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Articles from 2004 In December


5 technologies to watch

This year Modern Plastics Worldwide launches its Notables series, highlighting some of the technologies, people, companies, and trends that are shaping the plastics industry. We start this month with technologies and analysis of how and where each of the major processes is growing and maturing.

Injection MOLDING

1.  Beyond molding

Eschewing the Henry Ford assembly-line model where each unit has one specific task in a linear layout, injection molding machines are becoming manufacturing cells unto themselves through the addition of various secondary processes into the mold.

A shift centered on the machine and the redefinition of its production role continues to take hold in injection molding. In the antiquated model, processes were segregated, and the injection molding machine was simply one cog in a value-added process responsible only for molding. Now it is being transformed into the hub of an integrated system that creates finished products or value-added subassemblies instead of parts.

"Every press that was in our booth at K was a value-added process," explains Bob Hare, general manager of Ferromatik Milacron (Batavia, OH). "There was not a `me-too'' product made."

This was epitomized by the creation of a finished spittoon by the company. Replacing two machines, bowl feeders, labeling equipment, and assembly automation with one machine running a dual spinning-cube mold, Milacron integrated two-component molding, inmold labeling, and inmold assembly into one machine (see December 2004 MP/MPI).

"In the economic evaluation of things," explains Bob Strickley, injection marketing manager for Milacron, "now you''re doing something on one machine, whereas before you were using two or more. So you''re using fewer machines, you''ve got fewer operators, you''ve got one set of auxiliary equipment, less assembly equipment, and that''s no small thing."

Although high volumes are a prerequisite, the ability to roll secondary operations into the machine-and even between the platens-through the use of innovative tool designs like the spinning cubes from Foboha Formenbau (Haslach, Germany) or the Spin Stack from Gram Technology (Scottsdale, AZ), creates tremendous opportunities for molders to increase productivity and appeal to customers, according to Hermann Plank of The Tech Group (Scottsdale, AZ), a Spin Stack licensee and proponent of the technology.

"It''s really important that the customer ask himself, `What are the value-added services that I can add to the molding?''" Plank says. "Anything that might add value-then I can put a higher price tag on it when I send it back to my customer." The technology also allows molders to maximize production with existing equipment, giving them double the production with the same platen space, allowing cooling to occur on a separate station for faster cycles, and ejecting parts from another station while the mold is closed.

Plank started his crusade to move molding from simple plastication of resin and injection to the creation of finished products nearly eight years ago with lectures in Europe that crossed the Atlantic to the United States in 2000. The work is finally paying off at his current employer, The Tech Group, which has gone from work on one prototype a year ago to double-digit projects. Although it''s gaining momentum, the investment isn''t cheap, according to Plank, especially since it rolls up several processes into one tab.

"The main reason for sticker shock is 99% of the customers don''t calculate the total costs," explains Plank. "They calculate piece costs. They only worry about what''s coming out of the molding machine, but maybe there''s another project manager that worries about assembly. That cost doesn''t disappear, but it''s in a different department. That''s really the major obstacle, and the major paradigm shift that the customers have to go through."

"The first question is, `Is the volume there to justify the expense?''" says Milacron''s Hare, "and not only justify it, but get a return on your investment. We present the cost of the manufacturing cell and the productivity we expect to receive, and obviously at that point we can generate a piece-part cost."

With forethought, added flexibility from interchangeable mold cavities allows molders to add printing, welding, painting, assembly, or other secondary processes in the tool, without as much concern about production levels. "You spend a little more brain power up front," Planks says, "but you save much more money afterwards. Then, it''s not a matter of volume anymore."

Those involved see potential applications in packaging, medical, personal care, and even automotive or other large-part markets. "Historically spinning molds have been in 450-ton presses and down," Milacron''s Strickley says. "Now we''ve got customers talking about 2200-ton presses with spin technology."

In addition to personal care and cosmetic items like compacts, deodorant cases, or lipstick containers, Plank also sees automotive potential in brake fluid containers where two halves can be molded in one station, heated in another, and joined in a third, without losing control of the part. Thick-walled containers, like those found in cosmetics, could be done in two shots, sandwiching a barrier layer or an expensive decorative coating between two layers, and all the while, reducing the overall cycle time.

Nypro Inc. (Clinton, MA) has bought in, purchasing a Spin Stack license from Gram and seeing value beyond the press in spite of a global machinery footprint of 1200-plus machines. "I would say that five years ago, 90% of the value-added was created by opening and closing a platen," Brian Jones, Nypro CEO explains. "That was where the game was played out, and everything else was sort of ancillary. This year was the first that more value was created outside the platens than was created inside. That doesn''t mean we didn''t buy more machines and run more hours-we did. But the nonmolding side of the value-added was increasing at a much faster rate than the increase in the mold." TD

Molding, PUR wed

Krauss-Maffei''s innovative new Skin-Form technology combines the injection molding of thermoplastics with the processing of PUR in a single plant, borrowing from two-component injection molding by using a PUR mixing head instead of the second injection unit. Three companies were involved in the joint development of Skin-Form technology: Krauss-Maffei, Sarna-motive Schenk GmbH of Esslingen-Bergheim, and Ruhl Puromer GmbH of Friedrichsdorf.

 Skin-Form enables component parts to be produced that have a leather-like feel, but are also scratch-resistant. The thickness of the PUR layer may vary depending on the component. The major benefit is that no subsequent finishing operation is required. Skin-Form is also suitable for complex surfaces of tight radii and perforations.

 With the mold in the "injection molding" position, the polyamide substrate is produced. At the end of the cooling period in the cycle, the mold opens and the shuttle table moves into the "PUR casting" position. Once the mold is closed, the PUR layer is injected into the cavity by the mixing head, which is connected to the RIM-Star MiniDos mixing and metering unit. Subsequent to the timing out of the reaction time, the mold is opened once more. A linear robot of Krauss-Maffei''s LR 100 range moves into the mold and removes the component from the ejector side.

 After demolding, the component is put into a punching unit, which separates the PUR film gate. The robot then deposits the article in the packaging units. CG

PET preforms

2.  Barriers open doors to new markets

The most notable developments of late in blowmolding have not been blowmolded. The real development milestones for the process are being made in injection molding of gas-barrier and heat-set PET preforms, which are then stretch blowmolded.

If you''re looking for a segment of the plastics industry that''s in the midst of rapid and dramatic change and evolution, it doesn''t get any better than preforms. Technology and materials are changing fast.

When it comes to producing preforms, gas barrier is typically obtained via multilayer coinjection molding using a material such as nylon or EVOH to supply a barrier, with blends of PET and these or other materials, or with coatings. Multilayer is still the leading technology, though plasma coating and blends have made giant strides in the last 18 months. Heat setting allows bottles to be hot filled.

No matter which barrier technology a preform molder chooses, he needs to choose one, says Harry Van Hassel, director of marketing and sales at Resilux (Wetteren, Belgium). "The standard market is full-anyone can make a standard preform. You need to be in barrier to stand out from the crowd," he says. Not just to stand out, but also to make money, he adds, as profit margins in non-barrier applications such as preforms for still water are tiny.

Resilux, like many preform molders, developed its own gas barrier solutions: Resimax, a multilayer coinjected preform with both active and passive gas barrier offered; and Resimid, a patented blend of materials for molding monolayer preforms with limited gas barrier. Van Hassel says blends generally are suitable only for larger bottles (1 liter and larger) because the ratio of the bottle surface area to beverage is high enough that gas permeation is not as critical (the smaller the ratio, the more gas permeation becomes a problem).

Frans van Dooren, marketing manager Europe/Asia at preform molder and bottle blowmolder Amcor PET Packaging (Manchester, MI), says "major steps in the material and in the development of [gas] barriers" have enabled his firm to become much more active in marketing preforms to bottlers of sensitive beverages such as fresh, pulpy juices. One recent convert is European juice bottler Pago. The bottler, like some others van Dooren cites, has decided to keep some products in glass bottles but to augment its sales strategy by adding PET. "PET puts people in position to convey their market image as well or better than glass," he insists.

Higher outputs likely to change costs

If bottlers have a complaint about multilayer preforms, it is their cost. But officials at Graham Packaging (York, PA), which recently acquired the preform molding and blowmolding business of Owens-Illinois, say they expect to soon reap major benefits-and cut barrier preform costs-as a result of an ongoing development project between (then) O-I and injection molding machine maker Husky (Bolton, ON) for molding the processor''s SurShot five-layer gas barrier preforms in a 144-cavity tool. To now, it was impossible to mold multilayer preforms on a mold with more than 72 cavities. The two firms have worked on the technology for more than a year, and it is only now starting to see commercial use. Graham expects to be able to mold more than 300 million barrier preforms per tool per annum; the molds run on Husky''s 500-ton HyPET units.

Preform molder Nemuno Bango Group (NBG; Vilnius, Lithuania) took a more mainstream route and last month installed a coinjection press designed by Kortec (Ipswich, MA) "to enable us to target some new beer customers," says Gintaras Mazelis, marketing director at NBG. Kortec, which installs its multilayer coinjection system on Husky machine bases, recently announced that it, too, has designed and sold its first 144-cavity coinjection preform unit, and also offers a system for 128-cavity molds.

Mazelis says his firm is the first in Eastern Europe to acquire a Kortec machine; most beer in PET in Eastern Europe and Russia still is sold in monolayer packaging, with shelf life hardly a concern. But he says that is changing as larger and better breweries force their way into the market and expect top packaging technology for their beers.

Resilux''s Van Hassel says that for all the talk of beer in PET, a much more interesting market for preform molders will be foods that require very hot filling (120ºC and higher). He cites baby foods, marmalades, and (currently canned) vegetables as very high-volume applications that should be the target of ongoing preform developments.

One trend long discussed but only now really gathering speed is the use of polypropylene to replace PET in some stretch blowmolded applications. "We saw at the K show how much was being done in PP, and now we''re interested in the material again," says Van Hassel. Some are betting big on PP, including preform molder PPaM Intl., a Lommel, Belgium-based processor formed in 2003 expressly to mold PP preforms. In November, the firm announced release of its first commercially available products, PPreX preforms.

Advances in materials and processing machinery now make PP a real alternative to PET in applications where gas barrier is not critical. Compared with even virgin PET, PP has a very high gas-permeation rate, but on the positive side it has a lower price than PET and better heat resistance for hot filling.

Advances of PET barrier technologies continue at a swift pace, with one limitation after the next being thrown aside by new developments. Market watchers should expect to see multiple announcements from processors entering new markets in the coming year. MD

Packaging

3.  No promise greater than the stand-up pouch

Innovative uses of polymers for flexible packaging have resulted in unique opportunities for both cast- and blown-film processors.

"The future belongs to combinations of materials to make the difference," says John Feldmann, board member of resin manufacturer BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany). And standup pouches (SUPs) offer real growth opportunities for processors who get their layer combinations right.

The initial introduction of SUPs represented a simple replacement of non-polymer packaging materials: metal cans and tubes, paperboard boxes, and glass containers. Today, SUPs are also taking market share from many rigid polymer packaging solutions.

In the U.S., demand for SUPs has climbed to 17%/yr, representing a market of about $970 million, and is expected to continue such growth through 2008, reports The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, OH). Food and beverage markets make up 7% of that total. While most sectors show robust SUP expansion, the fastest growth is occurring in snacks, processed foods, and pet products, as well as lawn-and-garden consumables. Retortable standup pouches should grow 20%/yr, led by pet food and tuna, which previously relied on tins.

The highest SUP demand is coming from Europe, which the European Aluminium Foil Assn. (EAFA; Dusseldorf, Germany) sees as a function of issues such as environmentally friendly recycling, transport costs (80% more product can be shipped in the same space using SUPs compared to returnable glass containers), and the ability to incorporate value-added features such as zippered resealability and spouts for easy pouring.

Although the EAFA emphasizes that the weight of an empty 200-ml pouch is less than that of a sheet of paper, some processors are looking at even lower weight solutions to provide better production protection and eliminate the foil layer for recycling reasons.

Toray Plastics America (North Kingstown, RI) has just introduced a new multilayer SUP film, PCFS, which replaces the foil and sealant in traditional paper-polyethylene-foil-polyethylene structures with a heat-sealable, coextruded, metallized, mono-oriented polypropylene (MOPP) film. It eliminates the sealant extrusion-coating step in converting.

"Converters and food manufacturers depend on new packaging technology to keep them a step ahead of the competition," says Chris Voght, product manager, Torayfan Div. "PCFS outperforms standard OPP and foil, and delivers a heat-sealable, cost-effective, aesthetically appealing flexible package that has exceptional barrier durability."

PCFS''s heat-activated sealant has a low seal-initiation temperature and improved hermeticity versus sealants typically used in BOPP films. During the heat-sealing process, it exhibits a "caulking" effect to flow into corners and channels and around small particles in the seal. This eliminates the need for a PE sealant layer, saving converters time and money.

Dennis Calamusa, president of Alliedflex Technologies (Sarasota, FL), points to the trend among marketers to use SUPs to re-energize lagging brands.

One example is the introduction of an SUP to package Dallis Coffee (Jamaica, NY) from CLP Packaging Solutions (Fairfield, NJ). The standup pouch replaced flat pillow pouches that displayed poorly by falling over on supermarket shelves. In the SUP, the inside PE layer protects bean flavor and provides packaging stiffness. The outer PET layer provides space for high-impact graphics (no affixed label is necessary) and provides some gas and moisture barrier. Both layers sandwich an 8-µm aluminum laminate.

SUPs are not only rejuvenating stagnant products-they''re also being used to increase acceptance of new products, says Calamusa. Kraft Foods, together with packaging materials processor Printpack, won gold awards in the 17th DuPont Awards for Innovation in Packaging last year for its Ritz Chips SUP. Easy access and convenience played a decisive role in deciding on the introduction of this package, which has a peelable easy-open function and a peel-off tab for closure. The company says sales of the new package surpassed expectations and the SUP allowed a greater "billboard effect" on the store shelf. RC

THERMOFORMING

4.  Thermoforming''s Holy Grail within reach

If there is a market that technical-parts thermoformers dream about, it is automotive. Fact is, they have been dreaming-and talking about it-for years, but with relatively little to show for their efforts.

But that is about to change, say some market insiders, as a rash of material developments, machinery improvements, and processing advances are coming together to make thermoforming of mainstream passenger car parts a near-reality.

Wilhelm Klepsch, CEO of Austrian sheet extruder Senoplast (Piesendorf)-the firm where many innovations for technical-parts thermoforming get their start-is one industry expert whose company is focused on automotive. His firm''s sheet is already used in the Smart city cars from Daimler-Chrysler. "We developed our Senotop sheet especially for automotive roofing. This is thermoformed, then inserted and back-injection molded," he explains. "We''re working on about 15 projects right now using polycarbonate sheet that is coextruded with, for instance, ABS/PC sheet. These will be easier to lacquer, or will have color in the sheet itself," he adds.

Klepsch thinks the time for widespread commercial success is slowly arriving. "I''ve a 10-year plan for my firm. Now, about 30% of our products go into automotive. I figure that in 10 years, it might be up to 60%, as those 15 projects, and others, reach fruition."

Senoplast is keen to protect the budding market, which is why it formed, together with two competitors and Dow Chemical, EPEX (European Performance co-Extruders), a new group for sheet extruders organized within the European Plastics Converters (EuPC) trade group.

Laments Klepsch, "There''s been a steady downgrade in the market as some extruders are trying to undercut others [such as Senoplast] on cost, for instance by using non-factory scrap material in their sheet." He notes that some mobile home OEMs have been disappointed by this low-cost sheet; parts have cracked at low temperatures or the slightest impact. "My development director is working with the other two processors to set minimum standards [for coextruded sheet]. Other extruders who meet these minimum standards are welcome to join [EPEX]," he says. "When we don''t do anything against this, the automotive industry will lose faith in thermoformed sheet."

Senoplast recently initiated cooperation with the Frimo Group (Lotte, Germany), a manufacturer of thermoforming lines as well as specialized machinery for automotive interior parts manufacture and assembly. Franz Streibl, technical sales at Frimo, says one technology he thinks bodes well for thermoformed automotive parts is inmold graining. Others seem to agree; the process received second-place in the Automotive Div. Award 2004 from the Society of Plastics Engineers. The technique is being used for the first time on a large surface in the production of the door trims for the new Opel Astra sedan, with the sheet formed over a carrier made of natural fibers. "About 200,000 of these cars will be sold this year," adds Sven Alba, Frimo marketing manager.

The award went to the German division of Tier 1 Johnson Controls, which worked with Frimo to develop the process. "Previously, a film would have the structure on it, and then it would be thermoformed. But [thermoforming] would stretch the texturing [on the sheet] and this [texture] would then no longer match that of other parts, such as the instrument panel. But designers want them to match," says Streibl. To fix the problem "we use a negative tool that has the proper textured surface on it, so the film doesn''t need to have this texturing," he explains. Foils made this way can be laminated to a carrier, back-foamed, or back-injection molded.

Johnson Controls officials say the process offers greater design freedom than the conventional methods using pre-grained foils. Also, they say, the pattern is retained even on sharp edges and radii. It is also possible to apply different grains in a single process stage. "The process can be used with all conventional carrier materials," adds Wim Jacobs, director of material and process engineering at Johnson Controls. His firm is also using the process in the production of door trims for Opel''s Zafira minivans, and the instrument panels and door inserts of the new Mitsubishi Colt.

A number of leading materials suppliers, including GE Advanced Materials and compounder LNP, have recently gone public with their efforts to invest further in the thermoformable sheet market. Machine makers such as Frimo, Geiss (Sesslach, Germany), and others have brought new equipment to market that works better and faster. Maybe OEMs are finally ready to give thermoforming a shot at high-volume applications. MD

Storage Media

5.  Optical disc drive for digital-rich-media kiosks,

GE Advanced Materials and Plextor Corp., a leading developer and manufacturer of high-performance digital media equipment, announced an exclusive joint-development agreement to develop and market a 52X CD-R/RW optical disc drive, which can recognize GE''s SecurOQ resins on discs. Designed for digital-rich-media kiosks, the highly specialized drives and disc media form a system for the secure delivery of digital content, such as music and movies, to paying consumers.

The Plextor optical disk drive is capable of validating several SecurOQ security features that GE has designed into SecurOQ materials. The optical drives, manufactured and sold by Plextor, and SecurOQ discs enable OEMs and kiosk integrators to create secure music-distribution kiosks.

Howard Wing, VP of sales and marketing for Plextor, says, "While the SecureOQ system was originally designed to protect content providers, it will also give other industries a means to control the authorized download of sensitive data to include software, drawings, manuscripts, and other sensitive datasets."

Bayer MaterialScience has established the foundation for a holographic storage material to meet demand for powerful and secure systems for mobile data carriers. Coating a base material of Makrofol ID polycarbonate film with a laser-writable special polymer creates a storage medium for saving data using holography. Although still visionary today, check cards, memory sticks, and even programmable keys with holographic film integrated for high-performance and secure information and data storage could soon become reality. CG

Eyeing demanding auto applications

Elastomers represent one of the fastest-growing plastics markets globally. The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, OH) forecasts world annual consumption growth averaging 6.4% through 2007 to 2.25 million tonnes. With sights set on capturing this impressive growth, elastomer suppliers continue to boost performance windows and compatibility for their materials as they target substitution of rubbers and PVC, among other materials, especially in automotive applications.

Reflecting this strong market growth, DuPont Dow Elastomers (Wilmington, DE) reports 80% growth in demand for its Engage metallocene-based polyolefin elastomers since K 2001, particularly in the auto sector where it claims Engage has become the modifier of choice in hard external components, interior skins, and sound deadening systems. German processor Rehau AG, for example, recently specified Engage for the BMW 5 and 6 Series bumpers.

"We chose Engage as an impact modifier for these new moldings because it gives us high impact resistance at lower temperatures, and at the same time a higher stiffness of the part," says Rainer Goller, head of Rehau''s automotive materials development department.

At K2004, DuPont Dow also showed hard and soft TPOs involving Engage for all-olefinic instrument panels in which a hard TPO (e.g., PP modified with Engage) replaces the traditional ABS carrier; crosslinked olefin foam replaces pour-in-place polyurethane foam; and a soft TPO (e.g., Engage-modified with PP) replaces the f-PVC cladding.

Also targeted at automotive applications is a series of "emission-optimized" Thermolast K compounds from Kraiburg TPE (Waldkraiburg, Germany). Odor assessment of TPEs used in auto interiors is carried out subjectively by specialists using an assessment scale with levels of 1 (not noticeable) to 6 (unbearable), and the average odor assessment of TPEs lies between 3 (clearly noticeable, but still not disturbing) and 4 (disturbing). OEMs generally approve materials with odor levels of 3 or less.

Where this limit is exceeded, special approval is often granted as there are no alternative materials to TPE for certain applications in the vehicle interior. Now, with these new types of Kraiburg TPEs based on hydrogenated styrene block copolymers (HSBC) and boasting odor levels of 2.5, this problem finally looks to be a thing of the past.

In addition to odor behavior, auto industry requirements for low emissions also include clear guidelines on fogging; the new Thermolast K compounds meet these requirements as well. The compounds are available in hardnesses of 30 to 90 Shore A. They can be injection molded or extruded and, where necessary, easily coloured.

Improved heat resistance is a key attribute of grade Pearlthane D11T85E thermoplastic polyurethane from Merquinsa (Barcelona, Spain). The blown film grade is based on polycaprolactone and features a wider service temperature of -40ºC to 110ºC, addressing increased automotive needs for higher heat performance.

"The grade boasts 10% better heat resistance than polyester-based TPUs, and it is 20% more resistant to hydrolysis due to its 10ºC to 15ºC lower Tg," says Jean-Marc Galvez, global business manager for elastomers.

Productivity gains were emphasized at Advanced Elastomer Systems LP (AES; Akron OH) for a family of Santoprene thermoplastic rubbers based on a new technology that enables processing up to 25% faster than typical Santoprene grades. The firm says this will bring benefits, particularly in thick molded parts where cycle time is an issue, extending Santoprene''s ability to substitute rubber.

AES also unveiled a softer TPE that delivers the performance of a fully vulcanized elastomer, along with favorable aesthetics of a softer dry and silky feel. Santoprene X8211-25 (Shore A hardness 25) is suitable for consumer product applications that require a softer grip, but also resistance to repeated exposures to heat, as well as oils and chemicals. Target applications include dishwasher components.

Elastomers are also contributing to aesthetics. Bayer MaterialScience, (Leverkusen, Germany), for example, supplies Desmopan aliphatic thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) to sports equipment maker Exel (Rohrdorf, Germany) for processing into films for back printing applied to snow boards. The lightfast TPU films do not yellow and boast good impact and abrasion resistance.

Bayer has also commissioned GEBA Kunststoffcompounds GmbH (Ennigerloh, Germany) to manufacture brightly colored Desmopan compounds for use in decorative components in auto interiors. The colored TPUs will be used primarily for blowmolding and powder slush skins.

On the supply front, a new producer of copolyester ether TPEs emerged at K in the form of Italy''s Radici Plastics (Chignolo d''Isola). The firm launched its Heraflex range of materials for engineering applications with Shore D hardness ranging from 35 to 77.

Also on the supply side, in September 2004 Dow Chemical (Midland, MI) started commercial production of its Insite catalysis-based Versify propylene-ethylene copolymer plastomers and elastomers at a 57,000-tonnes/yr plant in Tarragona, Spain. Used in film and molded part applications, the products bring improvements in optics, sealing and hot tack performance, elasticity, flexibility, and softness.

"Consumer durables, for example, are benefiting from the toughness and clarity that Versify brings while in films; the heat seal window is widened which brings design flexibility," says Ralf Brinkmann, global product director for elastomers and specialties at Dow.

Making additions to its product range was SO.F.TER.SpA (Forli, Italy) with its Forprene 665 Series TPV (dynamically vulcanized PP-EPDM) that enables injection molding adhesion to glass and features high flow and good weather resistance. The 665 Series compounds are suitable for glass encapsulation and have been approved by the auto industry.

Another addition featuring enhanced compatibility with other materials is Laprene 8K1, an SEBS compound that offers excellent adhesion with PA, PC, and PMMA, as well as good UV resistance, excellent colorability, and good abrasion resistance.

Continuing the compatibility theme, Japan''s Zeon Corp. (Tokyo) cited recent studies revealing that its Zeotherm 100-Series thermoplastic vulcanizates provide superior overmold adhesion to polyamides. The materials are comprised of thermoset elastomers dispersed in polyamide 6, which realizes a natural affinity to PA substrates. Zeotherm is said to exhibit life-of-vehicle heat and oil resistance at temperatures from -40ºC to 175ºC.

Overmolded parts incorporating Zeotherm are ideally suited for high-temperature underhood automotive components such as dynamic seals, ducts, and rack-and-pinion boots. The latest Zeotherm grade, 100-70B, boasts a Shore A hardness of 75 coupled with continuous heat resistance of 150ºC and spike temperature resistance of 175ºC.

Heat and oil resistance are also an attribute of the new Septon V Series hydrogenated styrene elastomers from Kuraray (Osaka) Japan. After 22 hours at 120ºC, compression sets are in the 20% range versus 50% for previous materials. Target applications include automotive weather sealing, rack-and-pinion boots, and air duct covers and hoses.

In wire and cable applications, DuPont Dow showed commercial and developmental low-smoke nonhalogenated (LSNH) compounds based on Engage for low-voltage cable insulation and jacketing. According to the company, this is a highly active growth area, as exemplified by the commercial success of Pirelli''s Afumex building wires, which use Engage as a main component for its highly filled LSNH jacketing compound.

Also in wire and cable, AES introduced no-lead-added Santoprene TPVs for outdoor electrical applications. They conform to European End of Life Vehicle (ELV) Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS), and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation and are suited for wet electrical uses in wire and cable applications including battery cables and marine and outdoor construction wiring. They are offered in flame-retardant and non-flame-retardant grades, in 45 and 87 Shore A durometers. SM

Easing price pressures

Blowmolders are facing the same price pressures bearing down on other primary processors, and at K, machinery suppliers did their best to help alleviate them, offering improved equipment with greater output and less energy usage. Suppliers were prepared for visitors'' questions, but in the case of injection blowmolding machinery manufacturer Aoki (Nagano-ken, Japan), it had some questions for processors: 100 to be precise. Promoting its integrated, one-step molding and blowing of PET bottles vs. two-stage stretch blowmolding systems that use preforms, Aoki''s show theme was "molding containers for the cost of a perform," with the premise that its finished one-step bottles cost the same or less than a preform used in a multistage stretch process.

The 100 questions were found in the K edition of the Aoki newsletter and had readers choose between a preform system and an integrated model by answering queries like "Which saves energy?" and "Which requires less shipping?" Most were rhetorical, of course, but company spokesman Eiji Nishizawa says that depending on volume, a one-stage process technology is 30% less costly, and in some instances, the preform would cost more than a finished bottle from Aoki.

The company''s stand featured an SBIII-250LL-50S machine molding a 1.5-liter, 32g PET bottle in a 9.5-second cycle. In addition, the stand was packed with more than 5000 sample bottles from Aoki''s various applications, giving visitors an idea of the shapes, materials, neck sizes, and contents that its bottles can accommodate. Nishizawa says that for the company''s fiscal year, which ends in February, it will sell 180 machines, an increase from 2003, with shipments split evenly between North America, Europe, and Asia.

Nissei ASB (Nagano-ken, Japan) also specializes in one-step and variations, showing what it calls its single-step, 1.5, and two-step among the six machines it displayed, with several boasting cycle time reductions. The company''s ASB50, which is manufactured at its Mumbai, India plant, molded six varieties of a 30-ml hotel-style shampoo bottle from the same tool in a 10-second cycle, down from 14 to 15 seconds at K 2001. Nissei attributed the gains to the use of redesigned hydraulics and hot runners. The company also showed off an ASB-70DPH one-step system that molded a 2-liter edible-oil bottle with an integrated deep-set, nonthrough handle, which it said is made possible by the one-stage process.

Ichiro Mizuuchi, CEO of Nissei, says his company is in a unique class within blowmolding, estimating that there are approximately 100 blowmolding machinery manufacturers, but only four or five with integrated one-step offerings. Mizuuchi said sales haven''t grown of late, but they remain steady at $130 billion to $140 billion.

Reborn in February 2002, Mag-Plastic Machinery SA (Vouvry, Switzerland) was back at K, displaying a four-cavity SBM and an all-electric SSB-04 linear line with a capacity of 6400 bottles/hr. The company is working on an eight-cavity model with four more presses coming in 2005, and some of that production based in Pune, India. At one time a leader in the Indian market for CSD and water, Mag-Plastic is trying to regain its foothold after rival Sidel moved in three years ago by purchasing Indian machine builder Ahura. Selling and manufacturing locally, Sidel was able to avoid the import duties that Mag-Plastic faced. At show time, the company had just finished its new Indian plant and was beginning production, with an anticipated market of 30 two-cavity machines a year.

Extrusion blowmolding manufacturer Jomar (Pleasantville, NJ) displayed the new 6D LS long-stroke machine, which targets 500-ml bottles with an output of 5000 bottles/hr. Again the emphasis was on high speed using less energy. "We''ve put together a real hybrid system to give us faster speed and 50% less energy usage," says Bill Petrino, company president, of the unit that features a hydraulic clamp and an electric screw. The company also showed a Delta Express unit for PET that ran a six-cavity tool, and an 85S molding a pharmaceutical application in a 10-cavity tool with a 10-second cycle. Admitting that overcapacity is still an issue in mature markets like North America and Europe, Petrino said his company is targeting 45 injection blow and 25 extrusion blow sales worldwide.

The reverberation from SIG''s reshuffling of its former Blowtec and Kautex units, as well as its retained Corpoplast unit, continued at K, with Kautex Maschinebau, under new owner Adcuram Beteiligungs AG (Munich), reentering the packaging market it had abandoned two years ago under SIG''s orders. Kautex has focused on industrial products like fuel tanks in the interim, but announced at K that it will reenter the market for small, consumer extrusion blowmoldings, reintroducing its dormant KEB single-station line and actively selling its KCC units (manufactured in China) outside of Asia.

Managing Director Bernhard Berger says Kautex will make a profit for the first time in four years, earning less than €1 million on sales of €45 million, but that former owner SIG''s announcement nearly two years ago that it was looking to unload it had a deleterious affect on its business.

In the shadow of its parent''s battle with Adcuram over the fate of Blowtec and its debt, Dr. Olaf Weiland, managing director of stretch blowmolding machine (SBM) manufacturer SIG Corpoplast (Hamburg, Germany), promoted his company''s 50:50 joint venture with Schott AG (Mainz, Germany) to form Schott SIG Barrier Technologies GmbH, which uses that company''s PICVD (plasma impulse chemical vapor deposition) technology in coating machines dubbed Plasmax that are built in Mainz and marketed by Corpoplast.

Since the initial system sale in 2003 to Bischofzell Nahrungsmittel AG in Switzerland, the company has sold three more Plasmax units, with two going to Hokkai Can in Japan. Its latest sale, secured before K, headed to the U.S. where PICVD recently received FDA approval for food contact. Schott''s system deposits a .1-µm coating layer on the bottle interior, and Weiland says the process can coat containers at a rate of 10,000 bottles/hr with a cost of €11 to €15/1000 bottles, and it makes bottle-to-bottle recycling possible. TD

Cost pressures apparent at K 2004

With plastics processors facing increasingly tight profit margins, producers of ancillary equipment from dryers to hot runner temperature controls put an emphasis at K 2004 on new models that offered a high level of functionality at reduced cost.

Gammaflux introduced a new line of hot runner temperature controllers that provides its high-end control capabilities for 2, 6, and 12-zone applications. Previously, molders had to pay about 30% more to get the same level of control capabilities in a 12-zone enclosure and 60% more for a two-zone enclosure.

"We see the LEC as a true breakthrough in hot runner controller performance and affordability," said Mike Brostedt, Gammaflux director of market development.

The new controllers have been under development for about two years and will be commercially available this month.

The move is triggered in part by Gammaflux''s interest in the Chinese market, which, like Europe, is oriented toward lower zones of temperature control. The U.S. market favors higher-cavitation tools and higher zone levels.

The core of the Gammaflux control approach is called the Triangulated Control Technology, in which thermocouples are measured 20 times a second and variations are controlled with an advanced algorithm for every .1-F deviation. Controllers now generally available for the lower zones adjust based on deviations of whole numbers.

The higher-end control is targeting tools where molders face problems such as flash, high scrap rates, part-weight variations or other problems typically caused by inconsistent temperature.

Moldflow unveiled the Altanium CX, which it described as an affordable, small-footprint, hot runner process control that supports from two to 192 zones. Its modular design is scalable and features a single controller design and various user interfaces that are compatible with virtually any hot runner system or injection molding machine. "This has all of the important capabilities of other systems but at a lower price," said Timothy L. Triplett, executive VP and general manager, manufacturing solutions, in an interview at the Moldflow stand. The CX is priced about 30% less than previous series.

Also on display was the Neo, Moldflow''s monochrome touchscreen operator interface for multilingual environments, and Matrix, an "intelligent" hot runner process control with a high-end color LCD touchscreen and advanced setup and diagnostic capabilities.

Regloplas introduced the "150Smart" with the RT60 controller for use with thermal oil up to 150ºC. The 150Smart rounds out a new lower cost series introduced last spring. "Apparently, we filled a very large market need," commented Frank Medgyesy, who led the new lower-cost series development for Regloplas of St. Gailen, Switzerland.

Elsewhere in the hot runner area:

Mold-Masters unveiled the TempMaster Series XL-II in which 18 zones can be controlled in a cabinet that used to fit a maximum of nine zones. Savings are estimated at 30%.

D-M-E showed the Gate-Mate Lite hot runner nozzles, which it described as the most economical choice for direct gating applications of thin-walled parts. The nozzles use a conductive beryllium-copper tip to provide heat control.

Other auxiliaries

The lower-cost trend spread into the drying field as well.

Piovan S.p.A. of Venice, Italy showed new on-trolley drying systems that allow processors to increase the number of drying hoppers connected to a dehumidifying dryer without any modification to the pre-existing system. Drying hoppers with capacities from 30 to 2000 liters can be combined by a press operator to form a mobile unit with a dryer. Larger drying hoppers (up to 800 liters) required a dedicated frame. They are connected via adaptors that carry hoses and electrical cables. Each drying hopper is equipped with an independent heating chamber and dedicated electronic control that uses the same interface and logic as the dryer''s control.

Wittman replaced its Drymax Series dryer with the C60 compact dry air unit that costs 5% less. The C60 series is available with one or two drying hoppers and continues the same modular design principles used on other series.

In the tooling area an example of an economical entry in the gravimetric feeding area came from K-Tron of Pitman, N.J. K-Tron introduced the BSP 150, the third model in its Bulk Solids Pump feeder line, whose primary benefits are said to be accuracy, uniform discharge, and consistent volume. The BSP feeders do not use screws/augers, belts, or vibratory trays to convey resin pellets. Instead they use positive displacement action to feed free-flowing material.

Incoming material is captured in a vertical rotating spool that creates a feeding duct. Material moves within the duct from the storage hopper to the discharge outlet. The BSP 150 uses four ducts to reach feed rates of 1.6 to 160 ft3/hr. Both gravimetric and volumetric versions of the BSP models are available.

-Doug Smock.

Customers want more engineering

Western manufacturing companies are streamlining their engineering staffs and outsourcing development projects to key suppliers.

Several exhibitors at K 2004 said they are responding with programs to provide complete, turnkey installations for their customers, or other solutions to simplify project development and reduce time to market. There was a related trend toward better integration of systems components within a single plant.

In one of the biggest announcements, manner announced expansion of its core business to provide customers with complete system solutions. A new engineering and consulting division is being established that will supervise services such as product engineering, rapid prototyping, mold and production design concepts, mold sampling, and training.

Company facilities in Bahlingen, Germany, are being expanded at an expense of €4 million to accommodate the new independent operating division. It will be completed in the middle of this year, providing an additional 3,600 sq m of space.

One of the big drivers is speed to market. Purchasing and project management departments of large corporations are reducing the number of suppliers and outsourcing some engineering activity to bring products to market faster.

In an interview, Richard A. Hughes, VP of corporate purchases at Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH), commented that mold design and development is the single biggest factor that extends product introduction time. P&G has developed a mold-buying team based in Geneva, Switzerland to study ways to make molds faster.

It''s not surprising that manner, which specializes in the design and production of high-precision molds and hot runner systems, is ahead of the pack in systems development.

"Customers are demanding an increasing number of services from single-source providers," comments Hans-Peter Manner, managing director and CEO of Otto Manner Holding AG. "The more completely individual development phases are integrated with one another, the easier it will be to provide customers with the cost benefits and head start they need to stay competitive."

Systems solution will take manner beyond supplying standalone valve-gated hot runner systems. Additional services include:

  • Feasibility studies

  • Product engineering

  • Rapid prototyping/tooling

  • Mold design concepts

  • Production molds

  • Production design concepts

  • Sampling and pre-production molds, implementation

  • Service and maintenance

  • Training.

    Projects will be guided by a manager dedicated to that customer''s system.

    In a smaller example of the trend, suppliers of hot runners showed systems that were fully mounted and wired, saving time for customers'' own engineering personnel.

    Hasco showed the new H4015 in which the connecting cables of the individual nozzles and the hot runner are routed to the terminal box via individually fabricated cable ducts where they are then wired according to customers'' specifications. Upshot: moldmakers or molders avoid additional connection expense. An additional advantage is the fixed interlocking connection between nozzles and the hot runner manifold, easing assembly and disassembly.

    Mold-Masters (Georgetown, ON) has established a team to develop a new system technology around the new Multi program, which allows multiple colors, materials, and shots. Key to the system is Mold-Masters'' patented, brazed two-piece manifold, which can provide three levels of melt channels with curves and turns as opposed to straight runners.

    Addressing the time-to-market problem specifically, Mold-Masters announced that its MasterSPEED program now offers 10% savings in addition to lead-time efficiencies. The program offers eight manifold configuration choices, nine gating options, and a large gate-to-gate pitch range. The automation process also provides same-day delivery of detailed assembly drawings and rapid production and shipping of the complete system.

    Resin handling systems

    At its stand, Conair of Pittsburgh, PA, highlighted its worldwide systems capabilities, based on its Carousel Plus dryers, the centralized drying and handling system called ResinWorks, and a material handling control platform called ILS-the Intelligent Loading system.

    "Compared to the old days, customers are expecting one supplier to do everything," commented Vince Witherup, VP of international for Conair, which recently completed a multiple-plant installation for PET drying in China.

    The ResinWorks system brings together drying, blending, and conveying technology into a single package that is custom built to meet processor requirements. Specific requirements include measured airflow to each hopper, easy access for cleanout, integrated airflow and temperature control, protection against over-drying, and wireless source-to-destination protection through the ILS central material handling system control.

    "These are capabilities that processors have told us they want and need," said Chuck Thiele, a senior consultant with Conair, in an interview at Conair''s K stand.

    Maguire Products (Aston, PA) displayed a new series of Clear-Vu portable vacuum conveying systems that can be configured in a "mini-central" approach to automated loading of multiple processing lines.

    "Clear-Vu leaders provide a more affordable and easier-to-use alternative to conventional systems for loading multiple processing lines," commented B. Patrick Smith, VP of sales and marketing. "Unlike integral-motor loaders, the Clear-Vu loader is a mini-central system that makes possible automated loading of up to eight stations. At the same time it is more flexibly deployed than standard automated conveying systems, and the new capability for linking larger numbers of processing lines expands the range of plastics processors who can take advantage of its other features, including streamlined material discharge, reduced maintenance and less plant noise."

    "Nowadays when we refer to systems solution, we refer to the interdisciplinary consideration of the entire production process and tuning of the individual partial solutions to one another," commented Michael Zlotos, general manager of Mann+Hummel ProTec GmbH. "We therefore offer our customers complete systems which are really tailored to the requirements of the processor and his materials."

    Mann+Hummel already pursues a systems approach in extrusion and plans soon to apply the concept to injection molding, starting with equipment suppliers. The group also offers the systems service to small and medium-sized companies, focusing on complete material handling systems.

    Extrusion focus

    Officials at Motan (Allgau, Germany) said they are well positioned to grow in what they described as the fastest-growing plastics sector-extrusion-because they offer a complete range of peripheral equipment and associated controls. These include storage silos, bins and debagging stations, pipe-based conveying, hopper loaders and material distribution systems, as well as ambient and dry air drying and continuous and discontinuous dosing and blending.

    "As important to an extruder as the right equipment and systems, and the right price, is the supplier''s thorough understanding of his process," a Motan official commented. "His output must be of the required quality and accuracy, using an economically optimized production process." He added that Motan is building a portfolio of standard and advanced applications to meet demands in the systems business.

    In some cases, the systems shown at the K were on a micro scale, but still demonstrated the trend toward integration. The Dry Flex S 40 Mobile is a compact mobile drying system from Colortronic that integrates the material supply conveying system for the processing machine.

    K-Tron''s new generation of continuous gravimetric blenders, the K4G Blender, is designed as a complete package for plastic compounding and other extrusion applications with one to eight feeder modules. New features include incorporation of the new Bulk Solids Pump Feeder, and the option of selecting from six different feeder modules to be incorporated into the blender system. A blender stand allows the rearrangement of any of these six types of blenders at any feeder station.

    Piovan, the big auxiliary equipment producer based in Venice, Italy, announced creation of an actual division-the Piovan Cooling Center-to meet growing customer demands for the design and installation of complete systems that focus on industrial chilling.

    Example: Piovan last year (2004) completed a program that doubled the cooling capacity at a Comar SpA blown film extrusion plant in Italy that reaches production rates of 10,000 tonnes/yr. Piovan refrigeration engineers recommended colder water (8ºC vs. 12ºC), and added a new chiller designed for high ambient temperatures. New standby pumps and tank also allowed the separation of the cooling circuit from the system running the extrusion lines, allowing especially high flow rates to be handled. Energy consumption was minimized through use of outside air during the winter. Doug Smock

  • Innovative uses of polymers and additives

    K 2004 lacked any breakthrough announcements of radically new materials for plastics processors. But that''s OK because there are still plenty of options for new material applications. Material suppliers came to K with new uses for existing materials as well as new grades that open up new application possibilities. This is what we found at the show.

    ExxonMobil Chemical (Houston, TX) presented its high-melt-flow-rate Vistamaxx specialty polyolefin elastomers to meet the needs of nonwovens processors using melt-blown technology to produce hygiene products. The material is seen as a soft-touch competitor to existing, less subtle polypropylene nonwovens.

    James P. Harris, senior VP, says the metallocene catalyst-produced material, which features heat stability and good stretch, should create new applications not yet considered. It can also be used as a polymer modifier.

    Total Petrochemicals (Brussels) introduced a polystyrene, Impact PS3450, which can withstand hot filling of cooked foods into thermoformed or injection molded cups without distortion. Compared to older generation hot-impact grades and blends, it has superior mechanical properties, some downgauging possibilities, and higher heat stability by up to 10 deg C.

    From a country that lacks forests comes a cost-effective synthetic wood for furniture and door frames based on a new general purpose polystyrene grade. Sabic (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) worked with Saudi processor Artificial Timber to produce the synthetic wood using proprietary extrusion and formulation technology. Problems of distortion and color fading have been resolved, according to the company, due to control of processing conditions, a special blowing agent system, and UV stabilizer dispersion.

    Polyolefins producer Borealis (Kongens Lyngby, Denmark) showed a rotomoldable third-generation linear medium-density polyethylene (MDPE), which allows a processor to combine several functions into one application, thereby reducing assembly and parts.

    Finnish processor Motoral Oy is using the material to produce a double-walled combination battery case, windscreen washer reservoir, and toolbox for Valtra, Scandinavia''s leading tractor producer. The design makes possible the integration of three previously separate components into a single externally mounted unit. Borecene Compact RM8346 is delivered as a black powder instead of the usual pellets that rotomolders have to grind into powder themselves, thereby eliminating a step. Motoral Oy says the resin allowed cycle time reductions by up to 40% (from 23 to 13 sec/100g).

    A new range of reactive polyvinylidene fluoride (PVdF) polymers and copolymers, Kynar ADX Series, is said to open new application possibilities by allowing it to be coextruded without tie layers to nylon, polyester, and polyethylene, and to stick to metal surfaces as well as some types of rubber. Polymer producer Arkema (formerly Atofina; Paris) says the first applications are fuel lines, battery binders, and metal coatings.

    Similarly, a second-generation polytetra-fluoroethylene (PTFE) from Dyneon (Neuss, Germany), grade TFM, was introduced as a lining material for corrosion protection for chemical industry equipment. This grade differs from standard PTFE in that it has a fifth of conventional PTFE''s molecular weight and a more homogeneous crystallite structure. These produce a denser, low-porosity polymer.

    Ticona (Kelsterbach, Germany) introduced the first fuel cell prototype completely made of plastic, which helps lower production costs by up to 50%. The 17-cell unit contains injection molded bipolar plates of liquid crystal polymer and end plates of polyphenylene sulfide. These plastics allow a cost reduction of the fuel cell from about €3000/kW to €750/kW by replacing aluminum, gold-coated stainless steel, and graphite or thermoset-graphite.

    PUR sandwiches find devotees

    Polyurethane (PUR) sandwich cores for sound and heat insulation in white goods, construction applications, and automotive are on the comeback trail after a 10-year hiatus, says John-Paul Mead, VP reaction process machinery at Krauss-Maffei (Florence, KY). He says the company''s RIM division had a "phenomenal 2004, the strongest volume the division has ever seen," due in part to customer-base diversification.

    During K, Bayer MaterialScience (Leverkusen, Germany) introduced its purSonic soundsystem loudspeaker surfaces that can be fitted behind wall panels and still offer listeners first-class sound without a speaker cabinet. The application is a joint development between Siemens and processor Puren Schaumstoff (Uberlingen, Germany).

    BASF has some impressive uses of its PUR insulation hard foam Elastopor H from Elastogran in mobile homes and RVs made at Hymer AG (Bad Waldsee, Germany). "The mobile home shell has to be light, but resilient and well insulated," says Hans Haugg, who is in charge of the foam room and PUR processing at Hymer. BASF''s Elastogran is also used in automobile interiors components such as dash panels, door panels, and steering wheels, offering automotive designers new options for shape, sight, and touch.

    In additives, BYK-Chemie (Wesel, Germany) introduced two nano additives in the Nanobyk family to improve scratch and wear resistance of UV-coatings applied to PVC floor coverings. In calcium-zinc (CaZn) stabilizers for PVC, Baerlocher (Unterschleissheim, Germany) extended its range of materials with dust-free solid forms in pastilles and flakes, as well as a liquid CaZn stabilizer system suitable for vinyl floor coverings and wallpaper. SM, RC, CG

    Plant-wide process monitoring

    Computer aided design products are evolving to meet the needs of more complex molding applications demanded by customers. Moldex 3D, for example, plans a year-end release of its Multiple Component Molding software specifically designed for insert-molded components and parts that are overmolded. It has the capability to do all components in full 3-D, tracking the effects of heat and flow, while reducing computation time. For insert molded components, the program can help determine the stresses and impact of metal inserts on the flow of the plastic material, which is often a different temperature than the inserts. In September, Moldex 3D released its R7.0/SP5, a program developed to better predict critical areas with strong hesitation of the material flow.

    Moldflow Corp. (Wayland, MA) introduced several new products recently including Moldflow Plastics Insight, a new design analysis solution. MPI 5.0 provides greater speed and accuracy, and reinforces the company''s lead in 3-D simulation innovation with enhanced functionality for gas-assisted injection molding, insert overmolding, 2-shot sequential overmolding, and reactive molding.

    Moldflow also introduced new versions of its Shotscope Process Monitoring system to improve productivity, minimize scrap and downtime, and enhance plant capacity. Shotscope can acquire data from up to 36 input channels, 8 in analog, 12 in digital and 16 single points (thermocouples). It collects up to 10,000 data points per analog channel and stores up to 50 process parameters per shot. The new Shotscope FX portable analyzer can be moved from machine to machine for setup, troubleshooting, machine capability studies, and part quality checks. It can also be easily expanded into a plant-wide monitoring solution as necessary.

    With the increasing use of hot runner systems to improve productivity and reduce scrap, Moldflow has also created Altanium CX, an affordable, small footprint hotrunner process solution that supports from two to 192 zones. Its modular design is scalable and features a single controller design and various user interfaces that are compatible with virtually any hot runner system or injection molding machine. The company also introduced Neo, Moldflow''s intuitive monochrome touchscreen operator interface for multilingual environments, and Matrix, an advance in intelligent hot runner process control capabilities with a high-end color LCD touchscreen and advanced setup and diagnostic capabilities.

    Process Monitoring Systems:

    For molders that require more information than just mold-flow analysis, Moldflow Corp. introduced Celltrack Production Management system, a complete manufacturing execution system that tracks and reports production and machine efficiencies. This real-time production system can be attached to any type of cyclic equipment used for discrete manufacturing; it continuously tracks and reports on machine efficiencies, and provides capabilities for work order management, job scheduling, mold and machine tracking, and labeling. Version 2.0 has the ability to schedule manage and monitor manual tasks as well as those operating on machinery and the ability to track machine-related labor activities.

    Plant-wide process monitoring company Mattec is finding that an economic downturn doesn''t necessarily translate into more interest in keeping better tabs on production floor activities. "We thought when the downturn came, molders would demand more in the way of production monitoring," says Tom Thiel, corporate sales and marketing for Mattec. "But that didn''t turn out to be true."

    What has turned out to be important are the new CFR regulations from the FDA, which means better tracking and validation for medical parts. Mattec teamed up with Johnson & Johnson to develop a program with the FDA to accommodate the new regulations. The program will be Windows based rather than UNIX based, and will have a voice alarm system.

    "Molders are making do with fewer and fewer people, so the system is designed to be able to page someone if there''s a problem," Thiel explains. The company is also developing new devices for the press in process monitoring. "We''ve been talking paperless shop floor for years," Thiel says, "so now we''re seeing more graphics and user-friendly touchscreen technology, the PC Self Controller, that makes it easier for operators."

    Mann+Hummel ProTec [Ludwigsburg, Germany] developed a new simulation model for bulk-flow behavior in hoppers, an innovation that was introduced at K. Because material consistency is a critical parameter in the bulk flow, the simulation model allows conclusions to be made as to the bulk-flow behavior of the material in the hopper, i.e. optimization of the drying and treatment of the process, and provides information about the flow behavior of plastics. Possible causes of defects such as excessive drying or other occurrences in the upline material preparation process are detectable from the bulk-flow behavior.

    Additionally, Mann+Hummel ProTec is offering a tool for batch tracking in the control unit for its material handling lines that can help customers determine exactly when each batch was made, and of what materials, in order to clarify, for example, the cause and possible liability claims when there are production errors. This is of particular interest to the automotive industry, the company notes. This material-flow information system tracks the entire process including drying, metal separation, regrind usage, and monitors the "target flow." From this data, the system provides a type of logbook with all data relating to the material preparation of a component.

    Priamus System Technologies AG [Schaffhausen, Switzerland] with facilities in Aurora, OH, and Salach, Germany, makes process control systems that measure mold cavity pressure and temperature, "where the parts are made." The new eDAQ Priamus control center provides real-time process monitoring for up to 64 cavities for pressure, temperature, and machine signals.

    For ease of use in production, the monitoring limits are automatically adjusted with the help of a "Master Plug." Additional settings can be entered via a password-protected web browser that gets downloaded as soon as a PC is connected. Recently, Priamus has partnered with 3D Sigma to offer mold-filling analysis. For sequential molding, the new Priamus Fill system controls the melt flow in one or multicavity hotrunner molds in a closed loop. The system measures and analyzes cavity temperatures in order to adjust the according set values of a hotrunner controller automatically.

    CAD/CAM for Molds:

    Open Mind Technologies AG (Unterfohring, Germany), released two versions of its hyperCAD 9 system: hyperCAD V9 with improved features, and hyperCAD GSM V9, an advanced version with Global Shape Modeling. hyperCAD is a versatile and user-friendly 2-D/3-D CAD system based on the Think3 kernel. One of the system''s biggest advantages is that curve, volume, and surface data can all be processed in the same environment. Transitions from solids to surfaces and from surfaces to solids are possible. Intelligent features such as Smart Objects automate many job steps and relieve the designer from having to perform routine tasks.

    Automated Mold Marking for Cavities:

    Eleda Cumsa (Barcelona, Spain) introduced its new automated inmold cavity marking system for injection molds to permit electronic management of dating and production information for part/lot traceability. The EDS II system eliminates stopping production to change out the date/production information insert in the mold. The motorized daters change the year, month, day, hour (and even five-minute increments if required), and It''s completely automatic.

    Through electronic control units, the EDS II can be updated remotely, with central access to the information stored in the machine''s interface connectors. This provides control of production cycles, total part count and also the partial count from the last production run.-Clare Goldsberry

    New closure designs help trim system cost

    When they work well, plastic closures open easily and soon thereafter wind up in the trash. As with any throwaway part, it is no surprise that one of the key issues facing closure molders is cutting costs. But it is with design that processors are staking their claims to improved market share.

    With prices for polyethylene and polypropylene-the predominant thermoplastics in this application-up 25% to 35% in recent months, "everyone has been forced to increase their prices," says Piet Gruwez, sales and marketing director at Portola Packaging (San Jose, CA; Gmunden, Austria). Helping ease the price-hike pain at beverage brandowners are efforts by Portola and other closure molders to deliver closures that help them cut total packaging cost and sell more product.

    Cutting system cost is the object of Portola''s Kansas closure, a one-piece injection molded PE closure for gable-top packaging such as cartons. Cartons, especially for higher-end products such as juices with high pulp content, increasingly are fitted with plastic closures as consumers have shown preference for these over tearing open carton tops.

    To date, closures fitted to cartons have had a two-piece design: a cap, and a fitment that is welded or otherwise affixed to the carton. "These [cap and fitment] have to be molded in separate machines, and then attached in a secondary step," explains Gerry Mavin, Portola''s technical director, Europe, and the developer of the Kansas closure. He notes that molding both cap and fitment in a single rotating mold is possible, but that this would increase mold costs and slow cycle times.

    Mavin''s Kansas closure is designed to let Portola mold the cap, band, tear band, and fitment in a single mold cavity. As closures are ejected from a mold, they are oriented facing down and then pass under a simple tool that presses down on the still-warm cap, forcing it down over the fitment so that a single, complete closure is made.

    "What''s really novel is, we have a male thread on the cap and a female one on the fitment," says Mavin; typically both must be male. But the female threading was necessary to help get the closures out of the mold. Without it, threading of the cap-the part deepest in the mold core-would be broader than the threading of the fitment, making it very difficult to get parts out of the mold. "And we didn''t want to use a core puller, as it costs more and it''s a part that wears," he explains.

    Modern Plastics had the good fortune to see a Kansas closure early on the first day of the Brau beverage industry trade show in mid-November; by day two, says Gruwez, all of them had been taken from the firm''s stand. Mavin says Portola is now starting to actively market the closures. Why call it Kansas? "We named one Brussels and it didn''t generate much interest at our (U.S.) headquarters," laughs Mavin, so he learned the home states of the company''s leadership and assigned the new closure the name of one of these.

    Mid-sized closure makes a good fit

    Petra Bauschke, marketing manager at closure molder Amcor White Cap (Hannover, Germany), says her firm recently struck commercial gold with a new 33-mm-diameter cap for juices brand owner Sunland Plus. Closures typically jump from 28-mm in diameter to 38-mm. "We did this [sizing closure in the middle] intentionally," she says. "It allows for easier consumption on single-serve containers than a 28-mm closure, but requires less material than a 38-mm one," sparing material and costs. The firm compression molds these closures.

    Bauschke adds that, compared with a 38-mm closure, the 33-mm ones have less area and thus fewer challenges with gas permeation. And the slightly smaller size means that single-serve bottles can be blowmolded in more narrow styles, not just the barrel-shaped ones common to those topped with 38-mm closures.

    Material savings also play part in a new range of closures from processor Pelliconi (Ozzano, Italy), says Steven White, technical marketing manager. The firm has developed PE closures suitable for both still or carbonated beverages that are shorter than normal closures. Especially for non-carbonated beverages, he says, there is often little need for a taller, heavier closure. Also, a shorter closure means threading on PET preforms can also be shorter, sparing material there as well. He says savings on 28-mm PCO caps can reach up to .2 g/cap.

    Customer-specific closures are a gathering market force, says White. His firm has a number of projects running. "I can''t say much about them yet, except that they are for design of different-shaped closures" for individual customers, he says. Pressed, he allows that Pelliconi''s customers are interested in having closures molded in shapes other than round. Pelliconi uses both compression and injection molding. "We feel it''s a good thing to have both technologies in-house," he explains. Very generally, compression is used for very high-volume orders, though he notes that injection molding machine makers continue to make strides to meet or beat compression''s output.

    Saving material is one way to help cut customers'' total package cost. Another is to design closures so that one or more production steps can be eliminated. At closure supplier Alcoa CSI (Worms, Germany), business development manager Michael Gutzler says one of the most recent developments is a two-piece (cap and liner), 38-mm PP closure compression molded for use on HDPE bottles (such as milk bottles).

    Usually milk-bottle closures are one piece, but then dairies must cover bottle mouths with a strip of aluminum foil to ensure there are no leaks. "Industry and consumers don''t want the foil," Gutzler explains. "The liner [in the closure] ensures a good seal and lets the dairy stop using foil," he says, even keeping a tight seal on extrusion blowmolded HDPE bottles that do not have the accuracy of an injection molded spout.

    Officials at these and other processors all agree that the cost of a closure is important, but pales in comparison to the cost of the beverage it protects. If closure molders are able to help brandowners sell more beverages, and maybe even help them spare a bit on total package cost, then molders'' efforts in innovative designs will continue to find favor in the market.

    Sport-cap molders taking care of kids

    Officials at a number of processors of sports caps say they are developing closures that are safer for small children. Kids favor sports caps, but to open the push/pull tops they often resort to using their teeth. The danger is that a top could be pulled off and into a child''s mouth, creating a potential choking hazard. "`Spout removal force'' is a very big issue right now," explains Portola''s Gruwez. "We are developing one to get it [this force] high enough so kids cannot pull [the cap] off [with their teeth]." Changes will come through innovative design as well as choice of materials, he says.

    Portola already has made its dust cover-which covers the very tip of a sport cap-more child-safe by molding it with enough holes in it so that, even if one lodges in a child''s throat, the holes should allow air to pass through. Alcoa CSI tackled the problem of dust covers in a different fashion with its Sport-Max sport caps. Soon to be commercial, these caps have hinged dust covers attached permanently to the closure so that the cover cannot be removed. The PE dust cover is molded separately from the PP sport caps and then assembled postmold.

    Kids like sports caps and they love straws, a combination brought together by Seaquist Closures (Mukwonago, WI) in its new sports cap, called Caspian. The molder showed a prototype at the Brau show. These are three-material closures and include a PP tip, a PE screw-on seal, and a straw molded of silicon that is integrated into the closure. A twist of the cap extends the soft silicon straw and opens the vent for consumption. MD

    Matthew Defosse [email protected]

    Technology uncorked to ease wine-bottle opening

    Resins/compounds

    Polyphthalamide (PPA), normally found in automotive, electrical, or industrial applications, is making an entry in the packaging sector as a threaded anchor for a patented twist-to-uncork wine closure designed by Gardner Technologies (Napa, CA).

    MetaCork, displayed during the recent K 2004 show, consists of a hard plastic capsule with a threaded interior surface, a matching plastic threaded cap, and a natural or polymer (often polypropylene) cork. This is fitted with a threaded anchor, injection molded from Amodel PPA, that is screwed into the cork during the bottling process, eliminating the need for a corkscrew. Synthetic corks often provide better sealability against gas ingress than natural corks, but can be more difficult to remove.

    Twisting the plastic capsule eases the cork out of the bottle thanks to mated threads inside the capsule and on the bottle''s neck. Once removed, the cork, along with the anchor and top closure, can be pushed out of the capsule unit. The plastic capsule can be applied to the bottle for drip-resistant pouring, and the cap can be screwed back on for leak-proof sealing.

    The anchor design is critical to MetaCork since the average breakaway torque required between the anchor and capsule to extract a natural cork is about 14.5 inch-lb (1.64 Nm), says Patrick Whelan, director of engineering at Gardner Technologies. "The MetaCork is engineered to have zero failures. We selected Amodel PPA because it can withstand more than twice that level of torque," he says.

    Whelan says the 45% glass-reinforced PPA shows good flow characteristics, making it easy to mold the threaded anchor. The processing window is relatively broad, and mold temperatures as low as 65ºC (150ºF) can be used. Solvay Advanced Polymers, Alpharetta, GA; www.solvayadvancedpolymers.com.

    Polyamides boast balanced impact resistance, stiffness

    A new range of long-glass-fiber-reinforced polyamides based on Rhodia Engineering Plastics'' Technyl Star (branched chain) technology boasts a unique combination of impact resistance and flexural strength. Specifically designed for structural parts that require high stiffness and energy absorption, such as door modules and front ends, the new Technyl Force range promises more than a 100% improvement in notched impact strength compared with the supplier''s short-glass-fiber-reinforced grades. In fact, impact resistance is comparable to diecast aluminum and magnesium. Furthermore, in crash tests, a structural beam molded from Technyl Force absorbed twice as much energy at an impact of 15 km/hr than the same beam molded from a short-glass-fiber compound. In addition, the high fluidity of Technyl Force helps limit shear effects during injection, thereby enhancing fiber-length retention.

    Rhodia has also unveiled the Technyl SI range of high-toughness polyamides for applications requiring exceptional impact resistance/stiffness balance. SI, (super impact) modified polyamide 6 grades are available as unfilled compounds for applications such as sporting goods, hand tool handles, and impact-resistant containers, and glass-fiber-reinforced grades for power tool housings, appliance components, and high-performance sports equipment. Rhodia Engineering Plastics SA, Lyon, France, www.rhodia-ep.com.

    Terpolymer suitable for deep-draw thermoforming

    Terplex is polyamide terpolymer from Ube Industries that combines PA 6, 66, and 12 monomers that features higher shrinkage, deep-draw thermoforming capabilities, a lower melting point (hence less thermal degradation during processing), higher transparency, and better flexural strength. Target applications include meat and cereal packaging as well as sausage casings.

    The melting point of Terplex is 190ºC, compared with 196ºC for a copolymer of PA 6 and 66, and 199ºC for a PA 6/12 copolymer. Furthermore, stress-crack resistance is on a par or superior compared to the two copolymers, as is haze (9%) and gloss (105%). Ube, Yamaguchi, Japan; www.ube-ind.co.jp.

    additives

    Lube gives vinyl that extra slippery boost

    Launched during K 2004, the Rheochem family of lubricants helps boost PVC extrusion throughput by as much as 40%. The four grades work in applications such as profiles, siding, pipes, and fencing using currently available tin or calcium-zinc processing stabilizers. They also help improve control over melt viscosity, melt-temperature variation, and stability, says Barry Russell, business director for the producer. They aid by reducing burn marks, helping eliminate discoloration, lowering melt temperatures, helping eliminate plate-out, reducing power consumption, and minimizing rejection rates. Honeywell Specialty Materials, Morristown, NJ; www.honeywell.com.

    A good omen for 2005

    K 2004 in Dusseldorf has drawn to a close and in their unanimously positive assessment, exhibitors, visitors, and trade-fair organizers alike will remember it as an extremely successful event. The K show is a hugely important indicator of global development and the tremendous achievement represented by this world-class show is a feather in the cap of the entire industry.

    Profound and sustained positive development, however, depends on the interaction of many factors. Of course, an industrial trade fair-no matter the size-can highlight important trends, but it cannot, on its own, revive the global economy or significantly strengthen its development. Thus, the interesting question remains: Where do we go from here? Will the positive trends take hold? Will the economic barometer''s upward turn sustain itself?

    What we do know

    This will depend on many factors, the analysis of which would necessitate use of the proverbial crystal ball. In the long term, one thing is certain: From a global perspective, the significance of plastics processing in everyday life is growing at an increasingly dramatic pace.

    Important elements contributing to this trend include new developments in the areas of drive technology; automation applications; the substitution of traditional materials and manufacturing processes by plastics and injection molding; multicomponent processing; and the combination of various materials and integration of functions into overall processing. This is precisely where injection molding will be able to demonstrate its unique capabilities even more clearly in the future.

    Toward the intelligent machine

    Multicomponent injection molding, in particular, is a prime example of untapped potential. The future of this technology is bright due to developments in materials as well as in molds and machinery.

    Molded parts are becoming increasing complex with respect to functionality and geometry, with production technology contributing decisively to this. Thus, processes that up until now occurred downstream of the injection molding process can now be integrated into the process itself.

    In addition, state-of-the-art mechanical engineering and control technology provide reliable systems to support increasingly complex applications. Further efforts will be focused on the processing of nonplastic materials such as ceramics, carbides, and stainless steels, with all the new potential for design and geometry that they offer.

    Injection molding technology will continue its progress along the path toward the "intelligent" machine. Machine suppliers must enable simpler, more reliable, and more profitable production through the use of intelligent machines and processes along with a systems approach to machine, tool, material, and process. Particularly in high-wage countries, for example, the future lies in the more highly synergistic intertwining of disparate production technologies under the rubric of intelligent integrated production lines with centralized control systems (i.e., the move toward project-oriented operations).

    The rest of the way

    The future of drive systems technology belongs to modular drive systems; the technology of the future features machines with individually-selectable drive systems. This is because only a flexible system that allows for the combination of both drive options in a single machine can meet the demands of injection molding in the long term. In this regard, however, it is important not to offer hybrid machines only in pre-defined configurations, but rather to provide the entire range from fully hydraulic to fully electrical.

    The trend toward systems-oriented operations is unmistakable. Within the key concepts of single-source supply and package manufacturing, we are already experiencing an increase in orders for complete production lines. In addition to the injection molding machine, these also include all of the peripheral equipment-robotic system plus delivery, positioning, and conveyance of components-integrated into a single unit. The resulting production is fully automated, and therefore cost effective. This trend not only creates a constantly increasing demand for automation solutions, but also simultaneously increases their complexity, which in turn increases the level of expertise demanded of the machine manufacturer.

    A global player in the machine tool industry must monitor all of the critical plastics markets. And that is precisely what has always been one of our traditional strengths: providing the support and the experience of the entire global Arburg organization to each national market.

    The successful supplier must provide an entire package comprising services, after-sales service, consulting, technology, process engineering, process assurance, and profitability. In simple terms-usefulness to the customer, the preconditions for which are the highest quality requirements. This may sound like a worn-out cliche, but the endurance of our customer relationships, the image and the value of the trade name, prove the truth of this statement in the long term.

    Therefore, our strategy has always been to achieve progress through flexible, qualitatively high-value partnerships, in the interest and to the benefit of our customers, whether small or large, within Germany and abroad.

    Christoph Schumacher is the communications director for injection molding machinery manufacturer Arburg Inc., based in Lossburg, Germany. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you have an opinion you''d like to share with the readers of Modern Plastics Worldwide, please contact editor-in-chief Jeff Sloan at [email protected].