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Specialty in vivo plastics fuel Biomerics' expansions

Biomerics (Salt Lake City, UT), which announced completion of a cleanroom expansion earlier this week, will expand even further this year, a company official tells Plastics Today in an interview.

"Over the next nine months, we expect to add another 5-10 people, add two more injection molding machines and add compounding equipment," says Troy Mohr, vice president of business development  for

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Polyimide tubes are extruded for in vivo applications. Photo: Biomerics
the company.

Behind the growth is growing demand for specially compounded and processed biomaterials for use inside the human body (in vivo), a field that many large resin companies have conspicuously avoided because of potential liability issues.

Biomerics was founded in 1994, as Utah Plastics Group with three employees and one customer. It entered the medical market as a regional custom molder and gradually expanded molding capabilities and added machining, tooling, cast molding, extrusion, and compounding capabilities.  The company introduced proprietary biomaterials in 2008 and changed its name to Biomerics.

Molding, assembly, packaging

The 10,000-square-foot expansion at its Salt Lake City plant announced this week includes an ISO Class 8 clean room for injection molding and device assembly, a medical device packaging cell, and a fulfillment warehouse. Biomerics now operates 25 injection molding machines and has a production partnership with a Rhode Island processor.

"The additional clean room enables us to have dedicated production areas for material polymerization and compounding, as well as injection molding and medical device assembly," says Travis Sessions, president and CEO of Biomerics. "The new packaging and warehouse space expands our capability to manage sterile medical device fulfillment for our customers."

In the past six months, Biomerics has brought online new medical and pharma compounding lines, an automated material handling system, and expanded capabilities in injection molding, vibration welding, and device assembly.

The expansion of this ISO 13485 registered facility has resulted in the hiring of 15 employees and is expected to create additional positions over the next 12 months, says Mohr.

Extrusion specialties include multi-lumen tubing, bump tubing, polyimide tubing, and jacketing. Biomerics operates 12 production extrusion lines (3/4" to 2") and two R&D extrusion lines.

Its proprietary thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) formulations are sold under the following brand names: Quadrathane, Quadraflex, Quadraplast, Quadraphillic, and Quadraban.

New name, new CEO, new non-food-based path to bioplastics

Manufacturers of bioplastics, biofuels, and biochemicals have a new non-food-derived feedstock option for their products. Virdia, formerly HCL CleanTech, is commercializing a patented technology that converts cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars and lignin. In addition to the new name, the company formally introduced its new CEO, longtime the industrial biotech veteran Philippe Lavielle. Lavielle replaces Virdia's co-founder, Eran Baniel, as CEO, with Baniel now acting as Virdia's VP of business development.

Phillipe Lavielle, Virdia CEO
Above, Virdia CEO, Philippe Lavielle, below, Virdia's semi-works plant.
Virdia plant
Lavielle told PlasticsToday that he's actually been working with the company since July, as it worked to transition into a commercialization phase. The first step in that transition will be selecting a site for its first production-scale plant. The company has chosen the state of Mississippi for the facility on the basis of "sustainable access to biomass" and a $75 million financial incentive package tendered by the Mississippi Development Authority, according to Lavielle.

Lavielle said the company hopes to be done with the site selection process in 6 to 9 months, with an operation in place and running by the end of 2014 or early 2015. The anticipated output will be 150,000 tons of sugar, a "modest" amount, Lavielle said, with future plants to be in the range of 500,000 tons/yr. Lavielle noted that even at the current size, the planned facility's production would be equivalent to a plant producing 60-70 million gallons of ethanol annually.

Virdia will offer the marketplace C5 and C6 sugars and lignin. In addition to biofuels and biochemicals, the sugars offer a pathway to PET precursor, paraxylene, with the lignin applicable to carbon fiber creation and flame retardants. Asked which market he anticipates being the most robust among bioplastics, biochemicals, and biofuels, Lavielle laid out the attraction position Virdia finds itself in.

"That's the beauty of being the first step in the value chain," Lavielle said. "We're indifferent," adding that the company's role is to make a new non-food based carbohydrate available for conversion.

To fund its piloting activities and engineering plans, Virdia recently closed its latest round of financing, raising over $20 million from insiders, Khosla Ventures, Burrill & Company and Tamar Ventures. In addition, the company closed $10 million in a venture debt deal with Triple Point Capital. The state of Mississippi's package included $75 million in low-interest loans, as well as up to $155 million in various tax incentives over a 10-year period. Virdia expects its cellulosic sugar plants to create hundreds of new jobs over the same decade.

Virdia's intellectual property portfolio is built arounds its CASE proprietary process for converting a wide range of cellulosic feedstock, including wood, energy crops and agricultural residues into refined sugars and lignin. Described as a low-temperature process that delivers the high yields of sugars from biomass, it is said to have a small environmental footprint due to the near complete recycling of acids and solvents used in manufacturing.

In January, Virdia (then HCL CleanTech) and Virent Energy Systems Inc. were awarded a $900,000 grant from BIRD Energy, a program for U.S. - Israel joint renewable energy development funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures, and the BIRD Foundation. Virent was one of the company's named by Coca-Cola as a research partner in its effort to create a 100% renewably sourced PET bottle. Per the Virent/Virdia deal, sugars processed at Virdia's Durham, NC demonstration plant are sent to Virent's Madison, WI facility for conversion into biofuels and biochemicals. As part of the BIRD project, HCL CleanTech will also provide pine sugars to an unnamed biopolymer producer for evaluating fermentation into hydrocolloids that historically were made from cane or corn sugars for use in personal care, food and beverage applications.

El-Exis SP to make North American debut at NPE2012

Sumitomo Demag will make the North American debut of its El-Exis SP hybrid series of injection molding machines at NPE2012 (booth #2103).

The company will demonstrate two model sizes of its El-Exis SP.

"Greeting visitors to the West Hall will be a full in-mold labeling cell that features complete coverage of the plastic surface using a unique process developed by Marbach moulds and automation GmbH,” Jim Mitchell, executive vp of Sumitomo Demag in a news release. “With this process, barrier functions and full-graphic cover labeling can be integrated in the packaging process."

Available in model sizes from 165 to 825 tons, the El-Exis SP has been designed for high-speed production of applications such as thin-walled food packaging, closures for beverages, cartridges, plant pots and buckets.

The hybrid series combines speed and performance with high speed injection via hydraulic accumulator and servo-valve, as well as an energy efficient electric screw drive for maximum plasticizing capacity and melt homogeneity. The clamping unit has AC servo drives and hydrostatic transmission for energy-efficient mold open/close, according to the company.

Some of the design improvements for the SP series include up to 30% more energy efficient operation than other high-speed hybrid designs, and up to a 30% increase in injection speed over previous El-Exis S models, achieving up to 1000 mm/sec dependent on configuration,.

"The El-Exis SP raises the bar for overall productivity in high-speed and thin-wall applications," said Mitchell. "This degree of overall productivity even provides a cost-effective IM solution for some packaging applications that may have previously been reserved for thermoforming."

Together with Marbach molds and automation GmbH (booth #223), Sumitomo Demag will demonstrate the manufacture of thin-walled containers with full-cover labeling. A special feature of Marbach's IML process is that the banner label and the base label are inserted overlapping around a radius, thereby providing complete coverage of the plastic surface with the label reaching up to a high level on the sealing edge. In this way, barrier functions can be integrated into the packaging by means of labels.

For the demonstration, a Marbach double-cavity IML hot-runner mold will run on an El-Exis SP. The compact production cell manufactures the 250 g containers from PP (final weight 14.2 g) in a cycle time of approximately 3 seconds. The highly precise mold stop position of the El-Exis SP ensures the exact positioning of the labels despite the high production speed, the company stated.
 

Carbon fiber body-in-black wins design accolade

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle weighing just 500 kg thanks to an all-carbon structure has come out tops in the automotive category of the JEC Innovation Awards Program recognizing excellence in composite design and application.

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Body-in-black car body pushes new limits to lightness.

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Closed cell foamed LDPE packs out structural space frame.
Specialist vehicle manufacturer Axon Automotive (Northamptonshire, UK) led the project with partners Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan, carbon fiber); Eurocarbon (Sittard, the Netherlands, braiding); Scott Bader (Northamptonshire UK, a new resin formulation) and Eccles Tooling Systems (West Midlands, UK, patterns).

The compact Axon car has also been designed for scalable production and is suitable for new fuel vehicles and prestige vehicles. The material innovation consists of using a braid over a foam preform, thus effectively creating a 3D woven structure from multiple preforms that are machine-laid and infusion-molded into beams. These beams have an internal structure that can resist buckling and deformation.

Low-density, closed-cell polyethylene foam forms the core of the preform, which is placed into a closed tool with multiple cells and formed by vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM). The foam core expands during the process and takes the shape of the tool.

The special feature of Axon Automotive's Axontex structural space frame process is the shear webs internal to the beam, which give the beam its high strength and stiffness while retaining a low weight and allowing high levels of shape and curvature within the components. Load introduction for safety belts, engine mounts, seats and crash structures rounds out the BiB system.

Working with their suppliers, Axon has been able to apply a new resin system that increases toughness while retaining the conventional stiffness and strength of epoxy, at lower cost and greater customization ability. Instead of creating designs by substituting materials in existing architectures, new composite configurations and the development of supporting manufacturing processes allow the creation of breakthrough, cost-effective and higher-value components.

Key benefits of the new design approach include affordable bespoke design for new vehicle architectures; low tooling costs allowing cost-effective scalable production through adding tooling to match demand (up to 50% lower compared with conventional "body in white" vehicles); ultra-lightweight vehicles allowing electric powertrains, lower fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions; rapid model replacement for shorter model cycles and improved competitiveness; and modular design allowing low-cost tooling changes across platforms. Modular design is emerging as a concept in the automotive sector, even for traditional vehicle formats.

Existing OEMs manufacturing prestige low-volume steel bodied vehicles can clad carbon BiB with painted steel panels, while new entrant OEMs can use new resin-based exterior materials. Both applications are based on a vehicle assembly concept where components are fitted onto the BiB and the exterior panels are fitted last maximizing ease of production and minimizing risk to the final panels.-[email protected]

DME marks 70th anniversary by helping inventors bring innovations to market

DME Company is celebrating the milestone of its 70th anniversary by helping inventors reach their own milestones in a program the mold technology supplier describes as "bringing great inventions to market that solve customers' challenges."

"[DME] doesn't shy away from ideas that originate outside our facilities," said Dave Lawrence, DME president. "No matter where an idea comes from, we're eager to make it happen if it solves a customer's challenge."

DME holds out Brian Finkel, inventor of the DME Turbulent Flow Plastic Baffles, as an example of a past success. Those plastic baffles, which improve mold cooling performance over traditional brass baffles, are among the "many successful DME-inventor collaborations over the years," according to the company.

Founded in 1942, by I.T. Quarnstrom, Detroit Mold Engineering started out offering the industry 18 standard mold bases sizes. DME says that innovative concept, providing standardized mold bases that were ready for machining of the cavity, is a reflection of the company's long history of innovation.

Polycarbonate-urethane provides toughness for implanted valve

A new German project shows the growing importance of polycarbonate-urethane as a medical implant material.

Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart are developing an automated production facility that can make venous valve prostheses from polycarbonate-urethane (PCU) plastic. The project is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology BMWI.

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The finished venous valve is highly durable.  Source: Helmholtz-Institute of Biomedical Engineering of RWTH Aachen
The device targets a medical condition called chronic venous in-sufficiency (CVI), which is caused by malfunction of the venous valves in human legs. If the venous valve does not close properly, blood will collect in the legs. This leads to edemas, and can cause open ulcers.

It's usually treated with anti-inflammatory and other drugs.

Efforts to develop a valve to treat the condition is being conducted by Fraunhofer, a leading global contract research organization, with four industrial partners and Helmholtz-Institute for Biomedical Engineering of RWTH Aachen University.

Built drop-by-drop

They are using a 3D droplet dispensing tool that enables researchers to apply a polymer on freeform surfaces, and at the same time combine various grades of Shore hardnesses. "3D droplet dispensing technology is an additive procedure that allows three-dimensional geometries to be created layer by layer using a polymer", says Oliver Schwarz, a group manager for Faunhofer.

The scientists say they chose PCU because of it strength and flexibility. It can also be sewn into surrounding tissue and be fabricated in very thin layers. That's a requirement for replacement of wafer-thin atrioventricular valves.

"By using PCU in combination with our 3D dispensing kinematics, we can achieve seamless transitions within the material between six different grades of elasticity and hardness - without any breaking points whatsoever. This technique mirrors the design of highly stressed structures in nature. It can't be done using injection molding," says Schwarz.

To start the process, PCU dissolved in a solvent and deposited drop-by-drop onto a venous valve prosthetic mold using the dispensing tool. The system is accurate to within 25 micrometers, and can deliver up to 100 droplets per second, each with a volume of 2 to 60 nanoliters.

A six-axis kinematic system then positions a piezo feeder above the mold. Once it is fully coated with droplets, the mold is bathed in nitrogen, causing the solvent to evaporate. More layers are applied until the structure is thick enough to be peeled  from the mold. They are implanted into the veins of the leg with a catheter passed through the skin.

Online database looks to provide transparency with overseas suppliers

An online resource aims to simplify the somewhat grueling process of doing business across borders.  

Panjiva is an online resource for global trade professionals to gain knowledge about suppliers and manufacturers from around the world. The platform features information on more than 1.5 million companies across 190 countries. It claims to be the first and only online information source designed to provide complete transparency into overseas suppliers.

Traditionally, supply chain and global production professionals are responsible on their own for finding the right factories and negotiating costs for global imports to the U.S. In essence, according to Panjiva, the professionals have been "flying blind."

"Finding and qualifying suppliers can be pretty difficult to do online," Emily Baillieul, director of marketing for Panjiva, told PlasticsToday. "The goal of this is to make it simpler and provide a secure experience without having to spend as much time and money."

Panjiva's information is gathered from U.S. Customs databases, along with other data sources. The company developed patent-pending algorithms that enable it to organize customs data, extract relevant information from this data, combine this data with a wide variety of other data sets, identify patterns in the combined data sets, and present data-driven insights on the site.

Buyers can use the Panjiva platform to develop short-lists of potential suppliers, conduct background checks, keep tabs on competitors' sourcing activities, along with track existing suppliers.

Baillieul said users can get very specific with searches.

"For example, if you search for some type of plastic part, you will get detailed information, such as if the company actually has those in stock, shipment statistics, and a breakdown of how much business they are actually doing," she said.

The site serves the entire manufacturing industry, and Baillieul said packaging is one of the site's largest segments.

On the flip side, suppliers can use the platform to identify potential customers for its products and reach sourcing professionals at various companies.

By collecting market data from suppliers, Panjiva is also able to provide details of trends within sectors. In 2011, Panjiva's clients bought merchandise worth more than $200 billion.

The site does offer some of its information for free, and membership varies in cost.

No matter how you spin it, manufacturing isn’t on fire

While the February 2012 Manufacturing Report on Business from the Institute for Supply Management shows that the manufacturing sector continues on the “expanding” side of the Purchasing Managers Index benchmark at 52.4% (below 50% is a contracting economy), that figure is down 1.7% from January’s reading of 54.1%.

The ISM notes that this represents the 31st consecutive month of manufacturing sector expansion, yet the figures have hovered from a high of 59.7% in both March and April of last year to a low of 51.4% in July of 2011, for a 12-month average of 54.1%—not exactly boom times. 

In fact, while most of the PMI Index categories are still in the “growing” direction, there’s nothing to make us believe that manufacturing is on fire at the moment. New orders, for example, are down 2.7% to 54.9% for February, from 57.6% in January. Production dropped 0.4%; employment is down 1.1%; and customer inventories continue to be too low, having dropped from 57.5% in January to 46% in February.

The picture painted by the ISM is one in which things are holding steady or dropping slightly, revealing an air of uncertainty among manufacturers. “Demand from auto makers is getting stronger,” said a respondent from the Fabricate Metal Products sector. 

Plastics and Rubber products reported contraction in February, along with Electrical Equipment and Appliances and components. Food, Beverage and Tobacco products are reporting strong growth, and one respondent said that “Manufacturing is busy. Spending money on new equipment to accommodate customer demands. Material prices staying in check.” That would seem to bode well for the packaging industry. 

Looking at both the production PMI and the Customer Inventories PMI, it would appear that companies are not ordering in large quantities and stocking warehouses in eager anticipation of consumers spending with wild abandon. 

The Commerce Department reported on Monday, March 5, that U.S. factory orders actually fell 1% in January, the most in 15 months after orders for machinery and equipment fell sharply, due in part by the expiration of a related tax cut at the end of 2011. Overall demand for factory goods dropped to $462.6 billion or 37.7% above the recession low in March 2009. Demand is now just 4.6% below the peak in June 2008. 

Orders for durable goods, those products expected to last three or more years, fell 3.7%, which was also reflected in the ISM’s manufacturing report showing a contraction in Electrical Equipment and Appliances. 

So why the trepidation in manufacturing activity? Big OEMs still aren’t seeing signs of any real economic recovery, nor that the government is willing to create a more business-friendly climate by lowering corporate tax rates (at least not without strings attached). And the business model for manufacturing companies has shifted, even as China has become a less attractive place to do business. 

A new manufacturing model?

A report published in the Dec. 21 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, “Is It Time to Rethink Your Manufacturing Strategy?” noted that while natural disasters, more expensive oil, labor costs, and supply chain disruptions have many CEOs considering a return to the U.S., it doesn’t mean that it’s back to the manufacturing model of the 20th century. “Flexibility is becoming the new watchword for large U.S. companies,” said an MIT news commentary on the report by Alice Waugh. “This may mean having more plants in more strategic locations around the world, with each plant able to produce most or all of the company’s products rather than specializing in one or two. Also locating plants closer to customers, wherever they may be, reduces time-to-market . . . Thus the authors see a shift to a more regional manufacturing strategy where China manufacturing may focus mostly on markets in China and Asia, while manufacturing in Mexico or the United States may focus on North American markets.”

And, I might add, this might also mean more “mass customization” and fewer products heading into inventory in warehouses waiting for masses of consumers to create the demand. It could result in a “manufacture-on-demand” model to help manufacturers reduce their overall costs.

Mold Craft tool to help showcase Sodick Plustech’s new micro molding machine at NPE2012

Mold Craft Inc. (booth 1295) will showcase a 4-cavity mold for very small parts at NPE2012. The “funnel tip” component for a medical customer of Mold Craft’s will run in the new Sodick Plustech LP20EH2 Micro Molding series with a 12-mm diameter plunger. Sodick’s booth is #363.

The funnel tip, which was molded of PEEK, has a minimum thin wall section of 0.008 inch. Designed and built by Mold Craft, the tool incorporates the patented MeltFilpper technology from Beaumont Technologies. The sprue is 1.291 inches long with the actual part measuring .472 inch.

According to Jim Liddel, new business development for Mold Craft, the mold started out as a single-cavity tool designed in a larger mold base to accommodate expansion. “To prove out the design, Sodick ran the mold and it worked so well that the mold was then expanded to four cavities,” he states. “Eventually, the mold will be an 8-cavity tool.”

Mold Craft worked with Beaumont Technologies to verify the mold design using Beaumont’s proprietary VeriFlo mold-filling analysis software. Melt Flipper was used in the mold because there was concern about the material flow and being able to fill the cavities evenly using PEEK material. “The mold-filling analysis revealed a number of negative effects from shear,” notes Liddel. “The MeltFlipper technology eliminated those concerns.”

A mold manufacturer that typically specializes in high-cavitation production molds for the medical, connector, and electrical markets, Mold Craft also creates MIM molds for a variety of industries.
 

Company launches sustainable grab-and-go packaging

BioMass Packaging has launched a new line of packaging that helps consumers grab sustainability on the go.

BioMass Packaging, which is a division of Excellent Packaging, has added modular, single-serve food containers to its line of compostable foodservice solutions. Made entirely from NatureWorks Ingeo biopolymer, a PLA-based material, the compostable Greenware line consists of a basic cup, an insert with a secure lid, and either a flat or domed lid that snaps on tight.

Allen King, president of Excellent Packaging, told PlasticsToday while the cup and insert combination has been around for a while, this is the first cup with an insert made from plant-derived plastic.

"One of the things we do as a company, we always look for holes in the marketplace, and we have had requests for this type of insert made from green and biobased packaging," he said. "Now, they can increase profitability and still meet their commitment to sustainability."

King said the concept behind these new cups and inserts is to help package and present foods that need to be combined just before eating. This new line of packaging is designed to hold snacks and meals such as parfait, granola, and fruit combos, chips and salsa, and salad, croutons and dressing. Up to three different ingredients can be offered in one grab-and-go format. The cup inserts work with multiple cup and lid sizes.

King said some consumers, and maybe even food operators, might not be aware this type of packaging exists.

"You don't see a lot of this type of packaging regardless what is made from," he said. "But I think our line can give operators something new to offer their customers, and the fact it is available in a biobased Ingeo cup, adds the frosting to the cake and makes it even more exciting."

The new Ingeo-based cups and inserts are sold in cases of 1,000 units and are now available for immediate delivery.

"We think it's going to be a huge hit with hotels, delis, coffee shops, and supermarkets," King said. "These nature-based plastic containers can tell a tremendous story - eating natural food in a natural container."