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Articles from 2002 In February

On the border: Manufacturing's big push

Editor's note: Manufacturing on the border has seen some dramatic changes in the last decade. Recently, an SPI Trade Mission went to the McAllen, TX/Reynosa, Mexico border area to get a firsthand look at what manufacturers are up to. IMM was there and this is what we found. 

If you drive through the 700-acre Del Norte Industrial Park just across the Texas-Mexico border in Reynosa, Mexico you'll see a who's who of global corporate entities: Panasonic, Black & Decker, Delphi, Maytag, Bissell, Whirlpool, Nokia, Emerson Electric, and more. Lush, manicured landscaping enhances the large, modern buildings. On a hillside near the industrial park stands a large, modern apartment complex, home to many of the workers at the park. 

Of course, this is just one small part of the maquiladora or Twin Plant zone. It's an area that stretches 1400 miles from Brownsville, TX to San Diego, CA and includes some of the largest manufacturing centers in North America. Most of the companies that have located here over the past two decades have done so to take advantage of the low-cost labor of Mexico and the proximity to U.S. markets. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has enhanced opportunities for both countries. 

The maquiladora concept is not new. In fact, some companies have been in Mexico for 30 years. Still, a lot has changed. It was inevitable that the playing field between the U.S. and Mexico would become more level. Wages and benefits for the average Mexican worker at the manufacturing plants have increased during the past decade—certainly not to the levels that hourly workers of the UAW or USW enjoy, but for the region and economy, it's quite good. 

Portrait of a Plant 
So, what exactly is it like to work and manufacture in the maquiladora? Let's look at one local operation that asked not to be identified. The half-million-sq-ft plant of this manufacturer sits on 24 acres and is totally vertically integrated with 43 injection molding presses, a rotational molding department, and a mold maintenance and repair facility. Additionally, the plant has a sheet metal department and powder coating, painting, and assembly capabilities. Each day the plant sends 30 tractor-trailers loaded with product north across the border to various distribution points. Another eight to 10 tractor-trailers come south. 

This particular facility has 1800 hourly workers and another 300 salaried and administrative employees whose average age is 21. (Mexico has one of the youngest workforces in the world.) Ninety percent of the plant's hourly workers are female, with an average education of about ninth grade. On the professional/administrative side, the average age is 27 with an average of 3.5 years of college education. 

The company provides one hot meal a day to its workers and employs a full-time doctor and four nurses to care for workers and their families—all part of the required benefits. Average hourly starting pay is $1.84. Top pay for an hourly worker is $2.89. In addition, workers receive a punctuality bonus, a vacation bonus, and a Christmas bonus. The company also has a savings fund for workers and provides their pay through an in-house ATM system. 

The company also provides food coupons to help workers' families buy groceries. Transportation is also provided. Some plants have company buses (like the one we saw that had "Black & Decker" painted on the side) that wind their way through the narrow streets of Reynosa picking up employees at designated stops. Others provide employees with cash to pay for public transportation. 

Moldmakers, who are considered skilled labor because of their training at one of Mexico's trade schools, make about $1000/month. This company employs 25 moldmakers and machinists to maintain the 300 active molds at the facility. 

"We do a significant amount of training," explains the plant manager. "We screen for specific skills at hiring and have a fully staffed training department. The people down here are eager to learn and proud to learn." 

One of the most notable things among the maquila manufacturing facilities in Mexico is how clean the plants are. There is new molding machinery with robotics and a beehive-like work atmosphere. Everyone works and hustles to get the job done. Except for those eating lunch in the beautifully decorated cafeteria or those at assembly tables, no one sits still. 

In spite of the abundance of workers, many of the plants in Mexico practice lean manufacturing techniques such as value stream mapping and Japanese-style manufacturing procedures such as the kanban system of inventory control. 

Moldmakers in Mexico are considered skilled labor and make about $1000 a month.
On the U.S. Side 
Proprietary molding is the norm. Custom molders are still rare in Mexico. Those that are there mold for a specific OEM customer, such as Technimark's arrangement with Black & Decker. Some custom molders, like Tadim, whose parent company is located in Michigan, came to the border but chose to build a plant in the U.S. 

Tadim, a division of LDM Technologies, is located in Harlingen, TX. The company molds components for the automotive industry. A major customer manufactures in Reynosa, so it was a natural fit for the company to locate in the area. 

Seth Jantzen, materials manager for Tadim, says there are advantages to staying stateside. "The technical expertise is higher here, and it's easier to relocate strategic personnel here rather than have them commute back and forth across the border. And, we don't use a lot of semiskilled workers in this facility, so there's not much cost benefit to manufacturing in Mexico." 

Still, the border boom continues as more farmland on both sides of the Rio Grande is turned into industrial parks for more companies seeking the economic advantages that come with the maquiladora concept. That fact isn't lost on Jantzen. "We're on the edge of a first-generation industrial society," he comments. "As the technical skills increase in the area the talent gets spread around. People here like to stay here. Things will get better as other companies move to the area." 

'NAFTA didn't cause [the maquiladora] phenomenon, it just made people more aware of it.'
Realities of Border Manufacturing 
Despite all the advantages, siting a plant in Mexico isn't easy, says Jim Hollifield, Black & Decker's strategic unit manager for plastic molding, which is why he advises companies looking to put molding in Mexico to ask for help from people who know the ropes. "The plastics industry has always been open and still is," says Hollifield, who has more than 30 years in the industry. "People are willing to share information." 

One of the misconceptions of the border area is that the maquiladora concept began with NAFTA. Not so, says John Castany, president of the Reynosa Maquila Assn. and plant manager for Wells Mfg. Corp. in McAllen, TX. "NAFTA didn't cause this phenomenon, it just made people more aware of it," he comments. "The perception of risk went down because of the formal agreement." 

Castany also suggests that people need to look at NAFTA as a region, not three different countries. Understanding NAFTA's policies and procedures can be a challenge, but essentially it allows companies to bring components into Mexico duty-free. The value is added in Mexico, and then sent back to the U.S. A company pays duties on only what is sent back into the States (the value that was added). Conversely, companies that import from Asia pay duties on the whole part, which further encourages the purchase of components from NAFTA countries. 

Ron Mills, coo of NAI Rioco, a manufacturer with plants in Reynosa and Mission, TX, advises people to look at the area on both sides of the border as one economy, because in many ways it is. There is a growing middle class on the Mexico side, and most management people are Mexican nationals. "We used to not build big parking lots [at plants in Mexico] but now we do because more employees have cars," he says. 

Another issue involving employees in Mexico is that country's labor laws. The government has in place strict guidelines for companies with respect to workers' pay and benefits. When hiring people, do the followup reference checks, says Black & Decker's Hollifield. "Their paradigm is a bit different from the U.S." Also, have good financial controls in place to manage how money is spent, he adds. 

Also, don't forget that Mexico is a separate country. "Pay close attention to the culture and the customs and that will make the transition easy," says David Duran, training manager for LG Electronics. "You have to build a personal relationship with all the employees." Hollifield adds, "Here family is a big deal. They don't move because they want to stay close to their family." 

Although labor continues to be less costly than in the U.S., Castany says Mexico "is taking a beating with regard to competition." Labor costs are rising and the economic recession in the U.S. has affected Mexico. On the border alone, Castany says that some 150,000 jobs were lost in 2001. "We're seriously concerned about that," he adds, noting that Reynosa's employment has remained fairly stable at about 67,000 workers. 

Finally, the facility. Leasing a building in Mexico can be more costly than in the U.S. because the cost of capital is higher. "It's harder to get long-term financing," NAI Rioco's Mills adds. He recommends working with organizations like the McAllen Economic Development Commission, which provides a "complete support system." 

Castany also suggests that a good way to get a toehold on the border is to look into working with a shelter operation. A shelter company provides the building and utilities, while the primary company provides the equipment and hires the people, thus minimizing risk and investment. 

"The number one advantage [of locating near the border] is value-added assembly labor," Hollifield emphasizes. "If you're automated, there's no advantage." The cost of molding is about the same in McAllen and Reynosa, he says; however, the cost of land and utilities are a lot more in Mexico. 

Snapshot of plastics along the border 

• Whirlpool de Reynosa is the maquila manufacturing operation of Whirlpool Corp. The company operates six plants in the U.S., one in Canada, and three in Reynosa. The Reynosa facilities support the company's U.S. and Canadian plants. To support its Reynosa plants, Derald Quillin, purchasing manager for Whirlpool de Reynosa, says he does limited sourcing of components from suppliers along the border.

"This region does not have a strong industrial supply base," Quillin points out. "We are constantly looking to evaluate [suppliers], price tiers, and compare. Mexican national companies have improved their technology and supplier status, and the number of operations that have come in to supply this region has grown enormously over the last 10 years."

Most of the molds used in the company's molding operations are purchased from shops in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. "Whirlpool maintains its U.S. tool and die makers, but I can get excellent value from Mexico moldmakers," he says.

• Black & Decker's household products unit was in charge of the buyout of Plasticos de Mexicali in 1990, putting the company in Mexico. Technimark and Chihuahua plants were located in Reynosa to support Black & Decker and John Deere operations in the area.

"It's so refreshing to see people with a can-do attitude, who want to do, and have a `help me, show me, I want to do this' attitude," says Jim Hollifield, strategic unit manager for plastic molding at Black & Decker de Reynosa. However, he adds that the "skill sets are about 60 to 70 percent of your expectations."

Doing business in Mexico requires a different mindset, Hollifield notes. "Things here are done on personal relationships," he says. "If you know the right person to call, things can happen."

The industrial support infrastructure, such as moldmaking, is still lacking in Mexico. "There are no world-class moldmakers in Mexico, but some good B-class shops," he notes. "Good Class A tools still have to come from the U.S."

He adds that he would like to source more new tooling locally, and Black & Decker plans to put in place a complete technical center to handle all of its mold requirements.

• Bissell Corp. does all of its new product development, R&D, tooling and debugging, and molding at its Grand Rapids, MI headquarters. So, when it set up a 15,000-sq-ft plant in Reynosa, there was a different goal in mind. "The plan is to be able to accept mature products here for manufacturing," says Bob Huisman, molding outsource manager for Bissell. The company recently expanded its Reynosa operation with a second plant.

Bissell's Reynosa facility outsources all of its molding requirements, so Huisman tries to source locally. "We look for molders who are set up as close to Reynosa as possible," he says, adding that he's also interested in seeing some good mold shops move into the maquiladora area.

Huisman says the company has no plans to put molding in Reynosa. "This isn't an area where we want to bring on new products," he says.

• LG Electronics is the former Zenith Co., which started television manufacturing operations in Mexico in 1978. In its heyday Zenith employed as many as 16,000 people with facilities in Reynosa, Juarez, Matamoros, and Chihuahua, explains David Duran, training manager for LG Electronics. When Zenith went bankrupt, LG decided that the Reynosa facility was the most strategically located.

Automation and improvements in molding and assembly technology has cut LG's workforce to about 2000 currently. The company injection molds all components in-house for its television sets, brings in electronics and mechanical parts, and performs assembly. A few parts come from custom molders, Duran notes.

Duran says that there's a stigma about manufacturing in Mexico: that you can't build high-tech products there. "Over the years we've proved that wrong," he says. "We've developed a highly skilled workforce, and in 1994, moved molding from Springfield [IL] to Reynosa."

The company currently operates 33 injection molding machines ranging from 1000 to 1500 tons, and a few smaller presses for miscellaneous components. LG outsources some of its requirements in the 100- to 400-ton range to local molders. Although the company used to get most of its resins (primarily HIPS and FR-HIPS) from Asia, a duty of 18 percent on non-NAFTA components is causing it to reconsider and move toward purchasing from NAFTA countries.

Up until a year ago, the molding facility was a captive operation. Now, because of softening in the U.S. television market, LG offers some custom molding capacity for other companies in Reynosa.

Duran says that turnover can be a problem. "We're constantly hiring and training new workers, and can have a turnover of 25 percent to 30 percent annually," he says.  

Contact information
McAllen Economic Development Commission
McAllen, TX
Susan Valverde
(956) 682-2875
[email protected]

The Society of the Plastics Industry
Washington, DC
Lori Anderson
(202) 974-5281
[email protected]

Materials Update

Strength, heat resistance of PPS improves lighting fixtures
A cost-effective material with properties to withstand harsh environmental conditions was needed to protect landscape light fixtures. Architectural Landscape Lighting (Santa Ana, CA) turned to Ryton for the solution and settled on the company's polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) engineering thermoplastics for use in the housing for its newest landscape lighting fixtures, the Belero and Baby Belero. Ryton-4-200BL was chosen for use in the larger fixture; R-7-120BL was selected for the smaller size. 

The PPS was chosen for its ability to withstand a variety of environmental factors, such as local soil conditions and fertilizers. It was also chosen for its ability to be more highly tooled and to produce more detailed shapes than aluminum. Another factor was the material's high-temperature performance. With a heat deflection temperature of more than 500F, Ryton R-4-200BL is resistant to housing temperatures that can climb to more than 300F. 

The selection of Ryton R-4-200BL and R-7-120BL compounds were well received by molder Artistic Plastics Inc. (Anaheim, CA). "The reasons to change to Ryton PPS are time and money," says Dennis Chadwick, Artistic Plastics president. "Ryton PPS flows in a heated mold like water. It makes an extremely smooth parting line, so after-mold finishing is eliminated, reducing total manufacturing time." Also appreciated was the low shrink rate of the material when it comes out of the mold, enabling the molder to design precise molds to take advantage of its dimensional stability. 

The fixtures were first molded in China, but the complex shape and molded-in curves and grooves caused the project to be relocated to Artistic Plastics. The problem in Asia stemmed from the time required (12 hours) for the mold to reach operating temperature. When it finally got hot enough to mold plastic parts, the mold chronically locked up and couldn't be opened to release the molded part. Artistic says it was able to solve this problem and thereby produce good parts after extensively modifying the three malfunctioning tools employing wire and conventional EDM. 

The light fixture is molded in one piece and designed to be watertight and dust-proof. The glass lens is held in the assembly with three clips and sealed with high-temperature silicone. The lens and visor assemblies are attached to the housing with four stainless steel screws. The larger fixture is 10 inches long with a 7-inch-diameter lens, while the Baby Belero is 8 inches long with a 4-inch-diameter lens. Lens visors are available in 3.25-inch lengths for both and a 7-inch length for the Belero. These lights are expected to find applications in landscape and building accent lighting. 

Ryton PPS, Houston, TX
(877) 798-6666 

Online billing available at resin e-commerce site 
An electronic invoice presentment and payment (EIPP) system has recently been added to the features of Omnexus, the online resin marketplace. Through an alliance with BillingZone, the site now allows buyers ordering from one or multiple suppliers via Omnexus to conduct their entire procurement process, from initial searches for product availability to invoice presentment and payment, in an automated online environment. 

Omnexus, Atlanta, GA
(678) 302-3438 

BillingZone LLC, Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 705-3000 

Lean injection molding: Who needs it?

Editor's note: Our guest contributor, John D. Powser of Winward Industries Inc. (Chicago, IL), is a man on a mission. His mission is to help small to medium-sized manufacturing enterprises affordably attain the proven benefits and returns inherent in the successful implementation of lean manufacturing. With 20 years of experience as a corporate executive under his belt, using lean principles to turn around and grow a number of global corporations, Powser says the systematic identification and elimination of waste that lean manufacturing brings can put a whole lot of profitability back into your business. 

Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, JIT, TQM—are these just so many buzz words, or are they paths leading to increasing profits and putting a little of the fun back in business? In the '80s JIT and TQM were presented as the paths. Today they have evolved into lean and Six Sigma. It's the same relentless pursuit of perfection tuned up to a higher level of science. 

Typical molder issues
Not enough:
Floor space
Too much:
Price pressure
Cost pressure
Too many:
Customer rejects
Late deliveries
Waste: shorts, flash, warp, lost parts, mislabeled boxes.

Productivity problems:
Slow cycles, blocked cavities, sorting, operator error, long setups. 

Companies that have embraced the lean philosophy to address the typical molder's issues (see sidebar, right) are paid back handsomely. The pressures of the market are so intense that many molders wonder if there will ever again be a day when they can earn a fair margin and have a little fun. What if there was a commonsense philosophy and a set of tools that could focus the energy of your organization on waste and productivity so successfully that you could add 4 to 10 percentage points to your gross margin? 

Molders that embrace the lean philosophy and make it their new culture get productivity gains of 30 to 40 percent. Sort, scrap, and rework reductions of 50 to 70 percent can be achieved. And on-time delivery improvements of 18 to 22 percent can be expected. Minimizing waste and maximizing productivity is what lean is all about. 

Lean manufacturing has had a long and successful history around the world. But with all the many proven successes so easy to see, like GE, Chrysler, and Harley-Davidson, why is the molding industry so slow to change? 

The Cost of Waste
Perhaps it relates to the unique structural characteristics of a molding business. The majority of molders are very focused process specialists, many steps removed from the intensity and sophistication of the OEMs that have partnered with and pressured their more immediate suppliers into adopting lean manufacturing principles. 

Process specialists tend to be small, privately held firms that lack leverage and senior-level relationships with the enterprises down the value stream. They are left alone to cope with the ruthlessly Darwinian competitive pressures that initiated the current molding industry shakeout. 

In many cases management remains focused on the technology of the molding process itself, rather than on total enterprise systems that would entail the optimization of relationships with suppliers, employees, and customers. My guess is that the thinking goes something like this: "My business is so simple, why would I need these complex systems?" 

But the truth is, all systems are complex and all systems contain waste. Ask yourself just a few questions like these: Are any errors made in my own enterprise processes from the point of placing a material or tool order to the point that my product is successfully used by the end customer? Are any rejects made? Does the first shot off a mold fully conform to customer requirements? 

Anything short of perfection is waste. The cost of waste is huge. The reduction of waste represents huge profit potential. Based on actual turnaround experiences, it is estimated that molders that have not adopted lean manufacturing are experiencing a cost of waste of 15 to 25 percent of sales. 

If your sales are $50 million and your cost of waste is 20 percent, your profit improvement opportunity is $10 million. Sounds fanciful? It's not. It means that if you achieved absolute perfection in everything you would increase profit by $10 million. 

Why Waste Time? 
Realistically you will never achieve absolute perfection. Lean manufacturing is about the relentless pursuit of perfection through the systematic identification and elimination of waste. Experience shows that molders that embrace this pursuit can expect to eliminate 25 percent of their waste in one year and 50 percent of their waste in two to three years. How much would you have to increase sales to put $5 million on your bottom line? 

Maybe there is an assumption that implementation requires a large capital investment that simply isn't available. The fact is that with small initial expenditures, you can harvest the low-hanging fruit that very quickly saves enough to become self-financing. Once the ball is rolling, profits and available cash will increase. 

If you are not among the growing number of molders realizing these benefits, time is passing you by. Train your people and empower them to help the enterprise eliminate waste. Create and publish metrics that guide their success. Organize into focused teams to help restructure your processes into synchronous workcells. Cut project time in half with lean product development. 

Is there a lean workshop near you?  

The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI) of Brookline, MA is offering how-to workshops around the country aimed at helping companies cut waste quickly to unlock much-needed cash. Each workshop covers the following topics:
• Value stream mapping (a critical initial step).
• Creating continuous flow (the followup to value stream mapping).
• Pull/kanban systems.
• Learning to count (lean accounting).
• Mixed model value streams (lean in high-variety environments, like custom molding).
• Train the trainer in value stream mapping (a combined workshop and training kit package). 

All are designed to answer the major question many managers and executives have about lean concepts, which is, "What concrete steps do I take on Monday morning to begin implementing them?" And all of the workshops are taught by manufacturing professionals who have hands-on experience implementing what they teach. For more information and to register, go to the Events section of LEI's website,, or call (617) 713-2900. 

If you don't know how to start, get help. There are consultants available that have the experience, and there are seminars and regional workshops available through the Lean Enterprise Institute (see sidebar, above). Hard times like these can serve to open minds to new ways of seeing the world. Molders need lean now more than ever. 

Contact information
Winward Industries Inc., Chicago, IL
John D. Powser
(312) 968-0061
[email protected]



K 2001: Auxiliaries make a splash

While there certainly were plenty of auxiliaries on display at K 2001, both in booths and running alongside the many injection molding machines at work during the show, there weren't that many new introductions. Many exhibitors chose, instead, to highlight their workhorses, their established product lines, and simply their company's presence in the market. Still, there were a few noteworthy releases, many of which we have already covered in previous months in IMM's New Product section. 

Perhaps the most eyecatching new product came from Labotek (Rochester, NY), a company that's on a mission to reintroduce itself to the injection molding market with its new interpretation of the dryer. The first thing you notice about Labotek's new series of dry air dryers is the exterior design, which can only be described as futuristic. It comes as no surprise to learn that the company employed an industrial designer to develop the new look. 

The initial release of the new Flexible Module Dryer FMD Series includes three mobile, single-bed desiccant dry air units with air flow capacities of 15, 25, or 40 cu m/hr. A modular design allows the units to be combined according to plant requirements and furnished with hoppers of 15, 25, 40, 75, and 100 liters. All units can be equipped with Internet connectivity to allow for external control and remote troubleshooting. Twin desiccant bed units and compressed air drying units will be added to the line soon. 

Labotek employed an industrial designer to give its new line of modular dryers and hoppers a distinctive and somewhat futuristic look.

Maguire returned to K 2001 with its LPD vacuum drying system, which it introduced at NPE 2000. At this year's show the company reported on the success of the technology and introduced a 30-lb/hr unit to the line.

Maguire (Aston, PA) was back with its Low Pressure Dryer (LPD) technology, which uses a vacuum to dry material. Since its introduction at NPE 2000, more than 100 LPD dryers have reportedly been sold worldwide. These users are said to have reported energy savings upward of 80 percent compared with conventional desiccant dryers. At K 2001, Maguire announced the addition of a 30-lb/hr unit to the LPD line. 

Conair highlighted its newest dryer technology for small material throughputs. Three models are available in the Micro D Series with capacities up to 20 kg/hr. The units can be supplied in integral or remote-mounted drying hopper configuration. Also a recent development is the company's S.C. Series, which is suitable for throughputs up to 30 kg/hr. These dryers use an indexing carousel desiccant system adopted from Conair's larger range of D Series dryers. Control is closed loop. 

Chillers/Temperature Control 
Conair also had news on the chiller front, with three new series of water chillers. The chillers, which were initially released during the summer of 2001, are designed to replace the company's TCA chiller line. The new chillers come in three sizes: the smaller GC Series, the midrange AX Series, and the larger EHP Series. 

Though buyers have an option of rotary, piston, or scroll compressors on the GC Series, the AX line now comes standard with scroll compressors, which replace the piston compressors on the TCA range and are said to be more energy efficient. Internal components on all three chiller lines are now stainless steel to eliminate corrosion, and exterior frame design has been strengthened for longer life. A new microprocessor control, said to be accurate to one decimal place, is also now standard. 

A new generation of small temperature control units made its debut at the K Show. Regloplas (St. Gallen, Switzerland) introduced Models 90S and P140S, which can be used with water up to 90C and pressurized water up 140C, respectively. The units have maximum heating capacities of 9 kW and cooling capacities of 39 kW. 

Rapid Granulator's new 10 Series offers circular, toughened cutting wheels that reportedly slice smoothly through even abrasive and filled materials.

Blenders/Size Reduction 
Those looking for a new blender might want to check out Mould-tek's newly redesigned GXB blender. The new design incorporates pinch valve control of minor ingredients. This design, which the company had already employed for the dosing of major ingredients, is said to improve accuracy and reduce materials waste. Under tests, the new blender design reportedly improved dosing accuracy of minor ingredients to within .1 percent. The pinch valve system is also said to increase throughput when compared to a standard auger system. 

As usual, granulator manufacturers showed up big at K. Rapid Granulator was among the few, however, that came with new technology to showcase. The company provided the first glimpse of its Concept Granulator, which is said to offer customers the potential for faster material changeover, lower energy consumption, and increased ground material output. 

Also new from the company was the 10 Series, which is specifically designed for low-volume grinding of hard, thick-walled, and brittle materials, such as sprues and scrap. The series includes three models, all of which employ rotary cutters and fixed blades designed to produce a uniform 4-mm regrind size. The 10 Series has a low operating speed of 25 rpm. Rotary crusher hooks are used to break up the waste prior to pieces being fed to the toothed cutting wheels. 

Mould-tek's redesigned GXB blender uses a pinch valve system to improve mixing of ingredients. The system reportedly is accurate to within .1 percent.

Bielomatik offers a series of welding machines that allows twin lasers to weld geometries up to 560 by 280 mm. Quasi-simultaneous welding can be used for large industrial parts, like the automotive cockpit assembly shown here, or for smaller components.

For secondary assembly of injection molded parts there were several advancements introduced at K for ultrasonic and hot plate welding. Sonics & Materials highlighted its E Series ultrasonic welder, which incorporates the company's Microsonic processor for more sophisticated control. The controller reportedly improves process control, reduces rejects, and increases throughput. During the welding cycle the processor continually monitors dynamic conditions and automatically adjusts power and time requirements to ensure consistent performance. 

Bielomatik showed off its quasi-simultaneous laser welding technique at K, which offers controlled melting off of preforms and joining of surfaces at high speeds. Because of the high traversing rates of the laser beam as it is led along the weld contour, the entire mating surface can be heated up and joined simultaneously. Preform tolerances can be melted off and forced into the weld bead as the two joints are pressed together during welding. The process reportedly allows for the welding of contours with any number of radiuses and corners. 

Also new from Bielomatik is a hotplate welding system that is said to leave no wish unfulfilled. The concept was designed to handle highly complex plastic parts that require frequent tool changes. The Servomot system incorporates servomotor-operated axes for improved speed and precision; a fast tool change system; the option of welding without any mechanical limit stops; no hydraulics; maintenance-free moving parts; and process control and monitoring. The concept is based on the company's K2224 machine and has been used to weld the door panels for the limited-edition BMW Z8. 

Previous reports on K 2001, including Carl Kirkland's look at machinery trends and Robert Neilley's report on automation, can be found at Search for K 2001 in the Article Archive. 

Medical contract manufacturing: Why not?

Low-cost labor in one of Avail's three Tijuana cleanroom plants helped the company reduce the cost to manufacture a line of portable insulin-delivery devices.

Mobile phone makers do it. Automotive companies do it. Computer and business equipment OEMs do it. So why can't medical OEMs subcontract their manufacturing to outside sources? Avail Medical Inc., headquartered in Dallas, TX, is out to eliminate the laundry list of reasons why they don't and establish a new standard in medical contract manufacturing. And with five plants in the U.S. and three facilities in Tijuana, Mexico, Avail is off to a running start. 

J. Randall Keene, president of Avail, notes that medical contract manufacturing is an idea for which the time has come. "Any place where there are cost pressures, people will move to outsourcing," says Keene. That includes medical products. "We put together a plan to be 100 percent committed to make other people's products." 

In fact, Avail has molding operations, including two plants in State College, PA, and plants in Asheville, NC, Dallas, TX, and San Diego, CA, with a total of 65 presses, but Keene stresses that Avail isn't a molding company. It is a medical device manufacturer, he says. 

Keene says the company's goal is to make finished products rather than parts of products. "This single-minded focus makes us unique," Keene states. "We think that's the significant differentiating factor between Avail and medical molders. Cost pressures will continue to mount and the medical OEMs will continue to outsource." 

To reassure its medical OEM customers of the company's position as a contract manufacturer, Avail promotes itself as a "silent partner" to its customers. "We want to support you, not compete with you," Keene tells Avail's customers. 

The Evolution 
Medical products companies have evolved over the past two decades from completely vertically integrated firms complete with molding capabilities to companies that assemble, test, market, and sell their products. It's been a series of baby steps for these giant medical OEMs, first divesting themselves of molding after deciding that custom molders equipped with cleanroom capabilities could provide the molded parts more cost effectively. Then, some subassembly operations were given to the molders that could prove FDA compliance. 

Today, these companies are one step from doing what the major electronics companies are doing—subcontracting the entire manufacturing operation. The main benefit of this is that it leaves the OEM free to do what it does best: design and develop new products and get them to market. 

Of course, some medical OEMs are still leery of the whole idea of subcontracting manufacturing. Avail tries to assuage this fear by emphasizing the company's scale of manufacturing capabilities. "For one customer we hired 450 people and installed 500 pieces of equipment for their cleanroom operation, all in a year," explains Tom Thompson, who retired at the end of 2001 as executive vp of business development for Avail. "It's our scale and experience that convinces customers we have the ability to do this." 

Avail spent $1.5 million building and equipping one cleanroom facility. It took only one year from the project's start (six months from the start of production) before reaching the breakeven point. Keene notes that this is a strength OEMs look for when contracting their manufacturing. "Today's contract manufacturing model requires financial strength like this and it's something that a lot of molders just don't have," he adds. 

In addition to setting up completely dedicated assembly operations, Avail will also consider purchasing its customers' manufacturing plants, a move modeled after the Flextronics and Solectron paradigm, says Keene. 

Avail provides total contract manufacturing for medical OEMs, including heatstaking and assembly of components.

More Than Just Manufacturing 
Avail's new technical center in Dallas will allow the company to expand its engineering services to include design, validation, and verification of new products, thus adding to the scope of its capabilities. "Large medical companies often don't have enough resources or the in-house expertise to design for optimum manufacturability," notes Keene. With the Tech Center, he adds, "we provide the value engineering—design for manufacturability—by getting involved early in the cycle." 

Another benefit to the medical OEM is the agility of a specialized firm. "We can respond to our customers' requests for changes, often more quickly and efficiently than they can internally," says Keene. In fact, establishing the engineering center gives Avail the ability to help speed its customers' time to market on new products, he adds. "One large potential customer told us they do eight new products a year. We do eight new products a month." 

Keene says he believes medical OEMs will move more toward outsourcing as they continue to realize that R&D and branding are their forte. Also, as contract manufacturers increase their "scope and scale and become more capable," OEM confidence in the whole process will increase. 

Of course, product design and development, and medical device manufacturing—as opposed to just molding components—carries larger liabilities and greater accountability for good manufacturing practices, or QSR (quality system regulation). Quality has become a major issue for Avail. "Our quality systems fit with the quality systems of the large medical OEMs. For one customer, we are one of six certified suppliers," adds Keene. 

Avail also carries liability insurance to give it added protection. "The customer is always the manufacturer of record," explains Keene, "but what separates us from the small molding company is our willingness to take risks. To be successful, you have to do your business right." 

Expanding With Success 
It would appear, given the recent addition of a new cleanroom facility in Tijuana, Mexico, that Avail is doing something right. The plant is dedicated to a customer that is moving an entire plant from the Midwest into the 40,000-sq-ft facility, which is operated by Avail. This customer has approximately 2000 product codes that Avail must track and ship. The move from the Midwest to Tijuana will reportedly save this customer some $40,000 per day in manufacturing costs alone. 

All of this, however, requires strong financial backing, which the company has. It also requires that everyone involved get past any notion that the phrase "cleanroom environment" is an oxymoron in Mexico. "When you're in one of our cleanroom assembly facilities, you don't know which country you're in," says Thompson. 

In addition to assembly, the company-owned Tijuana operations (which now total four and are located in the same business park) have complete secondary capabilities that include RF and ultrasonic welding, laser sealing and cutting, bonding, sterilization management, and lamination, among others. Avail also provides MRP and documentation services and sterilization management services, warehousing, and shipping. 

Avail's management team plans to grow the company "smart," keeping a "tight market focus" on medical devices for the surgical and fluid drug administration markets. 

And the advantages for Avail's customers? "We help the customer be more competitive in its marketplace by reducing its costs to manufacture so it can be more competitive and focus on its core competencies," says Keene, "while providing the quality needed in this arena." 

Contact information
Avail Medical Inc.
San Diego, CA
Kara Lukasik
(858) 635-5490, ext. 207
[email protected]

The Materials Analyst, Part 51: Where does the moisture go? (Part 1)

This series of articles is designed to help molders understand how a few analytical tools can help diagnose a part failure. Michael Sepe is our analyst and author. He is the technical director at Dickten & Masch Mfg., a molder of thermoset and thermoplastic materials in Nashotah, WI. Mike has provided analytical services to material suppliers, molders, and end users for 15-plus years.

In the last case study we recounted the difficulty detecting a contaminant that has been changed from its original form by the molding process. There is a common substance that has a similar ability to contaminate plastic raw material. If the raw material is molded with moisture present, the moisture may alter its chemical form, making it difficult to trace. Plastics processors spend more than a billion dollars a year in equipment, maintenance, and energy to remove moisture, yet evidence suggests that on occasion they are unsuccessful, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 

The resin drying process is such a common part of molding that it is often taken for granted. But the interaction between moisture and plastic materials is a complicated one. When considering interactions with moisture, there are three main categories of plastic materials. First there are the hydrophobic (water-hating) materials. These are materials that have no chemical affinity for water. In chemistry these materials are classified as nonpolar while water is polar. In chemistry like attracts like and therefore nonpolar materials have no use for polar materials. If you don't believe it, try mixing a hydrocarbon like motor oil or cooking oil with water. Oils are nonpolar and will separate as soon as the motion stops. The same thing occurs between water and nonpolar plastic materials such as polyethylene. 

The second category of materials is called hydrophilic (water-loving) materials. These are polar compounds that attract water to varying degrees depending on the exact chemical makeup of the polymer. These materials require drying before processing—otherwise the result is molded parts with splay, streaks, and bubbles that are created by trapped water that boils during processing. 

But a subset of this hydrophilic family does more than just absorb water and release it during melt processing. The materials in this special class actually enter into chemical reactions with the water that they absorb. These chemical reactions consume some of the water and in the process the long polymer chains break into shorter polymer chains, a process known as hydrolysis or hydrolytic degradation. Table 1 categorizes common polymers that represent each of these categories. 

TABLE 1. Classification of polymers by behavior with moisture
PolyethyleneWater absorbersWater reactors
PolypropyleneSAN, ABSPolyesters
Butadiene-styrene copolymerPPOPolycarbonate

Blood From a Turnip 
Many processors and end users are aware of the fact that the properties of some polymers are compromised when they are molded with a high moisture content. So when parts fail, one of the things that the customer wants to determine is whether the material was dry or wet when the part was molded. Often the customer believes it can tell how wet the pellets were at the time of molding by measuring the moisture content of the molded part. 

There are two problems with this approach. First, the moisture content of a molded part at any point in time is largely a function of the atmosphere to which the part is exposed after molding. A part molded with a very dry resin may produce parts with good properties. But regardless of how dry the material was at the time of molding, the parts will absorb moisture as a function of their environment. 

Second, even if the polymer is degraded by excess moisture because of poor drying, some of the moisture that was in the pellets will have reacted with the polymer during melt processing. Since the water has been chemically changed, it will not be present at the same level as it was in the pellets. The moisture content at the time of processing must therefore be inferred from the state of the final product. Viscosity tests that compare molded parts to pellets will confirm the degradation of the material. 

In a subsequent segment of this topic, we will quantitatively track the water in a polymer as it is converted from pellets to parts and illustrate what really happens to it. But before we can address the question of where the moisture goes during the molding process, we must first address the process of moisture measurement. 

Loss-in-weight Myth 
There are three methods in the ASTM test protocol for plastics that deal with moisture content determinations. These are D 789, D 4019, and D 5336. All of these methods refer to measurement techniques that involve a chemical reaction between water and another substance. Two of these three techniques refer to a method known as Karl Fischer titration. These techniques are designed to be moisture specific. 

Unfortunately, moisture measurement within the molding community is rarely done using these methods. Instead, the last decade has seen the introduction of a series of instruments that are sold as moisture monitors but operate strictly on the principle of loss in weight. (Some loss-in-weight systems use a downstream treatment in order to make the measurement moisture specific. We will come to that discussion in our next installment.) 

Loss-in-weight systems heat a material to the point where volatile material is driven off. The weight of this material is compared to the original mass of the sample and the moisture content is calculated as a simple ratio of lost weight to original sample weight. This would be fine if water was the only substance that evolved when a plastic compound was heated. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Along with water come residual monomers, plasticizers, and other additives. If the test temperature is high enough, it is even possible to start driving off degradation byproducts. This is particularly likely to occur with instruments that use air as the test atmosphere. 

True Moisture Measurement 
The essential task in moisture measurement is to drive off all of the water in the sample quickly without producing degradation byproducts. This means the temperature must be elevated but not to the point where the polymer begins to break down. One of the best ways to extend the safe temperature range for a polymer is to heat it in an atmosphere that is free of oxygen. But the use of inert or relatively inert gas streams such as argon or nitrogen is treated as an optional feature in many moisture measurement systems. As the ASTM methods are quick to point out, even chemical techniques can be fooled by degradation byproducts that come from certain polymers, so it is essential that a temperature be established that gets all the water, ignores everything else that might come from the compound, and preserves the polymer. 

Even though the title of ASTM D 789 suggests that the method is designed strictly for nylon materials, this method provides a protocol for establishing the correct temperature at which a moisture measurement should be made. Figure 1, below, shows the result of such a method development for a PET polyester, but the method is essentially the same for any material. First the material is tested at a baseline temperature. The test is then repeated at successively higher temperatures. A convenient interval is 10 deg C. If the chosen test temperature is too low, then each increase in temperature results in an increase in measured moisture. 

Once the temperature is sufficiently high to completely dry out the sample, the moisture content stops increasing. Ideally the plateau is 20 to 30 deg C wide and the method can use a midpoint in this plateau region for repeatable results. In the case of the PET the plateau occurs at 230C. Any test temperature between 230C and 260C should produce the same result. For some materials, continued increases in test temperature may produce a new ascent. This new increase does not represent real moisture in the sample. Instead it is due to the formation of water from solid-state polymerization or byproducts of polymer degradation. A graph in ASTM D 789 shows an example of this type of behavior. 

Figure 1. Moisture content method development plot for PET polyester.

The Air Out There 
If the tests are performed in air, some polymers will never establish a reliable plateau. In other words, for these materials the new weight loss due to degradation starts before the legitimate moisture removal process is complete. An inert atmosphere is essential for these materials and is an insurance policy against bad results even in materials that are not as sensitive. 

Figure 2, below, shows the result of attempting to establish a reliable test temperature for PET in air. At low test temperatures, the test values appear to be independent of the type of atmosphere. But note that as the values in nitrogen reach a plateau, the values in air skyrocket. The reason for the sudden increase in apparent moisture content is that PET, when exposed to elevated temperatures in air, generates a chemical called acetaldehyde (AA). Processors who produce PET bottles are well aware of AA because it contributes undesirable taste and odor properties and its presence in bottles must be kept to a minimum by carefully controlling processing temperatures. AA reacts with the methanol in the Karl Fischer reagent to form water. 

Figure 2. Effect of purge gas on moisture measurement.

Method development is important in any moisture measurement technique. But when moisture measurement is turned over to a loss-in-weight system, none of the safeguards built into the chemical methods is in force. The weight loss can be almost anything, and the higher the measurement temperature goes, the more mass will be lost. The same AA that skewed the results of the Karl Fischer instrument will also be recorded as moisture in the simpler loss-in-weight systems. 

In these more basic systems the tendency is to cope with the runaway moisture measurements by reducing the test temperature, in this case to a temperature near 200C. But at these conditions it can be shown that not all of the water is being removed from the material. If we refer back to Figure 1 it is easier to see that the measured moisture at 200C is 212 ppm, which is probably close enough to the recommended limit for good-quality molding. But the actual moisture content of this material is actually 297 ppm, or almost .03 percent. 

This small difference can be crucial to part quality. The problem is that the vast majority of all molding operations that are measuring moisture are using a loss-in-weight system. These systems are attractive because they are less expensive and do not require the use of any chemicals. But the fact that they are simple to use does not make them accurate. And the fact that they are called moisture monitors or moisture analyzers gives their users a false sense of security and the incorrect belief that they are really monitoring moisture content. 

In our next installment, we will explain the details of loss-in-weight moisture measurements and chemical methods. 

Contact information
Dickten & Masch Mfg. Co.
Nashotah, WI
Mike Sepe
(262) 369-5555, ext. 572
[email protected] 

Industry Watch

Ford turns to suppliers to help trim costs 
EVEN SLIGHT SHIFTS BY Ford Motor Co. can create ripples felt acutely by automotive molders everywhere, but the massive manufacturing overhaul recently undertaken by the world's second largest automaker will send a tidal wave of change throughout the molding supply chain. In a news conference broadcast live in Michigan, Bill Ford, chairman and ceo, outlined a series of restructuring moves designed to return the automaker to profitability. As part of the plan, Ford will cut North American production from 5.7 million to 4.8 million units, shutter five assembly plants, terminate 22,000 jobs, and discontinue the Mercury Cougar and Villager models as well as the Lincoln Continental and Ford Escort. 

Ford has also recruited its suppliers to help pare down materials costs. In 2000, Ford purchased more than $90 billion worth of components from suppliers, with 200 companies providing 90 percent of those parts. Now Ford will ask these suppliers to help trim costs and squeeze savings out of part design and manufacturing. In a teleconference with 150 of its largest suppliers, Ford announced the Design Cost Savings Program. The program rewards suppliers with 35 percentof any savings garnered through the redesign or streamlining of parts, with Ford claiming the remaining 65 percent. The program would be effective for one year, and Ford has delegated 300 of its own engineers to collaborate with suppliers on possible redesigns that target better cost efficiency and higher part quality. By 2005, Ford hopes the program will increase before-tax profits to $3 billion. 

At one time attached to Ford but now a separate entity, Visteon still derives the vast majority of its business from the automotive OEM. For 2001, Ford contracts constituted 82 percent of Visteon's $17.8 billion in sales, making Visteon a reliable barometer of Ford's business performance. As such, Visteon shared Ford's abysmal numbers, posting a loss of $118 million for 2001, with the bulk of the losses coming in the second half of the year. This swoon primarily resulted from Ford's production cuts, according to Visteon Chairman and CEO Peter J. Pestillo. 

"2001 was a tough year," Pestillo said in a statement. "We had solid operating performance in the first half, but major production cuts and erratic production schedules by our largest customers led to weaker financial performance in the second half." 

Sales to customers other than Ford actually rose $168 million or 6 percent in 2001 to $3.2 billion, but this increase did little to offset the losses linked to Ford. Visteon spokesman Greg Gardner said Ford's willingness to work with suppliers like itself and, at least initially, share in the savings is a step in the right direction. 

"[Visteon] welcomes [sharing savings]," Gardner said. "We have almost as much vested in [Ford's] recovery, as they do. We want it to work, but only time will tell. [Ford] has to realize that suppliers must benefit if they're going to deliver their best technology to Ford." 

In related news, Ford's search for greater profitability may lead the company to Brazil. According to a report by Reuters, Kathleen Ligocki, Ford's chief of business strategy, intimated that the automotive OEM is considering shipping vehicles from its Bahia, Brazil facility for sale in the U.S. and Canada. The plant will reportedly produce about 250,000 vehicles a year, making both cars and sport utility vehicles. It's unclear how much, if any, of this capacity might be exported to the U.S. and Canada.

Q1Q2Q3Q42001 total
After relatively strong first and second quarter numbers, production interruptions and product recalls greatly hampered Ford's third and fourth quarter business, prompting a $5.45 billion loss for 2001 and the initiation of a comprehensive restructuring plan.

Source: Ford Motor Co.

Things start to "click" for multicomponent molder 
WHEN PHIL SMITH, chief operating officer of Quality Synthetic Rubber Inc. (QSR), first came across the tooling technology at a trade show, he liked what he saw, and what he heard. An innovative mold design from an Austrian company allowed for the demolding of multicomponent parts without the use of additional automation or labor. This was made possible by shifting the tool's plates to free the part and in the process causing what its creators described as a "click-clack" sound. Smith immediately realized the potential cost benefits inherent in the technology, and instead of "click-clack," he heard a "ka-ching." 

Smith and QSR soon courted Hefner, the Austrian design company responsible for the technology. When negotiations were completed QSR had purchased a majority share of Hefner, and it had total ownership of EDM, an Austrian tooling shop that manufactured the innovative molds for Hefner. The two were combined into a company called Hefner GmbH, which recently moved into a new 25,000-sq-ft facility in Wels, Austria. QSR has applied for a patent on the demolding process, and uses the technology for the cost-efficient multicomponent molding of products joining rubber to rubber, rubber to plastic, and when the application requires it, rubber to rubber and then to plastic. 

Armed with a skilled partner and a money-saving process, QSR hopes to create a global presence in multicomponent molding. 

"[QSR's] intent is not only to cover the U.S. market," Smith explains, "but also to be able to manufacture in the European communities. The QSR and Hefner team has created some broad opportunities in markets that we couldn't have penetrated alone."

Short Shots
After slashing inventories to $132 million below 2000 year-end levels, Black & Decker Corp. (Towson, MD) announced a restructuring plan that calls for a 25 percent company-wide cut in total manufacturing floor space. To do this, Black & Decker will close three North American facilities in 2002 and shift the business to lower-cost programs in China, Mexico, and a new Czech Republic plant. 

A deal with TriQuest Precision Plastics (Vancouver, WA) gives Nypro Inc. (Clinton, MA) operational control of TriQuest's 165,000-sq-ft facility in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

United Plastics Group (Westmont, IL) shut down facilities in Brooksville, FL and Montreal, PQ as part of a continuing restructuring plan. 

GM Nameplate (Seattle, WA) purchased the assets and business operations of custom molder Fleck Co. (Auburn, WA). 



K 2001: Nozzles for every occasion and more

Not only was there a plethora of breathtaking molds running in machines at K 2001, but there was also a strong contingent of moldmakers showing off their wares at their own stands. Along with them came a number of tooling component suppliers and some noteworthy product introductions. 

Hot Runner Systems 
Korean-based Yudo drew a lot of attention with its new hot runner valve system. The Yuri system combines the nozzle and valve in one body and incorporates Smart Flow technology in the design of its melt channel, all in an effort to minimize pressure drop and help speed color changes. 

Combining the nozzle and valve unit reportedly allows mold height to be reduced significantly. Also, the valve cylinder and valve pin are located under the manifold, so the valve pin is not influenced by the heat expansion of the manifold. This combination design also takes out the bushing, reducing the risk of melt and gas leakage from the valve pin guide bush area. 

The Rapid Shot universal hot runner nozzle from Hasco incorporates external heating.

Mold-Masters' new MIM Dura Atto cartridge heater nozzle is designed for small-part, high-cavitation applications.

The Yuri system is said to eliminate deflection of the valve pin, which is significant when you consider that a valve pin located 300 mm from the center of the nozzle inlet at a temperature of 300C can have a deflection of more than .74 mm in a standard valve gate system. 

The Yuri system is delivered using the company's ezModu system, in which the hot runner system is fully wired and tested prior to shipment. The system is designed to work with pneumatic cylinders; however, a hydraulic system is available in the Yuri 42 Series for large applications. 

The Yuri valve system from Yudo combines the nozzle and valve units into one body, reducing mold height requirements. The system also is said to eliminate valve pin deflection.

Another company offering fully interconnected and wired valve gate systems is Synventive Molding Solutions. The interconnections and wiring may conform either to Synventive's proprietary standards or to the customer's standards. This move was made in response to market demands for faster, more reliable installation and servicing. 

Hasco was also on hand with a complete solution. It has expanded its product line to include turnkey hot runner systems in the form of hot halves. The hot halves are based on standard and custom-made components, and the engineering work is supported by the company's new Moldgate software (available at The hot halves are optimized, electrically wired, and ready to be plugged in upon delivery. 

A new 230V hot runner nozzle from Günther is designed to offer strengthened heater capacity, which is said to lessen thermal load on the plastic being used.

Incoe offered new technology for small and large molds. On the small side is its DF3 miniature hot runner system. The system is well suited for use on circular manifolds for multiple gating within a narrow space. Other reported advantages include individual temperature control of each gate, symmetrical part cooling, and high cavity strength. 

Incoe's DF25 system, on the other hand, is designed for very large systems with large shot weights and very high flow rates. The system can incorporate many popular gate types, including point, sprue, and valve gates, and is available with bushing lengths greater than 700 mm. 

Also new from Incoe, the DMT multitip hot runner system uses the Direct-Flo principle to guide melt directly into the individual injection points. Color is said to change easily. DMT can be used for single and manifold applications; the number of tips on each bushing ranges from two to six. 

Gammaflux's new TTC family of hot runner temperature controllers will reportedly be more price competitive while providing better control.

Hot Runner Nozzles and Manifolds 
K 2001 saw a number of innovations in hot runner nozzle technology. A universal hot runner with external heating was introduced by Hasco. Called Rapid Shot (also known as Z 3500), the nozzle carries a gate configuration and melt chamber that can reportedly be adapted to any application. The nozzle can also be used for multicavity hot runner molds. Nozzle tips, heaters, and thermocouples reportedly can all be exchanged in the injection molding machine. 

More specific in its application is the small-pitch hot runner nozzle introduced by Mold-Masters. The MIM Dura Atto cartridge heater nozzle is designed for small-part, high-cavitation applications, and reportedly turns the melt channel into an integral heater with an optimized axial profile. Nozzle body diameter is less than 9 mm, providing for minimal gate vestige. This makes the nozzle ideal for products with core diameters greater than 16 mm, such as lipstick caps, medical products, and container caps, reports the company. 

Günther introduced several new hot runner nozzles. Its Micro flat nozzle is designed for use with flame-retardant materials. Nozzle cavity distances starting from 7.62 mm are possible. With needle valve applications, the distance is from 9 mm. At K, the nozzle was shown in an eight-cavity needle valve system. 

The company also developed a new 230V single nozzle, which offers strengthened heater capacity in the nozzle head. The construction reportedly lessens the thermal load on the plastic being used, and works well with high-temperature plastics. 

Günther has also developed a new type of manifold heater. The thick-film manifold heating elements are high-tensile steel plates that can be fixed on the outer surface of the hot runner manifold. This reportedly provides even heat distribution. In the future, the company plans to use this technology for nozzles, allowing it to make small-diameter nozzles for low voltage and 230V applications. 

The new KMN mixing nozzle from Koch-Glitsch is designed to provide better melt homogenization during injection.

Hot Runner Temperature Control 
A new family of hot runner temperature control systems is now available from Gammuflux. The TTC family is said to offer tighter temperature control through enhanced control algorithms, which allow adaptive control of each zone. TTC models can handle from 12 to 256 zones. 

The system sports a modular design, and is reportedly easily accessible by modem for troubleshooting. The TTC family is also readily designed for global installation with expanded language conversion options, universally accepted icons, and input power flexibility. 

A panel-mount option is also available. The TTC 2200 panel-mount system marks the first time Gammaflux has offered such technology that can be seamlessly integrated into the molding machine control panel. The TTC can be operated using the customer's own machine controller or with the Gammaflux TTC touch-screen monitor. 

At K, the TTC was in action at the Husky booth. Gammaflux representatives say this family marks a move by the company to be more price competitive. The panel system, for example is said to be "almost half the cost of currently available technology." 

A newly designed series of hot runner temperature control units is also available from Hasco. The Z 122/1 microprocessor controller has up to nine control circuits. Each circuit has a power consumption of 3600W. Standard features include automatic temperature reduction, boost function, programmable starting circuit, and more. 

Multizone controllers were also introduced by Hasco. The self-optimizing controllers offer up to 96 control points, which can all be controlled simultaneously. 

A new compact collapsible core from Hasco can be used in single- and multicavity molds.

Tooling Components 
Of course, not everything related to tooling at K revolved around hot runner technology. A new mixing nozzle, designed for additional melt homogenization, was introduced by Koch-Glitsch. The KMN nozzle is said to have a 30 to 50 percent lower pressure drop compared with earlier designs. Nearly all current polymers can be processed by this mixing nozzle, reports the company. 

The newly developed KSM mixer is the heart of the mixing nozzle, and is installed directly into the nozzle. The technology reportedly results in streakless colorant distribution, even at low concentrations. The KMN mixing nozzle is available in diameters of 12, 17, 22, 35, and 50 mm. 

Herzog announced at K that its HP nozzle, which was introduced in Europe in mid-2001, is now available in the U.S. The nozzle is designed to withstand high injection pressures and is said to reduce shear sensitivity and pressure drop. 

For the demolding of internal threads and internal undercuts, Hasco introduced a newly designed collapsible core. The Z 3600 is suitable for single- and multicavity molds, and offers a compact design. Collapsible segments use a dovetail design and are constructed of D-2 steel. Unlike an unscrewing system, the collapsible core does not rotate, but is activated by the mold action. The cores are available in seven diameters, ranging from 12 to 55 mm. 

Hasco also launched a quick-change mold system for use in prototyping. The system consists of standard mold frames, corresponding inserts, and an adapted ejector assembly. It's offered in three sizes: 156 by 196 mm, 246 by 296 mm, and 296 by 396 mm. The mold frame is constructed of #2 steel, and inserts are offered in 4340 steel or 7075 aluminum. 

Spending less time for better designs

Chances are that you've used a product made by Coinco, especially if you can't pass a vending machine without purchasing something. St. Louis-based Coinco (formally, Coin Acceptors Inc.) is a world leader in the design and manufacture of coin mechanisms, bill acceptors, and control systems for vending machines, the major equipment for the global food and beverage vending industry. 

Max Molenaar, a senior Coinco engineer, supervises the tool design and drafting departments, model shop, prototyping, and computer-aided engineering activities. The company uses several types of software, including Moldflow Plastics Insight (MPI) for flow and cooling analyses, Pro/Engineer Mechanica for stress analysis, and Unigraphics and Solid Edge for computer-aided design. 

Molenaar reports that among the challenges of designing the company's products are molded parts, such as gears, that require close tolerances. "Typically, coin changers are restricted in size and require small and accurate components," he says. "Designing and molding a plastic part to meet our expected criteria can be challenging." 

A coin changer component, designed and photo-rendered in Unigraphics, contains molded-in flanges that create slots for coins (left). Part of the complexity of this part stems from numerous bosses, ribs, and molded-in attachment points on the rear side (right).

In addition, Coinco customers demand products that are reliable and tamper-proof. "A combination of good design, careful analysis, and testing helps us achieve reliability and tamper-proof devices for our customers," he says. 

Time Is Money 
To perform a flow or cooling analysis, Coinco engineers must first create a finite-element mesh from the part CAD file. In the past, this step has taken a great deal of time. In fact, Molenaar figured out that he and his colleagues were spending up to 8 hours per model to generate meshes and clean them up using midplane meshing tools. 

Switching to MPI with faster meshing tools, he's realized savings so far of 120 man-hours. Over time, he calculated that the company would save more than $26,000 per year as a result of implementing the new software. "The company's return on this investment will be realized in less than a year," says Molenaar. 

As a result of the faster meshing tools available in MPI/Fusion, he and his colleagues have been able to reduce modeling time by 80 percent. "When we participated in the beta test for MPI/Fusion," he says, "I selected a small, complex gear as a test model. Using C-Mold Express, our former analysis package, it took 4 hours to generate a mesh and another 3 hours of manual labor to correct the mesh. Moldflow's Mesh Generator generated the mesh in about 5 minutes, but the mesh didn't look any better than the Mesh Express version." 

Both products required additional labor to create something usable. How-ever, using MPI/Fusion, he generated the mesh in just 2 minutes and spent another 15 minutes cleaning it up. 

Running a cooling analysis in MPI helps Coinco designers to determine if cooling circuits in the tool will be adequate.

Optimizing Designs 
Molenaar and his peers have been using MPI/Fusion software since September 2001. However, the tool design department had already been using flow analysis software at Coinco since the early 1990s, when the company introduced software from C-Mold for flow analysis. (Moldflow acquired C-Mold in 2000.) Molenaar migrated to MPI as a beta customer for Synergy, the new user interface that debuted with MPI 3.0. 

"We use MPI for analyzing each newly designed plastic part," adds Molenaar. "The software is an integral part of the overall design process because it allows us to achieve the accuracy, the reliability, and the consistency that our customers expect." The company established a policy several years ago of performing flow and cooling analyses on each new part during tool design. 

"Another benefit of analysis is that we can optimize the design accurately at the beginning of the design cycle, and eliminate subsequent design iterations. In addition, the analysis allows us to plan and position the cooling lines before machining them. This helps prevent costly and time-consuming retooling." 

Melt front advancement plot of the changer component shows areas filled first (blue) and last (orange) during the 1.5-second fill time.

Eliminating Rework 
Upfront analysis also helps Molenaar make more informed decisions. "We could have a scenario where instead of cooling the mold with water, we could opt for using beryllium copper. Analysis helps us save time and money because it takes the trial and error out of the design cycle. It also allows us to establish a process for the production floor so operators can easily initiate the startup process for the mold. They have a processing window ready for them." 

Molenaar and his team are currently using MPI to design new plastic parts—some as large as 6 inches wide by 18 inches long, and as small as gear pieces with .25-inch diameters. 

After being optimized, the coin changer component is analyzed for volumetric shrinkage using MPI. Blue and green colors correspond to a low percentage of volumetric shrink.

"Using Synergy for a current project is particularly helpful because we are almost 99 percent sure that the gate locations and cooling lines are accurate," Molenaar explains. "There are aesthetic issues with any product so we make sure that unsightly knit- and weldlines do not appear in critical areas. That's why it's also very important to perform analysis during the design cycle, to make sure that we don't have imperfections in cosmetically critical areas." 

Contact information
Coin Acceptors Inc.
St. Louis, MO
Max Molenaar
(314) 725 0600, ext. 384
[email protected] 

Moldflow Corp.
Wayland, MA
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The Troubleshooter: Blush with a filled PC

This article continues our series of troubleshooting reports from one of the leading on-the-spot problem solvers in the molding industry. Bob Hatch is manager of technical service and customer support for Prime Alliance, the Des Moines-based resin distributor. Before his present assignment, Bob managed a molding operation for 25 years. 

Blush at the front tip of this glass-filled polycarbonate part was caused by a poorly designed and undersized pin gate.

This month I get to tell you about a problem that I run into quite often. I received a package from a customer I have worked with many times before. He sent me an unbalanced runner system and one of the parts he was currently molding. The material was a glass-filled polycarbonate but it could have been just about any filled material and the problems would have been roughly the same. 

The runner system was sized fairly well. It wasn't perfect, but they seldom are. The main runner was .300 inch and the sprue was .250 inch, which was a little backwards since a main runner of .300 inch should be fed by a sprue O-diameter of .343 inch with a nozzle orifice of .312 inch. 

The short subrunners were sized at .312 inch each, which was also slightly off target. If the main runner is .300 inch, then the subrunners should be slightly smaller—maybe .275 inch. These were little mistakes, but in some cases could cause big problems. 

To this point, all I'd done was nitpick because I didn't even know what the specific problem was. So I called the molder and he said all he wanted help with was the blush at the gate. I asked him if flatness or cycle time or anything else was a problem and he said "just the blush." 

Well, blush is always caused by the gate being too small—not deep enough—or the land being too long. When subgates are involved it can be that the tunnel of the subgate is too narrow as it goes from the subrunner to the part. I looked at the subgates and could see that they would be better suited to feed polystyrene than glass-filled polycarbonate. The next item to check was the gate itself. 

I looked at the tunnel portion of the subgate and could see blush on the tapered portion of the tunnel. This told me that the gate was too restricted to shoot glass-filled polycarbonate through it. I measured the subgate diameter, which was .080 inch. The blush stopped on the tunnel at the .120-inch diameter. This told me that the correct size for this subgate, where it contacts the part, should be .120 inch instead of .080 inch. 

The tunnel portion of the subgate was too small to allow the flow of glass-filled PC.

Tricky Slivers 
Next I looked at the gate and, lo and behold, I found a pin gate. Toolmakers love to cut a small sliver off the side of an ejector pin to use with a subgate to feed material into the pin; the material then tries to force its way to the end of the pin and into the part cavity. The mistake that is commonly made is that the sliver removed from the ejector pin isn't thick enough to feed the material into the cavity without requiring extra material heat and a lot of injection pressure. 

This was exactly what was happening here. The part walls were .120 inch with .090-inch ribs—perfect for this material. The boss walls were more like .180 inch and in this application that was also OK. So what was the problem? The trouble was that the pin gate sliver was only .060 inch thick where it contacted the part and .065 inch where the subgate fed into it. 

So we had two problems. First, the sliver was not thick enough to fill and pack the part without extra heat and pressure. Second, the subgate that fed the sliver was too small in diameter. 

A sliver removed from the ejector pin on the top design was too small to allow material to feed into the cavity. Switching to a wedge-shaped pin gate opened the flow.

First let me discuss the undersized subgate. Toolmakers tend to keep the subgate on the small side when feeding a pin gate. I guess they think that all subgates should be small. This thinking goes back to where we use a subgate to gate directly into a part. It's probably an issue of staying steel safe. 

To feed a part, the subgate should be small enough to prevent tearing or stringing of the material when the gate is sheared away from the part during ejection. But feeding a pin gate is different. We don't care if we get tearing or stringing at the gate during ejection because we cut the entire sliver away from the part after it is ejected. 

Now that we knew why the toolmakers did what they did, it was time to figure out how to design a pin gate that did a better job of getting the material into the cavity. 

In a wedge pin gate, the subrunner feeds into the end that is twice as thick as the other.

I started with a sliver that was wedge-shaped instead of flat all the way from where the subgate fed into it down to the surface of the part. I thought about an edge gate and what its depth should be for this size part and this kind of material. For glass-filled PC the gate should be about 90 percent of the wall thickness for depth. For this part that would mean an edge gate would be .090 inch deep; the pin gate should be .090 inch thick where it feeds into the part. 


Part: Glass-filled polycarbonate part. 

Tool: Cold runner. 

Symptoms: Blush at the gate. 

Problem: Subgates too small for a filled material; pin gate undersized. 

Solution: Change straight pin gate to a wedge-shaped pin gate and open taper where the subgate feeds the thick section of the wedge gate. 

Now for the wedge part of the pin gate. I knew the wedge would be .090 inch thick where it fed into the part and I wanted to taper it back up to where the subgate fed into it. The part of the wedge that was fed by the subgate should be about twice as thick as it was at the part surface. 

Sometimes we can only make the location of the subgate feed 50 percent thicker and sometimes we can double it. Mostly it depends on the diameter of the ejector pin being used. If the wedge dimensions are too big for a small ejector pin, then it is necessary to put an oversized ejector pin in place of the small ejector pin. 

In this case I recommended the oversizing, calling for a pin size of roughly .218 inch instead of the existing 3/16-inch-diameter ejector, to handle the requirements of a wedge that was .090 inch at the part surface and .150 inch where the subgate fed in. At this point we had a .120-inch subgate feeding into a .150-inch-thick wedge that tapered down to .090 inch at the surface of the part. 

I called the molder and gave him all of this information and he said he would get to work and see what happened. It was only a couple of days later that he called and told me that he was molding great-looking parts with no signs of blush or flow marks. 

I asked him if he wanted to work on the sprue and runners to optimize the rest of the mold to maybe get the cycle time down a little bit but he declined, saying he didn't want to rock the boat and take a chance of losing what he had gained. I told him that he sounded more like a toolmaker than a molder and he reminded me that he started out as a toolmaker.