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August 27, 2000

22 Min Read
NPE Highlights

If one can gauge the health of the molding industry by the health of NPE, then these are the best of times. By all accounts and measures, NPE 2000 was an unprecedented success. Exhibitors came in record numbers, occupying more space than ever before. The more than 92,000 people who registered broke all records and exceeded the most optimistic of estimates. Beyond the numbers, visitors to McCormick Place were wowed by a large variety of demonstrations, machines, materials, and services. The staff of IMM was there in force; editors went to every hall and floor to find, assess, and report on the latest technology and products for molding professionals. This report represents some highlights of the show. Look for complete product coverage in the NPE Showcase in the September IMM.

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NPE 2000 was a showcase for the type of manufacturing system solutions injection molders need to meet the emerging marketplace challenges laid out this year in IMM's "Blueprint for the 21st Century" series of articles. Major markets for molded products are changing. OEMs want mass customization services from their suppliers more so than mass production, while ramp-ups on new projects continue to accelerate.

OEMs require better communications, certified quality, technological expertise, lower costs, and faster delivery. A supplier's ability to add value to products is another premium OEM requirement. NPE 2000 was a blueprint for the systems molders need to evolve with the marketplace and the changing century.

NPE 2000 also shone its spotlights on specialized molding technologies now emerging, such as micromolding, rapid tooling, microcellular molding, skin insert molding, and injection molding of metals and ceramics. What's more, the global nature of the 21st Century injection molding marketplace was evidenced in Chicago, with domestic and foreign suppliers vying to draw attendees' attention to their ability to help molders meet their customers' regional presence requirements, worldwide.

All in all, the halls of McCormick Place were filled with cost-effective alternatives to meet virtually any type of molder's needs for satisfying virtually any type of customer requirement-from the mom and pop job shop selling machine time to one or two customers, to the multinational one-stop-shop serving multinational OEMs.

Plantwide/Worldwide Connectivity
NPE 2000 was ground zero for a paradigm shift in the use of computers in injection molding. Most agree that the biggest change that has occurred in injection molding since the advent of the reciprocating screw has been the computer. Until NPE 2000, that meant computer monitoring and control. At NPE 2000, the computer became a platform for all of that and something more—the Internet.

0800i13a.jpgHigh-speed hybrid
Five, count 'em, five big thrusters helped Netstal's new SynErgy 6000 660-ton low rider cycle an 8x8 Tradesco stack mold running 16-oz PP packaging containers at the show in 4.7 seconds. It dry cycles at 2.5 seconds. Only the injection unit drive system is electric on this hybrid racer. Everything else is driven by accumulator-assisted fluid power. It's got what it takes for high-volume thin-walling with high-speed stack molds. Expect 440- and 550-ton models soon.



As previously detailed, American MSI Corp. has developed a system called MSI Cell-Net that is the missing link in computer integrated manufacturing (see May 2000 IMM). MSI Cell-Net creates an all-inclusive communications network for manufacturing cells and everything in them, shares this information with a company's other databases, and integrates it all through a company's intranet to the Internet, where suppliers and customers can share just the information they need worldwide through a computer, a mobile phone, a PDA, or most other digital communication devices. MSI Cell-Net lays the foundation for the real-time collaboration and communications needed in today's complex supply chain management strategies.

0800i13b.jpg Dima's two-for-one debut
Phillip Kim of Dima, an NPE first-timer, says the reason for his company's buy-one-get-one-free splash was simple. "Nobody's ever heard of us here before." Kim wanted to draw attention to Dima's press technology, and to show the company's confidence in it with the offer. Dima molding machines (from 30 to 5500 tons) are manufactured by Dongshin Hydraulics, Korea's largest press maker. A 180-ton all-electric was on show in Chicago, along with a 250-ton two-platen hydromechanical; a high-speed 350-ton toggle running a 4x4 Yudo stack mold in 7-second cycles; and the 750-ton twin platen shown here. All Dima machines are closed loop, with Bosch hydraulics and Barber-Colman controls as standard. Kim says the two-for-one debut also drew attention to the company's name in another way. "Dima" stands for Double Income MAchine. "They are inexpensive, but you get better performance, too," he concludes.



At its booth in the North Hall of McCormick, American MSI demonstrated Cell-Net by dialing up cells at Nypro Oregon, a Cell-Net customer; at MSI's HQ in Moorpark, CA; at a cell in the Sumitomo booth, which was also in the North Hall, calling up real-time production data on the latter from 700 ft away; through a thick, brick wall; and on a wireless WAP-enabled mobile phone. Video Over Internet capabilities in MSI Cell-Net also enabled booth attendees to actually see what was going on in each cell, live.

As promised in May, American MSI discussed pricing information at the show. A typical MSI Cell-Net system costs $8000 to $11,000 per cell, depending on customer requirements. Also, three-year technology leasing programs are available, if preferred. These cost an average of $275 to $350 per month.

Other machines made news on the e-front as well. Toshiba's latest machine controller, the V21, is ready to make the e-molding connection. It comes Ethernet-equipped, interfaced with a number of other advanced features so that up to 24 of Toshiba's Six-Sigma-compatible AC Series all-electrics (22 to 385 tons), on which the touch screen V21 is standard, can be linked to a single server. Like many other machinery OEMs, Toshiba also used NPE 2000 to introduce attendees to its new e-commerce website.

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Licensed by Milacron to use technology that integrates PCs and machinery control systems, Husky's new standard PC- and Windows-based, Web-capable system features a touch screen TFT LCD GUI, open architecture, wireless connectivity for total cell control, and user configurability.



Ferromatik Milacron's newest versions of its patented industrial PC platform machine controller, the Xtreem, come equipped with a Microsoft IE Web browser and direct video-conferencing access to Milacron's process support and customer relations center. In addition to hosting several other special features—like the ability to attach audio memos, streaming videos, or still photos to mold files—the Xtreem control system can function and network just like your desktop PC (see photo above). It's capable of running any Windows-compatible third-party software.



0800i16b.jpgXtreem integration
This business of using a PC for a machine control, as Milacron does with the Xtreem, also lends itself to integrating other functions into that control. One such application demonstrated was mold monitoring; Avalon Vision Solutions' PlantVision software was integrated into several Milacron machines via the Xtreem NT controller. PlantVision OEM is an imbedded component system that can be run on any molding machine or auxiliary equipped with a WindowsNT-based controller. There's no need for a separate system; the display of the mold toggles with the machine control display, and production is stopped if a stuck part is detected.



Macromolding Machines
When it comes to bragging rights at the show about who's got the biggest, what set NPE 2000 apart from its predecessors was not so much what machine was the biggest, but what the biggest machine was doing, and how. For example, it just so happened that the largest molding machine at the show also happened to be the largest all-electric molding machine ever built—a 1550-tonner from Ube Machinery Inc (see photo below).

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At 1550 tons, Ube's Ultima UN 1550 was not only the biggest injection molding machine at the show, it is the largest all-electric ever built.



Its Ultima UN 1550 has 72 by 52 inches between the bars, 98-by-78-inch platens, a 1323 lb/hr plasticating capacity, and position setting accuracy to within ±.01 mm. The machine was engineered to provide a 40 percent reduction in cycle time and an 80 percent improvement in energy savings vs. a similarly sized hydraulic. Construction of this $932,000, 100-U.S.-ton heavyweight only started in March, but Ube had it ready by showtime. It ran one-piece PP CD cases measuring 20 inches long by 10 inches wide by 34 1/4 inches high. 

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Several companies showed off machines equipped with Trexel's MuCell microcellular foaming technology. Engel (above) molded large light fixture housings on its WP Duo twin-platen machine, Arburg (above right) produced overmolded bobbins on its 66-ton 320C, and Milacron (right) cranked out 4-ft-long level housings on its Magna T310.

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Engel also displayed a big press, a new 1000-ton WP Duo twin-platen. It is the largest Trexel-licensed machine Engel has ever built (see photo above). Engel was the first in Trexel's growing cadre of licensees of its MuCell microcellular foaming technology. Equipped with Engel's latest high-speed locking mechanism for exploiting the higher-speed cycling the MuCell process provides, the big machine molded big lighting fixtures that were removed by Engel's own ERC 83 three-axis servo robot. The fixtures were from Lexalite International Corp. (Charlevoix, MI), which expected to receive the machine a week after the show.

Meanwhile, Trexel-licensee Husky announced that it had received an order to build an even bigger MuCell-capable molding machine, a 2200-tonner, for MIG Plastics Inc. (Morenci, MI). The Model EW2000 RS155/13 press will be in a cell equipped with an integrated MTE-50 inline robot, also from Husky. It is the largest microcellular foaming machine ever licensed by Trexel—so far.

Micromolding Machines
Sumitomo (SHI) Plastics Machinery asked one of its customers to help it demonstrate the high-precision thin-walling and micromolding capabilities of its new Model SE 18S, a 20-ton all-electric. In fact, this customer helped it develop the machine. The customer is micromolder extraordinaire Makuta Technics (Columbus, IN—see Lights-out Makutian Micromolding," February 1999 IMM for a Makuta Technics plant tour). Makuta is allied with an international network of micromolders with headquarters in Japan, called the Sansyu Group, where Sumitomo's SE 18S was codeveloped, debugged, and trialed (see The Micromolding Super-express," December 1999 IMM).

The demo model ran POM bobbins in a two-cavity mold. Total cycle time, including sprue removal and parts removal into a wine glass, was 4.8 seconds (see photo below). The bobbins had an overall part size of .668 cu mm, and weighed just .0003g. Showing off such small parts ain't easy, but Sumitomo had an answer. Near the small servodriven press was a microscope equipped with a video camera that projected images of Makuta's micromolded parts on a TV screen.

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Sumitomo and Makuta Technics teamed up to showcase the micromolding capabilities of the Model SE 18S. A day's worth of production at the show fit in the wine glass shown above.



Speaking of microscopic parts, NPE 2000 was the North American debut of the Microsystem 50 from Battenfeld. This self-contained cell performs injection molding, parts handling, optical testing, and oriented parts packaging in an enclosed cleanroom environment. All functions are managed by Battenfeld's latest top-of-the-line Unilog Series controller, the B4.

The Microsystem 50 debutante produced POM watch gears in a four-cavity mold. Its specially designed injection unit featured a 5-mm plunger, and each part weighed in at .8 mg. The parts bore a striking resemblance to those molded by Battenfeld's first Microsystem customer, Rolla Micro Synthetics (Grenchen, Switzerland; see Virtual-knowledge micromolding," September 1999 IMM). North American pricing for the Microsystem 50 has yet to arrive Stateside.

Metal Molding
There was, perhaps, no more striking demonstration of the growing interest in injection molding metals and ceramics (IMMC) than the display of Ferromatik Milacron's new Vista Edge molding machine, which, in and of itself, was one of the most striking highlights of the show. The Wolfpack design of the Vista Edge was led by its inventor, William A. Reinhart, who has returned to the Milacron fold as general manager of its new metal and ceramic injection molding business unit.

Milacron demonstrated its new business unit's working relationship with MIM feedstock supplier Honeywell by molding 17-4 PH stainless steel turbine motor components from Honeywell's water-based PowderFlo feedstock on its Vista Edge (see photo below). Milacron used this demo not only to promote its new activities in IMMC, but also to show that although its new Vista Edge is budget friendly, it's not a cheap machine when it comes to performance.

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For a plastics show, NPE attracted its fair share of metal injection molding demonstrations. Milacron (above) molded a stainless steel motor component on its Vista Edge machine and Boy (right) showed off its 30M machine running small medical parts. JSW (above, right) dry-cycled a Model JLM245-MG machine designed for Thixomolding magnesium.

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Net-shape magnesium injection molding was as much of a major attention-getter at JSW Plastics Machinery's NPE 2000 booth as it was at the JSW stand at IPF'99 in Tokyo (see December 1999 IMMC). JSW and Husky are licensed by Thixomat (Ann Arbor, MI) to build machines for its Thixomolding process. JSW dry-cycled a Model JLM245-MG, a 245-metric-ton hydraulic press, in Chicago. Mold release (lubricant) spraying and parts removal was simulated using a beside-the-press industrial robot.

Also on display were several new parts molded in magnesium on its equipment, including housings for the Nikon CoolPix digital cameras IMM editors now use (see photo below). For more information on IMMC, go to the Special Reports page in the Editorial Archive.

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Stainless steel turbine components (above) were produced via MIM by Ferromatik Milacron. JSW displayed several magnesium Thixomolded parts, including this automotive part (right), and finished products like the Nikon CoolPix camera shown above, right.

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Servomolding Machines
The servomolding machine stampede quietly thundered through the McCormick Place halls. Leading the pack was Milacron Fanuc. Fanuc's latest breakthrough is the Supershot 100i, the world's first linear-motor all-electric racer (see photo below).

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Sporting high-speed linear motors that power the injection unit, Milacron Fanuc's Supershot 110i (left) can reach speeds of 2000 mm/sec. Also designed for speed is Engel's tiebarless Model ES 650/110 TL SEL, which was molding medical parts from a tool mounted on an extended platen.



Four high-speed linear motors power the injection unit on the 100-ton press to an impressive maximum speed of 2000 mm/sec—up to 25 percent faster than most other machines, whether hydraulic or electric. Maximum acceleration of 13G delivers 0-to-2000-mm/sec response in only .017 second.

A new nozzle touch mechanism that cancels injection acceleration while maintaining precise platen parallelism combines with the low inertia of the linear motors and the machine's artificial-intelligence-based control technology to allow precision molding of parts less than .15 mm thick in ETPs at injection times faster than .02 second.

Another all-electric showstopper was Engel's Model ES 650/110 TL SEL (see photo above). The show machine was equipped with a large servo injection unit for high-speed, high-pressure, and high-precision molding, like the Milacron Fanuc. However, the 64-cavity medical pipette tool the Engel all-electric ran at NPE 2000 was mounted on an extended platen measuring 29.14 inches wide by 27.56 inches high. There were no problems with the fit. That's because Engel's all-electric has no tiebars.

Engel's existing tiebarless TL Series machines are designed to deliver high-precision molding repeatability superior to tiebar machines, and have been proven to provide better platen parallelism and centricity, according to Engel officials. And, with no bars, they provide a greater usable platen area, freer mold access, and easier mold changing. They also simplify automation. More than 13,000 TLs have been sold.

Until now, hydraulic TLs have been competing with the speed, parallel cycle phasing, ultraclean, and ultraquiet capabilities of the all-electrics for the same type of markets. Since customers no longer have to forego the benefits of one for the other, Engel officials expect the 60-, 110-, and 165-ton all-electric tiebarless machines to be quite popular when they go on sale early in 2001.

Printed Metal Molds
D-M-E has partnered with the ProMetal Div. of Extrude Hone to commercialize MoldFusion. Mold-Fusion is the application of additive machining technology from MIT in which 3-D powder metal inkjet printing is used to build 100 percent-dense tooling from CAD models. Powdered metal, like 80-µm 420 stainless steel, can be used. After thermal binder removal and bronze infiltration in a secondary sintering step, tools can be plated, treated, and mirror finished. Extrude Hone will manufacture the MoldFusion systems; D-M-E will sell them.

MoldFusion allows unprecedented external and internal geometric flexibility. Of equal importance, it's fast. It has a build rate of up to 11 cu in/hr, meeting the needs of suppliers who have to ramp up quickly on new projects. And it has a generously spaced work envelope—12 by 12 by 10 inches now, with a 20-by-40-by-10-inch envelope coming.

In addition to quick production of prototype and short-run tooling, MoldFusion allows the all-in-one creation of cycle-time-saving conformal cooling lines. It also can replace material mass with structural support, improving thermal profiling and saving weight. In addition, it can combine such structural mass reduction with selective heating, thereby improving part quality, even when using more complex designs.

0800i22c.jpgRemember Reed? (2000 edition)
A leading Brazilian molding machinery OEM did. But how could Indústrias Romi forget the patriarch of U.S. molding machines? After all, Romi got started building machines in 1972 through a Reed license. Ready to grow into North American markets, Romi contacted Reed through the Web, and, offline, they struck a new deal. Red, white, and blue horizontal toggles—like the fully closed loop TR330 Reed-Romi debuted at NPE 2000 with a starting price of $135,000—will be available from 75 to 2000 tons, from Reed-Prentice.



Automation on the Move
The fact that automation was reaching out almost literally at times to molders in every aisle of NPE 2000 clearly emphasizes the rapid growth of robotics currently taking place in the molding industry. Automation suppliers of every stripe were reporting high levels of interest, and not just at NPE. What is more interesting, they say, is why and how molders are automating. The traditional thinking that says robots are installed to replace manual labor is no longer valid. Equally invalid is thinking a robot is just for extracting a molded part and placing it on a belt or pallet.

More and more, say the various suppliers, automation is being justified because it ensures consistent product quality, cuts costs, and increases productivity. Robots are facilitating a variety of secondary operations, sorting parts, measuring quality, packaging parts and assemblies, and carrying products to warehouses and loading docks.

Nowhere is this more true than with industrial robots, often referred to as six-axis robots. Those peculiar android-looking creatures can be three-, four-, or five-axis and still do a great job for you. The industrial robots were far more present at this NPE than ever before.

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The time machine
Epco has to win an NPE 2000 display creativity award. At a VIP and media event before the show's opening, Epco's Steve Shroeder took the tarpaulin off a 1973-vintage Van Dorn machine. Half the machine was in its sorry as-delivered state, but the other half was dramatically remanufactured to SOA perfection, right down to its E-500 controller, Epco's latest, low-cost upgrade. On the more serious side, Epco announced the creation of the Epco Audit for ANSI standards. It was formed to help molders prepare for the new worker liability rules that went into effect in July.



Industrial Robots
The work envelope of the by-now familiar linear two- or three-axis robots is, well, linear. The axes are straight lines, with some wrist action in the end-of-arm tooling. Industrial robots, by contrast, have a work envelope that is roughly spherical and can move within that sphere in any of the ways your arm can, but with a greater range of motion. The options are immense. Major suppliers like ABB, Fanuc, and Motoman say they are finding significant possibilities for the robot in part extraction (it can flex a deep-draw or undercut part off a core just as you would with your hand), placing inserts or inmold labels, and most of all in secondary operations.

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Reaching behind a fixed platen, Fanuc's six-axis, machine-mounted robot (right) demonstrates how industrial robots can extend the work zone for added processing. On display in Automated Assemblies' booth, the above Fanuc robot shows off its range of motion by waving around an automotive bumper.


Fanuc demonstrated its new series of top-loader industrial robots at NPE (see photo right). The transverse overhead mount enables a broad range of motion for secondary operations from trimming and welding to stacking and packing. This design, says Fanuc, not only saves floor space, but it also uses less overhead space than normal gantry robots. The unit at the show, mounted on the fixed platen, was able to reach behind the fixed platen outside the clamp. At NPE, the overhead mounting beam was parallel to the fixed platen. Fanuc noted that by turning the horizontal mounting beam parallel with the machine axis and mounting it outboard, the robot could move the part to and from any secondary operation positioned press-side or beyond. 

In the Conair booth the M6i six-axis industrial unit demonstrated ease of programming and operational flexibility by playing a game of tic-tac-toe with a Model 3021 beam robot. Automatic end of arm tooling changes were also performed. Another industrial robot in the Conair booth, a Fanuc Mate 800i, worked a simulated molding application integrated with a vision system to help it sort nickels by heads and tails.

Linear Robots
Let us not appear to overemphasize industrial robots. Yes, they have incredible capability. They are also far easier to program than previously. However, they do carry a cost premium, though their makers say that gap is closing.

Given that, an industrial robot may not be for you. Relax. The makers of linear robots have elevated the performance and range of their systems as well. AEC/Automation Engineering has added three-axis linear drive models to its AE series of servo traverse robots. A digitally controlled drive on each of the three axes gives the precision braking needed for high accuracy, while the linear technology provides higher acceleration to cut cycle times. Made for injection machines from 150 to 750 tons, these robots use a heavy-duty dual rack and pinion style of wrist to handle higher payloads.

Teach-programmable controls allow real-time programming at the press of 3-D sequences and positions using a handheld pendant or a PC. AEC also added a new controller for its Excel series of sub-3-second sprue pickers that allows first-time users easy access for programming sequences.

Wittmann Systems has been working on all its robot systems. In the six-axis area, all members of its Six Series now include digital vacuum switches for faster, more accurate position sensing. The W670, at the top of the range, is for 2200- to 5000-ton molding machines and has a payload rating of 220 lb (100 kg). It can handle large custom end-of-arm tools for automotive parts or structural foam applications. The new a-c servo wrist for these robots can provide up to six degrees of coordinated articulating motions for demanding part removal, clearance through tiebars, or presenting parts to secondaries.

Wittmann also has made it easier to program basic pick and place routines with a new Color Graphical TeachBox. A user can select from various sequence options including conveyor indexing, nipper degating, or switch to "open architecture/line programming" to write more detailed sequences for the robot or other workcell components. "Hot editing" can be done on the factory floor.

Conair introduced to North America its fastest robot yet. The 3020 HP boasts a .5-second takout time and 3.5-second overall cycle. It's targeted toward thin-wall packaging applications on presses up to 300 tons.

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Three-axis robots have gotten faster, and Automated Assemblies wanted to prove it. The cycle time was clocked at well under 3 seconds for this model.

Automated Assemblies showed an enhanced model of its three-axis servo robot featuring a new controller and a configuration designed for raw speed (see photo right). It was extracting a medical device part with takeout speeds around .22 second. It is 20 percent faster than what Automated showed at NPE '97, and the price is reduced by 15 percent, with a new graphical interface included.

Automated's lower-priced Express three-axis servo line also includes the color GUI, and its speed is 25 to 50 percent faster than the previous generation. Automated has formed a joint venture with Fanuc and will integrate the latter's six-axis machines into its systems.

Robot supplier InSol/Ichikoh showed a new TA series of three-stage servo robots at NPE that use 40 percent less overhead space. A telescoping arm using a ball screw in its first stage and belt drives in stages two and three was extending the arm into the mold at 3200 mm/se

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