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Articles from 2012 In February

Green Matter: Losing that virgin quality

Over the past years, PVC has increasingly grappled with its image as a "bad" plastic. Just how bad the image of this material really is becomes painfully clear from the results of quick Google search using the relatively unbiased search terms "PVC + environment".  PVC, I learn, is the "worst plastic from an environmental health perspective". Called "the Poison Plastic", it is "one of the worst environmental and health offenders, yet it's the most widely used material". I read that "PVC plastic constantly emits toxins, such as dioxin, into the air," and that it "lasts forever and is toxic to make." And that was without even having to click the search results open.PVC formula

And it's perfectly true: there are definitely a number of serious issues relating to PVC, concerning the end of life, controversial plasticizers, emissions during production, the use of cadmium and lead stabilizers, to name but a few, that need to be addressed. What's heartening to note is that this is exactly what is happening. Today, PVC is probably the world's most researched plastic.

The manufacture of PVC involves the use of potentially hazardous chemicals and is very closely regulated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, just issued strong final standards requiring facilities that produce polyvinyl chloride and copolymers (PVC) to reduce harmful air emissions, which will improve air quality and protect people's - especially children's - health in areas where facilities are located.

In Europe, a 10-year industry commitment was launched in 2000 under the name Vinyl 2010, to enhance the sustainable production and use of this material, with gratifying results. In 1999, there was no PVC recycling infrastructure in Europe, with PVC being dismissed by many as an 'unrecyclable' material. Today, the audit results show that in the past year alone 260,842 tons of unregulated post-consumer PVC waste were recycled by Vinyl 2010's network of PVC recyclers across Europe, well beyond the project's initial target of 200,000 tons, working under the Recovinyl umbrella. Recovinyl facilitates the collection, sorting, dispatching and recycling of mixed PVC post-consumer waste, mainly from the building and construction sectors, by involving and motivating accredited waste recovery companies and recyclers.

However, the main reason for the success of Vinyl 2010 was the across-the-board participation of the entire industry. "It has not been easy to bring everybody on board, there were lots of reluctant people saying it would be a failure, recycling would not work, additives would not be replaced, but we did it," said Helmuth Leitner of the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers. As a result, Europe's PVC chain became willing to invest time, and money. What's more, building on the success of Vinyl 2010, a new voluntary industry commitment has since been launched, complete with a new set of targets aimed at sustainable development.

One notable example of the industry's engagement is Solvay's successful development of a new recycling process called VinyLoop. VinyLoop, is a technique that exploits PVC's total solubility in specific solvents, which separates it from other materials and is therefore suitable for the recycling of composite PVC waste. Through selective dissolution and filtration, the VinyLoop process can eliminate contaminants, producing recycled PVC of near-virgin quality. The VinyLoop plant, inaugurated in 2002 in Ferrara, Italy, handles cable waste, consisting of PVC compound, other resins and residual copper particles, and tarpaulin waste, a composite PET textile coated with PVC compound, yielding a ready-made PVC compound that generally requires no further compounding.

Now, an LCA study commissioned by VinyLoop comparing the environmental impact of VinyLoop recycled material with conventional PVC compound has turned up intriguing results. The goal of the study was to assess the potential environmental impacts per kilo of recycled PVC against the benchmark of the European production average of a conventional plasticized PVC compound. Interestingly, the recycled PVC actually came out ahead of the virgin compound. A few key results:

The VinyLoop process produces a high-quality secondary PVC compound that can replace conventional virgin PVC compound in relevant downstream applications;

  • The primary energy demand of VinyLoop R-PVC is 46% lower than the benchmark;
  • The global warming potential of VinyLoop R-PVC is 39% lower than the benchmark;
  • In addition to preserving raw material resources, the VinyLoop process avoids incineration of post-consumer PVC waste.

So is PVC  - still one of the most widely used polymers in the world - becoming a reformed character? If it's up to the European PVC industry, the answer is yes. Initiatives such as the VinyLoop project demonstrate that PVC and sustainability innovation can go hand in hand - and that virgin quality is apparently highly overrated.

While plenty of sustainability challenges still remain to be overcome by the PVC industry in Europe and elsewhere in the world, the fact that this industry is not ducking out is very encouraging. Let's only hope this is not as good as it gets.

Transcatheter heart valves use nylon, UHMWPE

Plastics are playing a critical role in new artificial heart valves that prop open diseased valves and can be inserted with a catheter that is snaked through arteries, a procedure called transapical aortic valve implantation.

The most advanced is the Sapien Heart Valve from Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (Irvine, CA), which was launched for inoperable patients in the U.S. last year.  According to a patent application, a liner and tubing in

The Sapien Heart Valve is still being trialed in the United States.
the heart valve are made of a nylon block copolymer while a coil is produced from stainless steel. Bovine tissue is also used.

The new minimally invasive approach may replace conventional heart valve surgery in which an incision is made through the patient's sternum and the patient's heart is stopped while blood flow is rerouted through a heart-lung bypass machine.

Risks from open heart surgery include bleeding, infection, stroke, heart attack, arrhythmia, renal failure, adverse reactions to the anesthesia medications, as well as sudden death. An estimated 2-5% of patients die during surgery.

Edwards Lifesciences announced last month that new data show positive results on high-risk surgical patients with severe aortic disease who were treated with its transapical transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

"It is encouraging that, in this much larger group of patients treated with transapical valve replacement, investigators observed a trend toward patients feeling better faster and having improved outcomes. We believe this more recent experience adds strong new support to the transapical procedure as an important option for patients who are at high-risk for surgery," said Michael A. Mussallem, Edwards' chairman and CEO.

The polyamides in the Sapien heart valve are usually based upon nylon-11 but may be based upon nylons 6 of nylon-6,6 or even a copolymer such as nylon-6/nylon-11. The polymers range in hardness as measured in durometer from Shore A 60 to Shore D72.

Fiber-based valve

Separately, DSM and University Medical Center Utrecht announced that UMC Utrecht will develop and evaluate a prototype of a non-biological supportive scaffold for the minimally invasive treatment of vascular diseases using Dyneema Purity fiber.

UMC Utrecht says it chose Dyneema Purity fibers for designing heart valve and blood vessel wound closure devices because of their strength, high flex fatigue resistance, low elongation, minimal profile and tear resistant properties.

The end goal of this collaboration is to build up know-how and assess the preclinical feasibility of a fiber-based heart valve. Once feasibility is shown, DSM and UMC Utrecht said they will jointly reach out to medical device companies to explore options for further development.

"We believe that heart valves with scaffolding made from Dyneema Purity fibers have the potential to lead to a revolutionary new solution, giving those dealing with heart disease the benefit of a less invasive transcatheter heart valve replacement. Although we are in a very early feasibility stage and prototyping only, we believe Dyneema Purity fiber is a very interesting material to use as basis for this feasibility study," said Principal Investigator Paul Gründeman of the Heart and Lungs Division at UMC Utrecht.

Dyneema is made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE).

In-Mold Labeling a featured technology at NPE

As in-mold labeling (IML) gets more attention and demand grows for the technology, one of the keys to success is the label. Printing company Verstraete, a global producer of labels for the IML technology, is partnering with more than 20 companies including moldmakers, IML automation and injection molding machine suppliers, resulting in seven systems using Verstraete’s IML labels in Orlando.

In order to guide the visitor through the different IML systems at NPE 2012, and to make sure attendees get the needed information, Verstraete is distributing a free IML booklet, available at The guide booklet contains a full list of technical data on each IML system, as well as useful information about how to start an IML project and an overview on recent IML label innovations.

“We are really proud that seven systems at NPE 2012 will use Verstraete IML labels,” said Koen Verstraete, general manager of Verstraete, in a prepared release. “IML is really turning into a global plastic decorating technique. During the past few years we have seen a significant growth of the use of IML in both North and South America. We have been able to establish a market leader position today, and we expect IML to be a highlight at NPE this year.”

A team of IML label specialists from Verstraete will be available during the show at the seven booths showing multiple thin-wall packaging applications with IML, as well as the company’s newest innovations including Metallic IML labels and IML with light or oxygen barrier properties, which Koen Verstraete noted are getting a lot of interest from the market.

Upbeat and optimistic, Bayer reports record 2011 sales; plastics pinched by higher feedstocks

, the year 2011 was a very successful one, despite the fact that the global economic recovery ran out of steam towards the year end. The company reported an increase in sales of 4.1 % to EUR 36,528 million, with net income soaring 89.9 % to EUR 2,470 million. EBIT was up a substantial 52%, to EUR 4,149, from EUR 2,730 million in 2010. That said, the headline takeaway for international news organization Reuters pinpointed plastics: Bayer profit hit by weak plastics business.

"We achieved the Group targets that we raised after the first quarter", said Bayer CEO Marijn Dekkers, who anticipates adjusted sales growth of around 3% for the Group as a whole in 2012.

The good news was entirely due to the improved performance of the Group's Healthcare and CropScience businesses. Despite an 8% rise in sales compared with 2010, the earnings of the MaterialScience business failed to come up to expectations in 2011. Not only did the company not succeed in achieving any volume increases, the shaky market conditions in the final quarter of the year further dampened the result. The soaring prices of raw materials, which, noted Dekkers, "could not be passed on in full to our customers in the second half of 2011", also cut into the company's margins.

Calling MaterialScience an "asset-driven, cyclical business", Dekkers said that adjusted sales and EBITDA before special items in 2012 were expected to remain level with 2011. "Our goal this year is to be able to compensate feedstock costs with our costs", said Dekkers. "Our long-term ambition is to develop Bayer as a world-class innovation company."

To this end, investments will continue to be made in innovative process technology, such as the new TDI production facility inaugurated at the integrated Bayer site in 2011 in Shanghai. "The new technology at this plant reduces solvent consumption by about 80% and energy use by up to 60% compared with conventional facilities of the same size," noted Dekkers.

Optimism in PC

Another area in which new developments are opening up at a rapid pace is the polycarbonate business. While the market for optical devices remained stronger than expected, the drivers here are the automotive and the electronics industry. LED lamps, in particular are a rapidly growing application, with polycarbonate now being used for reflectors, and even as a replacement for aluminum, in heat sinks.

Asked about whether BayerMaterialScience  - in line with the current trend in the market - was planning to expand its activities into the biobased arena, Dekkers stated that a number of targeted programs investigating the developing of biobased monomers were currently ongoing.

One such project is the pilot plant at Chempark Leverkusen that uses CO2 from an RWE lignite-fired power plant to produce a chemical used for the production of the high-grade plastic polyurethane. As BayerMaterialScience CEO Patrick Thomas later explained: "We are very interested in what is going on in this area, and are currently exploring the various routes available to developing new, biobased monomers. Especially challenging are the C6 monomers, and how to engineer these from renewable sources. We want to get it right before going public with the results, and so we are waiting until the facts are in."

Multivac to launch new thermoforming machine designed for the fresh meat industry

Packaging machinery manufacturer Multivac is launching a new thermoforming machine specially tailored for the fresh meat industry.

The R 515 is laid out for specific die formats and it features the same advantages of Multivac's R 535 high performance model, the company stated. The R 535 is designed for food, medical device, and consumer goods manufacturers.

The R 515 machine model offers standard dies and format sets, and is designed for running flexible films, such as PA/PE multi-layer films. The R 515 is also equipped with register mark control for running printed upper webs.

In addition to vacuum packs, it is also possible to produce packs with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), the company stated. The machine cycle output is around 10 cycles per minute.

The R 515 can be equipped with an optional jumbo film unwind for lower webs, which can reduces machine downtime caused by roll changes. The R 515 also offers an optional quick-change system for forming and sealing dies.

Typical applications are large ham and fresh meat packs as well as wholesale and transportation packs.

The fresh meat industry places special demands on the packaging of its products to protect the fresh meat during transport to the wholesaler or processor, according to the press release.

"Cost effectiveness, output and hygiene are therefore right at the top of the list of requirements. Multivac fulfils the wishes of the industrial meat processor with the new R 515 machine model, which has the right price-performance ratio," the company stated in the press release.

Like all Multivac machines, the R 515 is constructed in the Multivac hygienic design, and it is compatible with the process-controlled Clean-in-Place system (CIP), where it can be cleaned and disinfected on the inside and outside. The R 515 can be extended in a modular way and is suitable for the integration in automated packaging lines.

The machine will launch at the beginning of March.

Plastic technology contributes to sub-one-ton electrical sports car

The performance data of the Lotus Elise-E lightweight electrical sports car that Evonik Industries (Essen, Germany) presented at the recent Car Symposium in Bochum, Germany are impressive, as is its extensive usage of performance plastics. The vehicle weighs just 950 kg, has a power of 150 kW, and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. The top speed is limited to 200 km/h.


Acrylic side windows, structural foam, and carbon fibers combine to deliver sports car performance in  electric vehicle.

"The purpose of exhibiting the vehicle was to show the automotive industry what can be achieved with our expertise in chemicals," says Klaus Hedrich, Head of the Evonik Automotive Industry Team. Thanks to the combined use of innovative storage technology and lightweight components coupled with lightweight tires, the sports car is the first-ever model to weigh less than 1,000 kg. With the exhibit, Evonik demonstrated that electrical cars, which are currently used primarily as city vehicles, can also be part of the sports car segment.

The vehicle is a combination of automotive components made with the specialty chemical components of the Evonik Group and the sophisticated automotive technology of the British sports car manufacturer Lotus. The weight of the electrical sports car's body has also been reduced with Evonik technologies. The sandwich structure with Rohacell polymethacrylimide (PMI) structural foam and carbon fibers makes the body 60-70 percent lighter than a comparable steel structure. Evonik also applied a new resin infusion process with an innovative epoxy resin formula based on Vestamin hardener technology to manufacture it. This process allows for class-A surfaces and reliable quality in the serial manufacture of composite automotive body parts.

Side windows made of Plexiglas acrylic resin also contributed to weight reduction, as they have a weight-saving potential of 40-50 percent compared to conventional glass. In addition to reduced weight, further advantages of the glazing comprise excellent transparency, high resistance to weather, pleasant acoustics and excellent design freedom.-[email protected]

Ultra Purge starts production in Brazil

Ultra Purge producer Moulds Plus International is opening its first Latin American location in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. In order to be more efficient and supply material faster to the customers of Brazil, Ultra Purge will be manufactured and warehoused at the company's Iperó site, about 70 miles from the city of São Paulo.

To provide better customer service to the Latin American market, Moulds Plus will also install a full sales staff at the Brazilian location. Moulds Plus International now has locations in Villalvernia, Italy; Santa Ana, CA; Mexico City, Mexico; and Xiamen, China, as well as distributors located throughout the world supplying Ultra Purge to the local markets.

In South America, those distributor locations include partners in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Ultra Purge is supplied with specific grades by process, including injection molding, blowmolding, and extrusion (film and profile), as well as end markets and technology, including PET preforms, automotive, and hot runners.

SC Johnson expands its line of concentrated cleaner refills

In a move to offer consumers a green choice, SC Johnson has expanded its Mini line of concentrated cleaners that can be used in refillable bottles.

The line now includes its Fantastik, Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles, Shout, and Windex brands. The expansion builds on SC Johnson's Windex Mini concentrated refill pilot, launched in July 2011, which aimed to engage consumers about concentrated refills.

As of now, the concentrated refills are only available at The company's goal is to create enough consumer demand for concentrated refills to earn them a spot on store shelves right next to pre-mixed products.

A SC Johnson spokesperson told PlasticsToday that a concentrated refill can save 70-80% of the plastic that would be needed to make a new trigger bottle.

"So refilling with a concentrate is a very small behavior change that could make a real difference in minimizing waste," the spokesperson said. "That's what we want to do - we want to help people understand environmental tradeoffs, and give them product options that, we hope, will help them make the best choice for their family and the planet."

The expanded line of concentrated refills comes in smaller bottles made of the same recyclable high-density polyethylene  as a milk jug, according to the news release. Consumers combine one bottle of concentrate with regular tap water in a reusable trigger bottle. The refill bottle can be recycled in most community recycling programs.

If just 20% of the 320 million cleaning products sold in trigger bottles were refilled each year, it could avoid using 3.5 million pounds of virgin plastic and avoid transporting nearly 11.5 million gallons of water, which is about 17 Olympic-size swimming pools' worth, the company stated.

SC Johnson has sold refills in other markets for years, the spokesperson said. However, refills are a tougher sell in the U.S. market, as many consumers in the U.S. view refilling a bottle as an inconvenience.

"They worry about spilling and they worry about having to get the mix right," the spokesperson said. "We've actually done a lot of work to make those very easy, and to make our formulas work with any type of tap water. But it's a challenge to change consumers' mindsets."

Another challenge for refillables is a perception of cost. Many U.S. consumers anticipate a concentrated refill to be much less expensive than a starter product, the spokesperson said.

"But the reality is that the product has the same basic formula, without the water, as well as production, marketing and logistics costs," the spokesperson said. "So while there's a significant improvement in the environmental cost, there isn't always that financial cost adjustment that consumers seem to expect."

Getting concentrates to be accepted is about education, and helping people understand the benefits and the realities, the spokesperson said. To get a measure of consumer behavior, SC Johnson gathered consumer input received online and from focus groups during its initial Windex Mini pilot.

SC Johnson believes that with the right products, consumers will consider the change.

"We know people want to do this," the spokesperson said. "We did some research with GfK Roper this past year and found that 75% of American consumers say they feel good when they take steps to help the environment. So we want to help them do that."

Gross mismanagement part IV: High expectations

Gross mismanagement part IV: High expectations

All indications are that the overall economy is improving. Employment in manufacturing isn't keeping pace. It is only a matter of time until manufacturing, including injection molding, will have to expand in order to keep up with demand.

There has actually been a slight increase in hiring in the plastics processing industry. If nothing else, there is an expression of interest in hiring. I know that because two plastics industry trade schools here in the Midwest area are training people who are finding jobs. In many instances they have jobs before they graduate. There is also an increase in the number of placement agencies calling here trying to fill openings or find good candidates that they can market to the industry.

Unreal expectations

Listening to these professional head-hunters describe what they want would be funny if they weren't so far removed from reality. No one seems to be interested in hiring a molding technician unless he, or she, also have at least 5 years of experience in part design, at least 5 years of experience in estimating, and is an expert in plastic material selection and purchasing with proven success in sales and managing people. It is useless to try to explain that there are few if any candidates who have accumulated all of that knowledge and experience.

I can't help but wonder how they come up with these unrealistic expectations. Perhaps they are just repeating what their clients are hoping for. If that is the case, how did the client get the idea that there were individual people with all of those skills? One possibility may be found in corporate management's habit of laying off people as a method of quickly increasing quarterly profits. If downsizing eliminated 15% of a company's employees, the remaining staff is expected to shoulder the responsibilities of their laid-off associates. After two or three or more downsizings, the remaining staff wind up working 50, 60, or 70 hours a week just to keep up. This convinces management that employees who are desperate to keep their jobs will do more work than in the past.

The reduced headcount also results in employees performing multiple functions. In many cases they have no training or experience with their new responsibilities. A case in point is the mold designer who has to undertake product design because he is the only one left who knows how to use CAD software. Invariably there is a reduction in the overall capabilities and quality of the work being done. But, why is there a decline in capabilities and quality? Because a person who spends half of their time designing products will rarely ever be as good of a product designer as the person who spends all of their time designing new products.

A nation of specialists

At the beginning of the 1940s there was a desperate need to increase manufacturing capabilities. One of the techniques employed to achieve that objective was the new-at-the-time management flavor of the month called specialization. That philosophy decreed that a person would be better and more efficient at whatever they did if they did only that thing and did not try to be good at multiple tasks.

Rosie the Riveter
The specialization of the 1940s that gave rise to Rosie the Riveter would inform U.S. manufacturing for the next four decades.

Specialization was one of the things that allowed Rosie the Riveter to be so successful at her job. No one asked Rosie to make rivets, drill holes, or decide where rivets should be located. All she had to do was the simplified, but very important, job of seating rivets, made by someone else, into holes located and drilled by someone else. Specialization was one of the things that allowed the U.S. to out-manufacture the Axis Forces to help win World War II.

The plastics industry grew and established itself during and immediately following that war. In the post war years every business school, technical society, and trade association preached specialization. All of the plastics trade journals and technical conferences stressed the advantages of specialization. During the war many compression molding companies adopted the new at the time injection molding process. Specialization decreed that a company doing both compression and injection molding could never be as good at both processes as a competitor who specialized in only compression or only injection molding. As a result of these urgings, we became a nation of specialists.

Manufacturers were advised to choose and concentrate on only one process in order to be the best they could be. The plastics industry followed that philosophy and specialized. There were exceptions; however it was unusual to find a processor who did both injection molding and thermoforming. Rotational molding, extrusion, and injection molded structural foam molding were normally performed by different processors who became good at their specialty.

Reduced supplier base

This process specialization was a successful philosophy that continued until the early 1980s. That was when the automotive industry adopted a new flavor of the month management philosophy called reduced supplier base. The theory behind this philosophy was that it was easier for original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) buyers to manage 15 instead of 23 suppliers.

They were correct. It was easier, but it wasn't better. Scattered across the U.S. were suppliers who had perfected the process of molding very large quantities of thin-wall, single-use parts in commodity materials. Others excelled at molding smaller quantities of complex, thicker-walled, precision industrial parts in engineering materials. Some molders had only small machines, while others had only large ones. Others were good at insert molding or gas assisted injection molding, etc.

This realization was unacceptable to corporate America. In another case of gross mismanagement, OEMs declared that all injection molders are, or had to become, the same. In other words, they wanted to purchase large or small quantities, of big or little parts, in commodity or engineering materials from a single supplier. Prior to this time an OEM purchased two injection molded parts from one supplier and one blowmolded part from a different supplier. The three molded parts were then shipped somewhere and assembled into some kind of a product.

The new philosophy was that the injection molding supplier should purchase a blowmolding machine so the buyer would only have to deal with one supplier. The customer is always right, and in order to keep the account, the injection molder purchased a blowmolding machine. A little later on the injection molder was coerced into assembling the three parts, but that is a story for another time.

To digress, that same injection molding supplier had another OEM customer who wanted him to expand into thermoforming.

Increased buyer influence

Another OEM benefit of the reduced supplier base philosophy was that it increased the dollar value of the work concentrated with fewer suppliers. This gave the buyer more influence over his suppliers. Regrettably the majority of OEMs eventually adopted the reduced supplier base policy.

A major downside of this policy was that OEMs were no longer buying from suppliers who had become specialists in their field. They now purchased from suppliers that they have turned into generalists who are no longer among the best in their field. The reduced supplier base philosophy was another example of gross mismanagement that caused OEMs to accept less than the best from fewer suppliers in order to make their buyers' jobs easier.

Specialization in the plastics industry has not produced a labor pool with the multiple skills that employers are asking for. The universities that specialize in plastics technology tend to devote the majority of their time to teaching extrusion and injection molding. This is understandable as these two large-volume processes provide many jobs for their students. There are exceptions, but the other smaller-volume processes get much less or no coverage. Even if the universities taught a broader range of subjects they wouldn't provide the OEMs with what they want. All of those new graduates would have little or no hands-on experience. In other words, they would require on-the-job training that OEMs are no longer willing to provide. Writing job descriptions for which there are few or no available candidates is another example of gross mismanagement.

An unemployment rate of 8.3% is high for the U.S. At the same time, there are claims that there are many job openings in the plastics industry and elsewhere that can't be filled for lack of qualified candidates. It is quite possible that more realistic new employee candidate expectations and a willingness to provide on-the-job training could help resolve both of these problems. It would also help if employers realized that they may have to hire more than one person to gain access to all of the skills on their wish list.

Find your future at NPE

Let's face it - new technology is the number one reason machinery and equipment companies exhibit at NPE. They want to show their customers - and potential customers - just what's new and why they need it if they want to be on the cutting edge of competitiveness and business growth.

While I've heard several comments lately in the run-up to the show about how NPE isn't what it used to be in terms of showcasing "revolutionary" technology, it's still the place where new technology - however incremental - is presented and where industry people come to get new ideas.

There's nothing like watching a live demonstration of a high-speed molding machine running a high-volume, high-speed mold that can rain parts, complete with automation to make you know that you need machine for your business! The machinery companies know that a static display doesn't do a whole lot for sales. Machinery suppliers know that demonstrating innovation by running a mold in their molding presses to actually show its capabilities is the way to go. It's always one of the big highlights for NPE, even as people stand in lines that wrap around the booth and down the aisle to get that great polycarbonate snack tray or maybe even a lawn chair! 

Aside from that, machinery suppliers find that the results of these demonstrations can be quite good. Yes, some molders still buy equipment right off the showroom floor - every machinery supplier's goal - just like the old days when molding technology was evolving by leaps and bounds. 

A number of years ago, I helped Dick Landis write the History of Landis Plastics (now part of Berry Plastics, Landis was named to the 2012 Plastics Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted on Sunday of the show week). One of my favorite stories that he told me was how the company got out of the proprietary plastic wall tile molding business and into packaging. Ceramic wall tile from Italy was becoming big among consumers for home decorating in the late 1950s, and Landis could see the handwriting on the wall. Those 4"x4" plastic wall tiles would soon be obsolete. (Of course, they haven't seen my mother's kitchen and bath - it's a monument to the plastic wall tile industry!! It clings to her walls - just barely in some spots - to this day.)

Landis began trying to come up with a business to replace the waning plastic wall tile demand. Despite its diminishing market, the product did have one positive effect on Landis: the company had become really good at molding thin, flat products. A salesman for Landis' proprietary plastic walls told them about a new coffee can - the 401 can - that was a replacement for the old key-style method of opening coffee cans. (If you don't remember these, don't worry - you didn't miss anything except for a few tin cuts.) Now, Folgers wanted to make a tin lid that could be opened with a conventional can opener, and then resealed with a plastic lid to keep the coffee fresh.Folgers

Soon Henry Landis, Dick's father, was meeting with Folgers and that company agreed to let Landis mold the lids. They even paid for the first molds (what a novel idea!) - 8 cavities each. The four-inch round coffee can lids were a good fit for Landis Plastics' capabilities. However, plastics processing wasn't as evolved back in the early 1960s as it is today, and the company's molding machines didn't have reciprocating screws.

In 1964, Henry and Dick Landis attended the Chicago Plastics Exposition. Since Landis Plastics was located in Chicago, it was an easy trip. That's where they saw their first reciprocating screw molding machine from Toronto-based Husky. "The small, 100-ton clamp- pressure machine ran a four-cavity mold with a .401 diameter lid that could produce plastic coffee can lids at the incredible speed of a 4-second cycle, which was revolutionary to say the least," Dick Landis told me.

"When I saw that machine running at the Chicago show in 1964, I immediately ordered four of them on the spot," he said. "These new machines meant that each machine could mold lids at the rate of 900 shots per hour on a 4-second cycle in a 4-cavity mold, allowing us to produce a total of 3600 lids per hour on one Husky machine."

The rest, as they say, is history.

So when you attend NPE in April, take a look at all the really cool equipment, watch it run, get a free plastic gadget or two. But beyond that, consider the technology you are watching and how it might just give  your company the boost it really needs to become more competitive and grow. It worked for Landis Plastics. It just might work for you!