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Value-added service guarantee on-time deliveries

IMold Tooling Technology's Adriano Caseiro (left), president, and Bruce Fishman, manager-North America, tell us the company's fully integrated approach to the process will ensure on-time deliveries of high-quality molds to its international customers.

Innovation, integration, interchangeability, Internet, international . . . the letter "I" in IMold Tooling Technology, a new moldmaking operation, might stand for any one of these words, or all of them. The company's mission is to build top-quality, value-packed molds for customers in Europe and the Americas through the total integration of its engineering, manufacturing, and planning systems. Moreover, IMold intends to use its innovatively integrated ideas to maintain any customer-requested delivery that it accepts. 

IMold's headquarters are in a new manufacturing facility in Leiria, Portugal. It has branch operations in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA and Joinville-SC, Brazil. A sister company called Gramaq provides contract machining services for graphite electrodes in both Portugal and Brazil. Adriano Caseiro, president, says, "We are trying to change the basic process of producing tools for injection molding." 

In the late 1990s, Caseiro helped develop much of the proprietary software technology and the engineering and manufacturing systems that are the core of IMold's approach. The software integrates everything from CAD and CAE to fully automated machining and inspection. Palletizing designs support automated machining to speed electrode production. The latest equipment is used, including five-axis, high-speed milling and robotics. But the IMold process begins much earlier. 

IMold's customer partnering starts with conceptual part design. Design for manufacturability, assembly, and packaging services are provided, in addition to materials selection. Hot runner selection and gas-assist application engineering services are available. "Today we must offer much more than just a mold," Caseiro says. 

'If a customer says he needs a mold in his plant in four weeks, we'll get it there in four weeks.'
Onsite Real-time Networking 
Once the design is set, molds are built with as many standardized components as possible. "Ideally, we engineer the molds with a maximum use of our design standards. Design standards support our drive for reduced costs and on-time delivery, and ensure that replacement components are correct and will fit without needing adjustments," says Caseiro. 

The Internet also plays a key role. Presently under construction on its website is IMold Onsite, a virtual office that allows international customers to review a detailed, real-time status of their tools. On the shop floor, IMold has magnetic card readers. Files for every mold project, at the completion of each step, are automatically updated and the information is immediately transmitted to the website. 

IMold's concentration is on cores, cavities, and other critical components. Other components are subcontracted. It intends to build about 60 molds this year, and 100 or more annually over the next two to three years. Molds will range up to 5 tons, mostly complex and small multicavity tools. Only one shift will be manned. Caseiro says IMold will not be a labor-intensive operation, but stresses that a well-trained, highly motivated workforce is absolutely essential to IMold's 24-hour process. 

"We give people responsibility, incentive, and authority to derive new standards and integrate them into streamlined manufacturing systems," he explains. "This is the way to attract the best, creative minds in the business." He believes that his people, the final link in his fully integrated approach to the moldmaking process, will help IMold meet its guaranteed deliveries. "If the customer says he needs a mold in his plant in four weeks, we'll get it there in four weeks." 

Contact information
IMold Tooling Technology
Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA
Bruce Fishman
(978) 526-4724
www.imoldtooling.com

All-electric inmold Class A painting

Ube Machinery Inc.'s inmold coating (IMC) process produces parts like this motorcycle side cover with a Class A paint surface in a single step, saving time, materials, and equipment costs.

An inmold coating (IMC) process technology developed by Ube Machinery Corp. in conjunction with Dai Nippon Toryo (both in Japan) allows a part molded from a heat-resistant thermoplastic to be painted to a Class A surface finish during the cycle, while the part is still in the mold. After the part is molded, the tool is opened and paint is automatically injected before the tool again closes. 

Ube sources say that a Class A paint surface identical to the cavity surface is achieved with precise and repeatable control over mold positioning provided by the Ultima UN series of all-electric injection presses (35 to 1550 tons). 

The IMC process is designed to dramatically reduce the cost of equipment, materials, and time involved to produce parts that require a Class A paint surface—especially when compared to the separate painting processes commonly employed by automotive operations. 

With IMC, airborne contaminants cannot as easily affect part quality, so the number of defective parts is reduced. The percentage of paint loss also is dramatically reduced, report Ube sources. IMC uses a paint formulation free of organic solvents, so the process produces no VOCs. Also, IMC parts are recyclable. 

Ube sources tell us there are a number of IMC R&D projects presently under way in Japan, though none has yet to produce a production part. The process will be made available this year to U.S. molders as a standard option on new Ube electric molding machines. Retrofit packages also will be available. 

Ube's inmold foaming process uses the cellular expansion of the foaming agent precisely controlled by patented clamp control software to reduce part weight while maintaining strength, thickness, and a Class A surface.

All-electric Inmold Foaming 
Meanwhile, Ube has already commercialized an intriguing all-electric inmold foaming process technology that also takes advantage of the company's patented multistep clamp control software. 

Called Dieprest Foam (DPF), resin blended with blowing agents is shot into a closed mold. The clamp is then quickly and precisely opened, allowing the foaming agent to expand. The speed and positioning of this clamp opening reportedly determines cell structure and part dimensions. 

DPF decreases part weight while maintaining its strength, thickness, and Class A surface finish. It also can be used with Ube's Dieprest Skin-Insert molding process, inmold decorating, and multimolding. 

Ube introduced Dieprest to the world at K'98. The system adds control logic and clamping unit sensors to its standard presses equipped with low-pressure molding control. These add-ons allow inmold lamination with either foam, fabric, or film inserts, all at the flick of a switch, with no cycle time penalty. 

Dieprest also saves cost in another way. The Dieprest system can be switched off for conventional molding runs. Ube also has built ease of use into Dieprest. The software is designed to guide users through setup. It also automatically refreshes optimum molding parameters on the fly for repeatable quality. 

Available on new Ultima UNs and retrofitable to existing Ube all-electrics, DPF is being used to produce parts for model year 2003 automobiles, appliances, furniture, consumer products, and medical equipment. 

Contact information
Ube Machinery Inc.
Ann Arbor, MI
Greg Konczal
(734) 741-7000
www.ubemachinery.com

Materials Update

A variety of plastics have come to play in this modern version of the 1956 original.

BMW mini innovations start right up front 
It seems to have become tradition that every three years the K Show in Düsseldorf, Germany stars one new vehicle. Whether assembled or in component parts, that car or truck seems to be part of every exhibitor's display. The big star of this show appeared to be the new BMW Mini. This newly revamped version of the 1956 original features many of this generation's innovations, including a showcase of current high-tech plastics moldings, some visible and some, like the new front-end carrier shown below, hidden away. 

Perhaps the leading reason behind the long-lasting demand for the Mini is performance. One of the factors behind the Mini's exhilarating driving has always been a high power-to-weight ratio. BMW knows how to play that game, and a look at the front-end carrier proves it. The injection molded structural carrier is among the early applications of StaMax P long-fiber-reinforced PP. Besides allowing a significant reduction in part count and easy integration of a subassembly during manufacturing, the new carrier weighs in at only 3 kg (6.6 lb). 

A stamped metal alternative could not come close to that weight, and it called for more downstream assembly and parts. The next lightest competitor, GMT (glass mat thermoforming), carries a higher manufacturing cost, longer production times, and offers less precision than the injection molded part. Precision is particularly important given BMW's desire that the part serve as the base for a substantial assembly. The pair of photos (below) showing the carrier itself and the carrier with finished subassembly says it all. 

Long Glass Fibers in Style 
StaMax P features a high stiffness-to-weight ratio. Strength is inherent in the material, even unreinforced, but the level required in auto applications needs glass fibers, and longer is better. Impact strength, critical in auto applications, demands longer fibers. A finished long-fiber PP part exhibits properties almost identical to molded nylon, except for heat resistance; but nylon can easily cost twice as much or more than PP, depending on the grade, and these parts are large. Longer fibers also help maintain flatness when designers want to increase part dimensions. 

The main objective in processing long-fiber material, says StaMax, is to retain fiber length. Among other things, that means a part/mold design with no sharp corners or small radiuses, using a ball valve and not a check ring, and paying attention to screw design. Overall, however, the material uses fairly standard feeding technology. In conventional molding, glass fibers entering the barrel at 6-mm long can be reduced to as little as .1 mm. StaMax says its formulations and processing guidelines leave fibers with lengths of 3 mm to as much as 5 mm in the finished part. Nor are all fibers a single length, which is undesirable. 

The front-end carrier helps maintain the Mini's high power-to-weight ratio. A long-fiber-reinforced PP keeps the weight of the carrier a low 6.6 lb.


Four applications of StaMax P now on the road in Europe constitute 80 percent of the market growth, but a number of new projects are in development. The U.S. market, says StaMax General Manager Leon Jacobs, has been slower to develop, but the interest is now there and research is under way. Since long glass fibers make for a grainy finished part surface, projects to date are nonappearance parts. That could change, however, if an inner hatchback door panel now in development comes to market. There are more potential applications, including some that, strictly speaking, are not structural. A running board, also called a step-assist, under study could go from 14 metal and TPO parts to three pieces with the long-fiber PP, saving 30 lb/vehicle and reducing costs.—Robert Neilley 

StaMax, Rochester Hills, MI
(248) 377-9322


Site helps maintain product data 
A Web-based solution for managing product data housed in the IDES materials database has been introduced. The new tool is said to enable manufacturers to manage their product data dynamically and update all distributor websites that use the i-Catalog Platform technology. This new ability, called the Data Entry Web Tool, features global accessibility 24/7. It updates all product distribution channels that integrate with the materials database and integrates search functions to help users find products. A complete audit history of the materials changed, who made the changes, the date of the changes, and the revised product properties can also be accessed. This tool reportedly offers efficiency in maintaining product information and circulation of product data to all distribution channels. It's also said to bring the user a uniform, single source for product information. IDES has also announced an update of Campus data on its database of plastic materials. This content import reportedly increased Campus data by 18 percent to include more than 5400 materials in IDES's plastics repository. The database currently houses more than 38,000 plastic materials displayed by ASTM, ISO, and Campus test methods. A new pricing structure has also been announced for Prospector Web, providing a single user license for unlimited access for one year starting at $495. 

IDES Inc.
Laramie, WY
(307) 742-9227
www.idesinc.com 

Injection molding salary survey

By almost all accounts, 2001 was a year most molding professionals would like to forget. Sept. 11 aside, the worst economic setback in a decade forced many shops to shut down, while others scaled backed dramatically in hopes of weathering the storm. Continuing pressure from Mexico and Asia initiated a sobering self-analysis of the U.S. injection molding industry that leaves many wondering how this community will evolve in the next five to 10 years. 

It was against this backdrop that IMM launched its first salary survey of injection molding professionals. While we didn't know what to expect, the results are encouraging, and in some cases, pleasantly surprising. 

The survey was conducted by Readex, a research firm based in Stillwater, MN. From September to October, Readex mailed approximately 1300 surveys to readers on the IMM subscription list. A total of 553 usable surveys were returned, for a 43 percent response rate; the results have a margin of error of ±4.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. The charts on this and the following pages paint a picture of what the survey revealed, but there are other trends worth exploring that the data don't reveal. 



A Profile of the Molding Professional 
Based on this survey, a typical respondent is a male who works at either a custom or captive molding facility, is 44 years of age, graduated or at least attended college, works 49.1 hours per week, and earned $70,600 in 2001. He has been in the industry for 18 years and with the same company for eight years. The percentage increase of his last raise was 5.7 percent. 



Salary and Total Compensation 
Because the survey polled individuals with a fairly wide range of job responsibilities (machine setup to plant management), salaries also varied widely. However, they were distributed in fairly equal proportions. On the low end, 5 percent of respondents reported a salary of less than $40,000. At the high end, 4 percent had a salary of $125,000 or more. Of the 79 percent of respondents who reported having received a raise from their employer, the average was 5.7 percent. Those located in the West reported a slighter higher raise (7.8 percent). In addition to salary, 71 percent of respondents received other benefits, including bonuses (50 percent), profit sharing (28 percent), education reimbursement (14 percent), stock options (13 percent), and incentive pay/commissions (6 percent). The estimated value of these benefits varies widely but averages about $3000. 

Not surprisingly, 93 percent of respondents reported that their employers offer health insurance, although this number drops to 84 percent for firms with sales volumes of less than $10 million. Benefits beyond health drop off fairly quickly. Dental coverage is offered to 76 percent of respondents, life insurance to 74 percent, disability to 63 percent, and vision to 44 percent. 

As one might expect, given the large quantity of molding facilities and professionals in the Midwest, salaries in this region, on average, were lowest, at $67,500. Leading the pack is the South at $74,900, followed by the West at $72,500, and the Northeast at $70,700. 

Hard work also appears to pay off. Respondents who work 50 or more hours a week have salaries that average $76,600, $6000 more than the average for the survey, and $11,400 more than employees who work 45 to 49 hours a week. Employees who log less than 45 hours a week reported an average salary of $61,900. 

Finally, regarding performance reviews, more than 70 percent of respondents said that they receive one annually. Some 19 percent reported no regular review schedule. The largest influencing variable here seems to be the size of the company. Ninety-two percent of employees in organizations of 1000 or more workers say they get an annual review; only 51 percent of employees in companies of less than 100 workers receive an annual review. 








Job Satisfaction 
Overall, putting compensation aside, molding professionals reported fairly robust satisfaction with their jobs. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 indicating the highest satisfaction, survey respondents averaged 4.0. Employees of small firms (less than 100 employees, less than $10 million) indicated a satisfaction of 4.3. And employees of moldmaking or mold design companies registered, on average, a job satisfaction of 4.3. 

Employees with more than 15 years of service at their organization also registered a 4.3 satisfaction rating. Similarly, employees in corporate management reported a 4.5 job satisfaction rating. And those who work more than 50 hours a week also came in relatively high with a 4.1 satisfaction rating. 



So, who's least satisfied? Certainly very few respondents reported great or even moderate dissatisfaction with their jobs, but a pattern emerges for those molding professionals who are not as satisfied as most. Respondents who were less than 35 years old, employees of large firms (more than 1000 employees, more than $100 million), who supervise no other employees, or were involved with product design, production process management, production process engineering, machine setup, or marketing/sales reported a job satisfaction of 3.8 or less. Still, no one variable or category measured in the survey indicated a job satisfaction of less than 3.7. 

Another measure of job satisfaction, job-seeking status, also indicates that most molding professionals are happy where they are and are not looking for other opportunities. Almost 70 percent of respondents said they are not considering a new job at this time. Compare this to the 24 percent who said they're not looking for a job, but considering a new-job search, and the 6 percent who are actively looking for a job. As the job satisfaction data showed, those most likely looking for a job were relatively young, working in large organizations, or involved in sales, machine setup/maintenance, or process engineering. It's also interesting to note that employees with marketing/sales responsibilities are among the hardest working, putting in, on average, 51.7 hours a week.

Editor's note: Click here to download a PDF version of a salary approximation worksheet. Use it to help estimate a salary based on data from this survey. 

International Molding Report: Understanding the new NAFTA

This report is prepared for IMM by Agostino von Hassell of The Repton Group, who provides IMM's monthly Molders Economic Index.

It created a trading boom. But a good number of molders in the United States worry that their growth opportunities are fading, moving into Mexico.

This certainly applies to some molding operations, those that do very labor-intensive postmold decorating and assembly, or those that mold products that require considerable manual operations, such as trimming. But other injection molders have and will continue to benefit from the ability to ship parts to Mexico and outsource labor-intensive parts of the manufacturing process. 

Overall NAFTA has been a significant benefit to the U.S. injection molding market. And it's just getting started. 

NAFTA's Impact 
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has created major changes for U.S. injection molders since the treaty took effect in 1994. But the bulk of the changes are still to come. 

The bottom line for U.S. molders is that shops with little or no automation and labor-intensive production will face ever-growing challenges. It is almost impossible to compete with the low-labor environment of Mexico and the low Canadian dollar. 

But other molders have seen major benefits. They can buy parts for assemblies from both Canada and Mexico, mold some sophisticated, often low-tolerance parts in the U.S., and remain very competitive. As the data on these pages show, exports from the U.S. have grown sharply: It's not a one-way street of low-cost molded parts being shipped into the U.S. 

U.S. government sources say that during NAFTA's first seven years, U.S. employment grew by 12 percent, generating 15 million new jobs. Real U.S. industrial production increased by 43 percent. NAFTA proves that prosperous neighbors help create a prosperous America. In 2000, U.S. jobs supported by merchandise exports to NAFTA partners totaled about 2.9 million. That's up 900,000 since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented. 

NAFTA's aim was and is to create a unified customs territory encompassing the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. But it has done much more, creating the basis for a unified economic market. NAFTA was comprised of more than 400 million people and a combined gross domestic product of $10.3 trillion in 2000. Trade among the three partners more than doubled from $289 billion in 1993 to almost $659 billion in 2000. 

Economic changes on this scale take many years to show effect. Consider that the integration of the European Union took decades to accomplish and that more changes are required to meet the vision of the 1956 Treaty of Rome. 

We believe that the bulk of the changes for U.S. molders will materialize over the next decade, substantially changing the way molding is done. None of these changes is a surprise. And all of these changes are already visible: 

• The lure of low labor costs will continue the heavy transfer of additional molding capacity to northern Mexico, leading to substantial job losses in traditional U.S. molding plants. 

• Injection molders that have specialized in fully automated, high-speed production of items such as outer shells for computers, keyboard components, or caps and closures have experienced sharp increases in exports to both Canada and Mexico. 

• More high-value-added injection molding operations will be set up in Canada, supporting end markets like automotive, sporting goods, and electronics. Somewhat lower labor costs and access to a pool of highly skilled workers drive this change. 

• U.S. injection molders will emerge as technology providers, exporting the actual manufacturing while concentrating on developing advanced automation and manufacturing systems, sophisticated design, and marketing to what remains the single largest consumer market in the world—the United States. 

• President George W. Bush is proposing the expansion of NAFTA from its original three members to 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere. Called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), this could create even more change. 

Here is one example of how manufacturing has migrated away from the U.S. Flextronics International Ltd. of Singapore now molds components for the successful Microsoft Xbox in Guadalajara, Mexico. Before NAFTA, sources with the company say, the U.S. could have been considered as a location. 

Another recent example is Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems, which in December 2001 announced plans to close three plants in south central Kentucky and shift production to Mexico and Asia. The company makes wiring harnesses and electronic components for the automotive industry. 

There are numerous other examples. Practically every major automotive parts molder, supplier of components for computers and electronics, and now even supplier of medical parts has located molding operations in northern Mexico. 

The Current Recession 
The close integration in these three markets comes at a price. As the U.S. economy booms, Mexico and Canada boom along with it. Yet the reverse is also true. As U.S. manufacturing started to contract 16 months ago, the Canadian and Mexican molding industries also started to contract. 

The U.S. manufacturing market is likely to show signs of a strong recovery by late spring 2002. Actually, as reported in the Molders Economic Index, signs of this imminent recovery are increasing. 

How quickly will Mexico and Canada benefit? Most economists say that there is a three- to four-month lag between economic developments in the U.S. and its two NAFTA partners. While Mexico and Canada didn't see manufacturing decline long after U.S. molders saw orders shrink, the same will apply in a recovery. 

Canada is also troubled by relatively high inventories, mostly in high-tech goods. Since 1994 substantial portions of electronics molding operations have moved from the Pacific Northwest into Canada. Now, with the deep slump in electronics, Canadian molding shops are hurting. 

The Lure of Mexico 
Mexico today is the 11th largest economy in the world. Thanks to NAFTA Mexico is expected to show an average economic growth of 4.7 percent per year from 1999 to 2003. In 2000, trade value between the U.S. and Mexico reached a total of $263 billion, more than three times the amount achieved in 1993, the year before NAFTA was enacted. 

While 2001 brought some slowdown, it is far less severe than the manufacturing contraction in the U.S. or even in Canada. Mexico is poised to become even more attractive as President Vincente Fox makes credible moves toward eliminating rampant corruption. 

While trade between the U.S. and Mexico is obviously booming, it has become almost impossible to track specific trade patterns between the two countries. One injection molding company in Alabama that makes crash pad assemblies told us that some subassembly components move across the border as many as four times. 

Here is how this works. In Alabama this molder produces components for the speed indicator and other dials. These parts are shipped to northern Mexico and integrated into a subassembly. This subassembly is then shipped back to Alabama and matched up with the console, which is subsequently shipped back to Mexico for assembly with the rest of the crash pad. Finally, the finished product is shipped back to the U.S. to an automotive assembly plant. 

Don't you lose the efficiencies of low labor costs with all this shipping back and forth? No, says this molder. Even with multiple trips across the border it remains more cost efficient to do it this way. 

The only real problems now, after the Sept. 11 attacks, are massive border delays due to increased scrutiny of traffic into the U.S. To cope, molders north and south of the borders, in Canada and in the U.S., have had to adjust finely tuned just-in-time policies to guard against supply chain interruptions. 

Trade with Mexico is also no longer limited largely to a few U.S. border states, such as California and Texas. In 2000, 15 U.S. states each exported more than $1 billion worth of goods and services to Mexico. While exports from California ($52 billion) and Texas ($19 billion) led the way, exports from states such as Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee have expanded greatly. 

Driving this increase is the fact that manufacturers have integrated their production processes, according to the U.S. government. U.S. companies are using Mexican-made components in a wide range of electronics products. Mexico is also the leading supplier of TV sets and laptop computers to the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.S. is Mexico's largest supplier of such products as printed circuits, television tubes, and translators. 

Even more positive for Mexico's long-range growth, U.S. manufacturers are now turning to Mexico's research and development facilities. For example, the Delphi Engineering & Design Center in Ciudad Juarez now employs more than 1500 Mexican engineers. 

So how do U.S. molders benefit? Some 80 percent of all parts used in assembly operations in Mexico are imported from the U.S. For instance, molded outer shells and other components for computers are shipped from the U.S. to Mexico for truly labor-intensive operations: the computer's assembly. 

In contrast, Asian factories—whether for computers, cars, or telecom—use hardly any parts molded in the U.S. 

Canada's Role 
Trading ties between the U.S. and Canada represent the largest bilateral relationship between any two countries in the world. In 2000, imports of goods from Canada totaled $229 billion, an increase of 15.4 percent over the previous year. Exports of U.S. goods to Canada amounted to $178.8 billion, rising 7.32 percent over the previous year. Nearly 86 percent of Canada's merchandise exports are shipped to the U.S., representing 33 percent of the country's GDP. 

Data from various Canadian government sources show that close to $40 billion of all exports to the U.S. were molded plastics parts, mostly for automotive, electronics, telecom, and sporting goods applications. But commodity parts have shown growth, too: Canada's production of plastic plumbing fixtures jumped from Canadian $194 million in 1995 to Canadian $390 million in 2000. Some 40 percent of the increase is due to exports to the U.S. It is the same story for products as simple as stoppers, lids, and caps and closures, or for molded tableware or lighting fixtures. 

Canada is a very attractive location for foreign investment. In 1999, the stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Canada totaled $111.7 billion. A major factor driving investment in Canada is the devalued Canadian dollar, which makes it cheaper for U.S. companies to operate there. According to a recent report by KPMG Canada, the cost of operating a manufacturing project in Canada runs, on average, 6.7 percent less than in the U.S. 

Canada's role could decline some in future years as Mexico's much larger population (90 million Mexicans vs. 30 million Canadians) becomes a wealthy and therefore more attractive market for U.S. companies. Today Mexico is already a major consumer products market. 

Canada's role producing automotive parts appears secure. In 2001 Canada accounted for 16 percent of light vehicle production and 11 percent of parts production in North America. 

The number of Canadian processing plants molding automotive parts jumped from 64 companies in 1995 to more than 90 in 2000. Their output grew from Canadian $1.76 billion in 1995 to Canadian $2.97 billion in 2000. Again, the overwhelming majority of the increase is due to sales to U.S. assembly plants. 

How NAFTA changed the trade picture

Imports and exports, billion $
 199319941995199619971998199920002001*
Imports from Canada
Percent change, imports
111.2128.4
15.5%
144.4
12.4%
155.9
8.0%
167.2
7.3%
173.3
3.6%
198.7
14.7%
230.8
16.2%
167.1
Exports to Canada
Percent change, exports
Trade balance
100.4

-10.8
114.4
13.9%
-14.0
127.2
11.2%
-17.1
134.2
5.5%
-21.7
151.8
13.1%
-15.5
156.6
3.2%
-16.7
166.6
6.4%
-32.1
178.9
7.4%
-51.9
125.2

-41.838
Imports from Mexico
Percent change, imports
39.949.5
24.0%
62.1
25.5%
74.3
19.6%
85.9
15.7%
94.6
10.1%
109.7
15.9%
135.9
23.9%
99.3
Exports to Mexico
Percent change, exports
Trade balance
41.6

1.7
50.8
22.3%
1.3
46.3
-9.0%
-15.8
56.8
22.7%
-17.5
71.4
25.7%
-14.5
78.8
10.3%
-15.9
86.9
10.3%
-22.8
111.3
28.1%
-24.6
76.5

-22.8
Source: U.S. Census Bureau; *Data through September 2001


Contact information
The Repton Group, New York, NY
Agostino von Hassell
(212) 750-0824
[email protected]

Ice scraper design springs to life in race to market

Thomas Edison would be impressed. Technology has significantly increased the speed of bringing an invention to market in the 21st century. Software, virtual prototyping, virtual collaboration, and online molder sourcing have quickened the pace for new product introductions. A company called Innovation Factory used all of these tools to bring the IceDozer and the SnowMover to market this year. 

A Better Scraper 
About a year ago, Tucker Marion and business partner Marvin Weinberger scheduled a meeting on a winter evening. After concluding their discussions, they went out to scrape the ice and snow from their cars. They quipped about the ineffici-ency of the scrapers and wished they could find one that actually worked, one that conformed to the shape of the windshield to maximize each scraping. From that night on, Marion knew that he had to solve this issue, and having a mechanical engineering background, his need to troubleshoot was in high gear. 

Soon after, Marion and Weinberger started the Innovation Factory (Havertown, PA) and funded it with venture capital. Their goal was to create interesting, highly functional consumer products. Their first endeavor began with Marion drawing up sketches of the ideal ice scraper in February 2001. 

Three injection molded parts make up the IceDozer, a new product that went from concept to production in less than 11 months. For the handle (yellow) and body (black), designers chose polyethylene. For the blade (white), polycarbonate was chosen.



"From the beginning, I knew that virtual team-based engineering was the right approach," says Marion, head of product development. "My intuition told me that pulling experts together in the product development cycle would get the job done." EJM Design, an accomplished industrial design firm in North Hollywood, CA, was hired to translate the concept into several possibilities. This company has worked on many well-known consumer products, such as the Teledyne Waterpik, Thermoscan, and Sensa Pen. 

'The CAD part of product development is where we can quickly make things happen, and where we can compress the design cycle.'
Design Criteria 
Innovation Factory's new product would be known as the IceDozer, and the team had specific design criteria in mind. First, the blade had to conform to the shape of any automobile window. Secondly, its shape had to be ergonomic, and translate movement to maximize each scraping motion. Third, the scraper needed to be a professional grade, take abuse, and last a long time. 

EJM Design came up with 17 initial concepts for the IceDozer. In the end, the team decided upon the design that most closely resembled the initial drawing, and then simplified it. By June 2001, Marion and Jim Keen, project manager of EJM Design, narrowed their focus down to the workable design. To prove the concept, they built two wooden models--a large and small version of the IceDozer. Ultimately, the optimum size was somewhere in between. EJM created 2-D scaled drawings in mid-June, and the project was then ready for hard-core engineering. 

Innovation Factory went to the DVIRC (Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center) in search of real-world manufacturing expertise. The IRC Network is an economic development organization that helps improve the competitiveness of small to medium-sized manufacturers throughout Pennsylvania. Innovation Factory also received $3000 in matching funds from the state to help move its product closer to market. DVIRC consultants Chris Yatsko and Travis Sherbine joined the IceDozer team. 

Manufacturing Considerations 
Following a design-for-manufacturing approach, they labored to minimize the number of parts, taking the scraper from 10 parts to three injection molded parts, further reducing its cost. Using Solid Edge, Sherbine created 3-D CAD models of the IceDozer and it was ready for virtual refinement. 

"The design-for-manufacturing phase of the project presented some interesting challenges," says Sherbine. "As a machinist by trade, I was looking to make the molding as cost-effective as possible. I used mostly construction surfaces to create all three pieces of the IceDozer, and not one piece required a pull. For every pull in the injection molding process, you add 33 percent more cost to the tool. For every pull I eliminated, we saved about $5000." 

After four or five CAD iterations the team linked via a conference call and gave the final thumbs up. Sherbine then exported an SLA file for rapid prototyping. Using a stereolithography model and an RTV mold created by EJM, Innovation Factory ran a series of cold weather tests. At British Aerospace's lab they tested the ice scraper using various ice thicknesses to verify the design. After rigorous testing they made one final revision to the model. 

A second product based on the earlier invention's blade design, called the SnowMover, went from concept to production in about three months.

Sourcing Online 
Finally, it was time to source the right manufacturing contractor. With Dec. 1, 2001 as a target market release date, timing would be a major factor. Taking their need to the Internet in August, Innovation Factory posted a request for quote (RFQ) on MfgQuote.com to locate the right injection molding company. (MfgQuote.com is an interactive Web service enabling manufacturing members to buy and sell custom manufacturing services. Buyers post RFQs at no cost, and suppliers quote for business that meets their expertise and capacity.) 

"We had great responses to our RFQ. Several manufacturers nationwide responded with varying quotes and a wide range of prices," stated Marion. "Based on timing and cost, we eliminated a lot of them, and settled upon VMV Tool & Engineering [Madison, IN]. Within a month, we had worked out terms and conditions. We needed a manufacturer that could offer us speed-to-market and a full solution, one that could not only produce quality parts, but also box and ship product as well. This was very important to us in our first year of production." 

VMV Tool & Engineering is geared to work with entrepreneurs. Dan Vincent, co-owner of VMV, has been a CNC programmer for 17 years and explains that the company focuses on running aluminum tools at low volumes--in effect, rapid prototyping. The company builds molds and performs molding quickly and efficiently for clients who are in the market for 50 to 50,000 parts. Partner Steve Vawter, a mold designer by trade, and Vincent started VMV Tool about five years ago and have grown the company to 22 employees. 

Not only did VMV have the right shop capacity, but it also had an extra 10,000 sq ft of space, normally used for secondary operations such as assembly, packaging, and shipping. The space was converted to accommodate shipping needs for the IceDozer. 

Once the 3-D CAD files arrived, VMV found a few design hurdles en route to production. "Once we had the design in hand, we reviewed several sections of the product for problems and/or improvements. In the areas where the parts clip together we made modifications so the components would snap together more easily. We also spotted locations where there would be potential sink problems and performed design changes to eliminate these conditions," stated Vincent. 

All tools for the Innovation Factory products were built with three-axis, high-speed Haas machining centers. The company used a 200-ton Toshiba press to produce the IceDozer. Durable materials were chosen for the IceDozer--polyethylene for the body and polycarbonate for the blade. About 100,000 units were molded for the product's introduction, which finally took place in January. 

A Second Concept 
With the IceDozer tooling in progress, Marion and Weinberger began developing a similar product--the SnowMover. It would safely remove large amounts of snow from a car or truck. 

From a rough idea, EJM Design presented five concepts to the engineering team within a short three weeks. The chosen design went through a couple of iterations before finally becoming a clever snow plow with an innovative I-beam shaft and protective bristles on the shovel's bottom to protect a vehicle's paint job. 

Once they settled upon the SnowMover's look and feel, Marion wanted to get to the CAD stage immediately. "The CAD part of the product development stage is where we can quickly make things happen, and where we can compress the design cycle," he says. "We already had the engineering team intact, and we could move forward quickly and effectively." 

Sherbine again went to work on the CAD design and ran through four to five iterations to achieve a manufacturable product. "Reducing this design down to five pieces was a lot trickier than the first product. In the end, the CAD design was four injection molded pieces and one extruded piece. We had to look hard at the extrusion tolerance and intersection of the welding to come up with the right answer," says Sherbine. 

Within one month the team went from paper to CAD to an SLA model, delivered in late October. The SnowMover would be made from polyethylene, and the scoop part of the shovel would be molded with polypropylene. VMV Tool began production shortly after and was ready to meet the target market date of Dec. 15, 2001. 

But Marion and Weinberger are not resting on their laurels. They are already in the planning stages of producing a family of IceDozer products using their ingenious blade design. The line will include a small glove-box version, as well as a larger-sized ice scraper for big vehicles such as vans, SUVs, and trucks. 

Contact information
Innovation Factory
Havertown, PA
Tucker Marion
(610) 789-5717
www.innovationfactory.com
[email protected]

ManufacturingQuote Inc.
Smyrna, GA
Tom Haggarty
(770) 444-9686
www.mfgquote.com

VMV Tool & Engineering
Madison, IN
Dan Vincent
(812) 574-2101
www.vmvtool.com

Italian moldmakers alliance broadens its market reach

To join CEM, a company has to be high-tech and quality certified.

In Turin (Torino), Italy, a region where moldmakers and molders historically have played it very close to the vest, a new consortium is opening doors and paving the way to untapped markets and customers. 

Competition throughout the years for Fiat's automotive business has made regional moldmakers more adversarial than friendly. However, OEM demands for expanded service and the siren call of international opportunity led a year ago to the formation of Consorzio Export Mouldex (CEM), a consortium of seven Turin-area suppliers of molds, dies, molded parts, and metal stampings (see sidebar for a list of member firms). 

IMM caught up with CEM at its exhibit at Euromold in Frankfurt, where we spoke with Bruno Scanferla, president of CEM. Just being at the show, says Scanferla, was a big step forward that the member companies could not have taken individually. It is the market, he says, that is the driving force behind the alliance, and in particular the globalization trend. As their clients became more global, the moldmakers saw that they must follow suit, but were limited by the financial, technological, and production resources inherent in a small company. The natural solution was the consortium. 

The word export is prominent in CEM's name for a reason: The company's principal goal is to broaden the group's geographical reach and increase the amount of product delivered into other countries. The individual companies are already quite international, averaging 40 percent of sales outside Italy, but keeping up with OEM demand for more international services can be challenging. CEM helps bridge that gap. 

To win complex projects from global companies, CEM's tooling range covers everything from car bumpers to micro components.

Any Type or Size 
Scanferla says that along with the ability to serve businesses with far-flung operations, CEM offers an advantage that might best be called "everything." That is, the consortium can supply as close to a full spectrum of molds, dies, and molding services as possible from one source. 

The member companies together have experience making very small molds for micro parts, large molds for auto body components, and every size in between. Multicomponent molds, special material molds for LSR and thermosets, hot runner tools, and high-complexity tools are also within the scope of the consortium. Experience in a variety of markets is also present and includes tools made for large and small appliances, telephony, computers, electronics, cars and trucks, housewares, and furniture. 

There are also a number of capabilities beyond moldmaking. Various members of CEM have molding facilities, metal stamping lines, prototyping capability, and a full spectrum of downstream operations. These diverse capabilities let CEM offer more to its clients. 

CEM's customer support includes molding parts, stamping metal (shown), assembly, and testing.

Equal Footing 
Each company is ISO 9000 certified and several have QS 9000. Each is experienced dealing with international customers and the necessary customs requirements, regulatory conformance, shipping, and so forth. They are likewise familiar with multinational clients, having worked for the likes of Bosch, Marelli, Valeo, and Volkswagen, among other big names. 

Tools made by the members have already been supplied all over Europe, South America, and to a lesser extent in North America. Particular emphasis is placed on advanced CAD and CAM systems for the design support and communication that OEMs require. In addition, all the systems communicate with each other to support parallel work to accelerate project development and execution. 

CEM collectively has more than 140 employees, nearly $20 million in revenues, and a long list of current-generation, high-tech moldmaking equipment. There is a lot of available machine time, plus experience compressing development and moldmaking times for maximum productivity. The consortium, says Scanferla, creates a completely different level of competence than any individual company could. Presenting those resources to international manufacturers is what CEM is busy doing right now. 

CEM Member Companies
Company
BP Stampi
Mold types and sizes
Molds to 14 tons, high finish for painting, optics
Typical markets
Auto, appliances, garden equipment
ECU StampMedium-sized moldsAuto body components, appliances, electronics
FerigomMolds, molding for rubberAuto, appliances, machinery
FISASmaller molds to 1 ton, precisionAuto safety equipment
(e.g., seat belts, airbags) 
MinimoldSmall to medium molds; multicomponent, insertsSafety, electronics connectors, impellers
ScanferlaDies for cold-pressed metal; metal pressing, long runsAppliances, electronics, auto
TecnoBajardiMedium to large high-complexity moldsAuto, electro-domestic, telectronics

Contact information
Consorzio Export Mouldex
Torino, Italy
+39 (011) 461 76 31
[email protected]

The taming of the screw

When Dave Larson, president of Westland Corp., which designs custom screws to meet specific job requirements, pictures the proper mixing of material by a screw, he always sees the same image. 

"Basically, we're trying to knead the material," Larson explains, "just like our grandmothers would do with bread. You want to be very gentle with it. If you take bread and you put it in a mixer with beaters, the bread will never rise." 

As president of a company wholly focused on screw and barrel technology, it's Larson's job to assess and study the fundamental role screw design plays in high-quality molding. Unfortunately, he says many molders pay little, if any, attention to the topic. 

The Eagle mixing screw, right, solved the streaking problems in these automotive parts. Made from acetal and colored using concentrates, the top part displays streaking, adjacent to the arrow, while the lower part shows the streakless results after the switch to the new screw.


"Screw and barrel design with a lot of molders is not a high priority," Larson says, "or it's not thought that a screw can make the kind of difference that it truly can make." 

There was a time when John Rake, vp and gm of Avon Plastic Products, would have fallen into this category of molders largely indifferent to the importance of the screw. Avon, a custom molder serving the automotive interior and trim market, uses a fair amount of color concentrates in its products. 

Homogeneous mixing is a necessity, and Rake had successfully color concentrated ABS and PP without considering the screw design. If he had irregularities, Rake would tweak backpressures and use dispersion disks and mixing nozzles to achieve a thorough blend. These adjustments worked fine with ABS and PP, but acetal was another story. 

"I'd been trying for years to do [color concentrating] with acetal without any success," Rake says. 

At one point, Rake tried cranking up backpressure to 350 psi, which created a uniform mix of acetal and colorant but placed the machine and the material under too much stress. His options were limited. Rake could run his machines at pressures he admitted could "blow the endcap off," or switch to expensive precolored compounds instead of using color concentrates. Yet there was another solution—one introduced by Westland that involved closer consideration of the screw being used in the process. 

Avon uses at-the-throat mixing to introduce color concentrates to its resins.

A Whole New World 
To help Rake—who had been running all of his machines with the standard screws that came with the machines—realize the benefits of a more specialized screw, Westland sent out a lengthy project and process profile form for the molder to fill out. 

"[The profile] was quite extensive in terms of what we were trying to do, what the melt flows were, what we were running at, and what we considered optimal in terms of backpressures, melt temperatures, and injection pressures," Rake says. "We forwarded this four- to six-page questionnaire back to them, and they came back with a proposal for an Eagle mixing screw." 

After specifying the screw, Westland sent consultant Terry Williams to Avon for installation and training. The new mixing screw quickly proved to be the right choice. 

"We're now successfully color-concentrating acetal," Rake says. Not only that, but the Eagle screw is also specifically designed for the process profiles Rake required. The Eagle's mixing section uses wiper flights with large helix angles to force the melt over barrier lands or through one of six mixing notches (see diagram below). This motion encourages thorough mixing without the excessive shear that can degrade material. 

"We didn't want [the Eagle] to be a restrictive device," Larson says. "We didn't want it to hold the material back on the screw; we wanted it to flow freely. So the mixer is designed to handle 100 percent of the material that is coming up the screw." 

Larson says Westland accomplished this by reducing the mixer's root diameter and by increasing the helix angle of the flights. Instead of the typical 17.5° square pitch design, the Eagle uses 40° and 50° helix angles on two different flights. The material begins at two inlet channels that start wide and then gradually narrow to compress the material. As the channel is narrowed and the material is compressed, it passes through a mixing notch and into a slender channel that widens. This creates the aforementioned kneading action. 

"We don't want to destroy the polymer structure," Larson says, "so we want to be very gentle with it, but knead it and mix it so we have good uniform product when it comes out the end." 

The arrows show the flow of resin over the barrier lands and through the mixing notches, creating the "kneading" action.

Seeing the Light 
A true convert, Rake says he has gone from totally neglecting his screws to seeing them as an integral piece of the molding puzzle. 

"I really thought that in my 22 years in this business I'd gotten a handle on what made a good part," Rake says, "but when [Williams] came out and educated us on plasticating, I realized how little I knew about the whole area." 

Rake says his epiphany came in two primary areas. First, at the suggestion of Williams, Rake has installed gauges on all his machines to monitor pressure during screw recovery. This isn't standard operating procedure for many molders, but Rake says it offers another view of the process that helps monitor the aging machines, the newest of which dates back to 1985. 

"I've got older-technology molding machines," Rake says, "but if we see a blip now either up or down in our screw recovery, that's a more instantaneous indicator to us that something has gone wrong in the process—we've blown a heater band, or something else is awry." 

Light has also been shed on the effect compression ratios have on amorphous and crystalline materials. Previously, Avon exclusively used 3:1 compression ratio screws, and the disparate melt points of amorphous and crystalline materials reacted differently to the prolonged shearing action. Rake realized he was neglecting the needs of amorphous materials, so he compromised and switched to a 2.6:1 screw. 

"Our compression ratio has shifted more towards being friendly with amorphous materials, and yet our crystallines can still handle it," Rake says. 

So changed is Rake's mentality that if he perceives a potential benefit, he'll trade out screws as he changes molds, trying to match the right screw with the right job. 

"I'm not losing any downtime on the molding machine," Rake says, "and by switching to these high-performance screws specifically designed for certain resin systems, I'm picking up cycles; I'm picking up quality; I'm picking up dimensional stability. The benefits are just tremendous." 

The financial benefits have been impressive as well. By spending $.50/lb less on the 225,000 lb of acetal Avon processes annually, Rake now saves about $125,000 a year in material costs on acetal alone. 

"It's kept us in the ball game," Rake says. "I thought I had gotten all the low-hanging fruit out there, and that we were running a pretty lean manufacturing operation, but when Westland got us involved in taking a look at the whole plasticating process, we found money." 

Contact information
Westland Corp.
Wichita, KS
Dave Larson
(316) 721-1144
www.westlandusa.com

Avon Plastic Products Inc.
Rochester Hills, MI
John Rake
(248) 852-1000

K 2001: Faster, more flexible automation

Expanding its automation offerings, machine maker Arburg brought out the vertical version of its Multilift Series. Three linear servo-driven axes can be augmented with rotating or hinged axes to handle parts up to 55 lb.

We are repeating ourselves, but there is no choice: Automation is coming at us from every corner. Drawn on by the need for verifiable product quality, repeatability, and shorter cycles, K 2001 resembled a robotics supermarket. Linear servo technology is going to every size of molding machine, sprue pickers included. Industrial multiaxis robots continue to be more conspicuous with every passing trade fair. This was the first K, for example, in which ABB had its own exhibit. The gamut of choices is ever wider; performance increases; adaptability to virtually any application is evident; and best news of all, the robots are much easier to use. 

The robot makers are the first to say that ease of use is a major factor. Self-teaching programs and graphic interfaces are bringing robotics programming into the walk-you-through-it realm of computer wizards. At K you could walk into a number of stands and within minutes get comfortable enough with a robotics control unit to start creating new sequences. Being an expert still needs practice, of course, but a lot less than before. 

One could justify a trip to K 2001 simply to see the variety of creative ways in which robotics are designed and applied. Robotics experts say that as costs come down and options increase, the major obstacle to better automation remains the user's lack of experience. If the only automation you have dealt with is a sprue picker or less, it is not easy to conceive of a production cell with multiple interacting robots linked to a set of molding machines and postmold finishing systems. If imagination is the key, IMM saw many new products and concepts at K 2001 to get yours fired up. 

Demag showed one- and two-arm versions of its new Demag Robot DR-CB H1. The single-arm version of this high-speed, side-entry robot fits within the machine frame to help save floor space.


Many Ways to Shorter Cycles 
Neureder, which recently increased its North American presence, designed its newest linear-motor robot to enter the mold laterally. The gripper can be positioned just outside the closed mold to move directly in when the mold opens. The company notes that top-entry robots must cover the distance from outside the machine shell to the center of the mold. Combining the short in-out path with native high speed lets the CB 150H robot help reduce cycle times on small to medium machines. The unit's design keeps the handling axes outside the tool. Since only the gripper need enter, it can be designed flatter to minimize mold-opening distance. 

Demag Ergotech is no stranger to automated systems integration. Judging by its K display, this machine maker is placing even more emphasis on purpose-designed automated cells. One system based on a 200-ton El-Exis S machine used a two-arm version of the company's new modular Demag Robot DR-CB H1 to extract and place mobile phone housings from a 4x4 Männer stack mold in 3.6-second cycles. 

Designed for telectronics and medical applications, and built for Demag by Neureder, the modularity of the robot allows multiple configurations. A single-arm robot on a 50-ton Viva machine showed the robot within the machine housing to help conserve floor space. The 40-mm-wide arm can extract parts from a mold opening as narrow as 60 mm in .5 second. 

A six-axis Mitsubishi industrial robot integrated with a Demag Ergotech 35/320 demonstrated multiple movements from insertion to extraction to multiple postmold movements. However, what Demag wanted this concept machine to show was how its controller could integrate the complicated production cell. Besides controlling machine parameters, special support software in the controller managed the Mitsubishi robot, a two-camera inspection system monitored part ID and OD, and more. Demag delivered 10 similar systems before K 2001 and is installing the first one in the U.S. 

Increasing productivity by 5 percent in products like CD jewel boxes, trays, and slim boxes will draw a standing ovation. The automation system Hekuma unveiled at K 2001 reportedly increases productivity as much as 50 percent for CD packaging. Hekuma's Kurt Knoepfler says the last big breakthrough in this area happened more than 10 years ago when cycle times went from 14 seconds to less than 7 seconds. The high-speed, side-entry system Hekuma had at the show ran 4.4-second cycles that will soon decrease to 4.2 seconds, or faster. 

Among the contributing innovations—some patented—the most visible are the fans on the Hekuma system's end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). The fans are designed to create a suction to lift parts faster from molds that open only for .3 to .4 second; the fans also help with part cooling. In addition, the robot helps with startup and protects the mold by verifying part removal. Integrated with 4x4 stack molds on 240-ton machines, this system will produce 27 million CD jewel or slim boxes per year, or 54 million CD trays. 

Exemplifying ease of use, ATM's new ES Series high-speed CNC robots are fitted with a PC-based touch-screen control pendant with full teaching capability. Available in four models for machines from 30 to 2000 tons, the ES robots include features such as time-save and movement anticipation to minimize cycle times. ATM says the performance, which includes a sub-4-second dry cycle time and
.6-second takeout time, is partly achieved with an innovative control technology that minimizes the time used for processing and transferring commands. 

The automation system Hekuma unveiled for CD jewel boxes, trays, and slim cases cycled a 4x4 stack mold in just more than 4 seconds—a productivity boost of up to 50 percent over previous systems. The fans speed extraction and help cool the part.Indicative of the influx of industrial robots into the molding industry, Stäubli chose K 2001 to present its RXplastics line of six-axis devices. Ready for Class 100 cleanrooms, the controls memorize frequently used sequences that can be recalled when creating new programs.

Machine maker Arburg's new Multilift V vertical servo robot series is designed for more complex loading, removal, and positioning needs. The V Series joins the company's established Multilift H horizontal robots to provide a wide range of solutions. Like the horizontal robots, the vertical units are modular for configuration flexibility and are fully integrated into Arburg's graphic Selogica machine controls. The V can stack molded parts in containers, deposit parts in specific positions to form a pattern, or take inserts from programmed positions. The basic configuration of the Multilift V has three servoelectric axes, and rotating or hinged axes can be added. 

Engel's commitment to automation is evident from the large factory it built a few years ago. It produced 1000 robots last year and may be expanded this year. At K 2001 Engel showed a production cell developed jointly with Bayer and Siemens to mold the latter's film-decorated, thin-wall mobile phone housings. A 200-ton machine from Engel's Victory Series is constructed using modules for a very stiff clamp, fast machine movements, and high injection rates. A high-speed linear ERS 1 robot is integrated in the machine and a linear ERC 23/1-E combines with a tray server as a parts buffer. At the show, it used a sprueless direct injection process to mold ABS/PC onto special film in a 1x1 hot runner mold in 9-second cycles. 

While Kuka's new Series 2000 industrial robots boast longer reach, larger payload capacity, and higher acceleration, the company is paying particular attention to the "shelf-mounted" versions designed to sit on top of injection machines. Payload limits up to 210 kg (462 lb) let these six-axis units handle machines of more than 5000 metric tons. The optimized kinematics of Models KR 150 K and KR 180 K produce higher velocities and a work envelope that is 73 percent larger. 

Molding machine maker Negri-Bossi launched a line of three-axis servodriven robots for machines of 160 to 1400 metric tons. The robot control system is fully integrated with the machine control, and all setting and verifying functions of the robot can be done at the machine control. The interface is designed simply enough that users can learn to program the robots without special training. There is also a portable terminal for programming or manual operation. As it has done with its Canbio molding machines, Negri-Bossi uses CANbus technology to connect all robot functions. 

The cell Engel developed with Bayer for Siemens mobile phone housings uses two linear robots. The first places IMD film in the mold while removing parts; the second sorts parts into trays, prealigns IMD film for entry, and provides a parts buffer—all in 9-second cycles.Wittmann showed its new W673 servo robot line for payloads up to 275 lb, and some interesting ways to use it. The robot can turn a large part many times in various directions to present it to auxiliary operations such as sprue cutters, welders, or inserting stations.

Sepro presented a preview of its Generation IV robotics at K. Due out this summer and featuring a number of engineering improvements, Sepro says the real key to these robots is electronics. In the most advanced version, a G-IV integrates up to eight numeric axes. A totally new machine interface offers touch-screen, online help, graphic help, and content-based icons. Extremely user-friendly, the system will employ four main function keys: production, mold change, programming, and maintenance. The first two units to the market will cover machines from 20 to 350 metric tons, and the series will ultimately reach to 5000-ton machines. 

Stäubli, a well-established (12,000 installed units) maker of multiaxis industrial robots, premiered its RXplastics line of six-axis robots. It offers a maximum load capacity to 25 kg (53 lb) and a reach of 2185 mm (85 inches) to support a wide range of machine sizes. It also offers high speed, rapid acceleration, and cleanroom compliance to Class 100. The robot's controllers include Euromap 12 interface software. 

The new ES servo robots from ATM offer dry cycles of less than 4 seconds on machines from 30 to 2000 metric tons. Besides linear units, ATM's capability for full automated handling systems now includes industrial and Scara robots, feeders, indexers, heatstaking units, and more.Negri-Bossi added a line of robotics to its offerings using the CANbus technology already in its Canbio molding machines. The three-axis Flash Robots are servodriven, integrate fully with the machine controller, and are available for machines from 160 to 1400 metric tons.

Geiger rolled out a pair of high-performance units designed to bring more automation power to smaller machines without breaking the budget. The FlexiLiner is a servomotor-based handling robot for machines of up to 150 metric tons. It allows precise individual positioning and programming that is user-friendly. All axes can be positioned at the same time. The company's MiniServo handling robot is pneumatic but also can be freely programmed and positioned. It features short removal times, minimum energy and air consumption, and quick changeover. 

The Wittmann stand in Düsseldorf featured new products and very creative ways to use them. The new servo robot Series W653-W673 is for larger-tonnage presses and payloads up to 125 kg (275 lb). A telescopic vertical arm minimizes overall height, doubles the speed of the gripper arm, and has maximum rigidity for accuracy over long strokes. A variety of pneumatic or servo rotating axes can be supplied for part placement and secondary operation positioning. 

Sepro says electronics play a starring role in the Generation IV Robots it previewed. The controls can manage up to eight axes, made easier by a friendly graphic interface, a touch screen, and software to guide the less-experienced user.What Kuka calls its "shelf-mounted" six-axis robot is optimized to sit on top of a molding machine. The work envelope has been increased by 73 percent and payload capacity is up to 462 lb.

Geiger's MiniServo brings easy programming, positioning flexibility, fast in-out times, and low cost of ownership to small machine users.Wittmann's new W613 offers the company's fastest in-out times and is designed to avoid turf wars with hoppers or blenders on machines with short injection units. 

At K, a new Model W673 removed a bumper fascia from a mold and manipulated it for various secondary operations. Rather than putting the part down and bringing the secondaries to it, Wittmann used the robot to bring the part to multiple secondaries. Similarly, another robot manipulated a dashboard fascia to allow Wittmann's wrist-mounted nipper to remove multiple subrunners. The concept provides product flexibility with reprogramming and easy changing of EOAT and secondaries. 

Industry Watch

GE adds LNP to its plastics materials mix 
General Electric Corp. represents a massive amalgamation of businesses that is displayed vividly by the 25 different units listed on the company's website. These businesses range from aircraft engines to the National Broadcasting Co., and mergers and acquisitions continually add to its ranks, but GE Plastics spokesperson Jay Pomeroy says that while the titanic conglomerate is always looking to add new businesses, it does so with a game plan. He says this philosophy is exemplified by its recent acquisition of custom compounder LNP Engineering Plastics from Kawasaki Steel Corp. of Japan. 

As part of the terms of its acquisition by GE's plastics division, LNP Engineering Plastics' offices in Exton, PA will serve as the new global headquarters for a custom compounding operation with 13 facilities in nine countries. GE folded its custom engineered product unit into the new LNP operation.


"If you look at GE Plastics, or you take a look at GE in general," Pomeroy says, "our company is about growth. We look at ways to grow our business and look at ways to serve our customers better than ever, and [the LNP acquisition] is going to allow us to do both." 

Pomeroy says LNP's extensive work in nylon and crystalline materials complements GE's plastics group, which was devoid of nylon and primarily features amorphous thermoplastics. Per the deal's terms, LNP will retain its name and operate as an individual entity within GE's corporate structure. In addition, GE will fold its custom engineered product unit into LNP, creating a new compounding operation with 13 facilities in nine countries. 

For LNP spokesperson Jaine Lucas, the retention of LNP's name and GE's concession to allow the company relative autonomy signifies the respect GE has for the custom compounder. 

"Clearly GE has acknowledged the equity in the LNP brand," Lucas says, "and that's pretty significant, because we're not a big company, especially compared to [GE]." 

LNP's work is done on an entirely custom basis, which entails heavy interaction and cooperation with customers. This fact wasn't lost on GE and played a role in its decision to acquire the company. 

"[LNP] has a great reputation in the marketplace with its customers and our customers," Pomeroy says, "and they've got great speed-to-market attributes, and great customer service attributes." 

With the influx of GE's capital, Lucas says LNP hopes to further that reputation around the globe. 

"LNP has always been interested in growing globally," Lucas says. "This acquisition is going to immediately strengthen our reach that way." 

Pomeroy says the immediate impact for GE's bottom line and customers will also be tangible. "This is about revenue growth, profit growth, and it's also about adding value to our customers," Pomeroy says.


Hull/Finmac opens Sesame production
In the hopes of ramping up production of its nanomolding machines to bring them to a larger market, Murray Inc. has granted Hull/Finmac Inc., a division of Hull Corp., an exclusive license to produce the company's Sesame nanomolding machine. The machine (see "Tiebar-free Hybrid Micromolding Machine," January 1999 IMM, p. 138 for the initial report) was created by Murray to meet the specific process needs of a medical customer's application. But Murray envisioned broader uses for the product, and it sought and was granted a patent for the press. Since the original production for that customer in 1998, however, only three more machines have been created. 

An engineering and design firm specializing in medical devices, Murray realized it needed help to fabricate the Sesame on a larger scale. Enter Hull/Finmac. 

"[Murray] is not really a machinery manufacturer," explains Bob Boland, Hull/Finmac's sales manager, "so they were looking for a niche-oriented machinery manufacturer, and that's what Hull is. [Hull] could market these machines, build these machines, and also have the capability of servicing these machines." 

If ambitious sales forecasts are met, Hull hopes to manufacture 25 total Sesames for all of 2002. Working in conjunction with Murray, Hull will present the Sesame as a fully optimized, turnkey solution to molders. 

"We would take a customer's product and say, 'We'll produce the molding system for you, which would include the press, the mold, and the process,'" Boland says. With the assistance of Murray, Boland says this end-to-end service will also include initial part design. Pricing for the bench-top Sesame nanomolding machine ranges from $55,000 to $65,000, depending on the package chosen; the press is available with an 840-lb or a 3000-lb clamp. 


Short shots
The Society of the Plastics Industry's Committee on Equipment Statistics released Q3 data on machine shipments, which continue to show marked declines from 2000. Shipments for Q3 2001 were down 56 percent in units and 51 percent in dollar value compared to Q3 2000. 

Spirex (Youngstown, OH) and Bimetalix (Sullivan, WI) have merged in a deal that melds complementary capabilities. Spirex already manufactures screws, valves, and other front-end components, and it now adds barrels, Bimetalix's primary product. 

Hunkar Laboratories (Cincinnati, OH) expanded its presence in automated manufacturing and warehouse management with the acquisition of EVItrak Technologies (Norwalk, OH). EVItrak provides data acquisition hardware and software. 

Valeo (Paris, France) sold its Saint Savine molding operation to NEIF Plastics (Paris, France). The Saint Savine plant and its 335 employees will join NEIF's four existing facilities in France.