mono-layer systems is dead. The only things that sell are three- to five-layer lines and a few seven-layer units. Processors want the flexibility and film properties multi-layers offer."

Göllner feels the nine-layer market is just around the corner in North America but will take substantially longer in Europe. Battenfeld Gloucester, part of SMS Plastics Technology (Gloucester, MA; Meinerzhagen, Germany), demonstrated a three-layer line designed to reduce high-clarity film costs by using cheaper, linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) rather than LDPE or blends. Improvements in controls, air rings, and dies should allow up to a 30 percent increase in throughput, says Robert Weeks, VP sales/marketing.

Demand for new blown film extrusion equipment has stagnated in developed regions (Europe and North America), says Kurt L. Freye, sales director, Kiefel Extrusion (Worms, Germany; Wrentham, MA). The company demonstrated its three-layer Kirion extrusion line during the show before it was shipped to Canadian processor Imaflex (Montreal, QC).

Freye says healthy investments in new equipment are coming from Asia-Pacific, Australia, Russia, and Turkey. He speculates the strong euro may be a factor hurting European equipment sales to U.S. processors.

Macchi North America (Guelph, ON; Venegono Inferiore, Italy) shipped a three-layer CoexFlex machine from the show to a Canadian processor producing high-gloss printed carrier bags to compete against inexpensive Asian imports. But owner Alessandro Macchi says, "The high value of the euro is hurting us just like our other European competitors."

Rick H. von Kraus, president of blown film and winder manufacturer Addex (Stoughton, MA) says the weak dollar has helped his company with export sales to Europe, but he sees this as only a temporary phenomenon.

Strategy for NPE centered on improving existing extruder elements rather than developing entirely new lines. American Kuhne (Norwich, CT) presented a number refinements instead of completely new systems. William A. Kramer, president, pointed to a new air cooling system that requires low maintenance but offers a cooling capacity near that of water systems for the company's present extruder line; a low-cost (basic model:

Hosokawa Alpine America was promoting an altered IBC cooling system that removes hot air close to the die to improve bubble stability. Equipment maker Processing Technologies (PTi; Aurora, IL) presented the Video-Gap roll nip monitoring system for its existing Titan Series coextrusion sheet lines. The digital camera-equipped device allows operators to view and adjust the melt as it exits the die lips and builds up a melt bead on the roll surface.

"With increased demand for higher sheet system line capacities, the centerlines of the sheet takeoff systems are becoming relatively tall," says Dana Hanson, PTi's president. "The average operator would have to have a ladder just to access the nip region for observation." He cites health and safety issues and operator response times in regard to the manual method vs. his new camera system as areas of advantage. Hanson says continued North American demand for packaging sheet is helping his company sustain orders.

Robert Colvin [email protected]

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