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Reused air saves energy in PET dryer

A unique airflow pattern and a new wheel dryer design on the new InteliPET drying system is made to help PET processors save on energy, maintenance, and plant space. Developed by Novatec (Baltimore, MD), the drying system is said to use 40-50% less energy than conventional systems based on dual-desiccant-bed dryers, and takes only 55-60% of the floor space used by competing wheel dryer-based systems for PET. A constant resin temperature is achieved when material exits the hopper, thanks to automated temperature and speed controls adjusting to variations in moisture level, throughput rate, and material temperature.

Compared to other wheel dryers for PET, which include an additional drying circuit, two cyclones, two low-efficiency gas heaters, and two dust collectors with cartridges that require periodic changing, the system combines a desiccant wheel dryer similar to Novatec’s NovaWheel model with a two-zone drying hopper, a 90%-efficient electric or gas-fired heater, a cyclone, and, as an option, a self-cleaning pulse-type dust collector.

The InteliPET system reuses the heated air that returns to the dryer from the hopper, splitting the stream into two and cooling the portion that passes through the desiccant wheel, while the other stream requires minimal reheating before entering the upper zone. The color touch-screen control can track readings from 11 thermocouples and automatically optimizes them without operator intervention, resulting in further energy savings.—[email protected]

Contourable gating inserts

Further extending its range of gating inserts, Hasco (Fletcher, NC) added greater design options in its tunnel-type (submarine) gates. The contourable gating insert Z 10650 has added stock, which makes each individually contourable, allowing direct adaptation to the contours of the mold. Improved gate quality prevents evidence of the gate from being seen on the upper side of the part. Made of highly wear-resistant hot-work steel 1.3343 in a MIM process, the inserts are available in three sizes. They are said to help moldmakers rely on a clean separation of the sprue as well as save a considerable amount of time.—[email protected]

Affordable CAD/CAM software

Often when designers use inexpensive low-end CAD/CAM software, they soon face design challenges that require more computing horsepower. And if they can’t find a solution within the same product line, users must buy another, more expensive product and learn the new interface. VX Corp. (Melbourne, FL) believes it can offer the solution in its new VX Innovator product, designed to put high-end CAD/CAM within reach from learning, scalability, and cost standpoints. Preloaded with tutorials, Innovator software can be upgraded to any level of CAD/CAM, including full design, mold and die, and manufacturing.

The modeling tools work seamlessly with surface and solid geometry, and can work with poor geometry, offering healing and surface editing tools to work with nonsolid geometry. Innovator offers an entire suite of detailing and layout tools for communicating design concepts and quoting, and can style models with complex sweeps, lofts, and domes. Popular assembly tools for top-down and bottom-up design help to ensure assembly part fit and range of motion, and any needed features not included in this base product can be purchased in other VX product bundles.—[email protected]

Flame-retardant TPEs compliant with RoHS, UL criteria

New additions to the thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) product range called Elexar from Teknor Apex Co. (Pawtucket, RI) meet stringent UL criteria for fire retardance. Available in hardnesses from 56-90 Shore A, the TPEs provide flexibility and toughness over a broad temperature range, and are recommended for molded parts for flexible cords, and entertainment audio and lighting systems.

The new grades are RoHS compliant, offering excellent fire retardance without use of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), and exhibit no dripping when burned. All grades meet UL 94 V-0, VW-1 UL 1581, and CSA/FT-1 flame test requirements, and have a limiting oxygen index of 30%. Suitable for use at temperatures down to -58°F (-50°C), the grades can also pass a UL-1581 continuous rating of 257°F (125°C). The TPEs pass a seven-day oil-resistance test.—[email protected]

Dust to dust: Thermoformed coffin made of biodegradable plastics

Leistritz extrusion labAlthough biodegradable plastics are seeing greater use in smaller packaging applications,  until now thermoforming of these for large, thick-walled parts from cut sheet has been very limited. One processor, Bauer, which usually serves the automotive industry, has developed the extrusion and thermoforming processes sufficiently to now offer biodegradable coffins formed from the Arboblend material supplied by Tecnaro GmbH (Ilsfeld-Auenstein, also Germany).

Tecnaro takes lignin (a complex polymer found in plant cell walls) and compounds this with natural fibres (flax, hemp or other fibers) and natural additives to produce a composite.—[email protected]

Staying positive at Multivac

MPW’s Yvonne Kloepping recently visited packaging machinery manufacturer Multivac at its headquarters in Wolfertschwenden, Germany.

The company’s thermoforming machines are built into form, fill and seal (FFS) packaging lines. Its user base principally is in the food, consumer goods and medical markets.

Multivac employs about 2500, and manufactures more than 1100 thermoformers and traysealers as well as more than 3200 chamber (pouch sealing) machines a year. Yvonne spoke with Valeska Haux, the manufacturer’s director of corporate marketing, and Luc Van de Vel, director of the firm’s MCI business unit.

MPW: Multivac in November 2008 won its second major prize for machine technology in that year, the German Packaging Prize. The award recognized the ease operators have in cleaning your new machine. What sort of time saving will result for customers using these machines as they switch from one product to another?
Haux: Overall you could say that there is less downtime, and production time can be precisely calculated and optimized. How much time customers can save depends on the application, of course. But you could say about 20% time savings on average. The “cleaning-in-place” concept is much more relevant for foodstuffs than for medical.

MPW: Are there any recent material developments - plastic sheet materials - that have caught your attention? Are customers at all interested in PLA or other ‘bioplastics’? What about developments in barrier plastics for prevention of water absorption?

Haux: No, not lately. PLA acts just like polyester. It can be thermoformed just as well and seals perfectly on Multivac machines. However, PLA has no barrier function whatsoever. It absorbs water. So it is not an alternative for highly technical applications. The industry is not yet ready to develop a clean additive. So far, nobody has been able to produce a ‘clean’ (Ed.: referring to sustainable/bioplastic) barrier material. So PLA is not an alternative for medical or food because it has no barrier function.

MPW: Most machine manufacturers await a mediocre-to-poor year in 2009. What about Multivac?

Haux: For 2009 we expect to pretty much stay on the same level as in 2008. Since we are a global company, a recession in certain regions can be compensated for in others. Some of our goals for next year are to optimize and expand our retrofitting service and optimize delivery times for our customers.

The main issues of our customers will probably be the financing of new machines.

MPW: What keeps you and your company so positive? What is your advantage?

Haux: Our advantage right now is definitely the size of our company and the volume that we can produce and deliver. All our machines are customer-specific solutions. And we continuously offer innovative solutions that are constantly being further developed.

MPW: Energy savings have become a major issue for users, who of course need to reduce their operating costs. How has Multivac met this issue?

Haux: The two main energy wasters are thermoforming and sealing. We are working on making processes more energy efficient. An example would be lifting units - here it is better to move away from pneumatic and use electrical drives instead.

MPW: Where regionally do you see the strongest growth for machines that see use in the medical device market? Is medical device production shifting to Asia, as many have long forecasted?

Van de Vel: Asia, South America, Syria, Kuwait. Production for high-cost products is not really shifting to Asia. But production for low-cost products is. So there is definitely a shift, but if it is as big as everybody thought it would be is questionable. A boom market for medical devices right now is India.

MPW: Multivac presented the H 100 module with the two-axis HR 250 robot at the 2008 Interpack show. Is automation becoming an option that your customers want or need? What does automation add to the cost of a line? And is this sort of line most attractive to customers in high-wage areas, or do you foresee automation on thermoforming lines eventually becoming attractive to users regardless of local labor costs?

Van de Vel and Haux: Yes! Customers need automation. The simpler the processes are, the better. Costs end up being lower with a complete handling system. Automation is attractive for both high- and low-wage areas. The cost depends on the product. We can’t generalize that.

Styrenics films find favor among this processor’s thermoforming customers

Since its startup at a greenfield plant in early 2006, Multipack (Gomel, Belarus), the packaging arm of Germany’s Alcopack (Koblenz), has found that its concentration on oriented mono- and bioriented polystyrene (MOPS, BOPS) web has helped it develop some solid demand from thermoformers based in markets often flooded with bioriented polypropylene (BOPP) or polyester (BOPET) film.

Sergey Stepanov (left) and Craig McAllister see a big future in supplying oriented polystyrene processed at their plant in Gomel, Belarus.

Higher incomes and more pre-packaged food purchases in Russia and the Ukraine are driving demand for thermoformed BOPS produced by Alcopack’s Belarusian packaging subsidiary, Multipack.

Craig McAllister, project manager at the site, says the facility is running flat out (maximum output +25,000 tonnes/yr) to meet demand for BOPS thick film, with that demand split 60/40 between packagers in Russia/the Ukraine and shipments to Eastern and Western Europe. Local Russian packagers tend to use the film for thermoforming chocolate trays, while in other markets multinationals are the main customers. “The basic savings packagers are seeing coming from use of BOPS compared to PET or vinyl is material savings of up to 15% due to downgauging,” says McAllister. Since the plant is located in a duty-free zone, Belarusian demand is negligible.

McAllister says demand for BOPS has grown annually by 9% due to larger disposable incomes and changing food-purchasing habits. More pre-packed deli products are being consumed along with bakery goods. “Styrenics remains our main focus. We believe that OPS offers the greatest advantage to customers over the longer period,” says Sergey Stepanov, general manager at the facility. “In the styrenics packaging industry, development has not been taken to its limits and our goal is to find new and better ways to capitalize on the strengths this resin offers.”

Multipack is not without competition, says McAllister, having to contend with BOPS imports from China which he says are dumped on the market at prices that are “crazy.” Labor costs in Belarus have increased by about 30% since the €20 million plant opened three years ago, but as the main equipment (tenter frames from German supplier Brückner Maschinenbau, Siegsdorf) is highly automated, the affect has been manageable. McAllister also says the Western European working conditions offered by Multipack tend to limit employee turnover. The company’s main products today are 3-layer BOPS in thickness ranges from 200-600µm, metalized BOPS in tolerances from 150-300µm while this year’s target is the introduction of shrink OPS.

BOCPS runs well on thermoform tests

Another product the company is testing with potential customers is bioriented, cavitation polystyrene (BOCPS), based on the company’s oriented PS web but taking the density down to between 0.6 and 0.7. This lower density is achieved by creating voids in the film that, once oriented, impart additional strength in every axis. “In BOPS you have two planes to work with while we now have three in BOCPS, allowing the orientation to build a structure like bone where you have an outer layer but inside a supporting structure giving durability,” McAllister says.

The company ran tests to thermoform BOCPS on Kiefel (Freilassing, Germany), Illig Maschinenbau (Heilbronn, Germany), and GN Thermoforming Equipment (Chester, NS, Canada) equipment with what Multipack says has been good success with little need to modify tooling. Rigidity, dependant on package design, is often better than standard HIPS. However, McAllister says that if tools were designed specifically for BOCPS, “we think that the same thickness could be used to replace PET or HIPS and still gain a density reduction. Those [packagers] who look at BOCPS as something new and find where it is best suited will obtain much more than the thermoformer who just sticks it on the machine to replace an existing product and takes only a small part of its full advantage.”

At the moment the company has more than a 100 tonnes of BOCPS on order from Russian customers interested in replacing existing HIPS products. BOCPS development plans at Multipack foresee initial product offered to replace polyester and HIPS, then adding a sealing layer to prompt its use in FFS applications “while hoping at the same time to design in barrier properties in the seal layer.”—[email protected]

Thinnest of walls earns prize

A 500g (product size) inmold-labeled margarine tub with walls less than 0.5 mm thick has won an award in the Retail Packaging category from the German Packaging Institute. This means the package is eligible for judging at the annual World Star packaging awards. 

Dutch processor Veriplast Consumer Packaging Solutions, formerly Autobar but renamed Veriplast early this year, molds the tubs for brand owner Unilever Foods Europe. MPW initially reported on the package in its January 2008 issue after seeing it molded during the October 2007 K Show on the Netstal stand.

MuCell technology helped Veriplast cut even more weight from these margarine tubs for brand owner Unilever.

The package is claimed to be the first IML package with walls so thin. The MuCell process for generating microcellular foam within a part, licensed by Trexel, was used to help reach the thin walls without loss of sufficient strength. According to the Institute, the microcellular foam helped reduce the weight of the package by about 6% more than the previous version. During December’s Euromold trade show in Germany, MPW saw the container at the stand of Dutch design firm BPO (Delft, The Netherlands), where Jan Eek, project manager, confirmed his company did the finite element analysis and other development work for the container.—[email protected]

Emsa adds monosandwich machine for flower boxes

To mold its new myBox flower pots, consumer products manufacturer Emsa (Emsdetten, Germany) acquired a new Maxima MM baseline 1000 Monosandwich press from Ferromatik Milacron (Malterdingen, Germany) for €600,000, with another €200,000-400,000 eventually spent on molds.

Daniela Heisig, marketing manager at Emsa, holds one of the myBox flower boxes. The thick outer container, molded in a variety of colors, is made using Ferromatik Milacron’s Monosandwich process.

According to Emsa officials, its current stable of molding machines was not able to mold the thick-walled containers, which is why it opted for a monosandwich machine. The press has 1000-tonnes of clamp force and uses it handily when injecting the flower pots, with a shot weight of 4.5 kg (10 lb). Average cycle time for the containers is about 50 seconds, for daily production of some 1700 myBoxes. The myBox series allows consumers to buy a thick-walled, colored, glossy outer pot into which they can pack a ‘standard’ black plant pot, or group of such pots.

The conventional sandwich process for injection molding requires two complete injection units with separate valves: one for the first shot, which partly fills the mold and forms the surface material, and then one for the second shot, for injection of the core material. With Ferromatik’s monosandwich process, only one injection unit and valve are required. The injection unit first plasticizes the core material, and then a secondary extruder delivers the surface skin material into the injection unit. The melt components are then injected sequentially into a mold cavity, first building the part wall and then the core. Emsa predicts it will develop other large products, which also may be processed on the new machine.

Earlier this year, Emsa competitor Geobra Brandstatter—best known as the creator and molder of Playmobil toys, but also a budding power in plant pot production—bought four Maxima presses outfitted to process using the monosandwich technique.—[email protected]

Surface appearance, Take Two: Foamed parts, great finish, no license needed

There's more than one outfit claiming its inductive heating technology can revolutionize injection molding. Officials at the plastics institute in Lüdenscheid, Germany make the same claim for their Indumold heating development.

Judging from the top-notch parts MPW has seen made using both processes (click here for RocTool article), molders should keep their fingers crossed that inductive heating does not become another technology, like gas injection, that ends up so entangled in lawsuits and patent courts that processors are afraid to use it.

Indumold made its public debut at the Fakuma trade show in southern Germany last October when a Wittmann Battenfeld press at the Lüdensheid institute’s (German acronym is KIMW) stand molded these (photo, left) bottle openers. Although they have a foamed core, the surface had a high-gloss appearance. Wittmann Battenfeld (Kottingbrunn, Austria) worked with the center on the development.

The foamed parts shown at Fakuma were free of sink marks, low in warpage, and of course the foam core helped keep weight down. They had none of the streaks and rough surfaces typical of foamed parts.

For the Indumold process, the melt is first injected with a foaming agent, while the mold is cyclically inductive heated, followed by cyclical tempering and cooling of the mold with double-circuit tempering devices. Officials at KIMW allow that cycle times may be slightly longer than conventional molding of parts with foamed cores.

Injecting into the hot mold also causes the outer surface of a part to become very compact, said Jörg Günther, director of surface technology at KIMW and a member of the Institute’s board of directors. This means parts molded using Indumold not only are more attractive than standard molded parts, but they also have higher mechanical strength.

Günther spoke with MPW at the Euromold trade show in Frankfurt, Germany in December. Continuing on Indumold, he said the only cost to a user would be the installation costs, which would involve bringing a small team from the KIMW to help set up the mold, a process he said should take no more than two to four days. There is no need for a license. “Essentially, we give it away,” he said, with enough interest generated at the Fakuma show, from molders in a variety of end-use markets, that he expects commercial use soon.—[email protected]