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August 1, 2003

23 Min Read
NPE Highlights

Perhaps no booth at NPE 2003 drew more crowds than Husky’s, and it wasn’t just because Husky served lunch on the second floor. Among its other draws was a PET preform molding system called Index, built to be the most productive of all time.

If compared to a molding plant, NPE 2003 in Chicago (June 23-27) could be considered one lean operation. With total participation down nearly 30 percent (63,239) from three years ago and exhibit space down 10.9 percent (1.018 million sq ft), it was clear companies sent only their employees with purchasing power—and what power it was. Several exhibitors reported more high-quality leads than expected, perhaps signaling the start of a return to capital investment among plastics processors. Those looking for their next big purchase can find show highlights here, but if you don’t see what you want, never fear: Our NPE Showcase issue, which accompanies next month’s IMM, provides complete coverage of announcements and product introductions.

A celebration of the survivors . . . that’s what this show is!” one molder told IMM at NPE 2003. “It’s a celebration for all of us who didn’t choose to sell out, liquidate our assets, or merge ourselves away. We didn’t sell out. We’re here. And we’re here with our checkbooks. Now I guess we’ve got three years until the next show to make it all work.”

Injection Molding Machines

Most injection molding machine exhibits at NPE 2003 were about putting together the most advanced technologies available today to build lean solutions—solutions designed to improve the productivity of domestic molders serving the growth markets that remain in North America. Here are just a few highlights of what machinery suppliers had to offer their fellow survivors.

Not a single molding machine was to be found in Ferromatik Milacron’s booth at NPE 2003. Instead, the company used state-of-the-art interactive media displays to demonstrate its latest molding systems.

More with Less
What wins the Best-of-Show award? It was tough to find more attendees crowded around any other single exhibit than the next-generation Index PET preform production system from Husky IMS. The 600-ton, 144-cavity system is the highest-output preform system ever built, according to Husky sources. The company’s new post-mold cooling technology (PMC) allows its latest Index to run at cycles faster than its predecessor, while reducing capital investment by using two sets of cores instead of four.

The PMC device is engineered to cool preforms inside and out to speed things up. Chilled water in takeout tubes cools the outer surfaces, and a blower cools the inside surfaces and gate areas. If that weren’t enough, the Index system transfers preforms from the mold to the inline PMC while the next bunch of preforms are being molded. Husky plans to roll out 125-, 300-, and 600-ton models of its new Index molding systems, capable of running molds with anywhere from six to 144 cavities.

Guts
The largest injection molding machine at NPE 2003 wasn’t at NPE 2003. You know that huge 6600-ton coinjection molding machine that you’ve read so much about? You know, the one Ferromatik Milacron North America built for Bemis Mfg. Co. (Sheboygan, WI). Well, it made it to McCormick Place—digitally speaking, that is. (See June 2003 IMM, for the latest report on the 6600-tonner.)

It was part of Milacron’s innovative machine-free booth. Milacron brought a video of the 6600-tonner to the show. It also brought along the 9-ft-long, 58-lb, virgin/regrind fenders Bemis molds for John Deere.

Who needs a big, expensive hopper when a day’s production can fit in a coffee cup? Sumitomo’s 20-ton SE18D, which was molding .01g, 6.4-mm-wide POM components used in an organ-suturing surgical device, demonstrated the different world that micromolding presents.

Using some of the most advanced video conferencing, interactive multimedia, and computer networking technologies available today, Milacron saved a ton of money by not shipping big iron to Chicago. Instead, it bought gas and plane tickets, fully staffing its booths with its application consulting engineers (ACEs).

They were there to explain to attendees the technical details of the latest molding systems it has to offer and to answer their questions, while showing them how the systems work, often with the aid of remote audio-visual displays.

For example, one of the highlights of the booth was a demonstration of a lean IMD cell. At Milacron’s HQ in Batavia, OH, the inmold painting system was running on a 3000-ton press with a 607-oz shooter molding fascias. Parts were handled by a big floor-mounted, six-axis Fanuc robot.

Meanwhile, back at McCormick Place, NPE 2003 attendees could watch the demo live on a huge interactive display screen. There were four cameras in Batavia. Showgoers could watch the demo from four different angles simultaneously on the split-screen display, or they could zoom in on any one of the four.

The Milacron ACE manning the booth could write directly on the big screen with a digital highlighter to point out any special features, all while maintaining direct audio contact with the molding technician in Batavia.

In less than a decade, since its first IMM-recorded appearance at NPE 1994, Haitian has become the world’s largest injection machine builder. At NPE 2003 it debuted its first all-electric.

Also, a Milacron Xtreem machine controller at the booth was interactively networked via Internet to the Xtreem controlling the 3000-tonner back home. (Milacron’s latest Xtreem, which was also at NPE 2003, uses a Windows XP OS and has a 1.8-GHz Pentium 4 motherboard, but that’s another story.)

Opinions about Milacron’s approach were mixed. Some of its competitors complained that the company’s approach was all wrong, because molders want to touch, smell, listen to, and “kick the tires” of new equipment at a trade show.

But some of Milacron’s other competitors, like this one, whispered to IMM that they hoped the idea catches on. “Give the devil his due. Milacron has confidence in its strong market position. Why spend $2 million . . . or more to bring machines to a show, if you don’t have to—especially in times like these. I think they made a sound business decision and I applaud them for it.”

Pro or con, Milacron is the hands-down winner of IMM’s prestigious, triennial, and unofficial Guts award.

With this striking three-story tower built to resemble freight containers, Battenfeld exhibited equipment it has available to ship from stock.

Changing Times
Less than 10 years ago we were hard-pressed to figure out how to explain that injection molding machines from Haitian, then an NPE newcomer, were not being built in Haiti. Give us a break. NPE 1994 was IMM’s first, too. We reported on the low, low prices for Haitian machines, which were and still are built in the PRC. Back then, a 450-tonner cost just $122,000.

At that time Haitian had a rep agency in New York City, of all places. It was one of the many Asian OEMs crowded into one of the many Asian pavilions. This time around, though, Haitian’s spacious booth was full of machines. Its display included a twin-platen press, a high-speed packaging machine, and an all-electric.

Haitian, now represented in North America by Haitian Machinery Canada Co. Ltd., also is advertising the fact that it has become the world’s largest supplier of injection molding machines, shipping more than 8000 units in 2002.

Haitian had more than a half-dozen machines at this year’s show, including an all-electric. At NPE 1994 Milacron announced the dawn of the era of all-electric machines. It had no molding machines, all-electric or otherwise, in its NPE 2003 booth. Go figure.

A new type of insert molding technology? Nope. Battenfeld execs were merely examining the Summerer tool that was running in the largest press at NPE 2003, Battenfeld’s 2200-tonner.

Cash and Carry
That’s what Battenfeld Injection Molding Technology said was the theme of its striking, three-story equipment display. It housed a Battenfeld parts removal robot, a small-tonnage Plus Series press, and a 55-ton model in the TM series of toggles.

Each was individually shelved in structures built to resemble freight containers—the same kind of containers Battenfeld uses to ship such machines, which are available here from stock and are sold off-the-shelf. Get it?

Anyway, Battenfeld had the largest press at the show, a 2200-ton twin-platen hydraulic. Using advanced injection-compression control systems it molded stress-free 1-sq-m parts that you’d usually have to use a 5000-tonner to run. They were prototype PC automobile windshields, which, like other long-flow-front parts requiring stress-free molding, are a potentially huge future market Battenfeld is readying itself and its customers to serve.

The Ultimate Hybrid?

Gas assist? Compounding injection molding? Structural foam molding? Wilmington Machinery’s versatile new Lumina series of hybrid machines can do each, and do them in any combination.

Wilmington Machinery displayed a model of its new Lumina series of twin-platen, hybrid, low-pressure molding machines at NPE 2003. It was a 400-tonner with what a company source calls “gobs” of room between the bars and a—are you ready?— 25-lb shot capacity.

Redefining the word “versatility,” Lumina presses are capable of being equipped for gas assist, structural foam, coinjection, compounding extruder injection, or combinations of the aforementioned.

On top of that, the machine combines either an all-electric, direct-drive clamp or a hybrid hydromechanical one with an all-electric screw drive that has hydraulic-assist for core pull, nozzle touch, and its shot pot.

Wilmington has allied itself with twin-screw extruder manufacturer Leistritz and gas-assist systems supplier Alliance Gas Systems Inc. to produce the Lumina.

Remember Negri Bossi?
Returning from its direct U.S. sales hiatus in grand style, Negri Bossi USA showcased a model of its new Elma series of electric machines (60 to 850 metric tons) to reintroduce American molders to the inventive engineering in its Italian-built presses, which were quite popular here once upon a time.

This large ABB robot worked its magic in a Battenfeld production cell making an innovative large auto glazing panel. The robot demolded the large part, inserted it into a polarized light box to ensure there were no molded-in stresses, and then stacked it.

Its all-electrics are “aggressively” priced, according to a company source. The 99-ton Elma on show costs about $80,000. Since their introduction a little more than a year ago, Negri Bossi reportedly has gained a 44 percent market share across the big pond, making it the leading European manufacturer of all-electrics.

Featuring liquid-cooled servomotors, ounce-for-ounce shot sizes identical to its hydraulic machines, and direct-drive clamps, Elmas are not all all-electric, technically speaking. A small oil reservoir powered by a servomotor gear pump equipped with quick disconnects handles mold actions like core pulls, unscrewing, ejection, and platen rotation.

Nozzle contact force is controlled through an inspired electromechanical system incorporating a three-phase electrical motor for pull-in, spring washers, chains, and a coil spring. It’s designed to provide the same touch-force control as Negri Bossi’s hydraulics.

Finding a Niche
Krauss-Maffei was one of the machinery exhibitors at the show armed with market research that contends there is no growth or profit in sales of general purpose machines in the U.S. With this in mind, K-M came to the show with specialty equipment designed for niche, high-end markets. Most eye-catching was the two-component Revolution, which puts an injection unit on both the stationary and moving platens, both inline. And for molders who don’t want to make the capital outlay for an entire machine, K-M introduced its bolt-on injection unit, designed to turn a standard machine into a multimaterial press.

Small molding machine specialist Boy Machines showed two automated cells. This one, with a 22-ton vertical machine, used a Kawasaki Scara robot and a vision system integrated by Boy with Ask Technologies. Small is beautiful.

Auxiliaries

At first glance, the PDA at Motan Inc.’s booth looked to be simply a free technology goody to entice visitors. But the Hewlett-Packard PDA was controlling the dryers and loaders in the NPE booth through an antenna affixed to a display wall high above.

This advance supports a growing trend within the material drying, handling, and feeding equipment market. It’s a segment where established technologies change little over time, but rapid advances are continually being made on the control front, especially in remote control and monitoring.

In the case of the Motan product, when customers buy the Pocketnet remote interface system, they receive an HP iPAQ 5455 loaded with Motan software, but also programmed with everything you’d expect to find on your PC. A Motan representative reported walking far afield in the South Hall with no problems, as the device gave real-time feedback to alarms, system status, and connection strength.

Wittmann Inc. showed off its Internet-linking capabilities through its Witt Link program. Able to run temperature controllers and dryers, it brings up the auxiliary’s control screen on any Web-enabled computer. Cameras can watch shop floor activity with minimal delay, and any errors bring up manuals to show possible remedies.

Universal Dynamics Inc. used existing SPI communication standards to introduce Windows-based control over material handling on local or wide area networks for its auxiliaries. Users can define cells, add or subtract equipment, and even import photos of the equipment to associate control with a specific auxiliary—all of this from any PC and in the familiar Windows format.

Automation

Boy Machines, whose largest press is 100 tons, demonstrated two of its vertical machines as the centerpieces of automated production cells designed for 24/7 lights-out operation. The smaller machine, a 22-tonner, overmolded a nylon handle onto an Allen blade. A Kawasaki articulated robot grasped two blades, entered the open mold, extracted two overmolded pieces, rotated the head, placed the two blades in the molds for the next shot, and then deposited the two finished parts on a belt. The robotics and an integrated vision control system were designed by Ask Technologies cooperatively with Boy, which will single-source such cells. Priced less than $100,000, such a system that is running 24/7 offers a rapid payback.

Doing it the old-fashioned way

With all of the technology that dominates machinery today, it was nice to turn the corner at NPE and stumble across these hand-cranked Van Dorns at the show. Even better was finding industry veteran Irv Rubin manning one such machine in the RJG booth (top right). Rubin says that he operated a similar machine at his first NPE. The other hand-cranked Van Dorn was in the Beaumont Runner Technologies booth (bottom right). Both machines were not mere show gimmicks; they were used to prove that new cavity pressure and Melt Flipper technologies operate under basic principles that are independent of the machine technology. When it comes to optimizing your process, it doesn’t always mean buying the best and brightest machinery.

Early Monday morning before NPE 2003 opened, a top manager of one of the largest U.S.-based molding firms said he was already struck by one change from the previous show: Virtually every machine on the show floor was automated. He was so right. There was a lot of automation at NPE 2000, but this time it was everywhere.

This echoes what almost all machinery and materials suppliers are saying about the North American molding business: Like it or not, in general, the more technically demanding molding-based projects that need automation to ensure quality and cost efficiency are staying in North America. The simpler work is going abroad. NPE 2003 was all about automation, a lot of it, in an assortment manifesting a virtual explosion of creative solutions.

Automation to Fit Every Job
Whether you make micro parts or car bumpers, the right automation is available. Take large parts, for example: NPE 2003 attendees clogged one particular aisle all week to watch that 2200-ton Battenfeld HM machine mold a large auto glazing panel. The glazing, a special polycarbonate from Bayer-GE Plastics joint venture Exatec, can take away half the weight of glass panels.

Networking automated machines is a hot topic. Increasingly, the link is being built into machine and robotics controls using standards such as Ethernet. Negri Bossi has gone wireless with its machine controls, eliminating cabling the factory. The antenna atop the control panel is your key to tuning in from the plant office, or from home via the Internet.

However, IMM was watching the large ABB articulated robot making this machine a cell. It demolded the glazing panel, maneuvered it into a polarized light box to check for molded-in stresses, and positioned it in a rack. The end-of-arm tooling, which could be in the next Terminator movie, was almost as impressive as the work envelope.

Other automation worth noting on Battenfeld’s stand was in the system showcasing its IMC (inmold cutting) technology. The IMC system was trimming inmold-applied textile from an auto interior panel while it was still in the mold. After the part was extracted, an articulated robot laser-cut an opening in the panel. That was on another large machine, but folks, automation is certainly not only for big machines.

Expanded and Simplified

If there was a supplier of automation robotics that had not significantly upgraded its control system or introduced a whole new design, we missed it. The objectives of both the upgrades and new systems were the same: Simplify and empower. The operator interfaces are not only graphic but simplified graphics, and almost always provide password controls that restrict access to qualified operators. Software wizards that prompt you through each step in robot setup and stop you if you are going wrong accompany the icons, almost all on touch screens. Yet, while the interfaces are becoming simpler, system power is rapidly increasing.

The increasing number of articulated robots at NPE testifies to the reach of these units into the molding business. Fanuc added this new model to its Toploader line and demonstrated how it could move in multiple directions to perform various value-added functions.The three-axis SR-SB Traverse Robot Series from Sterltech Robotics is emblematic of the trend to reduce the investment on full-servo, three-axis systems. Though it cuts cost, it can be programmed with more than 1000 motion sequences and hold accuracy within ±.1 mm. Sterling also launched a new control system for its SRRA robots using the XP operating system, separate password-secured portals for each user, and Ethernet and phone connections for intranet and Internet communication.

For example, Automated Assemblies introduced its new Raptor series of linear servodriven robots featuring the new Raptor control system. Raptor robots are designed to be expandable from simple parts removal devices to complete automated workcell systems. The control, which is a single graphical touchscreen that walks the operator through the procedure clearly and quickly, is equally scalable. It can run a full workcell, leaving the machine controls free to run the process.

Many of the new control systems and upgrades include communications capabilities that link them directly into a company’s network. The newest version of Star’s robotics control system, besides having a simpler interface and the power to run a multifunction workcell, has wireless technology (Wi-Fi) included. CBW’s new Lumera control system uses Windows 2000 for the interface and standard networking systems and protocols that allow remote troubleshooting or setup assistance by the company’s specialists. Before calling, however, you can use the online manuals in the system to look at everything from drawings and prints to spare parts and a quick reference guide for installing a motor controller.

Sailor’s control unit now features a much larger screen and voice prompts to help the operator, and it is set up to interface with a network via standard Ethernet. Later this year Sailor will add software that dials a mobile phone so the voice prompts can report problems or status wherever you are.

More and Better Choices
Judging from NPE, robotics suppliers are rising to the challenge of using automation to retain a manufacturing edge, and they have new and better solutions at every level. We saw many new servodriven high-speed sprue pickers at work. There were many new lines of servodriven linear robots and even more upgrades and additions to existing lines. Ranger rolled out a line of double-arm robots for stack molds that offers up to seven-axis servo operation at cycle times as low as 5 seconds.

IMM noted the increased presence of articulated industrial robots at NPE 2000. There were so many more of them at NPE 2003 that we can now say they are virtually mainstream. The increasingly positive response by molders to articulated robots has enabled manufacturers to design units and EOAT that are plastics specific. The payloads and work envelopes are optimized to work with molding systems.

Using a combination of linear and articulated technology, the Ventax side-entry robot can dry cycle at .5 second. A top-entry model goes at about .7 second. With a 7-lb payload, it is made for plastics and particularly for fast-cycling jobs like thin-wall packaging with total cycle times as fast as 3 seconds.

Fanuc Robotics, for example, introduced the M-16iB/20T toploader six-axis gantry robot, demonstrating extraction and a variety of post-molding operations. The Toploader Series has a payload range of 6 to 200 kg and a reach of 1.3 to 2.2m; the new model has a reach of 1.73m. It can be suspended under or alongside an overhead rail to reposition the work envelope. At the show, Fanuc was also demonstrating how its visLOCi machine vision software package uses

2-D and 3-D tools to simplify integrating the r

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