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Small but oh, my!

The Nano-16 twin-screw extruder from German equipment producer Leistritz (Nuremberg, Germany), integrated with a patent-pending micro-plunger feeder, is able to aid compound and masterbatch processors by simulating the continuous extrusion process for 20g and 100g batches. Applications include compounding, devolatilization, and reactive extrusion. It utilizes segmented screws and barrels, a stainless steel process section, and state-of-the art control and data acquisition.

Nano-16 twin-screw compounder features screw design with 1.2mm flight depth and a micro-plunger feeder.

Its free volume, directly related to the outer diameter/inner diameter (OD/ID) ratio, is a ratio of 1.18/a OD/ID. This permits a free volume of 0.9cc/diameter, claimed to be the lowest free volume available for a twin-screw extruder that is scalable to production class equipment.

The twin screws are starve fed, with the output rate determined by the feeders that meter material into the processing section. The extruder screw’s rpm is independent; this feature is said to help optimize compounding efficiencies. Previously, the unit was not offered with a feeding mechanism to effectively meter very small batches to the twin screw. Now it has a micro-plunger feeder that consists of a piston that slides within a stainless steel tube that is filled with a 20-100cc batch. After being mated at the bottom of the feed barrel, the piston is pushed upward by a drive screw to perform the feeding task at very low rates. Since the micro-plunger feeder is a positive displacement device, it can meter material in forms such as powders, granules, micro-pellets, pastes, or water based slurries.

The Nano-16 replicates the unit operations and shear imparting mechanisms of larger scale twin-screw extruders. The combination of a small free volume and precision low-rate feeding makes it, says Leistritz, the only extruder that can produce results that are scalable to production processing compounders. [email protected]

Solid growth continues in bioplastic compounds, reports Entek

One of the bright spots continuing to shine in the compounding market is development of compounds based on bioplastic matrices, according to experts at compound extruder manufacturer Entek (Lebanon, OR). The company had a gangbuster 2008, with record growth in sales of its twin-screw extruders, but like the rest of the industry is fighting a tough headwind in 2009.

John Effmann, director of sales and marketing at the firm, notes that Entek has seen a sharp increase in the number of bioresin lab trials being run at its headquarters in Oregon, as both existing and prospective customers are requesting lab time to test compound their formulations on the company’s extrusion lines. 

Figures supplied by Entek show that, in its in-house development lab, test compounding of compounds based on biodegradable resins or ones made from renewable materials grew from 0% of total tests in 2006, to 6% in 2007and 35% last year, with the number expected to increase this year. This occurred as tests for general compounding stayed steady at 26% of all trials run in the lab for the 2006-2008 period, but tests of wood/plastic compounds dropped, in synch with the slowdown in the North American building and construction market.

Other areas in which the manufacturer still sees solid growth potential include smaller, versatile machines that can be used for applications such as product development and small production runs. “In the color compounding market, many processors like the ability to run smaller, customized lots of materials,” said says Effmann. “The same goes for the bioresin suppliers, although once their products have gained commercial acceptance, they tend to move towards the larger, higher output production machines like the 73, 103 and 133,” referring to the screw diameter on three of the company’s mid-to-large sized twin-screw extruders. Its 40mm machine, introduced to the industry in 2006, has been a strong seller because of its versatility, reports Entek. [email protected]

Medical plastics: Evonik introduces new PEEK grades

At this week’s Medtec medical technology trade show in Stuttgart, Germany, plastics supplier Evonik Industries (Essen, Germany) is introducing its Vestakeep M series for medical applications. The material range, suitable for short-term body contact, includes a medium-viscosity grade, a high-viscosity compound and a powder grade.

Medtec is held annually in Stuttgart and organized by MPW parent company Canon Communications.

Evonik only recently decided to market these materials for medical applications but reports that they have passed the various biocompatibility tests of the United States Pharmacopoeia (for in vivo and in vitro applications). The USP is a non-governmental, not-for-profit public health organization the develops standards for all prescription and over–the–counter medicines and other health care products manufactured or sold in the United States.

Evonik predicts the materials will find use in applications including surgical instruments, endoscopes, analytical equipment, and medical dosing. [email protected]

New control proves a highlight at Illig’s open house

Last week (Feb. 27-28), thermoforming machinery manufacturer Illig (Heilbronn, Germany) welcomed more than 100 processors from around Europe to its Presentation Days open house, with one of the highlights being an RDK 90 automatic pressure forming machine on which amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (APET) trays were processed with a 16-up tool at a rate of 55 cycles/min.

Attendees at Illig's open house feast their eyes on the multi-use options of the RDK 90, the company’s largest version of an automatic pressure forming machine. 

At the helm for this processing line was the ThermoLine control from the company, which makes it possible for a user to centrally monitor, optimize and control processes throughout the entire line via the thermoformer's control. Swifter tool and format changes, with increased productivity and thermoforming line uptime, are said to be some of the benefits.

The RDK 90 is Illig’s largest version of this type of machine, able to process up to 900 mm of (processable) material width and 700 mm of index length. It is designed for both off-line roll-fed operation and in-line feed with pre-linked flat film extruder. The skeletal granulator available in the RDK 90 modular system was optimized so that even un-punched parts up to 80 mm high and/or material thicknesses up to 1 mm can be drawn in and ground, which can prove especially useful during machine start-up until a steady and stable process sequencing is achieved.

In a well-received presentation during the open house, and a further sign of automation’s growing use in thermoforming, Rüdiger Sonntag, key technology manager plastics for robot manufacturer Kuka, illustrated the multi-use options a six-axis articulated arm robot can bring to processors, especially for processing high quantities. [email protected]

Polymerupdate European resin pricing, Feb. 23-27; Despite upstream increases, most materials unchanged

Spot polyethylene (PE) prices ended last week steady in Europe according to Polymerupdate, but strength in upstream ethylene indicates material sellers will push for increases. In high-density polyethylene (HDPE), injection molding contract prices were assessed at 820/tonne FD Northwest Europe, while HDPE film prices were assessed at 800/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Spot prices for injection, blowmolding, and film grades were also unchanged from the week before at 750/tonne FD Northwest Europe.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) prices firmed last week, with contract prices of LDPE up 10/tonne to 810/tonne FD Northwest Europe. LDPE prices in the spot markets reached 790/tonne. The price gains followed a steep climb in March for European ethylene, with contract prices up 85/tonne. LDPE converters remain resistant, however, with one telling Polymerupdate, “We are aware of the fact that PE producer margins in Europe maybe squeezed due to rising ethylene prices, but this is not reason for us to pay higher prices for our requirements. We have been quite active in our purchases over the past few weeks and currently are well stocked with sufficient LDPE to see us through the first half of March.”

Polypropylene (PP) finished flat last week in the contract and spot markets, with contract injection grades at 780/tonne FD Northwest Europe, and copolymer contracts settling at 830/tonne FD Northwest Europe. In the spot market, homopolymer prices were also unchanged at 680/tonne FD Northwest Europe, with copolymer prices static at 730/tonne FD Northwest Europe.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contract prices fell last week, with suspension-grade PVC assessed down at 695 to 715/tonne FD Northwest Europe. The contraction came in spite of elevated ethylene prices and was triggered in part by sluggish regional and Asian demand. Ineos ChlorVinyls is reported to have announced an increase of 80/tonne in its PVC prices of for March.

Polystyrene (PS) rose last week, with general-purpose grades hitting 875/tonne FD Northwest Europe, while HIPS contract prices were assessed at 925/tonne FD Northwest Europe. Producers claimed to have achieved increases ranging from plus 30 to 40/tonne from January’s settlement. Although higher than February, the settlements were below targeted hikes of 70 to 75/tonne announced by Dow and Ineos Nova. In the spot market, PS prices finished flat in Europe last week, with GPPS prices at 795/tonne FD Northwest Europe and HIPS at 850/tonne FD.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) contract prices finished flat in Europe last week, with general-purpose and natural-grade contract prices at 1165/tonne FD Northwest Europe. ABS producers are heard to be targeting hikes for March, with some producers pushing a 50/tonne increase while others aim higher on the basis of gains in upstream styrene monomer (SM). In the spot market, FD Northwest Europe prices of ABS dipped to 970 to 980/tonne. 

Polymerupdate Asian resin pricing, Feb. 23-27; New Mid East supplies depress Asian prices

. Additional pressure was applied from bearish trends in downstream polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). FOB Korea ethylene prices on Friday, Feb. 27, fell to $600/tonne, a drop of $40/tonne from the week before. CFR Northeast Asian prices of ethylene, meanwhile, were assessed at $640/tonne. Reports of mechanical problems at Formosa Petrochemical’s 1.2 million tonnes/yr No. 3 cracker that will compel it to shutdown for two weeks failed to lift prices. Ethylene bids surfaced at $540 to $550/tonne FOB Korea. In Southeast Asia, the ideal price target margin grew, with sellers placing offers above $650/tonne CFR, while buyers came in below $600/tonne with their bids.

Spot rates of linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) finished steady in Asia last week, in spite of drops in ethylene and the perception of softening demand. CFR Far East Asia LLDPE prices were assessed at $990/tonne, with CFR South Asia LLDPE prices at $1030/tonne. A trader contacted by Polymerupdate said a spike in crude oil prices, which lifted naphtha, impacted PE prices, as did reports that Middle East producer Yansab has delayed the start up of its new PE complex located at Yanbu until the second quarter of 2009. The plant will have an LLDPE output capacity of 400,000 tonnes/yr. In other plant news, Petro Rabigh is due to start up its new 350,000 tonnes/yr LLDPE plant located at Al Jubail in the middle of March, following the start up of its new 1.3 million tonnes/yr steam cracker.

Propylene prices fell with diminished buying activity in polypropylene (PP), with FOB Korea propylene prices off $30/tonne from a week earlier to $640/tonne. PP prices are expected to drop as new capacity comes online this month in Saudi Arabia at Petro Rabigh and in India with Reliance Industries’ new PP unit. In addition, a trader contacted by Polymerupdate said heavy fog has slowed down operations at many key Chinese ports including Shanghai, Jiangyin, Nanjing and Nantong, leading to a build up in propylene stock in Japan and South Korea. In Southeast Asia, offers for propylene are at $750 to $760/tonne CFR with bids below $700/tonne CFR.

Styrene Monomer (SM) prices raced higher last week in Asia, with FOB Korea prices on Friday, Feb. 27, hitting $755 to $760/tonne. CFR China SM prices were assessed at $775/tonne, while CFR India SM prices were reported at $790/tonne. Strength in upstream crude and naphtha, as well as a spurt in Friday’s benzene rates, helped support the spike in SM rates. In China, SM climbed RMB 400/tonne to RMB 6100/tonne ex-tank basis in East China. In plant news, Shuangliang Lishide’s 200,000 tonnes/yr No. 1 SM plant was reported down due to a shortage of natural gas. Elsewhere, Chevron Phillips’ 750,000 tonnes/yr plant in Al-Jubail was reported to be experiencing mechanical problems at its SM plant. [email protected]