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Articles from 2018 In March

Moldmakers dodge impact of steel and aluminum tariffs thanks to Trump’s exemptions

steel production

Moldmakers may have escaped the impact of tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%), thanks to Trump’s exemptions for steel and aluminum produced in Canada and Mexico—the first to be announced—along with the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea, which were announced on March 22.

A few moldmakers were a bit nervous. One wrote that he had received a notice a few weeks ago from one company alerting him to the fact that “steel tariffs are kicking in on our steel,” resulting in a 25% price hike after April 1. On the large molds that this company produces, this could add $10,000 to the price of a mold, said the moldmaker, which could make the company non-competitive in its bids. “Good thing I have 30-day terms on my quotes,” he wrote to me.

Trying to get responses from various mold steel and aluminum suppliers was unsuccessful. Only Bohler Uddeholm replied—it gets steel from Europe, so it won’t be affected by the tariffs.

It looks like the moldmaking industry will be okay thanks to the exemptions, except for those who buy steel or aluminum from Chinese suppliers. But then any company that buys steel and aluminum from China is taking a big risk with quality, so perhaps the tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum are their saving grace.

The new tariffs “will apply to all goods entered, or withdrawn, from warehouse for consumption on or after 12:01 AM EDT on March 23, 2018,” said a news item from PlanteMoran. “With objectives to increase U.S. steel mill operating capacity to 80% (from an estimated 72.3% in 2017) and primary aluminum production to 80% (from an estimated 39% in 2017), the Department of Commerce found that ‘excessive’ steel imports and the ‘present quantities and circumstances’ of aluminum imports are weakening both the domestic economy and national security.”

In attempting to help manufacturers assess the impact of these tariffs, PlanteMoran acknowledged the “uncertainty about where the material is purchased, particularly when buying steel or aluminum through distributors and service centers. For the auto industry, provenance may be more certain given the strict material specifications that may limit where materials are sourced. For other manufacturers, contractors and those with steel and aluminum in their bills of materials, the primary source of materials may be a surprise.”

PlanteMoran recommends that OEMs identify the materials, material processes and processors, and fabricators in their supply chain . . . “as far down through the supply chain as possible.” PlanteMoran also suggests that OEMs “carefully review contracts with suppliers and customers to [ensure their] company is as material-neutral as possible, and not accepting material cost increases from a supplier that cannot be mitigated with the customer.”

Now that the exemptions are in place, it should be easier for moldmakers to purchase their steel and aluminum from exempt countries, thus not incurring additional costs in the mold build.

It’s important to remember that these tariffs are about more than just addressing the dumping of materials from China. A blog post from the Alliance for American Manufacturing—“Don’t Forget: China Has Stolen American Trade Secrets for Years Now,” by Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch—notes that the bill is a “three-pronged approach designed to address China’s rampant intellectual property (IP) theft, which will include about $50 billion in tariffs, the filing of a complaint at the World Trade Organization and an investigation into Chinese investments in the United States.”

We have long known that China’s practice of IP theft, counterfeiting and other unfair trade practices have harmed American businesses and cost American jobs.

Just the other night on the evening news it was noted that China has announced it is now willing to talk about trade matters.

I guess that a little of Trump’s “tough love” is starting to work!

Platinum Equity completes $3.85 billion Husky acquisition

Husky tooling

The acquisition of Husky Injection Molding Systems International Ltd. by Platinum Equity (Beverly Hills, CA) has successfully closed.

Bolton, Ontario–based Husky is a global supplier of injection molding equipment and services for the plastic injection molding equipment industry, and a leading provider of PET systems, hot runners, aftermarket tooling, medical molds and specialty closure molds.

Platinum Equity made an initial announcement on Dec. 18, 2017, of its intention to acquire Husky IMS from Berkshire Partners and OMERS Private Equity for $3.85 billion.

Members of Husky’s management team remain important investors in the business through continued equity ownership.

Husky is a technology provider to the plastics processing industry with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment delivered to a wide range of customers in various end markets. Approximately 70% of sales are generated outside North America.

New iteration of Moldex3D accelerates plastic product innovation


CoreTech System Co., Ltd. (Moldex3D; Farmington Hills, MI), a leading provider of plastics simulation products, yesterday announced the availability of Moldex3D R16. The software reportedly achieves a new level of efficiency and reliability in plastics simulation, and enables productive design-to-analysis workflows to accelerate the pace of product innovation. The company will showcase it at NPE2018 in booth S27079.
Moldex3D R16 incorporates significant advances in processing speed, enabling 20 to 30% faster filling and packing simulation results, according to CoreTech. In addition, users will benefit from a new flow analysis program that can drastically reduce the time it takes to determine the best gating locations.

Quick Flow allows users to rapidly test multiple gating iterations and quickly apply the optimal gate location to a regular flow analysis for in-depth validation and optimization. Users are able to minimize weld lines in the early analysis stage, saving a great deal of time and effort on running a gate location analysis, especially when analyzing large parts.

Moldex3D R16 offers new Viscoelasticity-Flow (VE-Flow) Analysis, which employs a novel coupling approach to realistically capture real-world visco-elastic flow behavior. Coupling visco-elasticity to flow enables more accurate predictions of warpage, optical properties and flow-induced issues to meet stringent quality demands.

Composites part designers and engineers will benefit from a capability for predicting the behavior of composite materials. Moldex3D Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) Analysis now supports warp analysis, and enables users to directly import the deformation of the fiber mat from LS-DYNA for a better assessment of structural performance. Fiber-orientation predictive capabilities have been further deepened in this version by adding a patented simulation approach, which combines the Herschel-Bulkley model with yield stress and the Cross-WLF viscosity model. Other enhancements include predictions of cell size and cell density in polyurethane (PU) chemical foam molding and improved prediction of deformation in the compression molding charge.

Expanding on the capabilities of previous versions, Moldex3D R16 further extends the non-matching mesh technology to mold inserts and mold plates, making it easier and simpler for users to simulate the entire mold by automatically generating solid meshes on non-matching faces. Additionally, Moldex3D R16 allows users to assign material properties to each individual mold component and visualize the temperature variation over the parting plane to optimize cycle time.

The new release supports the simulation of valve pin movement, allowing users to take into account the influence of pin position and velocity during flow simulation. This can help validate the effectiveness of using pin movement technology to prevent flow marks and other cosmetic defects.

A powerful model healing tool automatically repairs imported geometry before generating Boundary Layer Mesh (BLM) in Moldex3D Studio, which greatly reduces model preparation time. New visualization tools to measure distance between points and to display the value at a specific point are available. This makes it easier and more effective for users to compare and analyze results.

Moldex3D R16 frees users from repetitive manual tasks by automating the entire simulation workflow with Moldex3D API, which allows users to customize the simulation workflow with predefined parameters, removing human error to ensure simulation consistency. Companies can now harness the power of API to create custom workflows; integration with other product design and structural analysis programs accelerates product development.

“Major features and functions of this release are driven primarily by our customers’ feedback,” said David Hsu, President of Product Development. “By providing greater efficiency enhancements and more reliable simulation technology, we are fulfilling our promise to help our customers solve the most complex plastics engineering problems in the most efficient manner possible.”

TPE-based syringe stoppers are smooth operators

Teknor Apex syringe stopper

New medical-grade thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) from Teknor Apex (Pawtucket, RI) for injection molded plunger stoppers provide improved syringe performance and are less costly and easier to mold than natural and isoprene rubber, said the company. The TPE-based stoppers also have processing advantages compared with thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV) elastomers. Teknor Apex Co. will introduce the compounds in booth S22045 at NPE2018.

A low coefficient of friction enables the stoppers molded from the new Medalist TPEs to achieve a consistent piston release and travel force in both glass and plastic syringe barrels, said Teknor Apex. The compounds can be over-molded onto plungers, eliminating an assembly step. In addition to grades for over-molding onto polypropylene, specialty grades are available that, unlike TPVs, can be over-molded onto engineering resins like polycarbonate, ABS, PC/ABS, acrylic, acetal, PBT and COPE. Unlike most TPVs, the Medalist TPEs do not require pre-drying.

The Medalist TPEs exhibit improved compression set in comparison with competing TPEs, making possible a more secure seal, said Teknor Apex. The compounds can be molded in high-cavitation tooling. All grades are sterilizable and are available in natural or black colors.

Rubber has been the predominant material for use in syringe stoppers, but TPEs are a better alternative, according to Teknor Apex. For one thing, the curing step required in rubber processing is eliminated, minimizing concerns about extractables and leachables. Also, TPE scrap can be recycled and the molding cycles are shorter. More intricate designs and tighter dimensional tolerances can be achieved, as well.

“Stoppers must move smoothly against the wall of the syringe barrel, provide an exceptional seal to preserve the integrity of the drug and be chemically inert to prevent interaction with the syringe contents,” said Ross van Royen, Senior Market Manager, Regulated Products. “Teknor Apex has developed a portfolio of Medalist TPEs that meet these performance requirements while providing substantial economic advantages because of their ease of processing.”

Medalist compounds are produced in ISO 13485–certified facilities in the United States and Singapore.

Frigel introduces CT option, allowing Microgel Chiller/TCUs to operate seamlessly with open cooling towers

Frigel Microgel

Frigel (East Dundee, IL) has announced that its line of Microgel combination Chiller/Temperature Control Units (TCUs) can now be configured with a CT option, allowing them to work seamlessly with open cooling towers. Intelligent process cooling provides plastics processors with the ability to leverage the chiller/TCUs for improved productivity, profitability and quality. The Microgel produces less scrap and can improve cycle time by as much as 20%, according to Frigel.

The CT option, one of several new Microgel innovations on display at booth W193 at NPE2018, filters out potential open-cooling tower water contaminants. Ideal for machine-side process cooling, the CT option also alerts users to potential problems with contaminated cooling-tower water to ensure maximum uptime of the chiller/TCU. Previously, Frigel recommended the use of Microgel units only with an Ecodry central cooling system, since it’s a closed-loop, clean-water system. 

The CT option is available on the Microgel RCM, RCD and RCX models. Other options now available on the chiller/TCU and on display at NPE include:

  • External temperature sensors, which complement internal sensors for accurate temperature readouts/control at each mold to further optimize cooling temperatures for improved mold performance;
  • variable-frequency drives on the unit’s pumps, allowing them to deliver only the necessary amount of water pressure differential and flow needed for peak operating efficiency with the least amount of energy consumption; and
  • digital flow meters that provide an unprecedented level of accurate flow data, according to Frigel, to ensure optimal mold performance based on the unique characteristics of each tool.

According to Frigel North America Marketing Manager Al Fosco, the latest advances in the Microgel line of chiller/TCUs are designed to give plastics processors a clear-cut advantage in an increasingly competitive industry.

“Each processor and each application is unique,” Fosco said. “Some rely on open cooling towers for cooling water and some don’t. Most need very precise temperature control data. Some need exact pressure differentials based on a given mold. All need turbulent flow.

“It’s why we take a scientific approach when we analyze customer applications and configure a system to their exact needs. It’s the Frigel Diamond Service advantage, which ultimately gives them what they need to optimize productivity, profitability and quality,” he added.

Frigel’s presence at NPE 2018 extends beyond its own booth—32 Frigel units will be operating in 14 booths of leading plastics machinery manufacturers. Frigel claims this level of support is unprecedented for any process-cooling equipment company. 

Wittmann Battenfeld connects the dots on what Industry 4.0 can do for you

Wittmann 4.0

Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. (Torrington, CT) will put the spotlight on its Wittmann 4.0 technology at NPE2018 in booth W3742. The theme has been announced as “Pathway to 4.0,” and the booth will include six injection molding machine work cells with integrated robots, automation, material handling and auxiliary equipment, all showcasing Wittmann 4.0 and its various features and benefits. There will also be sections of the booth dedicated to specific products in Wittmann Battenfeld’s portfolio, including a robot and automation section and several displays of Wittmann Battenfeld auxiliaries.

“Our Pathway to 4.0 theme will allow us to show off all of the capabilities of our Wittmann 4.0 technology, so visitors to our booth can leave with a better understanding of what this tech can really do and how it can help improve their company’s processes in ways they might not have thought of before,” said Crystal Gagnon, Marketing Communications. “We also like to bring some excitement and have fun at NPE, and this year will be no different!”

Several new products will be featured in the Wittmann Battenfeld booth, as well. These will include the high-speed EcoPower Xpress injection molding machine, the X Series robot, a TCU featuring the new SpeedDrive technology, an S-MAX screenless granulator line and the Aton H Portable dryer. Each of these new pieces of equipment will be integrated into Wittmann 4.0 displays, in keeping with the Pathway to 4.0 theme.

Wittmann Battenfeld will display the following six injection molding machine work cells:

  • An EcoPower 180/750 machine molding a shampoo flip top with a four-cavity mold from StackTeck using polypropylene from Washington Penn with color from UCC. The cell will include a W833 Pro robot integrated with Mold Following, which allows for high-speed removal. It will also feature a vacuum EOAT, conveyor, feeder, Flowcon Plus water flow control and a hot runner control system from Gammaflux.
  • An EcoPower 110/350 B6P cleanroom molding machine running Washington Penn polypropylene pipettes in an eight-cavity mold from Cavaform. The cell will run a W823 robot with a Servo B Axis and cleanroom options, as well as an extension allowing for dual placement onto pipette trays. It will also feature a high-flow vacuum EOAT, tray filling conveyor system, Tempro D Plus temperature controller and Aton H dryer.
  • A MacroPower 850/8800 machine producing a spoiler with a single-cavity mold from HRS Flow that includes five servo-valve gates and several cavity pressure sensors to demonstrate true intelligent closed-loop molding. With Wittmann 4.0 integrated with a hot runner, as well as HiQ-Melt, HiQ-Flow and HiQ-Cushion technologies, this cell offers the most complex example of how Wittmann 4.0 can be utilized. The cell will complement these complex operations with a GMax granulator, Tempro Direct Plus TCU, Gravimax G34 blender, W843 Pro robot, hot runner controller from Gammaflux and Flowcon Plus water flow controller. This cell will also show the new Condition Monitoring System (CMS) used for preventive and predictive maintenance.
  • The EcoPower Xpress 400/3300+ machine is Wittmann Battenfeld’s newest high-speed injection molding machine, which is being shown for the first time in North America. It will be molding closures using a 96-cavity bottle cap mold from Bauer Plastisud using HDPE from Borealis, a hot runner controller from Gammaflux and a Feedmax central vacuum receiver. The new EcoPower Xpress is a high-speed, all-electric machine primarily geared to the requirements of packaging and thin-wall applications.
Wittmann Battenfeld will introduce the EcoPower Xpress 400/3300+ to the North American market at NPE2018.
  • A SmartPower 110/350 machine molding wood-plastic composite building blocks with an eight-cavity mold using wood-plastic compound from Fasal. The cell will include a W822 robot, eight-cavity gripper EOAT, U-shaped conveyor pallet loading system, Tempro Plus D TCU, Gravimax G14 blender, Junior 2 compact screenless granulator, Aton H dryer with integrated vacuum station conveying system, and Flowcon Plus water flow controller.
  • A two-shot MicroPower 15/10-10 machine with two parallel injection units and a rotary disk molding a plug inside the recording head of a vinyl record player with a single-cavity mold from Ortafon. The parts are made of PC and electro-conductive PC. Parts removal and depositing will be handled by a Wittmann W8VS4 Scara robot specially designed for this machine. In addition a built-in camera system inside the machine will provide fully automatic quality inspection of the parts.

Robots and automation

Wittmann Battenfeld has introduced numerous innovations in its robot technology since the last NPE. Robots will be included in every work cell and will be a major feature of the booth. The centerpiece will be the new X Series robots, which were unveiled for the first time at Fakuma 2017. The robots are functionally and technologically unmatched in the industry, with standard features that can outclass even the custom packages of older models, according to the company.

In addition to the X Series, the new cost-efficient Primus 14 will be shown, as well.

All of these models will be running with the new R9 control, which has been refined with various new visualization options and functionalities.

Material handling systems and auxiliaries

A complete range of Wittmann Battenfeld material handling systems and auxiliary equipment will be operating in the booth. Featured products include:

  • Tempro Plus D temperature controllers with the new SpeedDrive option, a variable frequency controlled pump that can increase process reliability, decrease energy usage and enhance efficiency;
  • central material handling systems showcasing both Wittmann M7.3 Central Control Platforms and new Teachbox Net 5 Control Platforms;
  • a central drying system showcasing Drymax 1200 FC Plus redundant dryer technology, Silmax Smartflow technology with material saver function, a new Modular Silmax 5000L drying hopper and new Modular Silmax 2000L-Auger model for use with hard flowing materials or PET crystallization processes;
  • a new Aton H beside-the-press dryer, fully integrated with 4.0 capabilities;
  • self-contained S3 net loaders, Feedmax central loaders and MC Balance throat-mounted feeders;
  • a new S-MAX screenless granulator line, G-MAX conventional granulators and below the mold Auger feed granulators; and
  • Gravimax blenders showcasing real-time, live scale blending technology.

U. Pittsburgh researchers embark on mission to make unrecyclable packaging recyclable

U of Pittsburgh Nano tech

Plastic packaging has come a long way over the past few decades, but many of those advances have made the packaging itself impossible to recycle.

Recently, a research team at the University of Pittsburgh won a $200,000 International Circular Materials Challenge prize from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and NineSigma to deal with this problem. The team from Swanson School of Engineering suggested using nano-engineering to create a recyclable material that can replace complex multi-layered packaging used in food and beverage containers.

Nano-engineering technology mimics the way nature uses just a few molecular building blocks to create a tremendous diversity of materials. By manipulating polyethylene (PE) molecules, the researchers can design each PE layer to perform a specific function that otherwise would have required a different material, creating a fully recyclable PE product, such as a juice box.

Speaking with PlasticsToday in a telephone interview, team member Associate Professor Sachin Velankar said that while the idea is “rather simple, execution is the hard part.”

Velankar noted that multi-layer plastic containers that are designed as oxygen barriers to extend the shelf life of food and drink products are difficult to deal with when it comes to recycling. It is sometimes possible to create an additive for the various plastics to improve compatibility of the various layers, something he called “a very useful idea.” However, sorting these various materials to enable recycling is nearly impossible.

Packaging, such as juice pouches (pictured), is made with bonded layers of metal like aluminum and different types of plastic, making it almost impossible to recycle. University of Pittsburgh researchers propose manipulating polyethylene molecules to create layers that result in a fully recyclable product. Image courtesy Pittwire/University of Pittsburgh.

The multi-layer barrier process isn’t new, Velankar said, citing an example of a plastic beer bottle designed in the late 1990s that was a big hit. The bottle was lightweight, which made it easy for snack vendors at event arenas to carry them up and down the stands. However, the company that developed the bottle had to add nylon as an oxygen barrier to keep the beer fresh and foamy, making it unrecyclable.

Assistant Professor Susan Fullerton, also on the research team, said that there are some four million tons of multi-layer packaging land-filled every year. “We can’t reinvent the recycling infrastructure, so the idea is to work with the existing recycling technology,” she said.

When asked about waste-to-energy as an easier alternative, Velankar said that although the plastic itself burns clean, various additives in plastics are more difficult to incinerate cleanly.

The team from the Swanson School of Engineering, which also includes Eric Beckman, Distinguished Service Professor and Co-Director of Pitt’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, is just starting to work on their idea of using nanoengineering. Fullerton said the team is learning from fundamental studies published in the polymer science literature over the past decades and applying it in a different way. “The key will be coaxing the material into the various nanostructures necessary to replace the individual layers—coming up with a way to recycle what was formerly unrecyclable,” she explained.

Neither Fuller nor Velankar are pleased about the current efforts to ban plastics.

Velankar said that plastic in and of itself is a “very benign product—provided it ends up in a landfill.” The problem comes not from plastic itself but from the improper disposal of it. “How do plastics end up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” he asks theoretically. “Given the nature of plastic, proper disposal is a critical issue. We need to focus on the problem.”

As with most innovations, particularly in the scientific realm, what is possible often is not practical. Fullerton addressed this issue: “As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation award, we are fortunate to be part of a 12-month accelerator program in collaboration with Think Beyond Plastic, connecting us with experts who can help us uncover potential problems and scale the innovation,” she said. “Instead of building the research from the bottom up—like we are used to in most of our fundamental research projects—this is more of a top-down approach.”

Protolabs expands CNC machining services; receives manufacturing leadership award

Protolabs milling equipment

The year is off to a great start for Protolabs (Maple Plain, MN), the digital manufacturing company that has made a name for itself in rapid prototyping and on-demand manufacturing. It announced earlier this month that it has purchased a new manufacturing facility in Brooklyn Park, MN, which will be used primarily for its CNC machining services. In addition, the company’s pursuit of operational excellence was recognized yesterday by Frost & Sullivan, which named the company a winner in its annual Manufacturing Leadership Awards program.

The new 152,000-square-foot Brooklyn Park facility will be expanded by another 50,000 square feet. About 225 jobs at Protolabs’ Plymouth, MN, plant will relocate to the Brooklyn Park building, enabling the company to expand injection molding capacity in the Plymouth facility to support increased customer demand, said the company. Plymouth, Maple Plain and Brooklyn Park are all in the Twin Cities region. The new Brooklyn Park plant is scheduled to become fully operational by the end of 2018.

“CNC machining is one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our business, Rob Bodor, Vice President and General Manager, Americas, told PlasticsToday. “There’s strong demand in our quick-turn approach to delivering custom machined parts in less time and at less cost than through traditional models.”

In 2017, Protolabs recorded more than 27% growth in CNC machining, representing more than $100 million in business, according to the company. “Protolabs plans to be well-equipped to meet this volume, with both the increased capacity of the Brooklyn Park facility and the increased capacity and capability provided by our Rapid Manufacturing acquisition,” said Bodor. [Protolabs acquired Rapid Manufacturing, a sheet metal fabricator and CNC machining company, near the end of last year.] “Since the launch of CNC machining at Protolabs in 2007,” added Bodor, “we’ve expanded our offering to both milling and turning, broadened the types of materials our customers can order and have increased the speed at which we can deliver parts. Our state-of-the-art facility will add the capacity needed to serve this expanded offering.”

Rob Bodor, Vice President and General Manager, Americas, at Protolabs.

Protolabs serves a broad swathe of industries, but demand for machined parts is particularly strong in the medical device, electronics, industrial equipment, automotive and aerospace sectors, noted Bodor. 

Beyond the new machining facility, Protolabs continues to expand its manufacturing capacity with the addition of new equipment. Over the past 12 months, the company purchased more than 75 CNC mills and 25 injection molding presses in the United States. Additionally, it installed 25 CNC machines and six injection molding presses at the company’s facility in Telford, UK. Protolabs currently has worldwide manufacturing capacity of more than 1,000 presses, mills, lathes, press brakes, laser cutters and 3D printers. 

“We helped over 35,000 product developers last year and this added capacity will provide the scale to continue serving companies from innovative startups to Fortune 100 companies and everyone in between,” said Bodor in a prepared statement.

Continuous improvement initiative earns kudos from Frost & Sullivan

Protolabs’ business model has received validation from Frost & Sullivan, which bestowed on the company a Manufacturing Leadership Award for “outstanding achievement in operational excellence.”

Specifically, Protolabs was singled out for its Cellular Division project—a continuous improvement initiative designed to position the company for further business growth, achieve more favorable manufacturing costs and ultimately provide more economic value to its customers, said Protolabs. The project consisted of reorganizing the layout of its U.S. injection molding production facility, modifying personnel responsibilities to reduce wasted time and motion, and auditing materials use during the molding process. 

The initiative resulted in improved productivity, a cycle-time reduction in non-value-added activities and less material scrap. 

Protolabs will receive the award at the 14th Annual Manufacturing Leadership Awards Gala, which caps the Manufacturing Leadership Summit in Huntingon Beach, CA, in June.

Catch up with Protolabs at PLASTEC East, part of the largest advanced design and manufacturing event on the East Coast. Co-located with Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) East and four other events dedicated to packaging, automation, design and manufacturing, and quality, PLASTEC East comes to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, NY, on June 12 to 14. Visit Protolabs at booth 409.

3D scanning optimizes food packaging design

Wrapped chocolate bunny

Consumers love sweets, and there’s no better time than the holidays to express those feelings. Think about all those chocolates and other sweets beautifully packaged for maximum impact.

One company uses 3D scanners to optimize the molds for confectionery packaging for an Easter holiday classic: chocolate bunnies.

These aren’t your standard holiday bunnies, but 3-D bunnies with oversized ears that sit poised and wrapped in form-fitting blue plastic packaging.

The company, Bachmann Forming AG (Hochdorf, Switzerland), part of the Swiss family-owned company Bachman headquartered near Lucerne, produces high-quality, to-spec packaging solutions.

In order to make their workflow more effective, Bachmann Forming AG now uses 3D scanners from Artec 3D (Luxembourg), which they bought from 3D Model AG (Zurich, Switzerland), Artec’s official reseller, which also provided them with full training.

“It has never been so easy to get the shape of an object. We are very pleased that, with our support, our customer Bachmann Forming can now streamline and speed up their work process” says Christiane Fimpel of 3D Model.

3D scanners replace tedious manual work

How do you make the best packaging for a modern chocolate rabbit? As in the past, you need to create a master form, or pilot tool that has an identical shape to the chocolate bunny provided by the manufacturer.

Until about 10 years ago, most of the original models were handcrafted, manually ground, cast with epoxy resin or milled from wood—a process that could take up to 20 hours, depending on the product. In recent years, however, this procedure has changed dramatically with digitization. Pilot tools are now designed using computer-aided design (CAD) and manufactured from blocks of polyurethane on CNC-controlled milling machines. The block material is easy to process and guarantees a homogeneous surface.

Bachmann Forming was looking for a way to digitize hand-made shapes fast and with high precision, which would be especially beneficial for food packaging, since food is usually produced without CAD data versus other parts.

Marker-free scanning

Bachmann Forming then came across Artec 3D scanners. Notably, Artec scanners capture data without the need for extra orientation points. Artec Space Spider digitally captures objects that are too complex and time consuming to be measured by hand.

"We were impressed by the easy usability, and the geometry and texture-based tracking of Artec Space Spider," says Jörg Nussbaum, design engineer at Bachmann. "Capturing color also makes it easy to create photorealistic visualizations in the design phase."

One of the key advantages of Artec’s devices is that, in contrast to other 3D scanners, they do not need adhesive markers to be stuck over the object for the scanner to maintain tracking and to align scans, since the algorithms in the software analyze both the geometry and the color data of the object.

"It would be pretty hard to stick something on a chocolate or pralines," says Nussbaum.

By using Artec’s technology to create a CAD model of the original chocolate bunny, Bachmann Forming is now able to take advantage of the expedited process of CNC machining the master form. It also has the added benefit of being less prone to manual error by eliminating hand measurement and machining.

It took Bachmann just one hour to complete the entire process.

"It's fun to see how quickly complicated shapes can find their way from hand to screen,” Nussbaum points out. “Being able to use a 3D scanner in-house is an immense time advantage. The simple usability is a winning factor—we are very satisfied with the results.”

EastPack 2018 held June 12-14 in New York City features the latest in manufacturing and automation, a dedicated 3D Printing Zone, hundreds of exhibitors and a jam-packed 3-day packaging conference. For more information, visit the EastPack website.

Scanning is as easy as using a video camera

Andrei Vakulenko, chief business development officer at Artec 3D, provides PlasticsToday a step-by-step walk through the process.

1. Imagine the scanner is like a video camera and you’re trying to record all the sides of the object. You move the scanner smoothly around the object, capturing all surfaces. If necessary, you can take separate scans of the bottom of the object, or of different sides, if the object is too big to capture in one go.

2. The easiest way to process it would be to select the scan, or multiple scans, and run them through the autopilot mode of the Artec Studio software. Autopilot analyses your data and automatically processes it, applying the most appropriate algorithms to your set of data.

The time it takes to scan and process depends on the size and complexity of the object. This is a 3D model of our scanner Artec Eva, which we digitized using our Artec Space Spider scanner.

Vakulenko says the above example took about four minutes for the 3D scan and 10 minutes to process the data.

Asked about file formats, he responds that "users can export from Artec Studio and from Artec Studio all popular 3D formats, including OBJ, PLY and STL."

The end result

The final packaging for the bunnies are thermoforms from plastic sheet.  It's such a perfect fit that the packaging looks as if it were second, blue skin.

"Before we had Space Spider, this kind of work had to be outsourced, which was very time-consuming and cost-intensive," explains Nussbaum. "The external service provider scanned the chocolate bunny as it was, with all the details, so the 3D model also showed all the bumps that were in the chocolate. Now we can immediately intervene in the data processing stage and delete these parts."

Nussbaum also likes the time advantage—scanning by external companies can take up to two weeks.

"When we do it ourselves we scan whenever we have time," he says. "In the packaging business you have to be fast and innovative. With Artec Space Spider we have found a tool that will help us with many upcoming projects."

This kind of 3D scanning application is now fairly standard, Vakulenko tells PlasticsToday. “Our scanners are quite commonly used by plastic molders, both for creating new molds and for quality control of existing ones.”

There are also other ways in which the technology can be used to right-size packaging.

“With our scanners you can easily and quickly capture the exact shape of an object and then create packaging which fits it exactly, without wasting extra material,” Vakulenko says. “Customers can also set up an automatic inspection line, using the scanners to check the condition of used packaging, with the idea to reuse material that is still in good shape.”

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Ineos Styrolution plans to build styrene monomer plant on Gulf Coast

Gulf Coast

It might get a little more crowded along the U.S. Gulf Coast in the coming years. Following ExxonMobil’s recent announcement that it has begun an engineering study on expanding polypropylene manufacturing capacity in the region, Ineos Styrolution (Frankfurt, Germany) issued a press release today saying that it plans to build a styrene monomer plant on the Gulf Coast.

Image of refineries near Chambers, TX, courtesy Erin/flickr.

The styrenics manufacturer has commissioned an engineering study to build a “world-class” facility that will use best-in-class technology and benefit from access to low-cost feedstock and energy from shale gas as well as an excellent infrastructure, said the company. It has not decided on a specific location.

“This new plant will complement our existing styrenics production facilities and provide a sustained competitive advantage to enable us to supply the global market,” said Steve Harrington, President Global Styrene Monomer and Asia-Pacific. Ineos Styrolution currently operates 16 production sites in nine countries.

“This plan supports our ‘Triple Shift’ growth strategy and maintains our leading position as a global styrenics supplier to our key customers and industries”, added Kevin McQuade, CEO at INEOS Styrolution.

As for ExxonMobil, the project under consideration would represent an investment of several hundred million dollars and, if approved, startup could be as soon as 2021.