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September 1, 2003

4 Min Read
IMD: Coming of age

If the crowds at NPE were any indication, technology advances have helped inmold decoration fulfill the technology’s initial promise and re-enter molders’ radaras a means to add value.

Two hands. Before recently, that’s all Scott Shelton says he needed to tally the number of inmold labeling (IML) projects he’s taken on as a North American sales manager with Simco Industrial Static Control.

“I’ve been with Simco for 25 years, and until maybe a year and a half or two years ago I could count on two hands the IML projects that I’ve been involved with,” Shelton explains. “But something is spurring interest in North America, and I’ve started to see more [curiosity]. I get calls almost weekly now.”

The increased attention to inmold decoration (IMD) is likely derived from a variety of sources: pressure to add value to parts, OEM demand for built-in aesthetics, and technology advances that have created a highly repeatable process that is viable for a greater array of products.

With NPE as a venue, Simco, Dima, and Geiger Handling joined forces to create inmold decorated Frisbees. Advances by Simco have removed charging equipment from the EOAT, making robotics design far simpler and opening up inmold decoration for many more molders.

To capitalize on the mounting interest, Shelton, along with Bob Travis, VP of sales at label maker Romo Inc., teamed up with Sailor Automation, Geiger Handling, and Dima for a series of NPE displays to showcase the latest in IMD. The steady crowds that Shelton and Travis reported to IMM weren’t there just for the free inmold-decorated Frisbees Dima was producing; they were there at the behest of customers wanting to roll downstream processes into the mold and add decorative value to their products.

“I think the [OEMs] that are marketing and developing these products are going to molders and saying, ‘We want these graphics on here permanently,’” Shelton says.

Leaving the Vacuum

The market pressure that’s driven many molders to consider adding IMD to their repertoires comes at a time when advances in label adhesion and process automation have made it more accessible.

Simco has furthered the use of static electricity to hold decorations in the cavity, replacing older systems that forced molders to build vacuums into the tool. On the label front, new films and materials have pushed the frontiers of size, thickness, and composition, allowing the creation of zero-profile decorations with life-of-the-part permanence. Automation advances allow robots to extract labels from a magazine, pass them over an electric charge, and insert them into an open cavity with precision and speed. Today’s heavy-gauge films are made from materials like Xenoy and Lexan so the technology can branch out from food packaging into durable goods like furniture, ATVs, and snowboards.

“We’re designing films, coatings, and printing systems with durability that’s equal to the longevity of the part,” Travis says. He adds that the labels now mold into materials as diverse as PC, PP, PE, and ABS in thicknesses as high as 15 mm with an optimal range of 7.5 to 10 mm.

IMD on Display

For Shelton and Travis, the market demand and the technological advances came to a head at NPE, as molders combed the aisles for technologies to stave off market stagnation.

“[Companies] are starting to recognize that injection molding is in a commodity slide right now,” Travis says, “and molders have to discover ways to add value to their products. If there’s a failure to do that, that business will be offshore in no time at all.”

This fact wasn’t lost on molders who crowded around all the IMD displays where Romo and Simco teamed up to decorate coasters as well as the aforementioned Frisbees.

“The [NPE] response,” Travis says, “was quite honestly more than we expected. We talked to hundreds of people. [In the Sailor booth] the only demonstration they had going with a crowd around it throughout the whole show was IMD.”

Romo thinks enough of IMD’s prospects that the company has created a division to focus on it, since IMD currently accounts for 20 percent of its gross sales and is growing faster than any other segment. The market is burgeoning for Simco as well.

“About 30 percent of our lead inquiries [at NPE] were for IML charging,” Shelton says. “That’s a lot of interest, and most of it happened through word of mouth.”

“It was very exciting to see that many people stand in line to talk to us about IMD and how it could impact their business,” Travis says. “It’s an easy way for molders to add value to products so they’re not just selling a plastic part; they’re selling a subassembly to their customer.”

Contact information
Simco Industrial Static Control
Hatfield, PA; Scott Shelton
(215) 822-2171; www.simco-static.com

Romo Inc., DePere, WI; Bob Travis
(920) 362-3903; www.romoinc.com

Sailor USA Inc., Kennesaw, GA
(770) 794-0409; www.sailorrobots.com

Geiger Handling USA, Madison, WI
(800) 937-9827

Dima Inc., Santa Fe Springs, CA
(866) 845-3462; www.askdima.net

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