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Articles from 2012 In December

Suppliers are confident, but their big OEM customers are not

A recent survey by the American Society of Quality (ASQ 2013 Manufacturing Outlook Survey) revealed that 75% of suppliers are confident in their ability to meet their customers’ needs, but one-third of respondents anticipate a shortage of parts or services in 2013 due to an issue with suppliers. An astounding 80% of manufacturers responding to the ASQ survey say they have been “burned” by suppliers in the past, something that adds an extra layer of trepidation to the supply chain managers at big OEMs.
More than 1250 manufacturing professionals from around the world responded to ASQ’s 2013 Manufacturing Outlook Survey, conducted online in November during World Quality Month. ASQ calls itself “the leading authority on quality in all fields, organizations and industries.”
Of the respondents who anticipate a problem with a supplier, 42.1% said they are working with partners on process improvements to mitigate volume capacity, while more than 26% re working with their suppliers’ competitors, presumably to dual-source critical components. Other manufacturers said they are “stockpiling parts” in advance of any supply problems, and even expanding facilities and implementing capabilities to make necessary parts themselves should their suppliers fail to meet demand.
Of the 80% of OEMs who have been “adversely affected” by production interruptions due to a supplier’s inability to meet demand, 25% went to their suppliers’ competition to get their parts requirements met. Sixty percent of the Survey’s respondents said their organizations have a “formal process” in place to address supply chain risk. That denotes a lot of uncertainty out there.
Obviously these concerns impact the OEM/supplier relationship and the potential for future business. After all, if a supplier can’t competently demonstrate an ability to supply molds or molded parts on time with the expected quality specifications, new business doesn’t appear to be likely. There’s nothing like handing your competitor’s new business on a silver platter!
The ASQ survey pretty much parallels other surveys, in particular the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA) Survey that comes out six times a year. The OESA’s survey has made it pretty clear over the past year that the automotive OEMs are nervous about their suppliers, from the Tier 1s and further down.
A recent editorial in IHS SupplierBusiness noted that General Motors is making “some crucial decisions about its purchasing operations in the coming weeks and months” as it seeks a permanent replacement for Bob Socia, the global purchasing chief who was named president of GM China.
The SupplierBusiness editorial also pointed out that with several “important” vehicle launches coming in 2013 for GM, “the biggest concern among suppliers has to do with GM’s declining market share and the fear that financial pressure” on the big OEM could have the company reverting to its “pre-bankruptcy approach to dealing with suppliers—more adversarial and less transparent about production schedules.
“Is GM about to start beating up suppliers again?” asks the editorial’s writer.
Already some moldmakers that supply GM either directly or through Tier 1 molders say that two of the three U.S. auto makers (GM and Chrysler) are losing their kinder, gentler attitudes toward them. Strong-arming suppliers at a time of critical new-vehicle launches probably isn’t the best way to ensure quality and dependability.
The SupplierBusiness editorial noted that the “Detroit 3 companies have not performed particularly well following the recession” when it comes to vehicle launches, “which have been plagued with timing and quality issues.”
That’s most likely the reason that the editorial cited information from Automotive News that “GM is assembling a team of 100 engineers to work closely with suppliers as the new models come on stream. And it will be more than just first-tier suppliers that will see involvement of GM’s engineers. The impact will be felt as far down as Tier 3 and Tier 4.”

That means moldmakers that supply GM might have one of these engineers on their doorsteps soon.

With the focus on quality and the ability to keep up with demand during ramp-up, IHS notes that some lower tier suppliers might have difficulty keeping up. Obviously, from OESA surveys and the ASQ 2013 survey, most OEMs—not just those in the automotive industry segment—are feeling nervous about their suppliers’ ability to keep parts flowing and production going.

Chinese production, export of injection molding machines up in 2012

China's exports of injection molding machines was on pace to best 2011's total of 24,535, tracking 5% higher through the first three quarters of 2012. Research and Markets injection molding machinery survey said the growth in 2012 comes on the heels of an explosive expansion of exports in 2011, which saw injection molding machine shipments skyrocket by 125.71% over 2010 results.

Through September 2012, 19,378 units valued at $675 million, had been exported, for an average machine price of just under $35,000. China produced 76,235 injection molding machines in 2011, up 5.98% over 2010. From 2006 to 2011, the growth of China's injection molding machine industry slowed its growth, but, according to Research and Markets, the annual production volume showed continued expansion with an annual growth rate of 4.13%.

Huidian Research forecast that the supply volume of China's injection molding machine market will reach 79,284 units in 2012; 82,456 units in 2013; and 96,462 units in 2017. Companies covered in the report include: Borch Machinery, Donghua Machinery, Haitian International Holdings Limited, L.K. Technology Holdings Limited, and The Chen Hsong Group.

shipping containers

New medical plastics plant is up for sale

says it will "vigorously" pursue a sale of its polymer manufacturing facility in Rogers, MN. One potential buyer is St. Jude Medical, which uses AorTech's Elast-Eon, a co-polymer of silicone and polyurethane, to coat leads that connect defibrillators to hearts.   

The 13,000 square feet facility was set up last year. AorTech moved equipment from a plant in Scoresby, Australia to Rogers in 2011 after problems with shipping costs and currency fluctuations.

The plant includes pharmaceutical-grade manufacturing in a variety of batch sizes and tubing extrusion, solution casting, dipping, and various types of injection molding, including a proprietary approach to reaction injection molding (RIM).

In a press release issued yesterday, AorTech Chairman Bill Brown stated: "We have not been able to generate sufficient quantities of these (licensing and royalty) revenues to support the losses from polymer manufacture. As part of the strategic review earlier in this year, we recognized that the size and financial instability of AorTech was not conducive to having larger medical device companies place a reliance on a critical material which only AorTech could supply."

Earlier effort collpased

For the six-month period ending Sept. 30, AorTech reported an operating loss of $1.5 million on sales of $822,000. An earlier effort to find a buyer for all of AorTech collapsed because of a financial dispute with St. Jude and concerns that the company could collapse, according to the company's report.

On Dec. 24, AorTech announced a settlement with St. Jude in which neither party admitted any liability. St.Jude agreed to pay AorTech $3.9 million. As part of the agreement, St. Jude will provide funds to operate the Rogers facility for a period of time "and contemplate the complete transfer of the Rogers facility to St. Jude by December 2013."

St. Jude Medical calls Elast-Eon by the name Optim. Insulation made from the copolymer "has demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of insulation abrasion when compared to our previous silicone insulated leads," according to St. Jude's most recent 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  "Optim insulation material was designed specifically for high- and low-voltage cardiac pacing leads. We now have Optim insulation available in all of our lead segments and have phased out our older silicone insulated leads in favor of the improved reliability of Optim based leads."

A technology called E-RIM is one of the assets that AorTech may sell. It's an adaptation of RIM for production of Elast-Eon in small medical device parts.  "The advantages include low-temperature rapid-processing, low injection pressures, long flow lengths, outstanding adhesion to substrates and bubble free parts," according to AorTech. 

A CSIRO collaboration

Elast-Eon was developed at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), Australia's national science agency and an important medical plastics developer. .

Separately, Brown said that AorTech will attempt to find a partner to help develop a polymer heart valve technology, which was also developed at CSIRO.

Innovation and the changing role of suppliers

OEMs are moving away from in-house R&D, a model they've held for decades, and are becoming more dependent on specialty suppliers to provide new vehicle technology. Booz & Company released its 2013 Automotive Industry Perspective and it shows some important shifts in the roles of OEMs and suppliers.

"OEMs can no longer afford to operate with such a broad technological agenda," said the Booz report, "and they must focus on some R&D priorities while dropping others." Some of that shift is already happening in some areas of automotive technology like new powertrain technologies such as hybrid-electric, all-electric, or fuel-cell technology. Future exit

However, with OEMs likely to control a narrower portion of R&D, Booz noted that the "dynamics and choices they make regarding which areas to specialize in are critical and will determine future success. These factors will inevitably lead to more technology partnerships with suppliers, such as Chrysler's purchase of diesel engines for pickups from Cummins."

The same holds true for suppliers, which Booz projects will "shoulder a larger share of rising innovation costs as OEMs cede innovation in strategic ways. This will force suppliers to decide where to make technology best - a process that requires real discipline in evaluating the likelihood of success for a new and innovative product and the probability that others are developing equivalent or superior technology." In some cases, Booz added, "outsiders to the automotive industry will emerge with very real competitive advantages."

What this means for molders and moldmakers:
For moldmakers that serve the automotive industry, this could mean some new opportunities to help Tier 1 molders and their OEM customers use cutting-edge mold technology to achieve benefits. Those might include but would not be limited to reducing cycle time, and reducing or eliminating secondary operations such as assembly that may involve welding of various metal components through design for manufacture and/or design for assembly using metal-to-plastic conversion.

Awarding specialty technology for various parts and/or systems to technology firms that are not specifically automotive also means that both molders and mold manufacturers will have additional competition beyond other molders and moldmakers. Because of their specific areas of technological expertise, these companies can offer real cost savings and time-to-market advantages.

More mold manufacturers, particularly those larger-sized enterprises that have the financial and human resources to invest in R&D for new mold technology, are collaborating with mold component suppliers and partner with molders and molding machinery manufacturers to push the envelope of productivity and cost efficiencies for OEMs looking to reduce costs.

However, these changes could also spell new business opportunities for suppliers, especially and Booz projects that "winners in the North American auto industry five years from now will be those that develop a process for capitalizing on innovation from a wide range of sources - some proprietary and some open," Booz reported. These supplier companies will also "need to manage the technology portfolio, evaluate scenarios (some of which may be highly uncertain), develop a better sense of market requirements, make selective best, and adjust accordingly."

All of those factors will be critical to the long-term success of these suppliers. And while Booz noted that managing these investments and partnerships will be critical to suppliers' long-term success" and ROI "may take years to materialize . . . companies that shortchange innovation today are ceding the future to rivals."

Implications of this new paradigm for OEMs:
Booz outlines four ways that automotive OEMs will need to adapt to changing conditions, strengthen their existing innovation capabilities and develop new ones:

Become experts at managing a broad, far-reaching, and active innovation network that requires technological capabilities that historically have not resided inside automotive OEMs. To survive in this environment of dispersed technology development OEMs much cultivate an active and creative extended network; strike a careful balance between reducing production costs through competitive sourcing incentives; and partnering with the most technologically advanced entities, with an expectation that more adept partners will improve vehicle innovation.

Focus internally on select technologies that are absolutely essential and must remain proprietary. OEMs will need to make sure they are focusing their limited R&D spend in the areas where it is most critical and will have the most impact (incorporating a make-versus-buy discipline to technological innovation). This will require intimate knowledge of the OEM's own capabilities as well as those of suppliers. For example, where does the OEM need to control the technology absolutely? Where does the supplier have the scale to advance technology much more effectively? Where could a partnership be most effective?

Plan for and manage the inherent uncertainty associated with this new operating paradigm. Given the large number of technologies under development and the complexity surrounding their eventual adoption, OEMs need to continue to strengthen their ability to manage uncertainty. This includes: placing well-considered bets on early technology winners on the basis of economic fundamentals and development trajectories; developing a strong market-sensing capability that can detect early clues regarding potential front-runners or shifts in the competition based on a range of impacts (from breakthrough scientific findings to new government regulations).

Strengthen system and vehicle interaction expertise. OEMs must retain and even strengthen their cross-system, vehicle integration expertise, and continuing to build this expertise that will be essential to maintaining control and achieving high-level quality and reliability targets in an increasingly dispersed innovation environment.

Implications for Suppliers:
As suppliers take on more responsibility for technology innovation, they need to rethink their approach to contracting with OEMs and become more discerning in their evaluation of programs. For example, Booz suggests they ask whether there is "a clear path to recover costs associated with serving OEMs in the long term? Is there a segmentation of sourcing relationships across vehicle OEMs that might warrant differential pricing and/or tiered service choices? Will some programs be more or less attractive in the presence of an updated technology road map, an increased ability to refine production techniques, or greater scale in fundamental operations?"

For mold manufacturers who supply automotive OEMs, either directly or through Tier 1 molders, that first question is a good one since it is often difficult to get the automotive OEMs to pay for innovation specific to their requirements. That means that many mold manufacturers and Tier 1 molders will have to invest their own money to develop new technology. The return on this investment might not come until - and unless - they can market their 'proprietary' technology to a number of OEMs and across vehicle models.

It also means not allowing one OEM to claim exclusivity of a mold/molding innovation for their vehicle(s) alone, but recognizing the innovation as that of the mold manufacturer's or the molder's. If the innovation is the proprietary development of the moldmaker, the best way for that company to recoup its investment is to use that technology for other customers as well. [See "The design is mine: Moldmakers speak out on who owns the IP".]

Suppliers that choose this new role of technology innovator for automotive OEMs will need to "become more agile and adroit in managing the technology project portfolio, including deciding where to specialize from an innovation standpoint," Booz said, analyzing the market opportunities, and "building a capability to identify changes in technical, market, and regulatory factors that may impact the technology success."

Finally, in order for suppliers to improve the chance that their innovations will improve competitive positioning, Booz said "They will need to continue to expand their knowledge of the vehicle systems in which they play," i.e. fuel systems, powertrain, instrument panel (IP), etc. "This could involve enhanced networking or partnerships with sub-tier suppliers (such as electronics providers), market peers, or adjacent technologies, in addition to traditional OEM relationships."

Bioplastics in 2013: 5 trends to watch

One of the most important developments from the past few years has been the emergence of what are known as drop-ins, or materials produced from monomer building blocks from biomass feedstocks, that can directly replace conventional petroleum-based plastics. The carbon content of plastics produced on the basis of these biomonomers comes from renewable sources, such as plants or biowaste.

Drop-ins offer a rapid route to market through existing infrastructure and knowhow. Also, new routes are increasingly opening up, bringing the economic production of biomonomers that have the advantage of fitting easily into existing production chains, increasingly within reach.

Potentially all grades of polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride can currently be made via biobased routes, as can various polyamides and polyesters. In fact, a market study from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Hanover showed that biobased commodity plastics, with a total of around 1 million tonnes, would make up the majority of production capacity in 2015.

The race to develop 100% bio-PET, for example, accelerated this year with Coca-Cola's push to produce a 100% bio-bottle. 100% bio-based PET was successfully produced on lab scale this year; more breakthroughs in this area are expected in the year to come. In fact, according to a European Bioplastics forecast, the next few years are likely to see the largest growth in the production of biobased polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate. The production capacity for biobased PET will continue to grow through 2016, reaching just over 4.5 million tons, or four-fifths of total bioplastic production capacity.

And, as the technology matures, the affordability of these drop-in materials, for which users must currently still pay a premium, will steadily improve.

The feedstocks used today to produce bioplastics are mainly starch or sugar derived from corn, potato, sugarcane and beetroot; in other words, from food crops. The use of arable land and edible crops to produce plastics is increasingly perceived as an undesirable development that could increase food prices and contribute to food shortages.

The coming years will see a shift from these so-called first generation feedstocks to second-generation feedstocks such as cellulosics. Cellulosic feedstocks, which consist of crop residues, wood residues, yard waste, municipal solid waste, algae or other biomass, sidestep the conflicts in land use.

They can be converted to sugars via various technologies, including enzymatic hydrolysis and biomass pretreatment. Already, cellulosic feedstocks are being used to produce, among other materials, cellulose acetates and lignin-based polymers. However, for cellulosic feedstocks to really come into their own, more, and more, sophisticated biorefineries are needed that can perform the process steps needed to produce various bioproducts. Once these are in place, a stream of non-food crop based fermentable sugars will become available for energy, chemicals and polymers.

End of life
A direct consequence of the development of biobased drop-ins is that non-biodegradable biopolymers will show the largest growth in the coming years. Whereas biodegradability and/or compostability used to be the characteristic property of bioplastics, more and more biopolymers are now being developed that instead are built to last. As a result, new or better end-of-life solutions will have to be put in place.

More landfills are not an option. An issue that needs to be addressed is that of disposing of the biopolymers being developed from new biobased monomers and polymers, such as furanic polyesters or high-heat resistant PLA. Separate collection and recycling systems are needed to ensure these do not contaminate existing waste streams. More research is needed into the possibilities for chemical and mechanical recycling of these materials. These are all issues that are on the agenda for the coming years.

Additives, modifiers, blends
Another area that will continue to develop strongly is that of biobased additives and modifiers. These are not only relevant for engineering durable biopolymers with enhanced performance properties, but also for developing less hazardous alternatives to conventional modifiers.

Concerns about the safety of the phthalates used as plasticizers in PVC and Bisphenol-A in polycarbonate, among other things, have and will continue to drive the search for more health and environmentally friendly solutions. Increasingly, biobased formulations are also being used to modify conventional materials, as these have been found to enhance the performance of these materials in various ways while at the same time improving their carbon footprint.

Metabolix, for example has developed a series of PHA-based polymeric modifiers that demonstrate very good miscibility with PVC, and improve its mechanical and environmental performance characteristics. Mitsubishi Chemical produces a polycarbonate in which the Bisphenol-A is has been replaced by isosorbide, a biomonomer that can be safely used in food applications. Isosorbide-based copolyesters are extremely promising materials that offer enhanced performance properties. PLA, blended with PMMA, enhances the processability and other properties far beyond those of conventional acrylic resins.

These are developments that may be expected to open up hitherto unimagined possibilities for biopolymers in the future.

A striking finding of a report released in October this year by European Bioplastics was that increasingly, new bioplastic production facilities are being built in Asia and South America. In fact, in 2016, Asia is predicted to be home to 46.3% of the global bioplastic production capacity. South America is projected to have nearly as much capacity in place, with just over 45%. A main driver is feedstock availability. Specifically, Thailand has expressed the ambition to become bioplastics production hub of Southern Asia, and is taking concrete steps in the form of investments and joint ventures to realize this, while in Brazil, Braskem, already the world's leading producer of bio-PE, has targeted 2013 as the year to bring its bio PP facility on stream.

Europe and North America excel at research and development, but are lagging in the production department. Andy Sweetman, chairman of European Bioplastics, pointedly remarked at the Bioplastics Conference in November of 2012 that it is time for decisions to be made if Europe wishes to profit from the growth in the bioplastics industry - a comment that also applies equally well to North America.

It's something to keep in mind for 2013.

Two polymers create effective drug delivery system

Other benefits of the newly developed system include controlled and sustained release of the drug 5-fluorouracil, and reduced side-effects from the drugs.  However, the polymers must be able to survive harsh pH conditions  to travel to the colorectal area.

According to Lingxue Kong and research colleagues at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, the polymer delivery system must go through three different acidity levels of the stomach, duodenum and small intestine (pH 1.2, 4.5 and 6.8, respectively) before releasing at pH 7.4 in the colon and rectum.

The researchers reported their results in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science.

Creation of the polymer delivery system starts with a water-in-oil-in-water multiple emulsion and solvent evaporation technique to first load the drug into polylactic-coglycolic acid (PLGA) nanoparticles. One technique to optimize the process is to adjust the pH value of the outer water phase to the isoelectric point of the drug. The loaded nanoparticles are then coated with an anionic polymer called Eudragit S100 that is based on methacrylic acid and methyl methacrylate. The researchers report that this polymer is insoluble in aqueous solutions of pH 7 or less, an important factor in reaching the colorectal area.

Drug delivery systems developed earlier failed due to premature release of the drug from the nanoparticles or failure of the microspheres.

Prof. Kong has a broad research interest in micro and nanofabrications and systems and has won a JIPA Award for the Best Invention in Biotechnology. He has also worked on development of chitosan nanoparticles as combination drug delivery systems of 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin.

Five reasons why medical plastics will change in 2013

1.  Cost Containment. Insurers, the federal government, and consumers are all insisting on significant reductions in health care costs.  Costs for big ticket items such as drug-eluting stents are actually declining as are implants for hips and knees. Increasingly, major medical providers are being given budgets, such as

$25,000 for a total knee replacement. The ability of surgeons to pick and choose among suppliers is being reduced and even eliminated. Industry leaders such as the Cleveland Clinic are offering major companies blanket coverage for all heart treatment for a set fee established in advance. That's forcing less efficient providers to upgrade or focus on other areas. There will be increased opportunities for injection molded products that combine functions, reduce parts, and cut costs, while improving quality.

2.   Good and Bad Plastics. There will be increased focus on environmentally preferable materials.  Hospital decision makers are listening closely to organizations such as Healthcare Without Harm and don't always apply strong technical standards to their decisions. From the plastics' industry perspective, this is a trend that will accelerate, right or wrong.  Winners: olefins, elastomers, liquid silicone rubber and polyesters. Losers: polyvinyl chloride, particularly if it contains DEHP plasticizer, polycarbonate, and plastics made with any animal derivatives. The hit list may be growing in 2013.

3.  Recycling. Partly as a way to reduce costs, and partly as way to become more green, there will be increased efforts to boost plastic recycling rates in healthcare facilities. Plastics recycling to date has been largely limited to food service. Now leading healthcare providers, such as the Stanford hospitals, are studying ways to improve recycling rates in the operating room. Impressive programs have already begun for blue sterilization wrap. Even some medical devices are being sterilized and re-used.

4.  Shift to HomeTreatment. Patient care will continue to move from institutional higher-cost acute-care settings to less expensive, smaller, off-site treatment areas. That creates an opportunity for home-care medical equipment made from plastics such as (ironically) polycarbonate blends.

5.  Increasing Consolidation. By one estimate, 25% of American hospitals are losing money. That will help drive consolidation as cost pressures grow and treatment requirements escalate under the 2012 Affordable Care Act. Scale gives hospital groups opportunities to combine purchasing and boody scale through application of advanced supply management processes widely adapted by Fortune 500 business more than a dozen years ago.

The best of IMM eShots 2012: A selection

If you follow the "Related Articles" links in the box on each article page, you'll find much, much more you may have missed the first time around, or might just find worthwhile reading again. These articles serve as a starting point to remind us all how much ground we covered in 2012 keeping you up to date on how to compete as an injection molder in today's ultra-competitive world.

Scientific Molding

Scientific Molding: What gets in the way?
We had a robust conversation about scientific molding in 2012, and here are two of the articles getting to the heart of the matter. "Don't let pushback knock you off the path to scientific molding" and "Why Scientific Molding?" You can read much more about process by Robert Gatshall and Bill Tobin by following the "Related Articles" links in the box at the top right of the page.

My Scientific Molding soapbox, please

If you want to try Scientific Molding it should be stated that it is not a cult, a buzzword, or some mysterious method. It is a documented process that generates data and results with the molds, which are in fact the factory, so why not document what actually happens in that factory. There are many papers and folks out there who teach this subject matter in many different forms (as I do), and many articles that explain things, which you only have to read.

Reshoring became a big topic. Is it real? Does it make sense?

Conversations with a reshoring agnostic: Why reshoring isn't the answer for everyone
While the reshoring advocates see a trend of companies moving work back to the U.S., John Biagioni, VP of Supply Chain & Operations for Dynisco, says, “Not so fast!” In fact, Biagioni tells people, “Do the math.”

Nypro hopes humanoid robots kickstart reshoring

One of America's largest injection molders thinks a humanoid robot may be one of the keys to advancing a reshoring of manufacturing jobs to the United States. Nypro recently tested a newly developed Rethink robot and is taking delivery next month of one of the first $22,000 units to roll off the assembly line in New Hampshire.

Plastics cut costs, boost quality of hot new humanoid robot
Rethink Robotics (Boston, MA) is making extensive use of plastics in its new humanoid robot called "Baxter" to reduce costs and improve quality. Six different plastics processors, all based in the United States, are doing all of the molding and thermoforming for the project and providing all of the tooling.

Why reshoring?

I was at a client's subcontractor in Mexico. The room was the size of a basketball court. There were probably 10 huge rotating tables each with a dozen workers sitting at the various stations: cutting tubing to length, solvent-welding tubes to connectors, coiling the product, etc. You could get a contact high off the hexane in the air. I'd been told the job had been relocated from the States to take advantage of low wages.

How do you get to production in the fastest, most cost-efficient manner?

Benefits of a prototype mold for establishing production mold parameters

Vince Lomax, VP of Tech Mold Inc., a Tempe, AZ–based manufacturer of high-volume, multicavity molds and high-speed manufacturing cells, explains in an interview with PlasticsToday the advantages of prototype mold or "bridge" tooling to the medical device OEMs.

Key principles of effective product cost management

The benefits of a systematic product cost management (PCM) program are significant, yet many manufacturers struggle to implement these initiatives effectively. This article discusses some key principles to guide and execute an effective PCM program for maximum impact.

What will your design cost to produce?

In the never-ending battle for market-leadership, design engineers play a larger role than they may realize in determining a company's success. But, it's not just about which company has the best products; it's also about which company does a better job of controlling its product costs.

Case Study: Two-shot mold reduces cost, improves quality
It wasn’t too many years ago that moldmakers and their customers worked in different silos. The customer would throw the RFQ over the wall to the moldmaker, who in turn would quote the mold as designed and throw back a price for the mold. The customer would provide a purchase order and the job would begin.

Aluminum vs. steel tooling: Which material is right, and how to design and maintain?

With OEMs hammering their mold suppliers for ways to reduce cycle times, aluminum tooling offers one answer. With its ability to transfer heat from the mold much faster, many OEMs are choosing aluminum. Another benefit is faster machining times, which can reduce the mold-build time by 10-15% in some instances, according to Darcy King, president of Unique Tool & Gauge Inc. (Windsor, ON).

An ongoing supply-chain problem remains a real issue

Moldmakers still fighting to get paid

Mold manufacturing companies have long fought battles to get paid for the molds they build for OEMs. The primary problem is that in most cases, the mold supplier releases possession of the mold either to the OEM or the molder, who will perform the tryouts and mold the parts. Mold lien laws that benefit the mold manufacturer have been put into place in a few states, and in Michigan and Ohio, where the problems are often the worst because of the automotive industry, these laws have been beefed up.

Additive Manufacturing is an increasingly significant issue for molders to address. Here's one story about a molder's identity in the face of change.

Changing focus requires strategic management decisions

VistaTek (Vista Technologies LLC) established its presence in the rapid prototyping business, now termed additive manufacturing (AM), in 1996 and became one of the better known companies in AM services. The company gradually evolved into a full-service supplier that also provided prototype and production molds and injection molding. While that division of the company grew over the years, so did VistaTek’s moldmaking and injection molding business. In fact, the company’s mold manufacturing and molding business experienced some rapid growth recently—quadrupling in size over the past two years.

Resin costs were down for the much of 2012, but no one expects that to last forever. How can you better manage such a significant portion of your cost? Our Profitable Plastics series addressed this question.

Profitable Plastics: Profit is the Thing

In general, businesses with commodity price risk (e.g. oil companies, transportation companies ... and resins processors) manage that risk to achieve different objectives - cost certainty, budget or forecast targets, job and business security, competitive advantage, customer loyalty, etc. IMHO, the primary purpose of managing commodity price risk should be to secure and improve profit margins. Profits keep the doors open and people employed. Resins processing may be tons of fun, but profit is the thing.

And, of course, structural challenges abound. Here are four begging for solutions:

Four long-term issues that could sink U.S. manufacturing

U.S. manufacturing is growing stronger but that expansion is in spite of four direct challenges to continued relevance in the global market: growing inadequacy of its infrastructure; a lack of qualified factory workers; a tax and regulatory regime that generally does not provide incentives for expansion projects; and the lack of a long-term national industrial policy.

Ambient lighting an emerging trend in automotive interior design

Ambient lighting is a growing trend in automotive interior design, enhancing consumer appeal. So when Chrysler Group LLC designed the 2013 Dodge Dart compact for young, style-conscious car buyers, the automaker turned to Sabic's Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, MA) business to help create stylish interior lighting at an affordable cost.


Light piping highlights floating island bezel in new Dodge Dart. 

In collaboration with Chrysler Group and Mitchell Plastics (Kitchener, ON), Sabic contributed advanced materials and design and development expertise for the unique eye-catching ambient lighting design that surrounds the innovative floating island bezel, which houses the instrument cluster and Uconnect mediacenter. The floating island bezel is the centerpiece of the all-new Dodge Dart interior.

Sabic's high-performance Cycoloy polycarbonate/acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (PC/ABS) alloy and GEloy acrylic-styrene-acrylonitrile (ASA) resins with molded-in color enabled Chrysler to achieve the Dart's next-generation interior, which epitomizes the latest in vehicle design innovation.

The floating island bezel is highlighted by a piano black surface accented by ambient lighting at the edge of the bezel; compliments of light emitting diode (LED) light piping in a soft ruby red glow to create a distinctive floating appearance. Sabic Cycoloy PC/ABS resin and a polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) are two-shot injection molded by Mitchell Plastics to form the floating island bezel lens, and custom-colored Sabic Geloy ASA resin is injection molded to create the accent edging. Mitchell Plastics is one of the recipients of Chrysler Group's 2012 Supplier of the Year awards.

Sabic's materials featuring molded-in color can help reduce system costs while providing rich aesthetics. By avoiding the costs of secondary painting operations, molded-in color can save an estimated $1 to $3 per part. In addition, a paint-free approach supports sustainability by eliminating the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere.

Sabic engineers worked with Chrysler and Mitchell Plastics throughout the full gamut of product development functions to bring the application to fruition. The Sabic team first worked on the concept feasibility with designers and engineers at Chrysler, then with the team at Mitchell for final design, material selection and production supply.

In addition to the floating island bezel, Sabic materials were used in the forward and rear/signal exterior lighting, front grilles, exterior trim and tank flap of the 2013 Dodge Dart.-[email protected]

NPE, Pack Expo, ChinaPlas: A summary of packaging coverage

The industry came out in full force to various expos and conferences throughout the year. From NPE to Chinaplas to Pack Expo, PlasticsToday was there reporting on breaking news, new product launches and industry trends.

Here's a look back at some of the coverage.

The Packaging Conference

All about the package: Companies discuss packaging designs 

Las Vegas, NV - Sometimes, it's what's on the outside that counts."Packaging is the number one medium to communicate the brand," said Michael Okoroafor, VP global packaging at H.J. Heinz. At The Packaging Conference (Feb. 6-8; Aria City Center; Las Vegas), packaging was the star of the show as several speakers talked about its importance to an overall brand.  It's no secret that supermarket shelves are cluttered with an endless array of choices. As a result, many of the world's biggest brands continue to search for ways to make its product distinct by using various packaging designs and materials.

Sustainability, innovation, and partnerships key themes at The Packaging Conference

Attendees of The Packaging Conference (Feb. 6-8; Aria City Center; Las Vegas) saw a different type of green in Las Vegas, as sustainability, versus greenbacks, seemed to be on the mind of most. In fact, almost all of the speeches touched on sustainability at point or another. Ecologic Brands chief innovation and packaging officer Glenn May told PlasticsToday how sustainable practices are, in part, driven by consumer demand. "Consumers are smart, and the next generation does care and read labels," he said. "We make sure we are doing our homework and are producing products that are truly better for the environment."As expected, the importance of innovation in the industry was also discussed frequently.


NPE2012 is on track to surpass recent NPEs

About 1900 companies are exhibiting at NPE2012 (April 1-5; Orlando, FL), which is significantly more than NPE shows in 2006 and 2009, according to leaders with SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, which produces the triennial NPE. NPE2012 opened its doors Monday morning to a new location for the first time in 40 years. "This is one of the best moves the plastics industry ever made," John Effmann of ENTEK Manufacturing Inc., and chairman of NPE2012, said to members of the media at a press breakfast.

Kautex touts rapid prototyping for packaging applications, R&D operations

Orlando, FL- Kautex Machines Inc. discussed with PlasticsToday at booth (#1751) its rapid prototyping for packaging applications, which includes a patent-pending shell insert system. Through rapid prototyping and simulation, Kautex can produce a blowmolded sample within 48 hours from receiving the 3D CAD drawing, said Chuck Flammer, VP sales at Kautex. Traditionally this process takes about six weeks, Flammer said. "We believe it is a competitive advantage," he said.

Engel eyes top spot in cap machines with all-electrics

Engel demonstrated a high-powered, all-electric cap-molding cell at NPE2012 and disclosed its goal of becoming number one in the bottle cap production niche. "Our cap business is growing 30% a year," said Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO of Engel (Schwertberg, Austria) at a press conference, adding: "Our goal is to become number one in the cap business." An all-electric ENGEL e-cap 3440/460 US injection molding machine at the show in Orlando, FLA uses a 96-cavity mold, with an hourly production rate of almost 130,000 high-density polyethylene water bottle caps. Cycle time is a crisp 2.7 seconds.

Proco unveils take-out system with integrated deflasher and leak tester

Orlando, FL-Proco Machinery Inc. has developed a take-out system with an integrated deflasher and leak tester. The company demonstrated this new "all-in-one" multi-functional system for extrusion blowmolded bottles at NPE2012 booth (#542). "This is a very unique system and is an industry first," Savi Krish, sales manager with Proco, told PlasticsToday. "This takes three functions and puts it into one station."

Kraiburg launches two new classes of materials

Orlando, FL - Kraiburg TPE, the global supplier of thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), launched two new classes of materials designed for the consumer electronics industry at NPE2012 booth (#61027). The new olefin block copolymer (OBC) blends offer strong mechanicals, skin oil resistance, and enhanced bond strength to high-performance glass-filled nylon substrates, the company stated. These OBC blends are available in 60-80 Shore A hardness range, and offer resistance to sebum, olive oil, sunscreen lotion, and other oils. In addition, the OBC compounds exhibit adequate flow properties, which result in improved extrusion capabilities, along with better colorability, according to Kraiburg.

Dow Chemical packaging division introduces new resins

Orlando, FL - The Dow Chemical Co. introduced new resins for the North American packaging market at NPE2012. Greg Bunker, senior group marketing manager for food and specialty packaging at Dow, told PlasticsToday that the company is always looking for new ways to make a better package."We work closely with our customers to offer innovations that help enable the next generation packaging," he said.

Mold-mounted coinjection unit generates buzz for Mold-Masters

Mold-Masters is utilizing its E Multi mobile injection unit to empower its new Iris coinjection technology, letting injection molders bring coinjection capabilities to any machine in their shop with a system that actually attaches to the tool itself. At NPE, the hot-runner and injection molding technology supplier displayed the innovative concept in two booths, running a 38-mm high-density polyethylene (HDPE) cap with an integrated EVOH barrier, as well as at JSW's booth, molding a PP container with EVOH barrier coinjected from the gate all the way through the containers' lip and foil seal area.

Companies talk sustainability, transparency at NPE2012

If there was a color trend at NPE2012, green took home the prize. Exhibitor after exhibitor seemed to showcase some type of sustainable product, process, and outlook with the usages of green carpets, signage, and plenty of green marketing material. Shanna Moore, DuPont's director of global sustainability, called sustainability the current "phrase du jour" for the plastic packaging industry."If you walk down these halls, you see 'green that' and 'eco this,'" she said. "But there must be transparency behind the sustainable claims."

Labels key to IML success demonstrated at NPE

If you thought IML was still a "niche" application in the plastics packaging industry, think again. Printing Company Verstraete, a Belgium-based global supplier of labels for IML applications had the company's products running in IML molding applications in seven molding machinery booths: Negri Bossi (450g cup), Engel (1-liter ice cream tub with Bi-color lid), Illsemann (250g Eurotub running in a Netstal press), Toshiba (200g cheese container), Wittmann Battenfeld (metallic labeled butterbox), Arburg (pail with handle representing demand for larger packaging requirements), and Wetec/Jonwai (700 ml oval container and lid).

NPE2012 Packaging Overview: Machines

There was roughly about 15 million pounds of freight shipped into the Orange County Convention Center at NPE2012, according to SPI. The energy usage for the machinery was a new record for the OCCC, which invested $4 million to get ready for the show. As PlasticsToday has provided NPE2012 coverage before, during, and after the show, here's a collection of various packaging machinery and technology at NPE2012: David-Standard said its triple lip air ring provides fast gauge control via the manipulation of all three airstreams; battenfeld-cincinnati USA introduced its new multi-touch roll stack, suitable for PP extrusion; and Addex Inc. unveiled two new gauge-control enhancement systems to help processors optimize the bubble control system, reduce scrap, and meet product specifications.

NPE2012 Packaging Overview: Materials

Not to be outdone by the machines, there was an abundance of new resins, compounds, and additives on the exhibit floor at NPE2012. "There is more participation by resin manufacturers than we've seen in the last four or five NPEs, as these companies exhibit, host customer service centers, or sponsor special-interest initiatives such as our design competition," said SPI's Gene Sanders, Sr. VP, trade shows and conferences. Sustainability seemed to be a key theme among many material suppliers.


Titanium-based additive reduces PET reheat blow energy by 38%

An independent comparative study carried out by stretch blowmolding machine vendor Sidel (Le Havre, France) has shown that Joule RHB titanium nitride-based PET reheat additive from ColorMatrix (Knowsley, UK), offers the largest carbon footprint reduction in PET preform processing, while maintaining superior performance and aesthetic qualities. Joule RHB is compounded into PET resin by the supplier during the polymerization process. ColorMatrix also offers a similar product known as SmartHeat, which can be added by the processor to the PET melt at the preform injection stage.

Husky unveils new closure molding concept in Shanghai

One surefire way to cut cycle time in injection molding is to shorten or eliminate process steps. Working from that simple premise, Husky Injection Molding debuted a revolutionary closure technology at Chinaplas 2012 that eliminates mold open/close and the precious seconds that process eats up. Behind a locked glass enclosure, into which attendees could only gain entrance with a special Husky supplied badge, the supplier operated a HyCAP HPP 300 machine injection molding a 1.2g 29/25 lightweight water closure in a 1.85 second cycle from a 72-cavity KTW mold. Husky acquired KTW, an Austria-based closure moldmaking expert, in 2011.

TAPPI PLACE Conference

Conference speakers, attendees discuss the future of flexible packaging

Seattle, WA - Almost half of attendees at the 2012 TAPPI PLACE Conference believe materials will be the next source of innovation in flexible packaging. "There's quite a bit of innovation in material," Brad Rogers, director of advanced research at PepsiCo, told TAPPI PLACE attendees. "But equipment also plays a key role."However, Ampac Director of Innovation Sal Pellingra believes design will lead the way for flexible packaging innovation. The TAPPI PLACE (May 6-9; Grand Hyatt Seattle) Conference kicked off with a discussion about the future of flexible packaging. Part of the interactive session was gauging the audience's viewpoint of several critical topics facing the industry.

Starbucks, ConAgra Foods talk packaging sustainability initiatives, challenges

Seattle, WA - As TAPPI attendees sipped on white coffee cups with a green siren logo, Brent Denniston, Starbucks VP of global procurement, said the company is fully aware of the profound effect of its packaging."Our packaging is an asset, but it's also a liability," Denniston told TAPPI members and attendees. "Packaging waste is the number one environmental issue to many consumers."At the TAPPI PLACE (May 6-9; Grand Hyatt Seattle) Conference, Denniston and Gail Tavill, vp of sustainable development for ConAgra Foods, both spoke about packaging for their brands. The topic of packaging sustainability and recycling were prevalent in both speeches.

Pack Expo

Dow touts collaboration efforts; launches new products Chicago, IL

Inside Dow Chemical's customer care center, Scott Collick, director of Dow's performance packaging TS&D, highlighted the importance of collaboration."Feel the energy in here," Collick told PlasticsToday. "There are new packaging ideas being created this very minute."At Pack Expo 2012 (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago), you won't find employees of Dow manning a booth. Instead, the company sponsors a customer care center, located in the Vista Ballroom, in an effort to meet with its customers in a setting that is designed to promote collaboration.

After IPO, Berry Plastics focuses on innovation

While there are many large plastic packaging companies at Pack Expo (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago), only one had just announced an initial public offering (IPO), sized at $470 million.Berry Plastics had recently priced an IPO of 29.4 million shares of its common stock at $16.00 per share. Under the New York Stock Exchange symbol BERY, the stock price drifted lower and currently trades at around $14/share. On the last day of Pack Expo 2012, Eric Metcalf, business and market development manager for Berry Plastics, told PlasticsToday that the show has gone well for the packaging giant.

Rollprint showcases color-changing sealant technology; talks cleanroom certification

Chicago, IL-"We've been bombarded." That's how Joel Lewis, account manager for Rollprint Packaging, described to PlasticsToday the level of interest at Pack Expo (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago) for the company's new proprietary, patent-pending, color-changing sealant technology for heat-seal applications.Called the Chameleon, the coextrusion-coated sealant can be applied to any thermally stable web including polyester, nylon, and polypropylene, or on any of the company's ClearFoil barrier structures.

For material producers, sustainability remains at the forefront of packaging innovation

There is certainly both an environmental and business case for sustainable materials. The global green packaging market is expected to grow from $109 billion in 2011 to reach nearly $178 billion by 2018, according to Transparency Market Research. Among the key factors behind the move toward green packaging are growing awareness about carbon emissions, energy consumption and waste reduction targets, rapidly growing economies, a lack of natural resources, and consumers' preference for ecologically clean products. With such high growth potential, it's no wonder that the term sustainability was referenced frequently among companies at Pack Expo 2012 (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago).

Clear Lam looks to stack up success with new packaging technologies

Chicago, IL-The folks at the Clear Lam Packaging booth at Pack Expo 2012 (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago) were scrambling. Not due to disorganization or "putting out fires," but rather they were trying to find more information sheets for its PrimaPak product line."It's been such a huge hit at this show that we've run out of sales sheets," Roman Forowycz, chief marketing officer for Clear Lam, told PlasticsToday. Calling it the most "exciting environmental packaging to date," the PrimaPak product line offers a flexible, stackable replacement for rigid containers, bottles and jars. 

Packaging schools work to boost youth's engagement with the field

Chicago, IL - Brian Welt, coordinator of the University of Florida's packaging-engineering program, believes many students share a common misconception when it comes to packaging jobs."A lot of students don't even know it's a career," he told PlasticsToday at Pack Expo 2012 (October 28-31; McCormick Place, Chicago). "And, as a result, they don't realize how great the opportunities are for the industry."The most important asset for any company is its workforce. If you measure on the basis of gross sales, packaging is the world's third-largest industry, featuring a variety of jobs from engineering to design to the conversion of raw materials. Still, projections show that the need for skilled packaging professionals far exceeds the number of packaging graduates.


Fighting bag bans, encouraging recycling-just another day at CPIA

Montreal, Quebec-When Carol Hochu took office as the president and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, she knew she would have her hands full. "We represent an industry that is largely responsible for the quality of modern life for all Canadians," she told PlasticsToday at Expoplast (November 14-15; Palais des congrès de Montréal; organized by PlasticsToday parent, UBM Canon). "Still, the industry faces several challenges and oppositions." CPIA is Canada's version of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). Just like SPI, the organization works to grow the plastics industry to help it reach its full potential, by providing one unified voice.