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Articles from 2004 In March

The embrace of ERP bears fruit

ERP systems were once hailed with the sort of hyperbole that the Internet inspired. But one hot runner manufacturer that whole-heartedly jumped on the bandwagon is indeed reaping benefits.

Return on investment is often the first and last criterion regarding any capital expenditure. But five years ago when hot runner manufacturer Mold-Masters Ltd. (Georgetown, ON) decided it was going to implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system from SAP, the vagaries of the software''s perceived potential benefits made justifying its purchase, especially given the substantial price tag, extremely difficult.

"Huge," Mold-Masters CEO Jonathon Fischer exclaims when characterizing the cost of the system. "Impossible to justify! You''re talking about a business system, all kidding aside, in the millions. The cost of implementation of a business system is astronomical, but I think people have to view it as the central nervous system of a company, and it''s often how we describe it."

That system has not only given Mold-Masters the benefit of bundling together all its back-office systems, automatically updating and linking everything from accounting to inventory to manufacturing, but it has also provided a unique conduit to reach customers. And it''s a conduit Mold-Masters plans to keep unique thanks to a patent awarded in January for a program it devised with the ongoing assistance of consultant IDS Scheer (Berwyn, PA), which performed the initial SAP installation.

Hot runner design online

The new system allows customers to configure hot runner systems online—tapping directly into Mold-Masters'' SAP system, automatically creating a quote, a bill of materials (BOM), and eventually, a custom-designed hot runner system—without human interaction.

"Our customers were asking for better, faster delivery," says Dario Vettor, director of IT at Mold-Masters, "and the best way to do that is deliver the whole process via the Web and integrate it to SAP. On the back end, the customer is going to see the bill of materials automatically created. No one touches SAP; everything is automated. We were out to reduce lead time and keep our prices and costs down, and that''s how we achieved it."

Previously, lead times on designs for hot runner systems took 11.3 days to get back to the customer. Now that number is 3.75, and if customers are savvy enough, know what they want, and don''t need to talk to an engineer, the time can be whittled much further.

"The only reason it''s even 3.75 days is that we continue to have that personal touch with a customer, where an application review is done and there may be some communication," Vettor says. "The process itself—raising an order online, quoting it, ordering it, running it through CAM automation—we''re talking under one hour."

Technology resistance

While certainly not wholly constituted of Luddites, the molding business, by nature, continues to present obstacles to the highest possible level of exploitation. "The injection molding industry is inherently a conservative industry," Fischer says. "Definitely, to really get your head around it—to really understand all the benefits of it—can be overwhelming."

Especially since those benefits continue to change. When Mold-Masters implemented SAP, it created a dedicated team that oversaw a nine-month pre-implementation period, as well as a nine-month, post-implementation adjustment-and-editing phase. Even today the team remains in place, constantly looking for new tasks to automate, and features to add or streamline.

Improvements include online document management, which stores all relevant files online (drawings, BOMs, etc.); the ability to check order status, sales reports, and related items via any Internet-enabled device; a performance product manager that gathers data to validate processes; and the latest effort, currently undertaken with the help of Mazak and Okuma, to link the SAP system directly to machining centers'' FMS controls so that machine time and job priority is configured automatically.

ERP as competitive advantage

In spite of broader industry tendencies, Mold-Masters reports that customers have grown increasingly receptive to the system, with more than 40% of complex configured systems being ordered online; 50% of quotes done online; and 75% of spare parts purchased using the system.

While Mold-Masters undertook this initiative to the benefit of its own business, it sees ERP systems—which on their simplest level automate critical, yet menial, back-office tasks—as an answer to the competitive question being posed to many in the plastics processing world by relentless lower-cost competition.

"If we''re to remain competitive," Fischer says, "everyone has to be cognizant of the fact that times are changing, and the competitive forces are going to continue to have the inertia. It''s not going to get easier; it''s going to get more difficult."

Automation of any task makes the cost of labor irrelevant. "Whether you''re in Germany, Brazil, the U.S.—if you''re able to control your processes and do them in a modern, automated fashion, then labor costs become the least of your concerns."

While Fischer and Mold-Masters still find it hard to put a firm dollar figure on the benefit of SAP''s implementation to its business, it can point to one readily apparent side effect in terms of its workforce.

"We haven''t reduced headcount in the process," Fischer says. "What we''ve been able to do is have our people focused on more value-added processes, and that''s important—looking at new, innovative products, better customer care.

"We shifted some of our administration and application people that would have been busy with non-value-added types of processes in the past and created a customer care team. All of a sudden, they''re adding more value to our customers and to the company."

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Contact information


IDS Scheer
Mold-Masters Ltd.

E-Update Industry News

Trend shifts operations away from San Jose facility

In the face of high operating costs and flat sales, Trend Technologies LLC announced the closure of it San Jose, CA injection molding facility effective at the end of April. The 230,000-sq-ft plant offered toolmaking and metal stamping in addition to 30 injection molding machines. Dale Behm, Trend''s VP of plastics technology, cited numerous reasons why the northern California operation quoted higher than the company''s operations in Colorado, Mexico, and Asia.

"It''s certainly the energy costs," Behm said. "It''s the workmen''s compensation costs; it''s the salaries you have to pay people here in the local area. It just made it difficult for us to bring in enough business to support this size of facility."

The facility''s remaining business will be split between Trend''s Longmont, CO and Guadalajara, Mexico facilities, although a sales and support staff will remain in San Jose. Six molding machines will automatically be sent to Colorado, boosting that operation''s press total to 35. Machining centers left over from San Jose''s Tool Tech program, which was down to a "handful" of employees after having 50 on salary, will be shifted to Trend''s new Suzhou, China facility, which will open in early 2005.

San Jose''s metal stamping customers will be shifted to the Chino, CA facility, now the company''s only remaining operation in that state.

Mitsui Chemicals opens China PP compounding operation

Tokyo-based Mitsui Chemicals has established a wholly owned subsidiary in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province to compound polypropylene for automotive applications. A 15,000-tonnes/yr facility will come on stream in the spring of 2005.

Automobile production in China is expected to continue growing rapidly, having already expanded sharply from 3.25 million units in 2002 to 4.39 million units in 2003, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (Beijing). Production already ranks fourth in the world after the U.S., Japan, and Germany; in sales, the Mainland ranks third.

Mitsui Chemicals also has a 16.7% stake in compounder Shanghai Mitsui Plastic Compounds Ltd. with 24,000 tonnes/yr of capacity. The other partners are Mitsui & Co., Dainichi Seika Color & Chemical, Denki Kagaku Kogyo, and Toray, all based in Tokyo.

Global PP compounding capacity at Mitsui Chemicals in 2005 will total 436,000 tonnes/yr. The firm also operates in Japan, Mexico, the U.S., Germany (toll production), and Thailand.

Report: Toyota aims to become biodegradable leader

A Reuters report out of Japan says Toyota Motor Corp. (Aichi) plans to develop biodegradable plastics into a ¥4-trillion ($38-billion) business by 2020, when the company hopes to control two-thirds of the world''s supply. This would equate to 20 million tonnes of biodegradable resin, according to Toyota.

Toyota began using polylactic acid (PLA) resin in some new cars last year, including the Raum and Prius models, but also supplies the material to Japanese cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. (Tokyo). Toyota is also working with some 60 companies, including business-machine giants Fujitsu and NEC, to supply biodegradable plastics, according to the report.

Toyota produces a small amount of polylactic acid-based resin at a pilot plant acquired from scientific instrument firm Shimadzu Corp. (Kyoto), and is planning a larger 1000-tonnes/yr plant in Toyota City, with startup slated for August 2004. Based on the performance of the new pilot facility, Toyota may construct a commercial plant of 50,000-tonnes/yr capacity by 2007.

Eastman shutting COPE plant

Eastman Chemical (Kingsport, TN) will close its co-polyester plant in Hartlepool, England as the firm says it has "ample capacity from multiple production lines at other sites to meet current customer needs." The supplier has no back-end integration at Hartlepool; other sites are closely integrated with supply of the precursor materials used to make co-polyester.

The Hartlepool site manufactures a variety of co-polyesters, including Eastman''s Embrace, Eastar co-polyester 6763, and Eastar Bio biodegradable co-polyester.

Delstar buys two competitors

Extrusion processor Delstar Technologies (Middletown, DE) has acquired two similar processors, Industrial Research Machine Products LLC (IR) and Coretec Plastics Inc. DelStar will keep the acquired manufacturing and sales operations of both companies at their current locations in El Cajon, CA and Richland, PA, respectively. DelStar has other manufacturing facilities in Middletown, DE and Austin, TX, as well as sales offices and technical support in Bristol, England and Shanghai, China.

DelStar Technologies processes net structures and fine-fiber meltblown nonwovens for use in the filtration, medical, textile, and industrial markets.

PMT axes Connecticut plant, moves to Texas

Injection moldbuilder Plastic Molding Technology Inc. (PMT; Seymour, CT, has decided to close its Connecticut headquarters and move operations to a facility in El Paso, TX to be closer to many of its customers, which are locating across the border in Mexico and in parts of Central America. The company will maintain sales and engineering at the old facility until the end of the year, when those operations, too, will be moved to Texas.

PMT opened the El Paso plant in 2001 to serve automotive and electronics suppliers needing small, complex parts processed from engineering resins. The company says full operations at the 40,000-sq-ft (3720-sq-m) shop should start up next month.

PMT CEO Charles A. Sholtis admits the move was not easy. "This … is very difficult for PMT, since its roots were in Connecticut and have been [there] for more than 30 years. Unfortunately, we felt the impact of global competition and the manufacturing recession," Sholtis says. "But the savings we anticipate achieving will provide PMT the opportunity to grow in the NAFTA market and provide significant benefits."

The company has already established a moldmaking and joint venture injection molding plant in Slovakia, and is considering moving to Ukraine, where the wage scale is equivalent of $.50/hr (February 2004 MP; MPI).

Rexam buying Plastic Omnium Medical

Rexam, one of the world''s top consumer packaging firms, is spending €32.5 million to acquire Plastic Omnium Medical, part of Compagnie Plastic Omnium, better known as a leading automotive parts molder.

Plastic Omnium Medical has one processing facility in La Verpilliere, France, and employs approximately 170 people, who mold parts such as drug delivery devices and inhalers.

E-biz: Two merge, consider another stock exchange listing

Internet-based marketplaces Hubwoo Inc. (France) and cc-chemplorer (Germany) have agreed to merge assets to form the largest European e-marketplace for nonproduction-related procurement. Hubwoo builds and operates electronic procurement platforms for large firms-including Michelin, Saint Gobain, and others-to connect with and purchase from their suppliers. Hubwoo had 2003 sales of ¤11 million and says it broke even in Q4 2003.

cc-chemplorer was formed and is owned by large German firms including BASF, Bayer, Degussa, Deutsche Telekom, Henkel, and SAP, and its clients include these plus VW, Heinken, and others. It recorded a profit last year on sales of ¤11.4 million. Combined, the two had about 640,000 orders pass through them last year for goods valued at ¤1 billion. The deal is to be approved next month at a Hubwoo shareholders meeting. The new group is also considering listing its shares on Germany''s Frankfurt stock exchange.

Hubwoo is currently listed on the French stock exchange.

Fulcrum business now on its own

Dow Chemical has divested its Fulcrum thermoplastic composites business into a new company called Fulcrum Composites Inc. Fulcrum technology allows for continuous pultrusion of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic parts.

The new business includes manufacturing facilities at the National Composites Center (Dayton, OH) and intellectual property. It is also taking with it long-time Fulcrum business manager Chris Edwards, now CEO of the new firm.

Austrian Petrochemical Holding (Vienna, Austria) is building a 154,000-tonnes/yr capacity bottle-grade polyester plant in Klaipeda, Lithuania. The ¤65-million investment is scheduled to go on stream in late 2005. Together with a previously announced plant being built at the site (also to start up production next year), the total facility will have an annual capacity of 310,000 tonnes.

Alliance aimed at blown film market

Software supplier Plastisoft Corp. (Toronto, ON) and cooling ring manufacturer Future Design Inc. (Mississauga, ON) have formed a strategic alliance to co-market their software and air rings to blown film processors. The latter firm''s Saturn Genie air rings can provide feedback, which, when coupled with the software, can give these processors better online control of film thickness.

Ticona adds to POM capacity

Engineering thermoplastics supplier Ticona (Summit, NJ; Kelsterbach, Germany) plans to raise its North American acetal copolymer capacity from 86,000 tonnes/yr to 102,000 tonnes/yr by year''s end. The material, marketed by Ticona in North America under its Celcon brand and elsewhere as Hostaform, is made at a plant in Bishop, TX for use in markets including auto, industrial, appliances, and medical sectors. The firm is also building a 60,000-tonnes/yr acetal plant in China with Polyplastics Co., Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co., and Korea Engineering Plastics Co. This grassroots facility near Shanghai should be operational in mid-2005.

Novamont wins innovation award

Biodegradable plastics supplier Novamont has been awarded the Frost & Sullivan award for innovation for 2003. Novamont is one of the leading suppliers of these materials, and, according to the award, "the primary catalyst in the rising volume demand for biodegradable polymers." Frost & Sullivan is an international consulting firm.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the supplier dominates the market for biodegradable plastics with a 55% to 60% market share in Europe, to date the leading market by volume for these materials. A Mater-Bi spokesperson confirms those figures and says the firm sells most of its material into the European market but sees increasing demand growth from North America and Asia. The firm markets grades suitable for extrusion, injection molding, and Mater-Foam, a material in cost and properties similar to expanded polystyrene. She adds that sheets and blocks are available in different sizes with densities from 30 to 400 kg/cu m.

Library opens its doors

Rapra Technology (Shrewsbury, England), one of Europe''s top polymer research organizations, is offering free 30-day trial use of its web-based polymer service that usually costs £99. The library includes more than 850,000 records relating to plastics, rubbers, and adhesives, says Rapra. Rapra hopes processors using the reference for free for 30 days will return as paid subscribers. Interested persons should go to and click "search for free."

P&G pushing for biodegradables

Procter&Gamble Co. (Cincinnati, OH) and Kaneka Corp. (Osaka, Japan) have inked a one-year joint development contract aimed at commercialization of PHBH biodegradable resin (a copolymer polyester of 3-hydroxybutyric acid and 3-hydroxyhexanoic acid). The partners will bring together their production and processing technologies to develop markets for film, foamed, and injection-molded products with the target of commercial production by the end of 2005.

Owens-Illinois names new CEO

As it continues efforts to reorganize its global glass and plastics packaging operations, Owens-Illinois (Toledo, OH) named Steven McCracken as its new president and CEO, replacing interim co-CEOs Terry Wilkison and Thomas Young, who led the company after former president and CEO Joseph Lemieux stepped down for a planned retirement in January. McCracken spent the last 30 years with DuPont, most recently as president of its Invista integrated fibers and intermediates business.

Coperion: IPO still in the wings

When the Coperion Group was formed in 2000 by then majority owner Georg Fischer-a Swiss manufacturing conglomerate-Fischer officials said an initial public offering was planned in 3 to 5 years. Asked about that recently, Wolfgang-Dietrich Hein said, "The possibility is still there, but there''s no hurry. But certainly, a firm of our size, it makes sense to go public...we''ve the critical mass necessary. I think an IPO for this company makes sense when the markets improve." He says the firm expects better than 10% demand growth this year. Last year, West Private Equity, which had owned 49.9% of Coperion, acquired more of the firm from Georg Fischer, which still has a minority stake.

Chinese supplier wants Hostalen technology

PetroChina (Beijing) has signed a license agreement to use Basell''s Hostalen technology for a new 300,000-tonnes/yr high-density polyethylene plant in Jilin, China. "This is the first license in China for the bimodal Hostalen HDPE process," said Just Jansz, president of Basell Technology Co., who participated in a signing ceremony in Beijing in March. The Hostalen process is a low-pressure slurry cascade process for the production of monomodal and bimodal HDPE, including PE 100 pipe and high tenacity film grades.

Hishiya starts manufacture on the mainland

Hishiya (Osaka, Japan) has started manufacturing 500- and 1,000-kN hydraulic injection molding machines at a plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province. Better known for its vertical presses, the firm joins fellow Japanese firms Toshiba and Mitsubishi in establishing a Mainland production base.

PFM team wins 2004 Innovation Award

An interdisciplinary team of six German and two Austrian companies that developed Paintless Film Molding (PFM) technology took the 2004 Innovation Award of the VDI Society for Plastics Technologies (VDI-K, Dusseldorf). The companies were honored for their "groundbreaking work in integrating plastics processing." PFM produces exterior automotive panels by back-injecting thermoplastics or polyurethane onto a high-gloss, weather-resistant, integral-color thermoformed sheet (September 2002 MP, p. 70; MPI, p. 68). It is already used to make some roofs for the DaimlerChrysler smart car. The award was presented to: Achim Grefenstein from materials supplier BASF AG (Ludwigshafen); Rupert Gschwendtner (thermoforming machine maker Kiefel GmbH; Freilassing); Jochen Mitzler (injection molding and PUR processing machine maker Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH; Munich); Johann Kappacher (sheet producer Senoplast Klepsch GmbH & Co. KG; Piesendorf, Austria); Georg Kaufmann (moldmaker Georg Kaufmann AG; Busslingen, Austria); Max Petek (cleanroom supplier Max Petek Reinraumtechnik; Radolfzell); Rudiger Sonntag (automation company DAT Automatisierungstechnik GmbH; Pappenheim); and Werner Wollmann (laser cutting technology company Jenoptik Automatisierungstechnik GmbH; Jena).

SPI cozy with OSHA, headed to China

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI; Washington) signed an agreement renewing its alliance with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Washington). The agreement aims to develop outreach and communications tools for thermoforming and extruding operations in plastics manufacturing facilities. In a separate announcement, SPI announced plans to host a trade mission to plastics processing districts in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, China.

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce (Washington), the June 21 to July 1 tour will provide participants with a look at business opportunities and competitive threats in China.

BASF enters second phase of restructuring

With a stated goal of reducing fixed costs by $250 million/yr by 2006, BASF (Mt. Olive, NJ) has entered the second phase of its restructuring program.

As part of the reorganization, BASF will close its South Brunswick, NJ expandable polystyrene site at the end of 2004 and shift its production to Altamira, Mexico. Also, the company will move its North American headquarters from Mt. Olive, NJ to smaller offices in Florham Park, NJ by the end of Q3 2004.

These closures join several recent acquisitions, including Honeywell''s engineering plastics, Ticona''s nylon 6/6 business, Sunoco''s plasticizers, and Foam Enterprise''s polyurethane system house. Internally, the company announced an investment in its Styrolux styrene-butadiene copolymers unit in Altamira, and the start of production at a new C4 olefins complex in Port Arthur, TX, which is a joint venture of BASF, Shell Chemical LP, and Atofina Petrochemicals.

Monolayer barrier PET now also in EU countries

The ActiTUF monolayer PET supplied by the M&G Group now is seeing use in PET beer bottles for three brands-Stella Artois, Jupiler, and Dommelsch-marketed in Western Europe by Interbrew. The brewery already is using the material for beers throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.

ActiTUF includes an active oxygen scavenger and a passive gas barrier in monolayer blowmolded packaging. The material is drawing interest as it offers the necessary gas barrier properties, ensuring beer or other beverages'' shelf life, while also doing away with the recycling concerns often associated with multilayer PET barrier packaging. The material processes on standard injection molding (for preforms) and stretch blowmolding machinery.

Engel expanding production, extending management team

Injection technology group Engel (Schwertberg, Austria) says that around the middle of this year it will move its subsidiary Engel Werkstofftechnik (EWT), which till now has made screws and non-return valves in Steyr, to a new and considerably larger production site at St. Valentin, where it already makes large machines as well as (since last autumn) final assembly of injection units for small machines. This will put all manufacture of injection units under one roof. The company started building an 8800-sq-m extension to the St. Valentin facility in December 2003. This will also afford more assembly space for the Engel MacPET production systems for PET preforms. EWT will supply the plasticizing units to the injection unit assembly lines on a just-in-time and ready-to-install basis.

Engel has also announced that, as of the beginning of April, former Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik technical director Hans Wobbe is technology, development, and production director for the company''s facilities worldwide. He will sit on the Engel Holding management board alongside chairman and marketing director Peter Neumann, and finance director Gotthard Mayringer. Wobbe left K-M in 2002 to found his own company, (Herrsching, Germany), which makes specialist equipment, and also recently took over Bucher Service, which services old Fahr Bucher machines, from K-M. He has kept a shareholding in that company but is no longer active in it.

Zotefoams and Victrex collaborate on new foamable ETPs

A collaborative program between polyetheretherketone (PEEK) producer Victrex plc (Thornton Cleveleys, England) and foam producer Zotefoams plc (Croydon, England) has produced foamed versions of Victrex PEEK with densities as low as 650 kg/cu m. Initial indications suggest that far greater reductions in density are feasible.

The process uses Zotefoams'' nitrogen saturation technology to impregnate granules, which can then be used in conventional injection molding equipment to produce foamed parts, or in extrusion to produce continuous foam profiles.

The foams are said to maintain many of the properties of the initial polymer, such as outstanding chemical resistance, low flammability, high temperature performance, good dielectric performance, and excellent radiation resistance. Target applications range from floats and level sensors in chemically harsh environments, to reduced-weight thermoformed panels for aerospace and mass transit.

The companies are seeking potential partners with expertise in injection molding and extrusion.

Solvay consolidating

Brussels-based Solvay group will unite its plastics producing and processing sectors into a single entity, which will be called Plastics Sector. The change will be effective June 1. The strategic business units concerned cover high-performance thermoplastics, fuel systems, vinyls, and derivates.

Iranians sign deal with Basell

Tehran, Iran -Arak Petrochemical of Iran (APC, Tehran) has committed itself to expanding output of its facilities in its goal to become a polymer powerhouse in the Middle East. Arak is an affiliate of the country''s National Petrochemical Co. (NPC) of Iran which was the first licensee of technology from Basell (Hoofddorp, the Netherlands).

APC says it will increase capacity of its 50,000 tonnes/yr polypropylene plant by 50% and output of its 60,000 tonnes/yr capacity high density polyethylene facility will jump by 40%. Both plants use technology licensed from Basell, says Kaspar Evertz, the company''s senior vp. for licensing. The facilities are located in Arak, about 300 km south of Tehran. The country wants to expand polymer production from 14 million tonnes/yr in 2002 to 50 million tonnes/yr by 2015.

In Brief

Great Lakes Chemical (Indianapolis, IN) and Laurel Industries, part of OxyChem (Dallas, TX), will combine their antimony-based flame retardant businesses and operate them as GLCC Laurel LLC.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Basel, Switzerland) is expanding its antioxidants production site in Shanghai, China by adding another 10,000-tonnes/yr capacity. At the same time, Ciba is transferring antioxidants manufacturing from its Kaohsiung, Taiwan site to Shanghai "for economic reasons."

European Flame Retardants Assn. has published a collection of "frequently asked questions" regarding flame retardant use in plastics applications. These can be accessed electronically in English, French, and German at:

Robert Genin, president of Basell Polyolefins Europe (Zaventem, Belgium) is retiring after 25 years of service with Basell and its many predecessor companies. He is replaced by Werner Breuers, former president of the company''s technology business. Breuers'' replacement is Just Jansz who was formerly senior VP of Basell''s advanced polyolefins division.

Sasol Polymers (Johannesburg, South Africa) is building a 300,000-tonnes/yr capacity polypropylene (PP) plant at Secunda, which is scheduled for startup in 2006. The facility, licensing BP''s gas-phase technology, will be able to produce a range of PP grades.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Tarrytown, NY) is expanding its production facility for antioxidants in Shanghai, China by 10,000 tons/yr. At the same time, Ciba is transferring existing antioxidants production from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Shanghai, providing the company with a greater economy of scale and backwards integration into key raw materials. The antioxidant form-giving capacities for granular and liquid forms and blends in Kaohsiung and Shanghai will be expanded to ensure continuous service to customers in the China, Taiwan, and Asia-Pacific polymer industries.

Accel Corp. (Naperville, IL) completed the move and expansion of its 61,600-sq-ft manufacturing site in Naperville, nearly doubling the facility''s size. The plant produces color concentrates, dry color blends, and precolored compounds.

Stretch blowmolding machine maker Sidel (Octeville sur Mer, France) has opened a 70-employee technical center in Shanghai to serve all of Asia, including bottle design services, repair capability for blowmolds, and space for customer employee training,

Sidel predicts 40% to 50% of demand growth for the next five years in the beverage industry will come from Asia. Sidel reckons its machines are used already for processing more than 70% of PET bottles in China.

Matt Defosse [email protected]
Robert Colvin [email protected]
Peter Mapleston [email protected]

Plastics shows in the U.K.: Take your positions

Emap Maclaren, the U.K. publisher and show organizer, is having another go at setting up a plastics and rubber show to rival Interplas, run by Reed Exhibitions. Three years ago, it tried to launch an exhibition in London''s docklands, but it never got off the ground. Now it says it will stage the Plastics Design & Moulding exhibition and conference in Telford, close to the Welsh border, on April 12-14, 2005. This is six months ahead of Interplas, to be held in Birmingham from Oct. 2-6. Reed, meanwhile, is trying to reinvent Interplas, with a string of changes that include cutting back from five days to three, and reducing exhibitor fees.

Emap Maclaren, publisher of Plastics & Rubber Weekly and European Plastics News magazines, says its show "has the enthusiastic backing of leading U.K. suppliers of injection moulding machinery, ancillary equipment, raw materials, compounds, and additives." It lists founding partners as Albis, Arburg, ATM, Battenfeld, Clariant, Distrupol, DuPont, Gabriel Chemie, Husky Injection Molding Systems, Motan, Netstal, Plastribution, Resin Express, and Summit Systems.

The show has a minimalist feel to it. There are few, if any, pretensions to international standing, booth sizes are being limited to a maximum of 200 sq m, and the Telford International Centre is described as allowing significant savings for booth space, electricity, and other amenities. Telford, along with neighbouring Wolverhampton, is the focus of the recently formed Polymer Cluster initiative.

Reed, for its part, notes that Interplas is still supported by trade bodies that include the Plastics Machinery Manufacturers and Distributors Assn. (PMMDA), British Plastics Federation (BPF), Gauge and Toolmakers Assn. (GTMA), and The Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining (IoM3). It quotes Peter Davis, director general of the BPF, as saying: "The U.K. plastics industry needs a comprehensive, national trade fair with an international dimension for its needs this fair for making a strong statement internationally that the U.K. plastics industry is a major player in the global markets."

Both organizers manage to get the support of distributor Plastribution Ltd. Emap quotes company MD Mike Boswell as saying of its show: "The U.K. plastics industry has become more refined and needs an event with this sort of focus. This is an outstanding opportunity for processors and suppliers to get together and ensure the industry has the best possible future," while for Reed he says: "We are still very much committed to Interplas 2005."

Peter Mapleston [email protected]

Industry News

Plasthing future in doubt after Loranger strikes from beyond the grave

More than two years after the collapse of U.S.-based automotive component supplier Loranger Mfg., shock waves are still being felt around the world. Trustees of the company, which was forced to close in late 2002 after customers led by Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. and Visteon Corp. started involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against it a year earlier, served a writ for repayment of $150,000 at the end of last year from supplier Plasthing Hot Runner Systems Inc., (Mishawaka, IN), which Loranger had paid in early 2001. Unable to defer payment and with low liquidity, Plasthing Inc. filed for bankruptcy.

Plasthing makes all its hot runners in Turin, Italy, but the U.S. operation was owned through its U.K. arm, Plasthing Ltd., in Penge. That company was already suffering from the downturn in the U.S. and U.K. molding industries. The weak dollar had also caused it to lose at least one major U.S. order to North American competition, and to lose around $120,000 in a few months on currency exchanges alone.

Company owner John Donovan says the closure of Plasthing Inc. "created a $300,000 hole in the Plasthing Ltd. balance sheet." As a result of this and related cashflow problems, Plasthing Ltd. has also been forced to close.

"It was the final straw," Donovan said in late February. "We''d managed to survive two years of recessionary conditions and then this happens. We had just set up a whole new agency network, things were just beginning to move again, and we had some major carmakers coming to see us to place orders."

At press time, it was not clear if the Italian parent company, Plasthing SrL, would be pulled down by the failure of its subsidiaries. A special assembly was due to be held during the week of March 14. Donovan has been involved in discussions with its Italian banks and potential investors, but has been hampered by a severe back injury that required surgery in early February and confined him to his home in England from mid-December until early March.

Plasthing is best known as a supplier of high-end hot runner systems and controls, although it had planned to introduce an off-the-shelf range, first seen in prototype form at the U.K.''s Interplas 2002 show. Donovan, previously the managing director of Plasthing Ltd., acquired Plasthing SrL four years ago after the death of the founder.

RPC Group acquires four Rexam thin-wall container sites

RPC Group, Europe''s largest processor of rigid plastics packaging, has acquired four thin-wall molding and thermoforming sites from the Rexam Group, one of the world''s top consumer packaging suppliers. The £16.2-million ($29 million) acquisition includes injection molding and thermoforming operations in Hereford, England; Troyes, France; Antwerp, Belgium; and As, Czech Republic. RPC is using bank loans to finance the purchase.

The Czech site will be RPC''s first in that country, a point highlighted by CEO Ron Marsh in a statement. The four sites had combined 2003 earnings before interest, taxes, and depreciation of £5.1 million ($9.3 million) on sales of £40 million ($71.6 million), according to Rexam. Molding and thermoforming lines in place have been used to process lids and thin-walled containers for dairy products and spreads. RPC has more than 30 processing facilities in Europe.

Rexam maintains ownership of the PET stretch blowmolding operation co-located at the As site. The firm says it will focus its plastics packaging operations on use of its proprietary rotary thermoforming technology, which forms containers from a melt phase (as opposed to standard solid-phase thermoforming), and on its PET and PEN refillable bottle blowmolding operations. These refillable bottles see extensive use in Scandinavian countries, but limited use elsewhere. Rexam says it will use the proceeds of the sale to reduce debt.

Joint venture for automotive front-end modules

Three European suppliers of automobile systems and components are forming a joint venture to supply complete front-end modules. They are lighting and electronics company Hella KG Hueck & Co. (Lippstadt, Germany); Behr GmbH & Co. KG (Stuttgart), a specialist in vehicle air-conditioning and engine cooling systems; and Plastic Omnium (Levallois, France), whose auto exterior division is a world leader in exterior body parts and modules.

The JV, HBPO, which at press time was still awaiting regulatory approvals, will be headquartered in Lippstadt, Germany and have a dedicated facility at Plastic Omnium''s giant new Sigmatech R&D center in Lyon, France. Hella and Behr will transfer their Hella-Behr Fahrzeugsysteme GmbH front-end module JV to the new company. This JV has production in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Mexico, and South Korea.

Front-end modules comprise a structural frame, to which can be fitted headlamps and auxiliary lights, engine cooling and energy absorption systems, air guides, electronic devices, hood latches, and various tanks, bumpers, and other components.

HBPO will have sales of approximately €350 million in 2004, and 550 employees at eight production sites. Plastic Omnium says current annual output of 1.25 million front-end modules will be increased to more than two million over the next two years. It says HBPO is the only company in the world exclusively dedicated to front-end modules.

Glassburn leaves Toshiba to oversee all-electric business at Demag

After moving from VP of operations to the head of after-sales support at Toshiba Machine Co. America (Elk Grove Village, IL) in November of last year, Tim Glassburn has left the company entirely, signing on with the U.S. branch of Demag Plastics Group (Strongsville, OH) to become product manager of that company''s all-electric offering, the IntElect.

Glassburn spent 16 years with Toshiba, working in various sales and

management positions, but it was his 1999 management of the rollout of all-electrics in the U.S. for the Japan-based company that drew the attention of Demag, and made him a natural fit to oversee Demag''s all-electric IntElect family. "All-electric IMMs continue to be a growing segment of the North American market," Glassburn said in a statement. In another move to boost its position in the U.S., Demag created an applications group to offer customers pre- and post-sales assistance. Bob Lewis, most recently Demag''s Southeast regional sales manager and a 22-year veteran of the company, will head the new operation.

Anti-PVC lawsuit gets tossed

The American Chemistry Council (ACI) and over 30 other defendants are not guilty of any negligence leading to the illness of a woman who once worked in a PVC pipe extrusion plant in the late 1970s.

The plaintiff, Lori Anne Sanzone, worked only a few days at the extruder plant but brought suit in Delaware against many businesses in the PVC industry. She blamed her contact with PVC for the development of a rare form of liver cancer, and charged the industry with a conspiracy to hide health hazards of PVC. Her argument reached mass audiences after she was highlighted in the film Blue Vinyl, a decidedly anti-PVC documentary.

But as it turns out, she actually suffered from a different disease not linked in any way to PVC. The Superior Court of Delaware found no basis for conspiracy charges and granted the defendants'' motion for summary judgment, which was unopposed by the plaintiff.

In a statement, Don Evans, senior council for ACI, said, "We wish Ms. Sanzone the best and hope for her full recovery. At the same time, we are pleased the court recognized that vinyl chloride played no role in the illness she contracted or the claims that she brought.

"We are very gratified by the outcome of this case, especially considering the notoriety this suit received with the release of the film Blue Vinyl. This is a major blow to those who would try to file unjustified lawsuits," according to Evans.

The law firm that won the case, Thompson Hine LLP, is still busy defending PVC in other related lawsuits.

BOPP film market gives Bruckner banner year

Film stretching line manufacturer Bruckner Group (Siegsdorf, Germany) had a banner year, nearly doubling turnover to €495 million in 2003, and results this year are expected to top €400 million. The firm estimates it increased its market share for film stretching lines from 50% to more than 60% last year, with already strong sales to China staying that way.

Bruckner is anticipating a consolidation of both machine suppliers and processors for this market. With fewer machine makers likely, Bruckner is positioning itself by means of alliances with firms offering complementary technologies, such as the one announced between its Formtech division and PTi (Aurora, IL) last summer.

In that arrangement, Formtech agreed to globally market sheet extrusion equipment for thermoforming applications produced by PTi (Aurora, IL). Bruckner spokesman Karlheinz Weinmann says the firm is considering similar deals but would not yet provide details. The firm does say it intends to become a one-stop shop to enable sales of turnkey lines, so likely it is looking at auxiliary equipment manufacturers serving the film extrusion market.

Was Mickey a processor?

The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. (SPI; Washington) recently unveiled plans to open a 5000-sq-ft exhibit this summer at Epcot in the Walt Disney resort in Florida. The "Fantastic Plastics Works" showcase is anchored by SPI members DuPont (Wilmington, DE) and GE Advanced Materials (Pittsfield, MA), and supported by contributions from those companies and other participants. The exhibit seeks to improve the public''s understanding and appreciation of the plastics industry and encourage youngsters to consider careers in it.

Solvay acquires Thermoplastic Rubber Systems

Solvay Engineered Polymers Inc. (Mansfield, TX), a major supplier of elastomer-modified polyolefins (TPOs) to the automotive industry, has acquired the assets of Thermoplastic Rubber Systems Inc. (Shirley, MA). It exercised an option agreed to in June 2002, when it assumed near-global responsibility for marketing TRS products to the auto industry. TRS, founded in 2000, developed various thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) under various brands, including Nexprene fully vulcanized types (TPVs). Jonas Angus, president of TRS, will assume the title of general manager of a new TPV business unit at Solvay.

MPM to build machine components in Slovakia

Mannesmann Plastics Machinery, which owns Berstorff, Billion, Demag Plastics Group, Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik, and Netstal, plans to build a production facility for the manufacturing of small injection molding machinery components in Martin, Slovakia and fitting them to machines from Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik and Demag Plastics Group. MPM says Martin will also serve as the mainstay for subsidiaries to purchase components made in Eastern Europe. Construction starts around mid-year.

Flatscreen demand prompts increased capacity

JSR Corp. (Tokyo) has increased production capacity for its Arton heat-resistant transparent cyclic olefin copolymer resin three-fold, to 3000 tonnes/year at Chiba, Japan. Demand for Arton film is particularly strong for use in flatscreen televisions. JSR is also focusing on growing demand for transparent conductive film, light guiding plates, and camera lenses for cellular phones.

Big money for PVC parts at the K

PVC supplier SolVin, the joint venture of Solvay (75% ownership) and BASF (25%), plans again to honor processors innovating with PVC during the K show this October. The monetary awards of €50,000, €25,000, and e10,000 are open to processors, additive suppliers, processing machine manufacturers, academic institutions, and others. Submissions are due by month''s end.

World''s largest PP compounder to be installed at Polish plant

Processing equipment manufacturer Coperion Werner & Pfleiderer (Stuttgart, Germany) has produced the world''s largest system for compounding and pelletizing polypropylene (PP). The twin-screw MEGAcompounder ZSK380Mc, with a throughput of 60 tonnes/hr, will be installed at the Basell Orlen Polyolefins plant (Plock, Poland), a joint venture between the PKN Orlen and Basell Polyolefins. Startup is early next year. The compounder is powered by a 14-mW motor, has an automatic nonstop screenchanger, and the largest PP underwater pelletizer with a heated die plate.

Masterbatcher seeks new business opportunity through niche delivery

Looking for new marketing chances, Colour Tone Masterbatch (Caerphilly, Wales), a color masterbatcher, is now focusing on supplying processors of small-run applications with limited material rather than requiring purchases in standard batches. It is offering 10 and 15 kg lots of universal and polymer-specific masterbatch in previously approved colors, rather than the usual 25-kg minimum, on a 24-hour delivery turnaround.

Omnexus materials data center now run by M-Base

German software company M-Base (Aachen) has taken over the Material Data Center it codeveloped for Omnexus, the defunct web-based materials marketplace. It has set up a new website,

M-Base says the MDC has a functionality unrivalled on the Internet, capable of handling searches for technical criteria, individual table views, multipoint data (including curve overlays of different materials), and textual information in several languages. It includes the complete set of CAMPUS materials data, as well as data collected under ASTM standards for the U.S. market.

"We will gradually add different modules for the mechanical design with plastics, like snap-fit calculation and calculation of creep effects," M-Base says. The MDC also includes an application database. The user can search applications by name, industrial sector, and materials used. There are links between applications and the data sheets of the materials used. The company plans to add modules for cooling-time calculation, flow-length calculation, and determination of material parameters.

There is an annual access fee to the MDC of €350. A demo version can be downloaded from the site.

In related news, the firm has updated its materials database in version 5.0, available for free download at A new feature is an integrated web update function, allowing users to check if their data is current.

GE building up application resources in Europe

General Electric''s Global Research Center-Europe (Munich), to open in June, will be dedicated to applications-related research in energy and power; electronics and automation; medical; and automotive, including such areas as lighting, glazing, drive-by-wire, and alternatives to paint decoration. The center will house some 150 PhDs in its first phase, rising to 300 in a second phase.

Golnar Motahari Pour, president of GE Advanced Materials-Plastics, says the increasingly competitive nature of the European marketplace is pushing the company to accelerate differentiated application development. She says the new center will enable the conglomerate to develop applications that combine technologies coming from different business units, such as light-emitting diodes from GE Lighting and high performance thermoplastics or liquid silicone rubbers from GEAM.

Motahari notes that between 2000 and 2004, GE Plastics (now part of GEAM) increased global spending on technology resources by 33%, and increased the number of people involved in market and applications development by 65%.

DuPont acquires Czech PVB business

DuPont has acquired Retrim, a safety glass interlayer company with plant operations in Zlin, Czech Republic. Included in the acquisition is proprietary technology allowing the re-use of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) trim materials produced during the manufacture of automotive and architectural laminated glass.

DSM Somos stereolithography resins qualified for use in Sony Solid Creation Systems

All UV-curable stereolithography resins from DSM Somos (New Castle, DE) have been qualified for use in Sony''s Solid Creation Systems (SCS), which the company launched in North America last May. Several DSM Somos products have been used in SCS in Japan for several years.

The Sony lineup includes the SCS-9000D system, which has the largest modeling platform available in the world, and dual-beam scanning technology. "Sony''s entry into the U.S. stereolithography market will undoubtedly foster some exciting new developments in both equipment and processing technology," says DSM Somos business director James Reitz.

JV expands injection molder''s presence in U.S., Mexico

Offering a range of thermoset and thermoplastic molded products, Glastic Corp. (Cleveland, OH) has signed a joint venture with Productos Plasco SA de CV (Mexico City) to create Glastic Molding LLC-an electrical and industrial products molder with facilities in Jefferson, OH; Salem, MI; and Mexico City. Glastic controls 80% of the venture, which is looking to expand into Asia and does not include the parent company''s electrical-grade proprietary products.

Blowmolder pairs with chemical supplier looking to vertically integrate packaging

Chemical products manufacturer Old World Industries (Northbrook, IL) has teamed with blowmolder Madras Packaging LLC (Northbrook, IL), with Madras supplying packaging for some Old World products, including its Peak antifreeze and washer fluid offerings. Old World will also use Madras'' HDPE bottles for its de-icing solutions and coolants, and it has taken a financial stake in the blowmolder.

New home for Mould & Matic

Thermoform tooling and injection mold manufacturer Mould & Matic Solutions has moved from Kremsmuenster to new offices in Micheldorf, both Austria. The firm had been a captive manufacturing operation for Austrian processor Greiner Packaging but now is marketing molds on the open market.

Machine tool leader hopes for better days ahead

The world''s leading supplier of machine tools for moldmaking, Agie Charmilles (Zug, Switzerland), lost money last year as sales nose-dived, especially in North America and Europe, although Germany has shown improvement. For the first time, the firm''s sales in Asia exceeded its sales in North America, as demand in China jumped 26% in local currency. The firm expects results to improve this year.

Russia getting PE100 plant for pipe market

A 120,000-tonnes/yr high density polyethylene (HDPE) plant to be run by Salavatnefteorgsintez (Moscow) using Basell (Hoofddorp, The Netherlands) technology, is scheduled to be built at Salavat, Bashkortostan, Russia. The facility will concentrate on bimodal PE100 pipe grades and high-tenacity film resins.

DSM hikes TPE-E capacity

DSM Engineering Plastics (Sittard, The Netherlands) is expanding its thermoplastics elastomer ether ester block copolymer (TPE-E) capacity by 25% at its Emmen plant through de-bottlenecking. The energy-absorbing material is used in airbag covers and constant-velocity axle joint boots.

PVC window turns 50 in Germany

This year marks a half-century of extruded PVC window and door profiles in Germany. The first series of vinyl window frame was processed in Troisdorf, Germany in 1954. Today, plastics profiles hold 55% of the total German market, and more than 80% in Great Britain.

Masterbatchers blast EU program as unworkable

Germany''s masterbatch producers association, Masterbatch Verband (Frankfurt), has condemned a proposed European Commission for European Union-wide regulatory measure for the chemicals sector. A preliminary proposal covering the manufacture and imports of chemical products, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of CHemicals), has been termed "bureaucratic, impractical, and too expensive for the masterbatch sector, which is mainly made up of small- and medium-sized enterprises," says association spokesperson Heike Liewald.

A pilot project using the REACH guidelines in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has shown that the amounts of time, personnel, and costs are generally beyond the means of most masterbatch producers, says Liewald. Also small-lot masterbatches would become too expensive to produce, and the association believes they would eventually disappear from the market, leaving processors with less of a choice.

It also sees the danger of masterbatch production moving outside EU countries where such regulations have no affect, thereby endangering jobs and processors'' existence.

Scottish processors said to make world''s largest tanks

Balmoral Chemical Tanks (Aberdeen, Scotland) says it has installed equipment to produce the world''s largest rotomolded storage tanks. The single-piece, polyethylene tanks have a capacity of 1300 to 75,000 liters, and are both UV- and chemical-resistant. The 50-tonne rotomolder, which Balmoral managing director Jim Milne says required construction of a new building to accommodate, has an oven capacity of 10 by 4.5 by 4.5 m. Total investment is more than £2 million. (

Deal signed to build Russian HDPE plant

Italian engineering and construction company Tecnimont (Milan), part of the Edison Group, has contracted with Russian petrochemical company Salavatnefteorgsintez, part of Gazprom (Moscow), to construct a 120,000-tonnes/yr high density polyethylene (HDPE) plant at Salavat, Bashkortostan, Russia. The $80-million facility, which uses Basell technology, is scheduled for completion in mid-2006. Basell has also sold a license for its technology to PetroChina for a 200-tonnes/yr low density PE plant being built at Lanzhou, China. (

Victrex, Zotefoams collaborate on new foams

Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) producer Victrex (Thornton Cleveley, England) and Zotefoams (Croydon, England) are teaming up to produce a foamed version of PEEK. The material has densities as low as 650 kg/cu m. The technology uses nitrogen saturation to impregnate granules that are then injection molded to produce foamed parts, or extruded into foamed profiles. The materials have good chemical and UV resistance, very high temperature and good dielectric performance, low flammability, and buoyancy. The companies envision applications such as level sensors in chemically harsh environments, and low-weight, thermoformable panels for aerospace and mass transit. (;

BASF to the rescue?

In the ongoing battle between Frankfurt Airport expansion opponents and supporters (MP E-Update, February 2004), involving the fate of Ticona''s 77,000-tonnes/yr-capacity acetal plant directly in the line of a proposed new runway, the name of a competitor has been bandied about as offering a possible solution. As reported on a local Frankfurt radio station, BASF has offered space at its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany to relocate the plant. A BASF spokesperson would not comment on the matter. The present plant is located in Kelsterbach, in the state of Hesse, Germany. The state''s governor has already proposed relocating the facility but wants to keep the Ticona facility somewhere within the state to ensure continued tax revenue. This would be thwarted if Ticona were to move to Ludwigshafen, which is in an adjacent state. Previously, a Ticona spokesman said that if the company were forced to move he could not say if it would remain in high-wage Germany or move to a more favorable location. (;

European packaging tape substrates on the move

Oriented polypropylene (OPP) is continuing to take market share from unplasticized PVC substrate film used for adhesive tapes in Europe. PVC has continued a 1% decline/yr since in 2002 (latest figures according to ExxonMobil Chemical) to about 800,000 million sq m. In contrast, OPP has jumped to more than 3.7 billion sq m. The strong euro has supported a trend in attracting OPP imports from Asia, the company says. (

Swiss take over extruder maker

Buhler (Uzwil, Switzerland) has acquired some of the assets of insolvent extruder maker Theysohn Maschinenbau (Salzgitter, Germany), for an undisclosed price. Buhler says the takeover helps expand its activities in extruded plastics as well as powder coatings. Theysohn produced co-rotating, intermeshing twin-screw extruders which a Buhler spokesman says will be further developed. []

Pakistan bemoans low plastics usage

According to Asif Rasheed, VP of the Pakistan Plastics Manufacturers Association (PPMA), the country has one of the lowest per capita plastics consumption rates in the world, at just 3.2 kg/person. This places Pakistan behind India (3.3 kg) and China (7 kg). Although the country boasts more than 6000 processors and 600,000 people working in the industry, "the plastics industry falls into cottage industry, and there are [only a few] manufacturers who are medium-sized industries," says PPMA spokesman Fayyaz Chauhdry. The country''s total consumption of polymer is about 450,000 tonnes/yr, 90% of which is imported. He says during the Iraq war, polymer prices in Pakistan shot up by as much as 70%.

Vinyl innovation prize announced

PVC and PVdC producer SolVin (Brussels, Belgium), a joint venture between BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) and Solvay (Brussels), has launched an award for PVC innovation. The contest is open to processors, equipment makers, additives suppliers, service providers, designers, and academic institutions. SolVin is offering a total of €100,000 in cash prizes for projects which demonstrate new developments in the use of vinyl. Entries will be accepted until April 30. (

BASF acquires U.S. PUR producer

Foam Enterprises (FEI, Minneapolis, MN) has been bought by resin producer BASF (Ludwigshafen) for an undisclosed sum. FEI produces rigid foam polyurethane (PUR) for noise and heat insulation, sanitary products, and pleasure boats. BASF is taking over the company''s headquarters and R&D center in Houston, TX along with a staff of 80. (

Names in the News

Jorg Kariger has been named managing director of Profine, formerly traded as HT Troplast (Troisdorf, Germany), one of Europe''s largest PVC window and door profile extruders, and a manufacturer of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) film for sandwiched safety glass applications. Kariger will be in charge of finding a buyer for the operations, which its mother company, Rutgers (Essen, Germany), wants to off-load to concentrate on its core business. (

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

Robert Colvin [email protected]

Loranger hits Plasthing from beyond the grave

Trustees serve writ for repayment More than two years after the collapse of U.S.-based automotive component supplier Loranger Manufacturing, shock waves are still being felt around the world. Trustees of the company, which was forced to close in late 2002 after customers led by Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. and Visteon Corp. started involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against it a year earlier, served a writ for repayment of $150,000 at the end of last year from supplier Plasthing Hot Runner Systems Inc. (Mishawaka, IN), which Loranger had paid in early 2001 when it was already insolvent.

Unable to defer payment, and short of cash, Plasthing Inc. itself filed for bankruptcy. Plasthing makes all its hot runners in Turin, Italy, but the U.S. operation was owned through its U.K. arm, Plasthing Ltd., in Penge. That company was already suffering from the downturn in the U.S. and U.K. molding industries. This combined with a weak dollar that had caused it to lose at least one major U.S. order to North American competition; in addition, it lost about $120,000 in a few months on currency exchanges alone. Company owner John Donovan says the closure of Plasthing Inc. "created a €300,000 hole in the Plasthing Ltd. balance sheet." As a result of this and related cash-flow problems, Plasthing Ltd. has been forced to close. At press time, it was not clear if the Italian parent company, Plasthing SrL, would be pulled down by the failure of its subsidiaries. Donovan was talking with its Italian banks and with potential investors.

In Brief

Baton Rouge on line

ExxonMobil Chemical says its 90,000+ tonnes/yr metallocene ethylene elastomer manufacturing facility in Baton Rouge, LA, is on line. The firm will use the site to expand its ethylene elastomer product portfolio, including production of the Vistamaxx specialty elastomers announced by the supplier at NPE 2003. The plant will also serve as the supplier''s global supply point for metallocene ethylene elastomers.

GKV says leave it alone

The German Plastics Processors Assn. (GKV; Frankfurt) is fighting a move by the EU commission to eliminate the quality brand "Made in Germany" with a more general trademark, "Made in the European Union." GKV President Reinhard Proske says goods should indicate their real origin. He says "Made in Germany" products provide the buyer an assurance of quality and safety that might not be achieved in products from other countries, including the 10 new member countries joining the EU next month.

O-I selling assets

Glass and plastics packaging processor Owens-Illinois (O-I; Toledo, OH) is selling assets, possibly to include its entire blowmolding business, to service its debt. Subsidiary ACI Packaging sold its thermoformed and extrusion blowmolded packaging operations in Australia and New Zealand to Visy Industrial Plastics. ACI is keeping its PET bottle blowmolding operations.

Friendly takeover bid

Sumitomo Bakelite (Tokyo) has launched a friendly bid to acquire management control of plastic sheet manufacturer Tsutsunaka Plastics Industry Co. (Osaka) in February. Sumitomo Bakelite currently holds around 27% of Tsutsunaka.

Sony debuts biodegradable DVD player housing

Flame retardant PLA now commercial Sony Corp. and Mitsubishi Plastics Inc. (both Tokyo) have teamed up to develop a flame-retardant polylactic acid (PLA) biodegradable resin claimed to be as strong as ABS. The new material will be used in the front panels of Sony standalone DVD players. The first application will be a DVD player due to be launched in Q3 of this year. The resin employs an aluminum hydroxide flame retardant, is rated UL94 V-2, and complies with the EU''s Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) directive.

A key to successful deployment of the PLA is the ability to process the PLA with a cycle time on par with ABS. Previously, extended cycle times were required in order to crystallize the PLA and impart sufficient heat resistance. Sony says the use of additives and modifications to molding parameters lets it process PLA compound on conventional injection presses in commercially viable cycle times.

Plastic membrane protects World Cup stadium

Fluoropolymer film adopted Asahi Glass Co. (Tokyo) has won an order to supply its Fluon ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene copolymer) film as the covering material for Allianz Arena, a 67,000-seat stadium under construction in Munich, Germany, that will host the opening match of the 2006 World Cup. Covertex GmbH (Obing, Germany) will manufacture the membrane covering from Fluon.

When completed in May 2005, the stadium will be the world''s largest structure employing a membrane over a steel frame. Asahi Glass will supply approximately 150,000 sq m of fluoropolymer film for the cover.

DuPont rolls out bioplastic hub cap

DuPont''s aliphatic-aromatic copolymer Biomax has hit the streets of Aichi, Japan, to publicize the 2005 World Exposition that will be hosted by the prefecture.

The material has been employed in the hubcaps of 50 taxis plying the streets of prefecture capital Nagoya. The hubcaps were thermoformed from Biomax sheet by processors Ohtsuka Brothers & Co. (Tokyo).

U.S. Commerce Secretary Evans optimistic at NMW appearance

As four straight years of monthly job losses within manufacturing nears, and as the nascent economic recovery in the United States slowly starts to bear fruit, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans addressed a concerned crowd at the National Manufacturing Week (Feb. 23-26, Chicago, IL).

"I''m optimistic, but I completely understand if you aren''t feeling the same sense of optimism," Evans said. "You''ve been hard hit—there''s no doubt about it—we understand that."

Evans said meetings with U.S. manufacturers last year contributed to a Department of Commerce (DOC) report, now used to guide new manufacturing-friendly policy. It contains more than 50 recommendations from manufacturers themselves.

An advisory Manufacturing Council to President Bush is also being created, and will be filled with industry representatives. Evans said a new Office of Industry Analysis will track important manufacturing trends and work on issues such as tax laws, health-care costs, and R&D funds.

Evans said an Unfair Trade Task Force within the Import Administration will examine market trends and foreign government practices. Evans said the ultimate goal is to assist U.S. manufacturers before they''re irrevocably harmed. The DOC also is forming a Trade Agreement Enforcement Unit to examine unfair trade practices and issues like intellectual property rights.

Additives maker Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Basel, Switzerland) sees future growth coming from Asia rather than traditional European and N. American markets. CEO Armin Meyer says any new capacity expansions will be built in Asia, while debottlenecking of existing facilities in Europe or N. America would be undertaken if necessary. Of its 500 million Swiss franc (CHF) investment in Asia during the last 10 years, a whopping 400 million CHF went to China. Ciba will open its own R&D center later this year in Shanghai, says Hermann F. Angerer, executive VP. However, to guard intellectual property, Ciba plans to concentrate only on parts of new product developments at the center.

Battenfeld cooperates with Chinese extrusion concern

A strategic cooperation agreement between the extrusion division of Battenfeld (Bad Oeynhausen, Germany) and Chinese processor Hebei B&S Group Co. (HBS; Baoding, Hebei Province) will advance their mutual business interests in China, according to company officials. Under the agreement, Battenfeld companies designate HBS as a key account and share with it new designs in extrusion equipment and information on emerging film, pipe, and profile application; provide technical advice on product development; and keep the processor apprised of global trends in polymer consumption and other market data. Battenfeld will also provide regularly scheduled service calls, training, and technical seminars.

HBS, meanwhile, makes the Battenfeld companies preferred vendors for extrusion equipment. The processor will share information with Battenfeld on market trends in China for extruded products, product requirements of its customers, and other market information and technical feedback.

HBS already uses Battenfeld machinery, including blown film and cast polypropylene sheet lines and pipe and profile extrusion lines. HBS figures the agreement could give it a competitive advantage in extrusion technology and product development, while Battenfeld gains greater insight into the product and process needs of China''s growing extrusion business, which will enable it to design more competitive machines for the market, according to Bill Joyce, Battenfeld Gloucester''s director of international business for Asia.

PET turnkey system manufacturer moves into new facility

Kortec Inc. has moved into a new $14 million headquarters in Ipswich, MA, which triples its total space to 110,000 sq ft. The facility has 10 bays to house Kortec''s coinjection molding cells for PET preforms, and the 45-person company is planning on 10 new hires this year.

Demag goes for global branding, opens Russian machine assembly operation

The unification earlier this year of injection machinery brands Van Dorn and Ergotech under the single Demag banner has ended a process begun just over 10 years ago when Strongsville, OH-based Van Dorn Plastic Machinery was bought by Mannesmann Demag, based in Schwaig, Germany. The merger process, not always smooth, accelerated after Bill Carteaux and Helmar Franz took charge of Van Dorn Demag and Demag Ergotech, respectively. The very poor situation of the U.S. injection machine market in recent years has also forced rationalization of the two companies'' machine lines.

Van Dorn Demag Corp. is now Demag Plastics Group Corp. Demag Ergotech has also initiated a process whereby the company and its subsidiaries are renamed Demag Plastics Group.

Demag has also formed an alliance with one of its customers in Russia in which that company, OOO PKF Betar, in Chistopol, will assemble specially-designed machines for the local market, using components from Demag. Franz says these toggle machines, with the Bars model name, are the company''s response to the growing number of low-cost Asian machines being sold in Russia.

The first unit, with a 1500-kN clamp force, was displayed at the Interplastica show in Moscow in February. Other sizes likely will follow. He hopes for sales of around 100 units/yr in the short term.

Demag says it expects to win price-sensitive new customers with the new machine, and to further increase its market share in Russia. Franz puts the total Russian market at around 900 units/yr, of which only 42% are new. Of these, 64% came from Asia and 27% from Europe. Figures for 2003 are expected to show further penetration by Asian suppliers.

Through its Russian subsidiary Mannesmann Demag Plastservice, Demag Plastics Group is long-standing market leader, with sales of around 100 machines/yr. Says chief strategic officer Gerd Liebig. "These Bars machines will not replace our current business . . . we will sell [most] Bars to new customers and sell German products then to the enhanced customer base."

Franz reckons there are around 8000 aging East German Kuasy machines (built where Demag now makes small machines, in Wiehe) still in use in Russia. Sales of new machines in Russia almost quadrupled between 1998 and 2002.

BASF, Toray form JV for PBT production

Toray BASF PBT Resin Sdn. Bhd., a 50-50 joint venture between BASF AG (Ludwigshafen, Germany) and Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo) will build a 60,000 tonnes/yr PBT plant at BASF''s site in Kuantan, Malaysia. The new plant is scheduled to come on stream in 2006. The PBT base resin will be independently marketed by each company under their own trade names—Ultradur (BASF) and Toraycon.

Toray, the first Japanese company to establish a PBT plant outside Japan, will compound the PBT at various locations and plans to expand its global compounding capability. BASF''s portion of the PBT will be mainly used for compounded products with compounding done in Asia, though the supplier also will sell some of its portion directly to the market for extrusion applications.

Ticona increasing PPS capacity

Fortron Industries, a joint venture of Ticona and Kureha Chemicals Industries, plans to increase the capacity of its Fortron PPS plant in Wilmington, NC, by 25% through debottlenecking by the end of 2005. The company has also begun feasibility and conceptual design studies for a new PPS plant to be completed within the next five years.

Ticona does not release capacity figures; in 2001, when it first spoke of increasing PPS capacity, it estimated existing capacity at 7500 tonnes/yr.

Bayer TTC open for all

The Thermoplastics Testing Center (TTC) operated by Bayer Material Science in Krefeld-Uerdingen, Germany, is available to companies involved in compounding, extrusion, and injection molding. Previously Bayer''s technical service laboratory, the TTC offers a one-stop service which, in addition to offering about 200 tests for thermoplastics, also covers the production of granules and test pieces. A complete production line enables the compounding of ABS and its blends, polycarbonates, and industrial thermoplastics in quantities ranging from 1.3 to 100 kg. About 100 injection molds are available for virtually every testing procedure in accordance with ISO, UL, and CAMPUS. Testing is highly automated.

LG Chem develops nanobarrier technology

LG Chem Ltd. (Seoul, South Korea) has developed an engineering plastic compounding technology based on nanotechnology that imparts high gas, solvent, and water barriers to resulting compounds. The firm employs clay nanoparticles and various resin matrices, such as polyolefins and polyamide, in its Hyperier compounds, depending on the application. The compounds are also said to have good heat and impact properties. Target applications include automobile fuel tanks and containers for food, cosmetics, and pesticides.

The first commercial application of Hyperier is in cosmetic containers due on the market in the first half of this year. Moreover, joint research projects with automakers are also in progress. "Our target is to become the leading company in barrier materials by securing 30% of the global market by 2008," says Jong-Man Oh, VP of LG Chem''s Engineering Plastics division.

GE building up resources in Europe

General Electric''s Global Research Center—Europe, in Munich, to open in June, will be dedicated to applications-related research in energy and power, electronics and automation, medical, and automotive (including such areas as lighting, glazing, drive-by-wire, and alternatives to paint decoration). Golnar Motahari Pour, president of GE Advance Materials—Plastics, says the new center will enable the conglomerate to develop applications that combine technologies coming from different business units, such as light-emitting diodes from GE Lighting with high-performance thermoplastics or liquid silicone rubbers from GEAM.

MGC breaks ground on U.S. nylon plant

MGC Advanced Polymers (MAP), based in Chesterfield County, VA, has started construction of a plant in Chesterfield County for the aromatic polyamide nylon MXD6. Completion of the 22-million lb/yr facility is slated for the end of 2004, and commercial operation will start in early 2005. Total investment will be about $18 million. MAP is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Co. (Tokyo), with about 30 million lb/year of nylon MXD6 capacity in Japan. The material sees use in automotive parts and food packaging in North America, and increasingly as a gas-barrier material.


Genmar spins off VEC technology

Pleasure-boat maker Genmar (Minneapolis, MN) has spun-off its VEC Technology business as a standalone company called VEC Technology LLC. The virtual engineered composites (VEC) technology involves a closed mold with tooling floating in a liquid, and uses heat and pressure to form composite parts with vastly improved surface appearance compared to traditional composites processing methods (August 2003 MP/MPI). VEC is seen as a means for thermoplastics sheet to grab a larger share of the marine, large automotive parts, and bathroom fixtures markets.

The first announced outside investor in VEC LLC is resin and gel coat supplier Interplastic Corp. (St. Paul, MN), which also will be the exclusive supplier of thermoset resins to VEC LLC. Another partner in the venture is Drew Industries (White Plains, NY). Leigh Abrams, Drew president and CEO, says Drew''s Better Bath bathtub thermoforming business, part of the Kinro subsidiary, has sold a joint patent and other intellectual property back to Genmar, which then bundled this in the new business. At the same time, VEC LLC gave Better Bath a license to use VEC technology and also a VEC molding unit for its plant in Arlington, TX. Abrams says the unit is awaiting tooling. Drew has an option to buy into VEC LLC, he says.

Better Bath has been exhibiting bathroom fixtures made using VEC technology at trade shows since NPE in June 2003. "We''ve used it only for shows so far," Abrams says, but this summer Better Bath expects to have products ready for launch. "We see great potential for Better Bath to thermoform new products both for manufactured homes and recreational vehicles, and possibly for other industries."

The firm''s license is royalty-free and exclusive for certain bath products for the manufactured housing, modular housing, and recreational vehicle industries and royalty-free but non-exclusive for other products in the same markets.

SPE environmental awards

At its Global Plastics Environmental Conference (Detroit, MI; Feb. 18-19), the Society of Plastics Engineers handed out awards to companies whose commercially available products, services, and technologies benefit the environment. Among the winners were:

The Gordon Institute at Tufts University (Medford, MA) for its Electronic Engineering Thermoplastic Recycled Materials Guidelines, which are specifications used to characterize electronics scrap plastics to assist in commodity trading of the material.

DuPont Engineering Polymers (Wilmington, DE) for its work with Denso Corp. of Japan to create a radiator end tank molded of nylon 66 recovered from radiator tanks.

Furniture designer Herman Miller Inc. (Zeeland, MI) for its Mirra office chair, made with 42% recycled content, 96% of which can be recycled itself. In addition, an overmolded steel spine was replaced with a 100% nylon variation.

Recycling machine supplier Erema (Linz, Austria) for its VacuRema system, able to process post-consumer PET scrap into material FDA-certified for food contact. VacuRema is a combination vacuum reactor/extruder and was commercialized in 1997, with the first units almost all used to process production scrap. Increasingly, though, they see use in the processing of PCR-PET into material suitable for food contact.

Ashland Chemical for its Envirez 5000 soybean-and-corn-based polyester, used in some John Deere vehicles.

3DM acquires recycler

3DM Worldwide plc, the Whitney, U.K., developer of the Powder Impression Molding (PIM) process, has agreed to acquire the entire issued share capital of Italian company, EEVJP Ltd. (Milan), which specializes in several plastics recycling processes, two of which produce material processable by PIM (February 2004 MP/MPI, p. 51). The first material is for airline waste, medical waste, and old refrigerators; the second works with old PET x-ray plates. A third process is a means of using recycled plastics in sewage treatment, which also has further applications in hydroponics. 3DM intends to offer license agreements for the recycling processes under similar terms as it has done for the PIM process. Company Chairman Ken Brooks says that while the original work done on the PIM process was exclusively with virgin material, "we are finding that we can apply significantly more types of materials to the PIM process than was originally anticipated."

RFID mandatory in medical?

In February the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report on measures to prevent counterfeiting of drugs and pharmaceuticals, with one proposal adding RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to all medical packaging. Use of the tags is not yet mandated, though.

The FDA wants the medical industry to "secure the movement of the product as it travels through the U.S. drug distribution chain," according to an FDA release. The FDA believes industry-wide implementation of RFID technology can be accomplished by 2007, and might force the issue if counterfeiting increases.

RFID replaces bar codes with individual Electronic Product codes that are emitted from an embedded microchip and antenna on the product. These individual codes can be tracked through production, shipping, and purchase.

Masterbatcher lowers minimums in niche bid

Looking to new markets, Colour Tone Masterbatch (Caerphilly, Wales), is now focusing on supplying processors of small-run applications with 10- and 15-kg lots of universal and polymer-specific masterbatch in previously approved colors as standard, rather than the usual 25-kg minimum quantity, on a 24-hour delivery basis.

Custom manufacturer turns OEM

With engineering know-how idled, one prototypical job shop focused its ingenuity on a proprietary fencing product—circumventing slow custom business and taking a finished product directly to consumers.

On a recent visit to Plastics Design & Manufacturing (PDM; Centennial, CO), visitors were greeted in the front office with visible signs of the company''s custom manufacturing present and its proprietary product future. A placard on the back wall welcomed medical OEM Abbott Labs, a potential client, while directly in front of the greeting, a small model section of PDM''s new plastic fencing product sat on the reception counter—a marketing device for the 28-year-old job shop''s entry into retail.

A family owned manufacturer specializing in low-volume, high-value-added thermoforming and extrusion, PDM, after cutting its staff in half and working harder than ever to find jobs over the last three years, found itself with excess engineering and manufacturing capacity. As a custom manufacturer, the situation wasn''t improving since its clients were struggling as well.

"Business-to-business is great," PDM President Keith Giacchino says, "but anytime you can get a product out to the general public, your volumes are going to be much higher than in the business-to-business arena, at least in a custom plastic manufacturing mode. So we decided to take [the fencing project] on to diversify what we''re doing as a company because of the instability of manufacturing in the United States."

Putting the "C" in custom

When MP visited, applications underway included a thermoformed "pepper bar" for a national sandwich chain, an automatic pill dispenser housing, a PC lens for an atmospheric testing device on a weather balloon, and a mobile, vehicle-mounted satellite dish compartment. "Over the past three years, we''ve increased our engineering to support OEMs who cut engineering," Giacchino explains. "That''s been a huge benefit—just give me a sketch on a napkin."

Purchasing the business from his father three years ago (as sales simultaneously slowed), Giacchino immediately appreciated the need to apply that ingenuity to different revenue streams. For 10 years, the company had extruded a plastic fencing product for a firm that privately labeled and sold it to the public on a very limited basis, and Giacchino saw a vehicle for new business.

PDM engineers began redesigning the fence in 2002 as an extruded HDPE picket. Created by a proprietary screw that produces the color and texture of real wood, the 4- and 6-inch pickets come in three standard colors (custom colors are available for orders of more than 2000 linear feet), with a 20-year warranty.

The patent-pending offering is designed to appeal to both residential and commercial users, and is available with metal (16-gauge galvanized steel with a UV-stabilized, 20-mm-thick coating) or wooden frames.

Emphasizing simplicity and a product that can be handled, cut, and installed like its wood predecessor, the HDPE pickets accept screws or nails and cut like boards. PDM is also working with 3M on an adhesive so one can simply stick the boards to a frame. "You don''t even have to screw it in," Giacchino says. "I don''t want an exotic system; I want something my 12-year-old could install."

PDM bills the product as a sturdier, more weatherable replacement for the current standard in plastic fencing, PVC, which is usually sold in 6-ft panels, can become brittle in colder temperatures, and demonstrates lower overall impact resistance.

Taking a product to market

Giacchino immediately understood the difficulties that pushing the fencing product would pose to a company whose previous idea of a marketing strategy was word-of-mouth.

"The most challenging aspect of it is not so much selling it but not being from the marketing side," Giacchino admits. "Everyone for the last 30 years has come to us, and said, ''Here, make this,'' and here we are turning around and saying, ''We''re making this, do you want it?'' That''s really a change of philosophy for our company."

Helping PDM find a market is Robin Gist, who was a sales manager for the company''s custom-forming business with prior retail experience, and Bob Williams, who worked in the fencing industry. PDM is gearing up for spring, when fence maintenance and installation are likely to begin. The firm is taking part in a regional home and garden show in Denver, CO and the American Fence Assn. Show in Orlando, FL, which is the largest national contractor''s event. In the meantime, PDM continues to work with distributors and smaller hardware stores to gain market entry, as well as taking out ads in newspapers and phone books.

It currently produces the pickets on two 3.5-inch extruders at a 24/5 clip, and although it has three more extruders and room to expand, Gist says the company has taken pains to keep initial production numbers low and target a specific demographic of hardware stores. "I would love to turn out pallets of it all across the country," Gist says, "but if you look at any good business plan, it really doesn''t make sense to do that in your freshman year. We have really treated this as a premium product that we are not going to turn over to the big-box hardware stores."

Instead, the company is marketing the line to municipalities, home builders, fencing distributors, and hardware chains with around 50 stores located in Texas, California, and Colorado.

Gist''s father is now retired, but the former dean of the business school at the University of Denver has offered assistance, gratis, all along, and PDM knows that kind of help is needed as it ventures far afield from its manufacturing roots.

"I feel like if you hire the right people to do [some aspects of marketing] for you," Gist says, "that it goes much smoother. We''re not advertising people. We have every kind of engineering software that you could want, but we don''t have Adobe Illustrator."

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Contact information

Battenfeld Chen:

Rapid prototyping as manufacturing, if you like small volumes

Selective laser-sintering technology is reducing production costs while increasing product functionality.

A German medical device manufacturer selected a rapid prototyping technique rather than injection molding to produce its high-value, but limited-series, Rotolavit-brand blood centrifuge. Selective laser sintering (SLS), it turns out, proved less costly and allowed greater design freedom.

The centrifuge is used to separate blood cells from plasma during tests on a recipient''s blood prior to a transfusion. Spinning at 3500 rpm, it can test 12 or 24 tubes of blood during one cycle.

The Rotolavit was developed in five months during 2002 in a joint project between EOS (Krailling, Germany) and Hettich Zentrifugen (Tuttlingen, Germany) and has been marketed since last May. Hettich wanted to see what potential the Eosint P380 SLS system offered, not only in plastics prototypes, but also in actual series production, says Volker Junior, EOS product manager.

Hettich typically sells less than 1000 units/yr of the centrifuge, so the disproportionate cost of steel tool production would have made injection molding more costly than laser sintering, says Klaus Gunter Eberle, technical director at Hettich. In the development phase, a PP centrifuge prototype was produced by drilling and cutting, and used as the basis for calculating tooling and injection molding costs. Eberle says the complexity of the original meant that up to 14 days would have been required to complete the unit if injection molding and assembly had been used.

The companies did an analysis of the economics of both processes before making the final decision. The SLS parts, produced from EOS''s proprietary PA2200 nylon 12, manufactured for it by Degussa (Frankfurt, Germany), proved technically and chemically suitable for the application. Eberle says the complete unit can now be made and assembled in one week at a cost calculated to be 30% less than the estimates for injection molding. He says the flexibility the process allows was the deciding factor for his company.

By selecting SLS, Hettich was able to reduce the number of parts compared to injection molding. In the case of the washing rotor, the number of assembly components was reduced from 32 in a previous version to three, two of which are laser sintered. Eberle says this provided savings during production and assembly, in logistics, and by eliminating the costs of building molds. The company says that deburring of the unit''s test tube holders, an added cost with injection molded parts, was no longer required, although they still need some finishing work before delivery.

More important, say Eberle, the company can now manufacture centrifuges when customers want them, therefore nearly eliminating warehousing charges. He says Hettich only has to keep two in stock in case of a sudden surge in demand. Hettich has now decided to produce a larger centrifuge using SLS and sees more opportunities for its low-volume medical equipment. The SLS designs can also be altered to meet customer wishes without causing substantial additional costs, says Junior.

Customizing limited output applications using SLS is finding greater acceptance for small- to medium-sized processors who are competing against mass producers, says Junior. Another example is designer eyewear frames (August 2003 MP/MPI).

Phonak Hearing Systems (Stafa, Switzerland) is using SLS to produce specialty hearing devices in series of up to 1000 per month. The e-Shell unit, also in EOS''s PA2200 nylon 12, is customized to the specific geometry of the patient''s ear.

Robert Colvin [email protected]

Contact information

EOS (Electro Optical Systems)
Hettich Zentrifugen
Phonak Hearing Systems

Recycling laws prompt appliance design rethink

Legislation in Japan mandating home appliance recycling is radically transforming material selection and design.

Japan introduced legislation making recycling of home appliances compulsory starting in April 2001, with manufacturers charging consumers for collecting old appliances. The legislation also sets minimum recycling rates by weight for appliances. For example, 60% of the weight of a room air conditioner must be recycled, 50% of a refrigerator, and 50% of a washing machine.

These rates may be lifted to between 80% and 90% by 2008, and manufacturers have the most work to do when it comes to refrigerators. The recycling ratio here is currently only 51%, compared with 78% for air conditioners, and 60% for washing machines.

Faced with these recycling regulations, Japan''s appliance makers have moved to enhance the recyclability of their products by using fewer plastics and grades, and employing plastics that are easier to recycle. They are now tending to avoid ABS where possible, for example, as PS is considered to be easier to recycle. Suppliers are also influenced by fears that toxic substances derived from acrylonitrile may be emitted if ABS is incinerated.

Several manufacturers, including Fujitsu (Tokyo), and Matsushita (Osaka), have switched from using ABS in air conditioner drain pans, for example, to an alloy of PS and syndiotactic polystyrene (SPS). The SPS imparts chemical resistance, and overall, the alloy is slightly more cost effective than ABS. SPS/PS alloys have also been employed in air conditioner grills in commercial buildings, and in place of glass-fiber-reinforced PBT in a vacuum cleaner blower.

Polypropylene, meanwhile, has now replaced ABS as the material of choice in vacuum cleaner housings, thanks to its facile recyclability. In current refrigerator designs, trays are more likely to be chemical-resistant, general purpose PS than AS resin.

Manufacturers also are trying to avoid insert molding where possible to enhance recyclability. A propeller fan in a commercial air conditioning unit from Mitsubishi Electric (Tokyo), for example, formerly employed a metal boss. Now, an all-plastic design using glass-fiber-reinforced PP has been adopted.

Besides recycling issues, performance factors are also accelerating a trend in washing machines to switch away from PP drums and back to stainless steel. Fumiaki Baba, general manager of the Living Environment Systems Laboratory at Mitsubishi Electric, says, "Spin speeds of 1500 rpm employed in the latest machines result in PP drum deformation, even if a ribbed design is employed." Stainless steel is also being used in place of PP in benchtop dish dryers due to concerns over mold growth.

Appliance makers are also starting to steer clear of PVC. Some refrigerators now employ elastomers in place of PVC in gaskets, while more vacuum cleaners incorporate elastomeric hoses in place of those made of PVC. Flame-retardant PE, meanwhile, is also replacing PVC in wire encapsulation.

Gone are the days where appliance makers sought development of application-specific grades from their resin suppliers. "The emphasis now is using what''s already available," says Baba. Over the years, the number of grades used in refrigerators, for example, has fallen from around 30 to 10 or less. Whereas six PP grades were once used, now only two are employed. Similarly, only three PS grades are used in contrast with as many as 11 in the past, and the number of ABS grades has been reduced from 14 to five or fewer (including specialty grades for the inner box). In some products, PP is now used in the door inner liner.

The basic design philosophy of the day now says that appliances should use no more than three PP grades (general purpose, high-stiffness, and high-flow), three PS grades (general purpose, high-impact, and high-gloss), and three ABS grades (general purpose, high-impact, and high-flow).

Stephen Moore [email protected]

Contact information

Mitsubishi Electric

Guidance to PET bottlers: no more OPS shrink sleeves

A European association advocating PET bottle recycling is getting tough on what materials it wants to see in and around the bottles.

Europe''s PET recycling trade association, Petcore (Brussels, Belgium) has asked all bottlers to refrain from use of oriented polystyrene (OPS) in shrink sleeve labels, as the material has been found to hamper recycling systems. In Europe, water separation is the standard means of removing PET flakes from other packaging materials, which are generally less dense. "The problem is, OPS doesn''t float," explains Frank Koelewijn, Petcore director general. North American and Japanese recyclers tend toward dry grinding processes, during which films can be separated from PET by air separation.

At a shrink sleeves conference in February, Koelewijn announced a "ban" on OPS sleeves, but when pressed on it, explains that Petcore cannot legally stop the material from being used. However, "The self-regulating strength of the industry is pretty effective," he says, noting that Petcore some years ago made the same call on PVC shrink sleeves. Then the dominant material for that application, PVC has largely disappeared from the European shrink sleeve market, he says.

Koelewijn argues that the spinning and blowmolding of recycled PET containing OPS can result in the creation of noxious fumes. "That shut the door," he says. OPS is the preferred shrink label material in Japan and throughout Asia, but in Europe glycol-modified PET (PETG) has higher market share. PVC remains tops in North America. All three materials print well, and with the right ink system require no corona treatment, so the choice of material is often based on price and level of shrinkage necessary. PETG shrinkage levels are highest, followed by OPS and PVC.

Dr. A. Opschoor, technical director, is quoted as saying: "Sleeves are a fantastic tool for brand owners to expand their abilities to reach out to their consumers. Sleeves provide sublime marketing power in times when the consumers decide on their product of choice while walking though a supermarket, in a matter of seconds. However, using the wrong materials could also render the PET container utterly un-recyclable.

"We distinguish between components that accommodate recycling, those that cannot be recycled and must be removed, and those that effectively damage recycling. Our Committee decided that we should only ban components, additives or barrier technologies, which cause real damage to the PET recycling process. We must not forget that nowadays, 25% of all European PET bottles are collected, sorted, and recycled. This is an important achievement, and we cannot allow the use of wrong materials to interfere with this."

Most stakeholders in the PET industry realize that self-regulation is cheaper than government regulation, Koelewijn says, such that the affect of Petcore''s pronouncements extend beyond its membership to the entire European industry. The group is also considering a similar ban on some hot melts and adhesives used in affixing labels to bottles in a bid to pre-empt legislation on the issue that is under consideration in some countries.

Though Petcore is focused on improving the recyclability of PET, and the amount of PET that is recycled, Koelewijn says that his group does not want to hinder growth of PET processing. "We really want to restrict ourselves to looking at those issues that hurt efforts to recycle bottles," he explains.

According to Petcore, Europe is the largest PET recycling region in the world, with nearly 500,000 tonnes collected and recycled last year. The group predicts that figure will double by 2010, though Germany''s deposit law on beverage containers (imposed in January 2003), which favors refillable bottles over single-use packaging, could reduce available recyclate in that country. Polyester fiber remains the largest end-use market for most recycled PET with roughly 70% of all collected PET going toward it. Strapping and bottle-to-bottle recycling both account for about 8%.

Petcore says larger diameter fibers are used to stuff coats, sleeping bags, and soft toys. Smaller diameter fibers are woven into "polar" fleece fabric. These fabrics can contain up to 100% recycled material. A polar fleece jacket uses 25 recycled PET bottles.

Also in February, Petcore announced results of testing to determine recyclability of some of the many barrier solutions now employed by bottlers. In March 2003 the group published its guidelines and test protocols for additives and barrier materials in order to assess these materials'' effects in European recycling systems. The guidelines are available free at its website.

Petcore says it has identified two barrier systems that pass its test: Glaskin, first developed at Tetra Pak but now being developed by stretch blowmolding machine maker Sidel after Tetra Pak acquired it and shifted blowmolding projects to that firm; and Bestpet, operated by packaging machinery manufacturer Krones (Neutraubling, Germany) and the Coca-Cola Co. However, other barrier materials have also been tested and have not passed, says Koelewijn; Petcore is not announcing which ones fail, only highlighting ones that pass. "We decided to announce results as soon as we had them, assuming firms allowed us to announce them," he explains.

Recycling machinery developments also hit high gear

As discussion of PET recycling continues, so too do developments in equipment for the purpose. Erema (Ansfelden, Austria) now is marketing the fourth generation of its recycling unit, good for PET and other materials. New is the separation of the materials processing side of the system-shredder, dryer, agglomerator, and preheater, from feeding of the extruder. Erema claims the changes help users—mostly processors using in-house scrap for reuse inline—improve their product while driving down energy costs by up to 20%/kg of recyclate generated.

Customers who have upgraded existing Erema recycling systems with the new system claim throughput increases of 15%. Energy savings stem from use of a shorter extruder with no need for degassing vents.

Entering the PET recycling market is Starlinger (Vienna, Austria), commercially ready with a unit it displayed as a prototype during the October 2002 Interplas exhibition. The Recostar PET-iV+ is designed for recycling PET bottles or preforms, processing flakes from in-house waste, or for post-consumer waste that has been washed and dried to less than 1% moisture content. The system is directed to processors with up to 500 tonnes of production scrap per year, or recyclers who need up to 6000 tonnes/yr capacity. Users get melt-filtrated, crystalline pellets with intrinsic viscosity and acetaldehyde (AA) comparable to virgin material.

Material is fed or blown into a heated pre-dryer or crystallizer/dryer, and then continuously fed into a vented extruder where monomers are pulled off by vacuum, and solid contamination is removed via a screen filter. PET melt exiting the extruder is underwater pelletized.

An optional small, continuous solid state polymerization (SSP) unit can be used to increase the material''s intrinsic velocity so that it is comparable to that of virgin material; this may be necessary in bottle-to-bottle processing. Pellets passing through the SSP have acetaldehyde values of less than 1 ppm. The system awaits FDA approval for bottle-to-bottle use.

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

Contact information

Erema Plastic Recycling Systems

Adhesive provides the tie that binds

Maserati benefits from innovative adhesive technology and nylon/sPS blends in new air-intake manifolds. Similar materials are also used on Ladas.

Dow Automotive is claiming a world first with the production of air-intake manifolds for the Maserati Quattroporte sports sedan, due out later this year. They are molded in three pieces in a glass-reinforced blend of a nylon and Questra syndiotactic polystyrene (sPS), and joined together using Dow''s ground-breaking low-energy surface adhesive (LESA) technology.

The company has taken full responsibility for the project from concept through design, engineering, prototyping, and testing, all the way to production of the manifolds, which is done under contract by an undisclosed company in Europe. Parts are supplied to Maserati''s parent company Ferrari in Modena, Italy, which makes the 4.2-liter engines for the car.

Jim Cederstrom, Dow Automotive''s market development manager for air-induction systems in Auburn Hills, MI, says the nylon/sPS grade, one of its new Questra N Series, offers high strength, stiffness, creep resistance, and chemical resistance under extreme temperature operating environments.

"In these blends, the nylon phase is the continuous phase and therefore the blends maintain properties, molding characteristics, and appearance very similar to the nylon constituent," Cederstrom says. "The benefits achieved through the blending of sPS are significantly lower out-of-mold warpage and lower moisture absorption, both leading to better control of dimensions." He also notes that the sPS makes the material easier to bond, since the highly crystalline nature of nylons makes them highly resistant to chemical attack.

Explaining why Dow advocated adhesive bonding for the manifolds, rather than the more common vibration welding, Cederstrom says that bonding offers higher levels of design freedom, similar to that possible with lost-core molding, with costs more in line with shell molding/welding.

"Shell welding has a lot of limitations, it needs a fairly large weld flange that can increase the size of the package, there are issues with burst pressure, and it may require modifications to runner cross sections that affect air flow," he says.

The Dow technology does involve the extra cost of the adhesive, but it also opens up the possibility of combining different materials, each better matched to performance requirements, Cederstrom says.

In the current application, acrylic adhesives are used, dispensed by six-axis robot; Dow also offers heat-curing epoxies. LESA also permits the bonding of one type of thermoplastic to another type—he cites Questra with thermosets and polypropylene. PP is notoriously difficult to bond without prior surface treatment, owing to its nonpolar nature.

"LESA allows the designer to think differently about the materials he can use in assemblies," says Dow Automotive President George Hamilton, adding that adhesives are a key enabler for future growth in plastics.

He says some designers may have shied away from combining different materials in assemblies because of the problems of joining them together with clips, screws and rivets, none of which are needed with LESA.

Dow Automotive took direct responsibility for molding and assembly of the manifold because of the novelty of the technology, Cederstrom says, emphasizing that the company does not intend to compete in the future with established manifold makers, which it hopes will become customers.

Peter Mapleston [email protected]