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‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ eye-catching packaging sparks confusion

The packaging community was buzzing about "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Not because people just couldn't wait to watch the American take on the best-selling book, but because the polycarbonate disc's decoration, or lack thereof, caused quite a bit of turmoil.

Sony Pictures designed the recently released DVD to look like a pirated copy, with the film's title written in a black marker on a blank disk. The idea behind this packaging marketing ploy was an apparent nod to the movie's character Lisbeth Salander, an expert computer hacker.  

However, many consumers missed the marketing memo, and thought they had purchased or rented a bootleg DVD. Apparently the design was so believable that it looked like a fake. Still with me?

Since it was difficult to distinguish the packaging from an illegal copy, Redbox and Amazon had to clarify the packaging's purpose.

Redbox put this warning on its site, "NOTE TO RENTERS: The handwritten look on the disc of this movie is legitimate and is intended to look like a burned DVD."

Amazon also stated, "It has come to our attention that there has been some confusion on the DVD disc art as it appears to look like a bootlegged copy. Please note that the disc art is in fact the final approved disc art provided to us by the filmmakers."

Midwest Tape, a media distributor that works with public libraries, issued an apology for any confusion and stated: "This is the authentic DVD direct from Sony Pictures. Sony designed the DVD and its packaging to reflect the theme of the movie and its popular hacker protagonist, Lisbeth Salander."

A commenter on the Midwest Tape's site appreciated the warning: "i ALMOST had a fit and returned this to Redbox... thanks for the post."

This isn't the first time Hollywood decided to play around with a DVD packaging design, but it might serve as a lesson. After all, packaging is not just about decoration and marketing schemes, but also to generate product awareness. Confusion about a particular product is probably not the best way to help increase sales.

What do you think about this packaging marketing ploy? Smart marketing move, or is it a packaging fail?

Ergonomic crutch emerges from a designer's pain

Jeff Weber, who helped design the award-winning Aeron chair at Herman Miller, broke his ankle six years ago and was relegated to traditional crutches for about 13 weeks.

That was 13 weeks too many.

"He suffered the consequences of traditional crutches: a lot of pain under the arm, carpal tunnel issues at the

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Stylish new crutches are described as more ergonomic than traditional crutches.  Photo: BASF
wrist, and a lot of hand abrasion," says Jeff Stoner, a business associate. "He got frustrated, and he said this is a solvable problem."

A team at his Studio Weber & Associates (Minneapolis, MN) researched the problem, developed several iterations, and commercially introduced new crutches that are designed to be significantly more comfortable.

They will be on display at NPE2012 (Orlando, FL) next week as part of the International Plastics Design Competition organized by the Society of the Plastics Industry. Categories at the competition, which began at NPE2009, include applications for packaging, medical products, bio-process systems, nanotechnology, energy efficiency and bio-based materials.

Weber's new crutches, called Mobilegs, are curved so that the grip handles are in a more comfortable location.  The saddle that fits under the shoulder is padded more than traditional crutches and also includes a swivel feature, allowing it to pivot with body movement.

The saddle frame is made from BASF's Ultramid B3EG6 glass-filled nylon. BASF entered Moblegs in the design competition. Other plastics used in the crutches are polypropylene, other nylon-based materials, thermoplastic elastomer in the foot, and a proprietary material in the saddle mesh. Stoner, who is vice president  for sales and marketing at Mobilegs, says that the crutches are manufactured in China.

The crutches were commercially launched last year and "several thousand" have been sold. OA Centers for Orthopedics in Maine are now issuing Mobilegs Crutches as standard practice for patients at their facilities. Stoner says that a national distributor recently was enlisted to carry the product.

The standard model, called the "Universal" sells for $69.99, while a model with more features called the "Ultra" sells for $129.99. Standard wooden crutches sell for $45 to $65.

DOE to back development of thermoplastic composites

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a funding opportunity announcement that will provide financial support for the development of predictive engineering tools for injection molded long carbon fiber thermoplastic composites.

The funding will also support development of integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) development of advanced steel for lightweight vehicles and advanced alloy development for automotive and heavy-duty engines.

The objective of the plastics-specific "Area of Interest 1" is to "accelerate the realization of materials for lighter weight vehicles made from advancing and validating the use of predictive tools (models) for long fiber injection molded carbon fiber thermoplastic polymer resin composites."

This Area of Interest is focused exclusively on predictive engineering of fiber length and orientation for injection molded long fiber thermoplastic composites, where the length of the fiber before molding is the same length as the thermoplastic pellet (approximately half of an inch) prior to being introduced into the injection molding machine. Successful applications will focus on integrating and validating predictive tools for long fiber thermoplastic carbon fiber composites. Long glass fibers may be included as model systems if the measurement of fiber length and orientation is more direct compared to that for carbon fiber; however, long carbon fibers must also be characterized and validated in the project.

Among the requirements for funding are use of a polypropylene or polyamide resin matrix, and application to complex 3D geometries. Minimum output variables are fiber length and orientation, and a model accuracy of better than 15% for both fiber length and orientation must be achieved. Models must also be compatible with commercially available operating systems.

Furthermore, the DOE has outlined weight reduction requirements for the project. These include 35% weight saving or better for body in white, fenders and bumpers, 25% or better for underbody structural components, and 5% or better for dashboards and shifters. The cost of lightweighting should also be minimized according to DOE guidelines: $3.18 or less per lb. saved for body in white, fenders and bumpers; $3.11 or less per lb. saved for underbody structural components; and $3.24 or less per lb. saved for dashboards and shifters. The official documentation can be downloaded at this link -[email protected]

Dashboard gets antistatic treatment

"Our frequent meetings and discussions with automotive OEMs and part suppliers drove development of solutions that can meet the new anti-dust trend before it has even gained momentum," commented Fernando Sanchez, global marketing director for PolyOne Global Colorants, Additives and Inks. "The new OnColor SmartBatch concentrates meet our customers' requirements in terms of color and processability, of course, but now they also offer the added functionality of antistatic performance." PolyOne designs these tailored solutions to meet OEM-specific standards.

OnColor SmartBatch concentrates from PolyOne are used in a variety of automotive interior applications including body panels, interior trim and pillars, and door and instrument panels. As a result of the improved antistatic performance that these solutions bring to parts, a plastics processor or Tier supplier can, can eliminate the cleaning of parts after processing and before delivery, lowering overall processing costs. For an automotive OEM, benefits include an improved aesthetic during showroom residence time, which increases sales opportunities.

OnColor SmartBatch concentrates from PolyOne are available as drop-in solutions for injection molding and also for use in compounding lines.-[email protected]

Polyacetal supplier in major Korean expansion

Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Inc. (MGC; Tokyo) and Celanese Corp. (Dallas, TX) are undertaking a major expansion of polyacetal (POM) resin production capacity at their affiliate Korea Engineering Plastics Co. (KEP; Seoul). Capability will be boosted by 35,000 tonnes/year to a total of 140,000 tonnes/year by the first quarter of 2014.

KEP has been producing POM in Ulsan, South Korea, since 1988 using MGC technology. The new investment in South Korea will transform the site into the world's largest production facility for POM resin

The material is used widely in the automotive and electrical/electronic market segments for mechanical components, and MGC is forecasting average annual growth for the resin of 5-6%, with supply tightness persisting for the foreseeable future.

Further, MGC is also undertaking a major expansion at its Thai Polyacetal Co. (Bangkok), with capacity their rising from the current 55,000 tonnes/year to 100,000 tonnes/year by the second quarter of 2013. With a 30% stake, TOA Dovechem Industries Co. (King Amphur Bangsaothong, Thailand) is MGC's partner in this joint venture.-[email protected]

Auto LED lighting systems benefit from heat-dissipating formulations

PolyOne Corporation (Avon Lake, OH) chose the VDI Plastics in Automotive Engineering conference in Mannheim, Germany, to introduce a series of innovations for automotive engineers. The launch included three new grades of Therma-Tech specialty engineered materials based on PBT, PPS and polyamide resins for automotive lighting systems now available globally.

With their outstanding heat dissipation functionality, the three new Therma-Tech formulations offer automotive OEM lighting engineers more design options. In addition to expanded design freedom, lightweighting potential and efficient manufacturability, these formulations help to manage hot spots and enable designers to employ high brightness light-emitting diodes (HB LEDs) in lighting systems for new cars and trucks. The new materials offer customers varying degrees of heat stability, enabling them to select the solution most appropriate for their application.

Kendall Justiniano, global automotive marketing director for PolyOne, said, "Our new Therma-Tech solutions for HB LED systems will be a welcome development for automotive OEMs as they incorporate this technology into new cars to reduce vehicle weight and CO2 emissions, create appealing new designs and improve driver safety."

The market for HB LED lighting systems is rapidly expanding as automobile manufacturers increasingly choose these systems for their vehicles. HB LED lighting systems consume up to 90 percent less energy than current automotive light bulb technologies. They also contribute to a reduction in total system costs, with reduced maintenance costs thanks to improved performance over the life of a vehicle, as well as the use of a smaller alternator. In addition, the compact designs possible with HB LED systems mean designers and engineers can develop smaller lighting systems without compromising safety. The increased design flexibility and simplified reflector design possible with HB LEDs can also help automotive OEMs better differentiate their brands.

For road users, HB LEDs also offer a number of advantages compared to established automotive lighting systems. Because these lights switch "on" at full brilliance, drivers are provided with additional reaction time in critical situations. Drivers also have more control over HB LED systems. For example, the lights can be dimmed to prevent glare or offer increased brilliance when road conditions warrant.

In order to leverage the significant advantages of HB LED, lighting systems engineers must design for effective thermal management. Heat emitted by these systems needs to be efficiently dissipated in order to maintain the integrity, performance and life of the LED. Marc Mezailles, automotive market manager in Europe for PolyOne Global Specialty Engineered Materials, explained, "The three new grades of Therma-Tech thermally conductive polymer solutions can support the design and performance requirements of HB LEDs to effectively dissipate heat and eliminate hot spots."

Economic alternative
For automotive lighting manufacturers, the three new grades of Therma-Tech offer an economical alternative to metals, thermosets, and more costly thermoplastic alternatives such as high-heat plastics. Initially, HB LEDs will see use primarily in high-end passenger vehicles with standard gasoline or diesel motors, and are likely to be used in new electric passenger vehicles longer term. Therma-Tech is suitable for use in lighting systems for all of these vehicles.-[email protected]

Wine producers serving greener packaging

Wine producers serving greener packaging

Perhaps more than any other alcoholic beverage, the packaging used for wine was often viewed as an indicator of quality. Heavy, glass bottles were the norm and served the wine industry for hundreds of years.

However, environmental and economic concerns have encouraged some in the industry to shed some packaging weight.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is one of the largest buyers of wine in the world. Last year, the group announced bottles of wine that sell for less than $15 must weigh less than 420g, which is about 20% lighter than a standard bottle of wine, starting January 1, 2013.

"Environmentally-conscious manufacturers and retailers around the world are reducing their carbon footprints and using packaging reduction as a key element of their strategies," an LCBO spokesperson told PlasticsToday. "By switching to lighter-weight bottles, the savings, both environmental and economic, are significant."

In planning this initiative, LCBO held discussions with three of the major wine trade associations in Ontario, and all indicated their support for this initiative, the spokesperson said.

"More and more suppliers are seeing the benefits of switching to lighter-weight glass, and have applauded the change as timely and a step in the right environmental direction," the spokesperson said. "We have not noticed any consumer resistance to purchasing these products because of their light weight."

As many in the wine industry look to reduce packaging weight, some wine producers are thinking outside the bottle.

While wine glass bottles are still the majority, the opportunity for alternative packaging is increasing, said David Schuemann, owner and creative director of CF Napa Brand Design, a firm specializing in branding, which includes packaging and structural designs, for the wine, spirits, and beer industries.

"There is a big change happening in the business, and the younger generation, who are green conscious, are the ones leading it into the future," he said. "Alternative packaging definitely has legs and it's here to stay. I don't see it as a fast fad in any way."

Wines bottled, served in plastic

A few years ago, PET packaging suppliers jumped at the opportunity to produce plastic bottles for the wine industry. Many wine producers from New Zealand, the U.S., and France switched from glass bottles to plastic bottles.

Weight savings, prevention of breakage, and recyclability are part of the popularity of PET bottles.

When PET wine bottles first hit the market, it was "the talk of the town" and the industry viewed it as a green alternative to heavy bottles, Schuemann said.

However, PET wine bottles still face a unique set of challenges, he said.

"The PET bottles look quite small, and the consumer may not understand that it is the standard size of wine," he said. "Also, the PET bottles preserve the look of the original glass containers, and it can be difficult to communicate to the consumer that it is actually an alternative, environmentally-friendly package."

UK-based Wine Innovations is a fan of using plastic for wine; in fact, the company states its PET glasses are the "best wine innovation since the bag-in-box."

The company created the Tulip, a 187-ml PET, single-serve prefilled wine glass with a peal-off foil lid. The wine is sealed using patented technology to maintain wine quality and to give a shelf life of up to one-year.

"I came up with the idea when I was supplying security personnel to an outdoor event, and wine was being served from a glass bottle into a small plastic cup," said James Nash, creator of the Tulip. "After seeing this I thought, 'there must be a better way'. People are always looking at ways to innovate with wine."

The Tulip is designed for outdoor events, sporting events and festivals, picnics and barbecues. With London hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, Nash said the company is hopeful the single-serve wine glass will have its best year to date.

Pouches, cartons aim to make wine 'greener' 

Schuemann said one of the latest packaging trends is wine served in pouches, such as the Astrapouch, a wine package that stands up straight and flat, and can hold the equivalent of two 750-ml bottles. Its resealable, one-way plastic spout keeps opened wine fresh for up to a month in the fridge.

Napa Valley Design worked with Clif Family Winery on launching the Astrapouch. The company had used bottles for its wine packaging, but wanted a more eco-friendly packaging. 

Schuemann said recent sales figures show the Astrapouch sales have outpaced the company's glass bottle sales.

"It's a really good fit for their core demographic; outdoor enthusiasts of all types who are environmentally aware," he said. "I think they love the whole alternative feel."

Wine lovers shouldn't have to choose between quality wine and a healthy planet, said Matthew Cain, owner of Yellow+Blue wines.

Cain has been in the wine business for years, and said the industry has been somewhat behind on producing innovative packaging. He wanted his company to find a way to lower costs for quality-conscious wine drinkers, along with offering a greener package. As a result, all of the Yellow+Blue wines are housed in Tetra Pak wine cartons.

The company states that a case of wine in glass can weigh 40-lb and hold 9 liters of wine - close to 50% wine and 50% packaging. A case of Yellow+Blue weighs 26-lb and holds 12 liters of certified organic wine, which is about 93% wine and 7% packaging.

"Packaging doesn't make a wine good or bad; there is plenty of bad wine out there in glass," he said. "We look at packaging to help achieve our business goal of delivering high-quality wine to the market without an environmental cost, we look at it as a solution rather than a gimmick."

Fake auto parts are big business for counterfeiters

It just never seems to end! China’s counterfeiting and pirating of intellectual property appears to be the MO for their business model. An editorial in SupplierBusiness, an IHS Automotive publication, on March 19 commented on the conviction of a counterfeit turobocharger manufacturer in China as one more challenge for suppliers doing business in China and trying to protect their intellectual property.

In fact, according to SupplierBusiness, in spite of increasing oversight by the Chinese government, “suppliers and automakers must play cat and mouse with counterfeiters” to catch these companies. The editorial noted how the week of March 12, saw “one of the largest counterfeiting busts” ever in China. A manufacturer based in Fengchang City in Liaoning Province, was convicted of manufacturing counterfeit Honeywell Garrett turbochargers. The two people charged were sentenced to a year in prison with an additional year on probation along with a fine. 

SupplierBusiness asked a pertinent question: Will this have any impact on the huge industry in China built around making and selling counterfeit auto parts? “High-volume parts such as brake pads and brake discs are commonly found to be counterfeits, and suppliers have complained in the past that illegal counterfeiting dens reopen as soon as they are shut down under new business names. Increasingly though, more sophisticated parts are being forged as counterfeiters reverse engineer the increasingly diverse powertrains in the booming Chinese market.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Chinese counterfeiting and pirating of intellectual property. It’s an old and ongoing problem that’s forced a number of OEMs to pull their manufacturing back to the U.S.: not just in automotive, but consumer industries, medical and others. Auto parts however, are big business, especially in the aftermarket arena where consumers buy parts from a variety of automotive supply stores where the fakes are less likely to be spotted.

China isn’t alone in the production of “fake” auto parts, however. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, India is also becoming a “hotbed” for fake component manufacturing. Items such as fake brake shoes have been found to be made from compressed grass. The report estimates that manufacturing counterfeit auto parts is “so widespread it fueled a global boom in trafficking of bogus after-market parts” to the tune of $45 billion in sales in 2010. In one case cited, Bosch discovered counterfeit lighting systems at an Auto Expo 2010 with high-intensity beams that were “dangerous” with the Bosch brand on the package. 

In February, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, along with several other organizations, sent out an urgent call for members to write their senators and representatives to urge action on the part of the administration with respect to China’s cheating. “The U.S. has lost almost 400,000 jobs in the U.S. auto supply chain over the past decade, much of it due to illegal and predatory trade practices by China,” wrote Scott Paul, executive director of the AAM. “Since 2001, the U.S. trade deficit in auto parts with China has increased by almost 900%.”

Bosch’s Asia-Pacific aftermarket president Ken Ford told SupplierBusiness, “We already are very active on the IPR situation with teams in India and China working daily and with raids taking place regularly. We also work closely with the automotive industry to show the dangers of counterfeited products. We prosecute quite heavily.”

SupplierBusiness’s editorial said that while “Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces are generally the main hot spots for products such as counterfeit brake pads and other aftermarket items, the province of Liaoning is gaining notoriety as a hub for fake turbocharger production. In the past few years Honeywell has pursued 40 raids and civil actions in co-operation with the Fengchang government against fake producers of its Garrett turbochargers in the region.”

It remains baffling that given all the evidence of rising costs—not to mention the costs of trying to protect their IP on a constant basis—that these automotive suppliers don’t pull their manufacturing back to North America.  Trusting suppliers is key to supply-chain stability and customer good will. Playing “cat-and-mouse” games with counterfeiters seems a waste of everyone’s time and money.

GW targets major growth in LSR molding

GW Silicones (Royalton, VT), which entered the liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molding business four years ago, is now completing an expansion that significantly expands its capacity. There is a heavy emphasis on close tolerance and multimaterial capabilities for the medical market in the 15,000-sq-ft expansion that is totally committed to LSR molding and assembly.

"Having reached our current manufacturing capacity, we needed to add additional injection molding systems to meet new business demands. This meant expanding our facility to match the growth of our LSR business," says Mark Hammond, general manager of GW Silicones. There is room for 18 new iinjection modling machines in the expansion.

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Technician sets up new Engel machine at GW Silicones.

GW is specifically targeting high-growth healthcare and medical device market applications for LSR, in areas such as  cardio- and peripheral vascular, aesthetic surgery, minimally invasive and micro-surgery, in-vitro diagnostics, drug delivery, wireless monitoring, neurostimulation and neuromodulation.

Why LSR

LSR is increasingly used in health care applications because of its combination of biocompatibility and interesting property profile. Importantly, it is resistant to bacteria, and relatively easy to sterilize. That aspect has grown in importance in the past three years since Medicare will no longer reimburse hospitals for costs incurred from hospital-acquired infections. It has a wide temperature range, is chemically resistant, and has elastomeric-like elongation properties.

Like other elastomers, it is often paired with a rigid thermoplastic to combine good tactile properties with rigidity. Hammond says that LSR is a good fit with the expertise of its parent company, GW Plastics, in multimaterial molding, including, overmolding, two-shot molding and insert molding.

GW Plastics is installing Engel injection molding machines in the addition and other locations in an effort to standardize, so that molds can be moved from location to location. Use of the same type of machine shortens set-up times, and makes it easier to achieve consistent molding operations.

GW believes that standardization of equipment across all locations is the best way to meet customer and market requirements. Molds can be moved from machine to machine, facility to facility, and within hours they can be producing precision parts.

The new cleanroom will be equipped with all-electric, hybrid and hydraulic machines ranging in size from 50-200 tons of clamping force. There will be multiple screw/barrel assemblies for each press.

Many of the cells in the new cleanroom will incorporate automation. A current cell at GW Silicones includes a 6-axis robot. Two of the new Engel systems being added to the expanded cleanroom will include Engel viper servo robots.

Capabilities will also include in-house LSR mold design and construction.

Manufacturing shifts from most- to least-outsourced function

With companies in the tech sector sending fewer jobs overseas, hiring in the U.S. is expected to increase, according to the release of a study by BDO USA LLP, an accounting and consulting firm. The study shows that outsourcing in the U.S. technology industry has declined for the third straight year. Just 12% of the respondents to the survey upon which the study was based said they currently outsource services or manufacturing to companies outside of the U.S.

“This marks a notable shift from 2009 when nearly twice as many companies (62%) were outsourcing,” said BDO USA.

Manufacturing went from “Most Outsourced Function” in 2011 (53%), 2010 (51%) and 2009 (54%), to the “Least Outsourced Function” in 2012 (33%), representing a major shift. Likely contributors to this change, said the report, are natural disasters in both Japan and Thailand that are still not completely remedied that caused major supply chain disruptions. 

China has dropped as an outsourcing destination both in the “Current Outsourcing Destinations” (from 46% in 2008 to 39% in 2012) and as a “Future Outsourcing Destination” (28% in 2010 to 19% in 2012). Latin America, which includes Mexico, has grown as a “Future Outsourcing Destination” for respondents from “Not Applicable” in 2010 to 23% in 2012.

Companies in the tech sector are looking to “bolster their workforce in 2012”, according to the report, with 50% of CFOs planning to hire more employees this year. The outlook is positive for tech industry jobs to stay in the U.S. Of those companies who said they are not currently outsourcing, 80% reported that they are “unlikely to outsource services or manufacturing in the near future,” which is good news for OEM suppliers as well as job seekers. 

“With unemployment numbers still hovering above 8%, pressure is mounting from Washington to bring jobs home. The tech industry seems to be moving in that direction, which is good news for U.S. job seekers,” said Paul Heiselmann, in the Technology and Life Sciences practice at BDO USA LLP. “Bringing services and manufacturing back to the U.S. is also a smart move for tech companies looking to improve the quality of service and reduce exposure to international risks and major supply chain disruptions.”