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September 1, 2003

13 Min Read
In-mold labeling set to grow in North America

The only direction for in-mold labeling in North America is up. At Netstal Machinery (Nafels, Switzerland), which claims a massive 85 percent share of the global IML market, company president Bernhard Merki says IML is only now just beginning in North America, where most injection molded packaging is still directly printed. He says there are just three IML packaging installations on the continent, but thinks new labeling laws-requiring more information to be put on containers-could alter the picture as they may cause suppliers to reduce the number of languages printed on any one label. IML makes it far easier to change the language on the label during production.

At Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON), which is the market leader in North America for thin-walled packaging, marketing VP Jeff MacDonald says the company is looking at various new IML concepts. "You'll definitely see it in the next year," he says.

Moldmakers and automation suppliers, as well as machine makers, all are pushing IML. Since early 2002, StackTeck (Brampton, ON) has offered a turnkey package for IML in collaboration with French robotics company Machines Pages (Foncine Le Haut). IML is normally limited to eight-cavity molds for containers (1x8 or 2x4 stack molds) and 2x12 for lids, but the companies are now quoting for 2x8 container systems and 2x16 lid systems. General Sales Manager Jordan Robertson says they are concentrating on increasing cavitation per level before expanding into molds with three or even four levels. Robertson confirms that virtually all IML systems are running outside the U.S.

A high-speed IML cell already seen at several shows in Europe got its first U.S. outing at NPE. Devised by automation specialist Hekuma GmbH (Eching, Germany) and running on a special Ferromatik Milacron Europe K-Tec 155 S equipped with newly developed hydraulics for high-speed clamp movements, it made polypropylene cups in a four-cavity mold on a 3.5-second cycle.

Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON) says it is relaunching itself as a total system provider for thin-wall packaging, which it pulled out of around five years ago when it stopped making molds other than those for PET preforms.

Thin-walled packaging attracts Husky-again

Husky does not plan to make container molds again, but will design them, build the mold bases and hot runner systems, sub-contract the cores and cavities, and conduct assembly and testing in Bolton.

For packaging processors, the company will emphasize its SwingChute in-mold automation, which removes parts from a mold in a defined orientation without a robot. MacDonald says processors couldn't take full advantage of SwingChute on earlier machines, but that the large platen areas on the current Hylectric series of machines mean "cavitation can be maximized while still leaving room for in-mold automation."

Husky partners with DDS Automation for downstream handling.

Colorant partners promote ABS self-coloring option

Pigment masterbatch suppliers Albis, Clariant, Schulman, and Ultrapolymers are joining ABS supplier BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) to provide European injection molders with a self-coloring option. Under the program, called Colorflexx, BASF supplies neutral ABS while the other partners supply color concentrate. The cooperation is designed to deliver masterbatch and ABS within 10 workdays to processors, compared to up to eight weeks for deliveries of pre-colored ABS. The group also provides assistance within 24 hours in the event of color processing problems.

BASF joins other polymer producers including Dow (Midland, MI), which supplies its ProMatch self-coloring system, in encouraging processors to color at the press rather than order pre-pigmented ABS compounds (December 1999 MP/MPI p. 38). ABS has traditionally presented problems in color consistency because the yellow index in emulsion and suspension grades is inconsistent from batch to batch, causing color discrepancies. Producers such as BASF, Dow, Bayer (Leverkusen, Germany), and Polimeri Europa (Milan) manufacture ABS using a more consistent continuous-mass process.

PEOPLE

Milacron's Faig to retire

At month's end, Harold Faig, president and COO of Milacron Inc. (Cincinnati, OH), will retire after 36 years with the company. Faig, 55, did not reveal his future plans. Milacron says it does not intend to replace him; CEO Ronald Brown assumes Faig's duties.

In a teleconference in late July, a few days before Milacron announced Faig's departure, Brown said the firm's second-quarter losses increased to $91.2 million from $31.1 million during the same period in 2002. The publicly listed company lost almost 39 percent of its stock's value in the first week of August. Milacron says Faig's departure is independent of the firm's losses.

MATERIALS

Metabolix, BASF cooperate on renewable plastics

Biotechnology company Metabolix (Cambridge, MA) and polymer producer BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) have signed a one-year agreement to co-develop plastics from renewable resources. Metabolix will supply BASF with pilot-scale quantities of polyhydroxyalkanoate polyester derived from sugar, using a fermentation. BASF already sells a biodegradable resin, Ecoflex F, based on 1.4-butanediol and dicarbonic acids, adipic acid, and terephthalic acid, which debuted at K 1998.

THERMOFORMING

Visteon to make fuel tanks for Ford

Tier 1 supplier Visteon (Dearborn, MI), a Ford Motor spin-off, will thermoform fuel tanks for Ford's 2004 model F Series truck. Ford reportedly opted for the thermoformed tanks rather than blowmolded ones, standard in the U.S., so it could achieve irregular patterns, simplify assembly, and gain the ability to ship extruded sheet to regional sites for thermoforming, thereby reducing shipping volumes. General Motors is also said to be planning to use thermoformed fuel tanks from Visteon on some 2004 models.

Sales of customized inline sheet thermoforming machines for processing Visteon's multilayer automotive fuel tanks, with robotics used to internalize parts, helped make 2002 the best sales year ever for machine maker Brown Machine (Beaverton, MI), according to Dick Lacana, Brown president. Lacana says Visteon purchased "multiple machines" but offers no specifics. Brown is in discussion with other automotive suppliers for this application, he adds.

Extruder manufacturer PTi (Aurora, IL) supplied Visteon an extrusion line to process six-layer sheet, with an EVOH barrier layer, for the tanks.

POWER FOR PROCESSING

TVA to flood valley with processors

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has created a new department to help TVA distributors generate more leads for industrial development in the region. Four industrial sectors-plastics, automotive, electronics, and food logistics/distribution-are targeted to recruit and locate businesses in the Valley. According to TVA, research and analysis determined these markets have the most potential for growth within the Valley because of the existing labor force and infrastructure.

"Affordable, reliable power is a significant factor that companies consider in deciding on a location for their facilities," said TVA chairman Glenn McCullough Jr. "It makes good business sense for distributors of TVA power to work together to recruit valuable industries and jobs for the people of the Tennessee Valley and for TVA to support those efforts."

EXTRUSION

Shrink films continue to surge

An annual growth of 20 percent is reported in the use of high shrink films to provide 360 degree coverage of beverage and consumer items, says Louis Darlet, communications manager of tenter frame manufacturer DMT (Le Bourget-du-Lac, France). He says that such applications as shrink sleeves, full body labels, cap seals, and tamper-evident bands have a high penetration into the flexible packaging sector and are starting to take market share.

PET copolyester labels offer up to 80 percent ultimate shrink compared to 70 percent with oriented polystyrene (OPS) and 60 percent with PVC. He says that PET tends to display a flatter shrink curve and lower temperature shrink initiation than the alternatives. PET results in more predictable shrink performance and faster throughput times. OPS tends to be less wrinkle-prone, providing a softer label at 40 percent lower costs than PET, but the material is harder to print.

INJECTION MOLDING Arburg adds new director, site

Injection machine maker Arburg (Lossburg, Germany) will open a second U.S. technology center, probably in Orange County, CA. Construction is expected to start later this year, with the center opening in spring 2004. Arburg Inc.'s U.S. headquarters are in Newington, CT.

Arburg Inc. has a new sales director. Tony Firth, who left earlier this year after just one year with the company, has been replaced by Mark Paddock, who transfers from Cinpres Gas Injection Inc.'s U.S. offices in Ann Arbor, MI. Firth is now U.S. sales manager for U.K. extruder and recycling equipment maker Boston Matthews. CGI has temporarily brought John Heasman out of retirement to replace Paddock.

Engel mulls production in China

China is a likely future production location for injection molding machine maker Engel (Schwertberg, Austria) but operations there are unlikely for several years, says company chief Peter Neumann. "We expect big demand for big machines in China," says Neumann, as large-scale production of automobiles in China will require local production of components and systems, which will in turn create needs for production of high-end machinery there. Production of big machines in China would fit with the company's global platform strategy. "We want production of big and small machines on three continents." The company already makes tiebarless Victory machines in Pyungtaek, South Korea.

Neumann, previously CEO of Engel Austria, took over from his father-in-law, Georg Schwarz, as chairman of Engel Holding GmbH on July 1. Gotthard Mayringer, previously finance director of Engel Austria, also sits on the two-man board. Engel Holding GmbH coordinates and controls all Engel operating companies in Austria, North America, and Korea. Neumann will be succeeded at the end of the year by Georg Tinschert, an ex-Engel director.

BLOW MOLDING SBM machine makers keeping an eye on preforms . . .

Stretch blowmolding (SBM) machine makers have positioned themselves to offer preform inspection equipment. A strategic alliance between Sidel (Octeville sur Mer, France) and Pressco Technology (Cleveland, OH) gives Sidel exclusive distribution rights in Europe and Asia for Pressco's Intellispec PET container vision inspection systems when sold with a stretch blowmolding machine. Sidel also acquired a stake of unrevealed size in Pressco. "The relationship provides us with strategic strength, since Sidel has people on the ground everywhere," explains Don Cochran, Pressco president/CEO. Adds Sidel president/CEO Gerard Stricher, "I think downgauging of bottles has just about reached its limit, as have SBM speeds. The next step to improve stretch blowmolding economics will be full process control."

Sidel's competitor Krones (Neutraubling, Germany) has developed its own PET preform inspection unit. SIG Corpoplast (Hamburg) has no exclusive arrangement with any vision inspection system, says firm president Olaf Weiland; at NPE a Corpoplast machine was fitted with a preform inspection unit from AGR TopWave LLC (Butler, PA).

. . . and discuss barrier economics

The economics for applying barriers to bottles are improving but need to go further, says Sidel's Stricher. He says the firm has improved its Actis plasma coating systems and is developing sizes (currently Actis can coat up to 10,000 bottles/hour). "We're also reducing the costs, but need to get them under €10/1000 bottles" for the system to gain broader use, he says.

In May, Corpoplast shipped its first Plasmax unit-which places a silicon dioxide coating on a bottle's interior-to Swiss fruit-juice bottler Bischofzell Nahrungsmittel AG. Beta testing should be completed this month, with commercial sales later this year. The bottler uses Plasmax as part of an inline blowing and aseptic filling line. A second, unidentified user has told Corpoplast he wants to test Plasmax for hot filling, carbonated drinks, and beer bottles, says Olaf Weiland, Corpoplast president. He says Plasmax barrier treatment costs about $15/1000 bottles.

Sidel also is evaluating the Glaskin silicon oxide coating technology it assumed from Tetra Pak after Sidel was acquired by Tetra Pak parent firm Tetra Laval last January. SBM machine maker Sipa (Vittorio Veneto, Italy) is expected to commercialize an organic external coating system this year.

Still, use of multi-layer preforms with barrier layers is the leading technology and continues to grow. In late June, the plastic containers division of Owens-Illinois (Toledo, OH) announced it was working with Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. (Bolton, ON) to develop higher cavity-up to 144-multilayer preform molding equipment using Owens-Illinois' SurShot multilayer preform processing technology.

Owens-Illinois' five-layer bottles' structure is virgin PET/barrier/recycled PET/barrier/virgin PET, using a nylon-based barrier material. The firms expect to have such a machine installed next year. Multilayer bottles typically cost about €15/1000. Comments Stricher, "Multilayers are proven, but who wants to pay the cost?"

THERMOSET PLASTICS Developments give BMC better footing versus thermoplastics

The world's largest supplier of bulk molding compounds (BMC), BMC Inc. (West Chicago, IL), says a stronger presence in Europe, and developments such as gas-assist injection molding (GAIM) of thermosets will help it capture more of the under-the-hood automotive parts market, and recapture some of the range-handle and other markets now often served by fiber-reinforced engineering thermoplastics (ETP).

Compared with standard molding of BMC parts, using GAIM can cut material use by 35 to 50 percent and reduce molding cycles up to 65 percent, according to Len Nunnery Jr., president of BMC Inc. In March, the firm patented a GAIM variation for thermosets that it calls GET, or gas evacuation technique. "We mold the parts solid, then-as the material cures inwardly-we drive [nitrogen] gas into the center of the part and simultaneously spin the [plasticating] screw to the rear, sucking the material out for use in the next part," explains Nunnery. With GET he expects BMC molders can retake some of the range-handle market now served by ETPs and pursue other applications such as refrigerator door handles. BMC Inc. reckons that the faster cycle times with GET will allow molders of BMC parts to reduce total cavity requirements per project by 50 percent or more. Processors sourcing BMC from BMC Inc. pay no license fee for GET.

This summer BMC Inc. also increased to 80 percent its interest in BMC compounder TetraDUR GmbH (Seevetal, Germany); it had acquired a majority interest in July 2002. BMC Inc.'s compounds for under-the-hood applications are now available to European processors from the TetraDUR facility. In Europe, most under-the-hood plastic parts are made of fiber-reinforced nylon.

In mid-July, BMC Inc. acquired the BMC compounding business of Glastic Corp. (Cleveland, OH), giving it better access to the electrical parts industry, according to Nunnery.

NEWS BRIEFS

Last month, suppliers Owens-Corning (Toledo, OH) and Saint-Gobain (Chambery, France) began construction in Xicohtencatl, Tlaxcala, Mexico, of a glass rovings plant as part of a 50/50 joint venture announced earlier this year. The plant adjoins a current Saint-Gobain facility and should be finished by late 2004. Capacity was not revealed.

Bayer AG (Leverkusen, Germany) has acquired from ROhm GmbH (Darmstadt, Germany) the 45.5 percent stake in the Makroform GmbH PET and PC sheet processing joint venture that it did not already own. The two formed Makroform (also Darmstadt) in July 2000. Terms were not disclosed. Makroform sales in 2002 were about €100 million.

Auxiliaries manufacturer Maguire Products (Aston, PA) has filed suit against Comet Automation Systems (Dayton, OH) for allegedly infringing on two Maguire patents, as well as its trademark, in connection with the small-volume MicroBlender, a gravimetric blender. The suit targets a similar blender sold by Comet, the GraviMix Micro blender, and says Comet has used unfair competition in its promotion.

SIG Holding Ltd. (Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland) says it is "seeking a solution outside the group" for SIG Blowtec, maker of extrusion blowmolding machines (EBM) for packaging; SIG Kautex, maker of EBMs for technical parts; and SIG Hamba, a manufacturer of aseptic filling machines.

PVC window- and door-profile processor HT Troplast (Troisdorf, Germany) has opened a new facility at Tianjin, China, 150 km southeast of Beijing. Output at Kommerling Tianjin Kunststoffwerke Co. is now 10,000 tonnes/year, but is to double within a year.

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