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
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
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
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
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