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Articles from 2016 In November

Festo’s flights of imagination benefit factory of the future

Festo eMotion

Industrial automation company Festo (Esslingen am Neckar, Germany) established the Bionic Learning Network in 2006, a space where Festo engineers, university researchers and private inventors focus on learning from nature to find solutions for the factory of the future. Since its inception, the network has created a number of automated creatures, and Festo brought two of those showpieces to Expoplast in Montreal this week: A bionic ant and eMotion butterflies.

Festo's Jaclyn McCann shows a bionic ant to Expoplast attendees.

Many things happen in nature that also happen on the factory floor, such as gripping, positioning and mixing, noted Jaclyn McCann, Marketing and Communications Supervisor, during the presentation. One of the first applications that the Bionic Learning Network explored came at the behest of a smartphone manufacturer seeking efficiencies in assembly operations. Inspiration came from the gecko, whose sticky feet led Festo to develop a novel method of assembly. Since then, the company has applied the behavior of fish fins to the design of extremely versatile grippers and many more bionic platforms.

On the Expoplast show floor, McCann gave attendees an opportunity to get up close and personal with the not-to-scale bionic ants. But the pièces de resistance were the eMotion butterflies. They are equipped with an indoor GPS system to prevent any inflight mishaps, an innovation that could have applications in guidance and monitoring systems used on the factory floor, says Festo. Unfortunately, attendees were not able to see that for themselves. The bionic butterflies were grounded by the Canadian government, which deemed the free-flying creatures to be a safety hazard on a busy trade show floor. Instead, their German “handlers” paraded them, plastic wings flapping, in the presentation area.

Festo's eMotion butterflies.

Electrification and computerization mean innovation for in-mold electronics, part one

Electrification and computerization mean innovation for in-mold electronics, part one

It’s becoming difficult to tell a vehicle from a computer these days, given that computerization and electronics have become almost more important than the mechanical aspects of a vehicle. McKinsey & Company note in a new report that the convergence of automotive and technology will create a new ecosystem that will require innovation, as automotive OEMs and Tier 1s will see new entrants in the supply chain with disruptive effects.

Tesla Model X.

These new technology suppliers “will transform typically vertically integrated automotive value chains into a complex, horizontally structured ecosystem,” said the McKinsey report (“How the Convergence of Automotive and Tech will Create a New Ecosystem”). “Today’s OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers must abandon strategies aiming at total control of vehicles and instead pick and choose where and how to play by shedding assets, streamlining operations and embracing digital acquisitions.”

Suppliers will have to rise to the challenge of developing this new computerized vehicle ecosystem, as McKinsey sees four tech trends that are reshaping the global automotive sector. Rather than being interested in the size of the engine and the shape of the car, consumers are now more interested in “infotainment” systems, being connected, autonomous driving and diverse mobility, notes McKinsey.

“The fortunes of players in the automotive sector have always depended on what customers see as valuable,” said the report. “Most of this value has typically resided in the hardware of vehicles and in the automakers’ brands. However, future innovations will probably focus on disruptive technology trends, so customer perceptions of value will shift, increasingly putting incumbents in danger. The four trends that will favor the newcomers are the following:

Electrification. Drive trains will shift toward hybrid-electric, electric and fuel-cell technologies as they mature and become cheaper.

Autonomous driving. The operation of automated cars will move from advanced driver-assistance systems to fully autonomous driving as the technology matures.

Diverse mobility. As the sharing economy expands and consumer preferences change, the standard model will continue to evolve from outright purchase or lease to rentals and car sharing.

Connectivity. The possibilities for infotainment innovations, novel traffic services and new business models and services will increase as cars get connected to each other, to the wider infrastructure and to people.

According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), innovation has always been important in the automotive sector, “but recent years have seen a renewed focus on new technologies and product features.” In BCG’s 2013 survey, “more automotive technology companies perceived innovation and R&D investment to be important to the success of their businesses than do companies in other industries. Almost 85% of respondents ranked innovation as a top priority. About 70% of respondents from auto and technology industries plan to increase investment in innovation in the future.” There were only two automakers in the top 10 of the 2013 survey.

While regulatory compliance for fuel economy continues to be a major factor behind the automotive industry’s innovation push in areas of lightweighting with carbon-fiber-reinforced materials and other plastics, that could change with the incoming administration. BCG notes that automakers have “stepped up the development of electric and hybrid vehicles and increased their efforts to improve the mileage of mass-market models through advancements such as more efficient power trains and lighter car bodies.” 

In BCG’s 2014 survey, there was only one automotive innovator in the top 10—Tesla, which ranked #7.  Innovation remained a top-three priority for three-quarters of respondents, however, with more than 60% spending more in 2014 than in 2013. While the usual tech companies put in a strong showing in 2014, the automotive industry declined, with only nine companies making the cut. Automakers that ranked in the top 50 that year included BMW (18), Ford (19), Volkswagen (21), Diamler (25), General Motors (26), Audi (28) and Fiat (32).

BCG’s 2015 survey, released a year ago in December, showed that four automakers were in the top 10 of innovating companies, with Tesla moving up to number 3, followed by Toyota (6), BMW (7) and Diamler (10). Renault ranked 33 and Volkswagen fell to 35.

With the increasing number of software-driven electronic components in vehicles today, automotive OEMs and their Tier suppliers need to be more aware of technologies that accommodate them. BCG’s research shows that the cost of electronic parts as a percentage of the total vehicle cost was expected to rise to 40% in 2015, compared with 20% in 2004.

McKinsey’s report adds that as technology players make their way into the automotive sector a complex ecosystem will emerge.  

“No single player is likely to dominate any part of such a horizontally organized, complex value chain by itself,” said McKinsey’s report. “But many of the new tech entrants are well positioned to take the lead in the software-focused parts. For each part of the ecosystem, there might be room for only a few winners, since few players will be able to invest the resources necessary to reach scale."

Read part two of this series by clicking here.

Milacron steps into the polyolefin sheet extrusion market

Milacron steps into the polyolefin sheet extrusion market

Milacron Holdings Corp. (Cincinnati, OH), an industrial technology company serving the plastics processing industry, announced its entry into the polyolefin sheet extrusion market. In the second quarter of 2015 Milacron delivered its first polyolefin thick sheet extrusion line consisting of a PAK400 single screw extruder and a PAK650 single screw extruder.

The twin machines increased the output rates to 2,100 lbs/hr (950 kg/hr). This represents a new product category for Milacron's extrusion offering. Milacron has since delivered a second line in the second quarter of 2016 and has additional systems to deliver in early 2017.

The first sheet extrusion line has been in operation for one year, running nonstop and the customer is reporting excellent performance. Milacron has installed in-line embossing capability to these sheet extrusion lines, eliminating the need to emboss offline, saving the customer another setup and eliminating the need to reheat the sheet, which can result in additional stress, and cause possible warping. These new sheet lines are engineered and installed by Milacron. This advancement allows Milacron to broaden their capability in packaging, medical and other high-output sheet applications.

Milacron is known worldwide for its injection molding expertise and industry leading brands Mold-Masters, Uniloy, DME and Cimcool, all well-known entities within the plastics and manufacturing community.

Brian Marston, President, Milacron Extrusion, explains how Milacron's extrusion offering differs from many of their competitors, "Milacron's line up of extrusion systems are designed and built  in house, we are producing the equipment  in our Cincinnati, OH, Ahmedabad, India and Jiangyin, China facilities. Our demonstration and development laboratories have made a science of optimizing processing via natural compression. This creates a highly customizable approach for our customers: one that increases productivity, output and accuracy, while reducing costs."

Marston went on to explain Milacron's depth of extrusion expertise, "From extruders, to new and rebuilt extrusion barrels and screws, pipe heads, dies and downstream equipment, with Milacron, you get powerful, reliable solutions that meet unique customer needs."

Two-thirds of plastic packaging in the UK ends up in landfills

Two-thirds of plastic packaging in the UK ends up in landfills

Two-thirds of all plastic consumer goods packaging in the UK which could be recycled is being thrown away, according to figures from plastics recycling organization Recoup.

Only half a million tonnes of the 1.5 million tonnes recyclable plastic waste created each year is being recycled.

The rest goes to landfill or for incineration, because of a lack of knowledge about what can be recycled and because local authorities lack the facilities to deal with it, according to the Co-op.

Iain Ferguson, Co-op Environment Manager, said: "It is shocking that such a small percentage of plastic packaging is being recycled, especially materials that are already easy to recycle like plastic bottles.

"We need to stop thinking about this plastic as a waste and start to use it as a resource.

"What is needed is a coordinated response to the problem. This should start with retailers and major brands listening to recyclers and developing packaging that is better for recycling."

Lee Marshall, Chief Executive Officer of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (Larac), said: "Packaging plays an important part in protecting products and preventing waste but when it has served its purpose we need to be able to recycle as much as possible.

"Having more consistent packaging makes it easier for local authorities to put in place the systems to collect it and to communicate with their residents."

The Co-op is calling on other retailers to join the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan, which works on developing new packaging to improve recyclability, and is also calling for the introduction of clear labelling to differentiate items that recyclers can’t use to make it easier for consumers and recyclers.  

Plastic Molding Technology Inc. awarded grant to tackle workforce training challenges

steafpong stock art

Plastic Molding Technology Inc. (PMT), based in El Paso, TX, was awarded a Skills Development Fund Grant from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), boosting the company’s efforts to solve the shortage of skilled workers in the plastics industry and in the El Paso-Juarez border region.

Image courtesy steafpong/

TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar presented PMT with a $216,523 check on November 21 during the Skills Development Fund Grant Awards announcement at the El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center. The event included speeches from Chairman Alcantar; Dr. William Serrata, President of El Paso Community College (EPCC); and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. Each highlighted the importance of helping companies like PMT develop their workforce to keep a competitive edge in the American manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing as a whole has struggled in recent years with a prevalent skills gap, especially in segments that require highly skilled labor like the plastics industry,” said PMT CEO Charles A. Sholtis. “PMT is investing in the future and our people with the receipt of this grant.”

“We are now part of the solution—fixing the training challenges we often talk about as negatively impacting the industry,” Sholtis added. “PMT is taking charge of training the next generation and developing our workforce. I’m proud to launch this in cooperation with our state, city and local community college.”

Eighty-one of the 98 full-time employees at PMT are enrolled in the new training, which comprises a tailored curriculum with industry-specific courses on everything from injection molding and lean manufacturing to supervisory techniques and IQMS software. The on-site training began Aug. 31, and is taught by EPCC faculty.

TWC selected EPCC as PMT’s customized training partner, and the company worked with the college to develop a curriculum to specifically address training needs. PMT told PlasticsToday that the company wanted a “wide-ranging, high-quality plastics training program in place.” All training is done at PMT’s newly renovated training room, which pays employees for time spent in the classroom, and will provide incremental pay increases to each employee after successful program completion. Employees can also earn Continuing Education credits for their coursework.

PMT’s focus on education and training is deep-rooted, beginning with founder Charles E.  Sholtis’ successful efforts to establish Connecticut’s first state-funded plastics engineering apprenticeship program in the 1990s. The company’s core value of continuous improvement in all aspects of the business is reflected in pursuing and receiving this grant.

From inception to implementation, the Skills Development Fund Grant took two years, and is the first phase of PMT’s renewed effort to provide on-the-job training. The grant is funded by the TWC, the state agency responsible for providing workforce development services to Texas employers. PMT credits Mary Sholtis, the company’s Training & Development Coordinator, for her efforts in helping secure the grant.

Court blocks federal plan to extend overtime pay to many salaried workers


On Tuesday, Nov. 22, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the start of a rule that would have made an estimated four million more American workers eligible for overtime pay, throwing a monkey-wrench into the Obama administration’s labor-law plans.

According to an Associated Press report by Michelle Rindels, the result of last Tuesday’s ruling is that overtime changes set to take effect on Dec. 1 are now “unlikely to be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.”

“Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted,” said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. “Today’s preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government.”

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called “white collar exemption” that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 annually, the AP report explained. “Critics say it’s wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime, even when they work 60 hours a week,” said the AP.

Under the revised rule, those workers would have been eligible for overtime pay as long as they made less than about $47,500 a year, and the threshold would readjust every three years to reflect changes in average wages. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said it’s now considering all its legal options.

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association released a statement hailing the preliminary injunction preventing the DOL from implementing the sweeping changes to federal overtime rules. SPI has worked to support legislation that raised awareness and brought momentum to efforts to exhaust all options to stop the rule. In the near term, it is possible that DOL will appeal the decision, but it is anticipated that the incoming administration will take steps to have the rule withdrawn, said the SPI in its statement.

“Government works best when we can work together to find solutions that help workers without putting their livelihoods at risk by overburdening companies,” said SPI President & CEO William R. Carteaux. “The DOL’s overtime rule would’ve harmed both plastics companies and their employees by imposing unnecessary administrative burdens and dramatic increases in operating costs. SPI applauds the court’s decision to block implementation of that rule, and looks forward to working collaboratively with Congress and the next administration to enact pro-manufacturing policies that benefit both businesses and American families.”

Opponents of the rule claimed it would increase compliance costs for employers who would have to track hours more meticulously and would force companies to cut employees’ base pay to compensate for overtime costs that kick in more frequently, said the AP report.

Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, commented, “This overtime rule is totally disconnected from reality. The one-size-fits-all doubling of the salary threshold demonstrated ignorance regarding the vast differences in the cost-of-living across America.”

The court agreed with plaintiffs that the rule could do irreparable harm if it wasn’t stopped before it was scheduled to take effect this week. However, the Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, which might end up in front of a Supreme Court that includes some Trump appointees, said the AP.

In the manufacturing sector, management often compensates salaried employees who put in additional hours by giving those employees discretionary time off. Many salaried employees also receive bonuses and profit sharing at various times throughout the year, which the Obama administration most likely did not take into account when arbitrarily creating the new rule.

DIC develops cellulose nanofiber-reinforced epoxy composite masterbatch

DIC develops cellulose nanofiber-reinforced epoxy composite masterbatch

Japan’s DIC has developed a masterbatch called Epiclon NCM consisting of 10 wt% cellulose nanofiber (CNF) dispersed in an epoxy carrier. Addition of the masterbatch to epoxy resin reportedly improves the traditional disadvantages of epoxy resins, namely their brittleness and lack of toughness.

Cellulose nanofiber masterbatch prevents crack propagation in epoxy thermoset composites.

Earlier this year, the company commenced sample shipments of Epiclon NCM to processors in Japan. The product is slated for commercial introduction in 2020.

CNFs are mechanically extracted from plant-derived cellulosic fiber through untangling and measure several nanometers in diameter and 5 μm in length. The have one-fifth the specific gravity of steel, and are weight for weight five times stronger. Their thermal expansion is equivalent to that of quartz glass and they boast double the elastic modulus of glass fiber.

On the other hand, CNFs are hydrophilic and possess high moisture contents. Removing this moisture and uniformly dispersing CNFs throughout hydrophobic resins is extremely difficult, meaning progress in commercialization and application development was difficult to advance. DIC claims that it has solved these issues through a proprietary method with its new masterbatch product. Use of the masterbatch is said to inhibit crack propagation in epoxy resins employed in electrical and construction applications.

DIC is looking at applying the masterbatch in automotive applications, where it would be added to carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) to improve toughness.

When victory is sweet: new Snickers wrapper takes home Global Bioplastics Award 2016

When victory is sweet: new Snickers wrapper takes home Global Bioplastics Award 2016

The annual two-day European Bioplastics Conference kicked off today, 29 November, in Berlin for the eleventh time, with presentations from a broad range of stakeholders - policymakers, scientists, brand owners, industry representatives - from across the globe. From an impassioned plea for an enabling regulatory framework for biobased materials to the development of a novel biobased materials platform, the topics were addressed were as varied as the speakers themselves.

The day ended with two important events: the launch of the EN 16785-1 certification scheme developed by NEN, the Netherlands Standardization Institute and the traditional presentation of the annual Global Bioplastics Award, this year for the 11th time. The prestigious Global Bioplastics Award recognizes innovation and excellence in the development of bioplastics products, services and processes. The new EN 16785 standard on biobased content offers a standardized methodology to determine biobased content using V14 carbon analysis and elemental analysis. At the launch of the new certification scheme today, the first two certificates were issued to two companies, to the pine-based chemical producer Arizona Chemical, which was recently acquired by Kraton, and to Corbion.

Michael Thielen, of bioplastics MAGAZINE then took the floor to announce the winner of the 2016 bioplastics award competition, who was selected from the five shortlisted finalists announced last month. This year, the jury selected a project on which three companies had collaborated: the new bioplastics wrapper of the Snickers bars. The candy bars, produced by Mars, were packaged in a new wrapper made from bioplastic material provided by the Dutch bioplastics producer Rodenburg which was processed into film by Dubai-headquartered Taghleef, one of the largest manufacturers of bi-axially oriented polypropylene (BoPP)- and cast polypropylene (CPP) films in the world

An unlikely combination? Not really: when Mars Chocolate Europe and Eurasia decided it wanted a more sustainable packaging for its candy bars, the company could not find what it was looking for in the market. The Dutch Mars production site approached Rodenburg, who had been producing a starch-based bioplastic called Solanyl at commercial scale since 2002, for help. The project kicked off in 2012, but it took another four years to develop the right starch compound, run packaging production trials, and conduct consumer feedback research.

The compound is mainly based on starch derived from potato cutting waste – an industrial waste stream and second-generation biomass that in no way competes with food crops - 

 and some PLA.  Taghleef manufactured the film on an existing BOPP, while Mondi printed the packaging, but it took four production trials before an acceptable packaging film was manufactured.

Calling it a co-creation effort that developed into a “cool product“, Thielen presented the 3D- printed trophy produced from wood-filled, brass-filled and copper-filled biobased specialty filaments provided by Venlo-based colorFABB, to the winners.  

“We were surprised to be nominated, and now we are surprised that we won,” said Thijs Rodenburg on accepting the prize. “But I think what’s important is that a big brand stood up and used bioplastics. That is perfect.”

He added: “It’s a big step forward.”

Messe Düsseldorf to give its South entrance a complete facelift

Messe Düsseldorf to give its South entrance a complete facelift

Having recently survived K 2016, with its nineteen completely sold out halls and massive attendance levels, now, Germany-based Messe Düsseldorf has announced that plans for the complete reconstruction of the exhibition center’s south entrance, including its Hall 1 building have been approved. The work is scheduled to start after interpack 2017.

According to Messe Düsseldorf CEO Werner Dornscheidt, “we are creating a high-quality situation for exhibitors and visitors, both architecturally and functionally – the kind that we already have at the North Entrance.”

Both hall 1 and 2 will be demolished, to be replaced by a new hall 1 measuring 158 meters in length, 77 meters in width and will comprise more than 12,000 sq meters in total, roughly the size of the halls 8a and 8b. The true eyecatcher, however, will be a new illuminated and translucent canopy, 7,800 square meters in size and about 20 meters high. Jurek Slapa, Managing Partner at sop architekten, who designed the canopy, waxed lyrical:

“The canopy gives the Düsseldorf Exhibition Centre a new face and an unmistakable address in a unique position between the Rhine and the Nordpark. At the same time, it integrates the existing convention center, CCD, ensuring a sensitive approach to existing structures.”

The reconstruction is part of the Messe Düsseldorf Group’s masterplan for the modernization of the Düsseldorf Exhibition Centre, which it developed in response to the massive changes have taken place in the trade fair sector over the last 15 to 20 years. On the one hand, says Werner Dornscheidt, the sector has developed into a global industry, so that trade fair themes are now organized on a worldwide scale, and on the other hand, leading trade fairs of various industries have turned into meeting points of a globalized business scene. And trade fairs, too, have changed in character. The leading trade fairs of those industries, he says, have long turned into venues of international knowledge transfer where all stakeholders can exchange ideas, whether they are scientists, start-ups or global multinationals.

The Group’s masterplan started with the rebuilding of Halls 6 and 7 in 2000. The entire plan is based on continuous reviews of the project to ensure that it genuinely meets the customer’s needs, coupled with cost effectiveness and sustainable development.

Dornscheidt is pleased that the plans have been approved and that the Messe can look forward to starting this latest project “We can now implement our Masterplan for the complete modernization and renewal of the premises at our home base – and indeed, as always, without subsidies.” The investment volume of this southern section is EUR 140 million. In all, Messe Düsseldorf will invest around EUR 636 million until 2030.

The work is expected to be completed by the time K 2019 rolls around.

Bag maker Novolex gets bought by Carlyle Group

Bag maker Novolex gets bought by Carlyle Group

Private equity firm The Carlyle Group (Washington, DC) announced it is buying packaging company Novolex (Hartsville, SC) for an undisclosed amount. Windpoint Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm, is the majority shareholder in Novolex; while TPG Growth (Fort Worth, TX), owns a minority stake in the company. The transaction is expected to close before year-end.

“This is the next big step for Novolex and we could not be more pleased to join The Carlyle Group,” explained Stan Bikulege, Chairman and CEO. “We are deeply grateful to Wind Point Partners and TPG Growth for their steadfast support and leadership over the last four years. We would not be where we are today without them.”

Novolex will retain its name and become one of the companies in the Carlyle portfolio of investments. There will be no interruption of its operations and the Novolex management team will remain in place.

Earlier this month, Novolex announced it was acquiring the packaging division from Burrows Paper (Little Falls, NY). Burrows is a privately-owned, worldwide supplier of paper and packaging solutions, specializing in light weight paper applications and new product development. Burrows’ associates operate four paper mills and six packaging converting facilities. The company has been in operation for nearly 100 years.

“Novolex is a great company with strong market positions and long-standing customer relationships,” said Wes Bieligk, a Principal on Carlyle’s U.S. Buyout team. “We are excited to partner with Stan and the Novolex team to support the company’s growth initiatives.”

Of the decision to sell Novolex to Carlyle, Alex Washington, Managing Director, Wind Point Partners, said, “Since we acquired Novolex in 2012, together we have achieved our value creation plan for Novolex by growing revenue from $500 million to over $2.0 billion and increasing profitability through new products, conversion cost reduction, and five transformative add-on acquisitions. This has been a great partnership and we wish all involved in this transaction continued success.”

TPG Growth Partner Ransom Langford added, “Novolex has built a great business, and TPG Growth is thrilled to have worked alongside Stan and his management team to support the Company’s evolution.”

Equity for this investment will come from Carlyle Partners VI, a $13 billion U.S. buyout fund.

Novolex serves the retail, grocery, food service, hospitality, institutional and industrial markets. With the pending addition of Burrows’ packaging operations, the company will have 7,000 employees and 49 manufacturing plants: 47 in North America, including two world-class plastic recycling facilities, and one each in Europe and China.  Novolex’s brands include Hilex Poly, Fortune Plastics, Novolex Custom Film & Bag, Duro Bag, Bagcraft, De Luxe, General Packaging, International Converter, and Heritage Bag.