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Articles from 2004 In May


Contentious collaboration

If truly creative ideas lie outside the bounds of conventional thought, then conventional thought can''t be used to find them. Nowhere is this truer than industrial design, which attempts to marry artistic whimsy and engineering principles—usually with the assistance of processors.

Often you don''t want designers to be too constrained by things they know about manufacturability," Monty Montague, principal of the design firm The Bolt Group (Charlotte, NC) says, "because the great, innovative ideas come from taking those restraints off and just being wild and crazy for a while. We have innovation sessions where we get together and say, ''What if you could have your wish; what if pigs could fly?''"

It is this same against-the-stream thinking that can leave many processors flummoxed after working with industrial designers, viewed by some as heavy on the fanciful and light on the realistic. Industrial designers admit taking some "flying-pig" products to molders and moldmakers, hoping the processor can help make the design happen. But as products become commoditized and companies face competition from a multitude of new market entrants, it is often the "flying-pig" design that makes an application stand out.

"Entering a market as a me-too," says Brad Forrest of Idea Logic (Cary, NC), "is just splitting the pie into smaller slices, and the only way to overcome that is to have some distinction."

"Design can take a commodity product and make it something people lust after," Montague says, "or it can take a technology product and make it something that looks simple, easy to use, and convenient, as opposed to threatening."

''Who is this guy?''

As many OEMs cut staff within their own design departments, they turn to standalone firms to create new products. Many of these firms are also charged with quoting the part to a variety of shops and working closely with processors to create viable applications.

As a result, the relationship between designers and processors can become contentious. Although he says things have improved, Heidsiek admits to butting heads with processors in the past. "They''d just be irritated," he says. "Kind of annoyed, like, ''Who is this guy? I don''t care—a radius is a radius. What''s the difference between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch?'' Well, it means the world to a user''s hand or a designer''s eye."

In addition to mounting a vigilant defense of aesthetics, industrial designers must also balance their creative whims against bottom-line realities.

"I used to think it''s got to be as cool as possible or else," Heidsiek says, "but now it''s the bottom line, and if I''m going to compromise manufacturability, I have to gain somewhere else. Twenty years ago, I wouldn''t have said that."

"Sometimes when you run a concept through the design-for-manufacture filter," Forrest says, "it can limit your creativity. But if a designer''s creativity is limited by a manufacturing process, then he needs to understand the process even better so he can design for it and still achieve the creative solutions he desires."

Footing the design-change bill

Even with the soundest concept, design changes are often necessary. But who''s going to pay for them among the OEM, industrial designer, and processor isn''t always readily apparent, unless pains are taken up front to get everyone''s expectations in writing.

"How were things defined up front?" asks Heidsiek about who pays for alterations. "If it wasn''t included, then I have to foot the bill or the OEM has to, because usually that''s all delineated in the agreement. Our proposals are very in-depth, even for small projects, because I don''t want to run into expectations that aren''t met."

Some things, like fine details on a mold texture, can be open to interpretation and cause issues, but bigger problems can arise if someone just plain screws up.

"There are certainly occasions of outright human errors," Forrest says. "If any of us makes a mistake in the development process and it necessitates a change in tooling, it can become a point of negotiation."

Working together

Whether defined by hostility or cooperation, relationships between designers and processors are becoming increasingly important. Asked what can foster a positive relationship, Heidsiek says his ideal processor is someone who has "a willingness to work together to solve things. The vendors I really like are those that go beyond that and are willing to do things differently, explore new territory, and be scrappy and creative when necessary."

"I love to deal with processors who show their enthusiasm about the end product," Forrest says, "processors who are asking questions outside their realm of responsibility and who are emotionally engaged with what the customer is trying to achieve."

Not surprisingly, communication is paramount. "Even if they have to be frank and tell you things that you don''t want to hear," Forrest says, "that''s building a relationship rather than just trying to produce parts. That proactive communication, although it may be painful, can save a lot of money and time."

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Design charges a touchy issue

Getting paid for design is, in principal, a fine thing; making it work in practice often proves tough. One British processor describes the situation: "There''s no hard and fast rule. You have to recover the cost [of design work]—we all know that. But how you do it may change from one customer to the next." Others said recovering design costs is out of the question. "Superstores such as McDonald''s aren''t willing to pay for design. If we tell them to pay for design, someone else will go to them and offer design for free," says Chris Rogers, an executive at international consumer packaging firm Huhtamaki.

Frank Nelissen, CEO at thermoformer Nelipack, says, "Too many thermoformers are scared to ask for money for design. Send a separate invoice for design costs," he recommends. He says processors trying to recoup design costs over time as part of the piece price are harming themselves by raising their piece price, leaving them open to competitors. Francois Duroder, sales manager for thermoform toolmaker ODC (Waterloo, ON), agrees and adds, "Yes, of course we charge for design. For automotive, an invoice will have a line for design and one for the tool costs. You''ve got to charge for design," but on very low-cost tooling, design might be free.

Another thermoformer that does charge for its design work is Vitalo Industries (Meulebecke, Belgium). It has plants in Europe and Asia, and delivers mobile phone packaging to seven of Nokia''s nine plants. Managing director Chris Heggerick says they charge customers about €70/hr for work done by the design division, called Indumo, which has 17 employees and turnover of about €1.8 million.

Matt Defosse

Contact information

The Bolt Group   www.boltgroup.com
Idea Logic   www.idealogicdesign.com
Sandbox Industrial Design   www.sandboxid.com

Automotive: The future looks bright for plastics/metal composites

Some 15 years after Bayer obtained a patent for hybrid plastics/metal technology, and six years after the first hybrid parts appeared on series production cars, the use of these composites for structural and semi-structural parts is shifting up a gear.

Not only does Bayer continue to make important technical and commercial breakthroughs of its own, but other technology suppliers are commercializing their own variants, which further adds to the validity of the concept.

Some numbers from Bayer:

  • To date, some 35 car components have been manufactured using this technology and Bayer materials (essentially nylon compounds)

  • There are more than 20 new automotive hybrid technology projects in development that are set for series production in the next two years

  • By the end of 2003, around 11 million parts had been manufactured using hybrid technology.

    The first car to incorporate the technology was the Audi A6 in 1998. Now, the latest version of the same car marks another breakthrough. The roof frame, which joins the two sides of the body shell and forms the support for the windscreen, marks the first time that plastics/metal hybrid technology has been incorporated into the Body in White (BiW; the main structural frame of the car). Chosen for weight-saving reasons, the hybrid is around 30% (300g) lighter than the all–sheet metal version it replaces. Costs and performance are much the same.

    Until now, hybrid technology has been used, in almost all cases, for front-end modules, which carmakers design separately from the BiW. The critical difference here is that the BiW is generally an all-metal structure that is welded together. Fitting a hybrid piece into it is a significant step forward for plastics.

    This part is relatively simple in its design, and therefore does not make full use of the potential of hybrid technology to incorporate extra functionality—although it does reduce the amount of welding needed.

    Ralf Zimnol, senior manager for industry innovation at Bayer MaterialScience in Leverkusen, Germany, says the company had to fit in with traditional BiW design thinking, in the same way it did with early front-end designs. Now that the door is open, designs are likely to get more adventurous. "We have been working against 100 years of steel design, so there is not a lot of integration yet," says Zimnol. The part is made by ITM in Nuremberg.

    Bayer showed the roof frame for the first time at the VDI-K Plastics in Automotive Engineering conference in Mannheim, Germany in March. It also announced that hybrid technology is being used for the first time on a truck—the radiator grille flap on the Mercedes-Benz Actros—and it showed the results of a feasibility study done by Audi that demonstrates the potential for hybrids in cross beams for instrument panels. Bayer is also working on applications in the floor and the chassis.

    Hybrids in doors have proved tricky. Volkswagen took a license from Bayer to use its technology for part of the door frame of the Golf V, which it molds itself in Braunschweig, Germany. Long-term contracts mean it gets the nylon from another source. A spokesman for VW says that the company is unlikely to use the technology for upcoming vehicles, however, preferring all-metal designs. He says the reason is cost, but it may not be the only one.

    Zimnol says there are now about 10 processors doing hybrid molding in Europe, three or four in the U.S., and a similar number in Asia. Hyundai and Kia are both making cars with hybrid front ends. Some of the companies in the U.S. are the same as in Europe, though French companies Faurecia and Plastic Omnium make hybrid parts in the U.S., for example. U.S.-based Visteon has been making hybrid parts for the Ford Focus for several years.

    With Bayer patents on hybrid technology due to run out in the next few years, and with other plastics suppliers and some molders working on rival technologies, Zimnol says the company has to look for more demanding applications for its technology, and also to develop it further. For example, Bayer is looking at hybrids that incorporate several separate pieces of metal. "The front end is now a commodity, so the business is cost driven," he notes.

    Rivals out for a piece of the pie

    Other nylon suppliers, notably BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) and Rhodia Engineering Plastics (Lyon, France), have been working on alternative plastics/metal technologies for some time, but one key supplier that has been surprisingly quiet on the subject until now has been GE Advanced Materials (formerly GE Plastics).

    At the VDI-K event, it unveiled a prototype front end for the Nissan Xterra made using what it terms Hydroplast technology, which combines injection molding with hydroformed tubular steel parts rather than sheet.

    Hydroplast is based on a patented technology called Smartlok , which joins the plastic and metal components of the structure. "We get to keep all the goodies of the steel," says automotive plastics VP Andre Horbach, based in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, citing stiffness, strength, and dimensional stability. The technology is independent of the thermoplastic used, but Horbach says Noryl GTX nylon/polyphenylene ether alloy has a good fit.

    Smartlok is described as a compound tie between metal and plastic, where the plastic flows through multiple holes in the metal and envelopes the metal from the inside and outside.

    The development is being led out of the U.S., but is being offered globally. Horbach expects parts to be commercialized as early as late 2005. GEAM is partnering with steel company Variform, and Carlyle Engineered Products (Livonia, MI), which has several molding operations in the U.S. In Europe, the company is working with

    several tiers on a non-exclusive basis. Horbach says that compared to current hybrids, the GE product needs less plastics, since none is needed to provide stiffening in the steel beam. Total cost can be 20% to 30% less, he claims.

    Two-step processes have appeal

    Two years ago, BASF announced a new way to join molded plastic components and sheet metal, called collar forming (October 2002 MP). The plastics and metal parts are joined together by mechanically pressing a collar protruding from the metal component into the plastic component. The company claims that so-called "post-molding assembly" provides more design freedom than inmold assembly, yields parts with better mechanical properties, and places less strict tolerances on the metal component.

    In the meantime, BASF has further developed the process so that it can be applied to complex parts, with the collars intruding into the molding on more than one plane. The company is now working to improve the speed of the process so that it can be carried out within the injection molding cycle time.

    Dow Automotive''s premise, meanwhile, is that to get the best stiffness out of the metal component in a hybrid structure, a closed box design is required. It points out in a recent paper comparing various plastics/metal processing techniques, "overmolding of the plastic on a metal insert in the tool forms discrete mechanical connections where the plastic flows through the holes in the metal…the main limitation with this approach is related to the injection molding process. It is not physically possible to form a closed section in a normal tool."

    Adhesive bonding, on the other hand, "enables a continuous joint between the metal and the plastic and allows a closed section to maximize the moment of inertia and hence the stiffness." Two years ago, the company built a prototype Golf front end using its low-energy surface adhesive (LESA) bonding technology (May 2002 MP/MPI).

    Pádraig Naughton, global technology leader for Dow Automotive in Schwalbach, Germany, says the biggest hurdle to overcome is the fear in the design community of using adhesive bonding rather than more traditional joining techniques. The technology is new and requires new equipment. However, Dow does not appear inclined to take responsibility for production itself, as it did with adhesively bonded air intake manifolds for Lada (April 2004 MP/MPI). Naughton says production parts should appear on vehicles within five years.

    Process allows use of PP

    Hybrids in production today are all in nylon 6 or nylon 66, but Naughton says bonded structures will likely be made in long-fiber-reinforced polypropylene. "We are talking in general about modules mounted after the e-coat," he says, noting that high-temperature resistance is not critical in such parts.

    Rhodia also offers an assembly solution—several in fact. Under the umbrella title of plastics and metal assembling (PMA), it describes how metal and plastic components can be combined using clips, rivets, and/or ultrasonic welding. The company also offers a variant of overmolding using gas- or water-assist to provide cored-out sections that lend themselves to functional integration.

    Peter Mapleston [email protected]

    Driving the global economy

    Automobile sales are often used as a barometer for the general well-being of a nation''s economy and state of development. That being the case, current sales figures indicate a hesitant recovery in the U.S, relative stagnation in Europe, and a boom in China.

    After three years of decline in the U.S., industry consultants Global Insight Inc. (Boston, MA) and Morgan & Co. Inc. (West Olive, MI) expect sales will improve slightly this year, up by 3.5% and 2.5% respectively, although Autopolis (London) expects the market to drop 3% as consumer confidence weakens.

    In Europe, sales fell slightly last year according to German auto industry association Verband der Automobilindustrie, from 12.6 million units in 2002 to 12.5 million units in 2003. While light trucks and commercial vehicles showed marginal gains (.7% and 1.6% respectively), passenger cars dropped 1.6% from 9.8 million to 9.7 million units.

    In China, automotive growth kept pace with the white-hot expansion of the overall economy, which grew at an annual rate of 9.1% in 2003. After cracking 1 million vehicles for the first time in 2002, sales doubled in 2003 to 2.04 million units. Volkswagen enjoyed the largest market share, selling 694,000 vehicles last year (it has two production JVs in the country with a capacity for 800,000 units/yr and has said it plans to double that by 2008), with General Motors a distant second, at 387,710 units. Honda (123,000), Peugeot Citroen (103,000), Suzuki (100,000), and Toyota (98,000) round out the top six nameplates in China.

    The growth of the Chinese vehicle market is more than matched by the expansion in the components market, a sign of the growth in local vehicle production. Components are largely imported at this point, according to the China Automotive Industry Information Network. Imports nearly tripled between 2002 and 2003, rising in value from $3.38 billion to $9.47 billion. Tony Deligio

    Worlds apart

    Europeans may moan about the price of fuel for their cars, but they have lived with it for a long time. In several countries, diesel-powered cars, which are more fuel efficient, have long been popular because of the lower tax this fuel attracts, and their numbers are growing across the continent as the performance of diesel engines improves—and the noise they make diminishes. Pan-European penetration could reach 50% next year, say some consultants.

    But in the U.S., where overall fuel efficiency has remained largely unchanged for decades, gasoline hit a record-high $1.78/gal in mid-April (albeit less than half the European price), and consumers are fast changing their habits. One relatively small segment is showing remarkable growth just as new models are being introduced.

    Hybrid vehicles, which pair a combustion engine with a high-voltage battery-powered motor to offer better fuel consumption and reduced emissions, were mass produced for the first time by Toyota, with its Prius, in 1997. Honda followed with the Insight in 1999, and a hybrid Civic shortly thereafter. The Prius was launched in the U.S. in 2000, but the vehicles made little impact.

    A redesign of the Prius, however—it''s bigger and apparently better to drive—has paid dividends for Toyota, according to analyst Mark Morgan Cornelius. Toyota sold 3700 units in March compared to 2500 in 2003, and year-to-date sales in April were up 60%. "They''re just now catching up with demand," Cornelius says. "Until recently, you had to be on a waiting list."

    American manufacturers have been slower to respond, but Ford will be the first entrant this summer when it introduces the Escape, a full-hybrid SUV. "If [Ford] wanted to get there first," Angela Coletti, a Ford spokeswoman said, "we probably would have applied the hybrid technology to the Focus, but we were committed to giving our customers a no-compromise SUV."

    Ford plans to make 20,000 of the vehicles, which will be assembled alongside its gasoline Escape, in Kansas City, MO. The hybrid Escape has "V-6 like" acceleration according to Ford, coming from its 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and electric traction motor. Launched at April''s New York Auto show, Ford had a series of celebrities drive nonstop for 37 hours in Manhattan on one tank of fuel to demonstrate the vehicle''s efficiency. In the end, it traveled 576 miles and averaged more than 38 mi/gal. To put this in perspective, that''s about half as good as so-called 3-liter (3 liters of fuel per 100 km) sub-compacts sold in Europe by VW and Audi.

    To date, hybrids have made little impact in Europe. This is probably due to the strength of diesels and European carmakers—which, to date, have not developed hybrids of their own.

    Tony Deligio

    Web-only bonus automotive market coverage

    Web-only: Combining Thixomolding with injection molding

    Thixomolding, a way of making alloys of magnesium (and potentially other metal) parts on equipment very similar to plastics injection molding machines, has the potential to usurp both plastics and steel in numerous applications, including automotive.

    To date, most applications have been small, Japanese, and for IT applications such as laptop computer housings. One reason for this is that until a few months ago, only Japan Steel Works (Tokyo) made Thixomolding machines, and mostly smaller types (the largest is 8500 kN).

    Stephen LeBeau, sales and marketing VP for Thixomolding licensor Thixomat (Ann Arbor, MI), further notes that while steel prices are rising because of increased consumption in China, magnesium prices are falling-because more is being mined in China. At around $2/kg, it now costs well under half the 1990 price. On a price-per-volume basis, it is cheaper than aluminum.

    Now that the technology has been proven-Thixomat says more than 260 machines are now in commercial operation-and Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON) has developed a version of its Hylectric machine for Thixomolding (it is currently building a 10,000-kN machine and is thinking about even bigger versions), the auto industry is taking a closer look at what the technology offers. Thixomat sees potential for combining Thixomolded metal parts with thermoplastics, either in what LeBeau terms macrocomposites, in which various elements in an assembly could be bonded together, or by overmolding plastics onto metal parts.

    Processing magnesium and thermoplastics on the same machine is not considered realistic, so the metal part would be made on one machine, and then transferred to another for overmolding.

    Advanced Elastomer Systems (Akron, OH) says it is developing special grades of its Santoprene thermoplastic elastomer, which chemically bond to the metal for overmolding onto Thixomolded parts, and other plastics suppliers are likely to be eyeing opportunities, too.

    Web-only: As one door opens, another closes

    Volkswagen wanted to use outsert molding for the doors on its new Golf, then changed its mind. It is probably regetting the decision.

    Arvin Meritor (location to come), a systems manufacturer specializing in door modules, window lift systems, locks and sunroofs, and component manufacturer Philips Components (Wetzlar, Germany) recently took up a suggestion made by Ticona (Frankfurt, Germany). The idea was to use the outsert molding Ticona (then Hoechst) invented to produce an automotive door inner module, which separates the wet and dry sides of the door. Ticona says the module offers considerable cost advantages by saving assembly of no less than 17 functional components.

    In outsert molding a number of plastic functional elements (such as bearings, holders, and guides) can be anchored on a metal baseplate in a single shot. Ticona''s Hostaform acetal copolymer has become the material of choice for the application. On the module, Hostaform is used with a thermoplastic elastomer for sealing components.

    The companies developed a structural component that would serve as a carrier for the window lift system, lock, and door loudspeaker, among other parts. Fastening elements for the loudspeaker, cable loom, door lock, installation flaps, the leadthrough for the opening rod, and the centering dome for module installation were all incorporated. Ticona says the outsert-molded door module "closes the gap between a conventional, assembly intensive door module with a metal carrier plate and an all-plastics door module."

    Bernhard Pfeiffer is a group leader for exterior applications at Ticona in Kelsterbach, Germany. He notes that outsert molding has long been used in such automotive components as window lift mechanisms and cassette players, but it has never before been used for a part as large as this panel. He draws a distinction between outsert molding and hybrid molding.

    "The aim of hybrid molding is to integrate functions; hybrid technology is to increase stability." His argument is that a simple plate design is cheaper to make in metal than in plastics, while functionality can be added with the outsert technique.

    Ticona went to Arvin Meritor some four years ago after the Tier One received a request from VW to develop a door module for the Golf V (now in production). Pfeiffer says AM was interested in the concept, but had no experience in outsert molding, which is when Philips Components was brought in. The company, part of the Dutch Philips consumer electronics group, has years of experience in the process, especially in production of cassette player carriers.

    Pfeiffer says the part passed all performance tests set by Volkswagen, but the project was killed when VW decided to go with a new concept for its doors, in order to make it easier to insert the window glazing into the mechanism that moves it. However, the new design has much wider variations in overall dimensions, one reason apparently why early production levels of the new Golf were well below targets.

    Contact information

    BASF   www.basf.com
    Bayer   www.bayermaterialscience.com
    Dow Automotive   www.dow.com/automotive/
    GEAM   www.geadvancedmaterials.com
    Rhodia Engineering Plastics   www.rhodia-ep.com
  • Hot filling prompts high PP blowmolding demand; design leads PET's appeal

    A host of converts to polypropylene in blowmolded packaging, while design versatility is driving the ongoing PET phenomenon.

    PET has been a huge winner in the blowmolded packaging market and continues to see demand growth of about 7% to 8%, even in markets where its use is well established. But use of polypropylene (PP) in blowmolded packaging is growing at an even faster pace as it offers a better balance of cost/performance than PET. PP prices have increased recently but are proving less volatile than those for PET, which have jumped from 15% to 20% in the last six months.

    Among leading blowmolders turning more frequently to PP is RPC Containers, at its facility in Corby, England. One of its customers, Midi Conserves (Avignon, France), recently acquired a new line specifically for filling the processor''s PP bottles. Midi Conserves plans to fill its own sauces, and do contract filling for food processors without lines capable of handling PP containers.

    For RPC, demand for blowmolded PP packaging has jumped since the firm introduced its Thermic Ultra jar at the Emballage exhibition in France in 2002. The package includes ribbing that helps it withstand extremely high pasteurizing and sterilizing temperatures, and can be coextrusion blowmolded with a center layer of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) to boost gas barrier properties.

    Particularly significant to PP demand growth is the increasing use of hot filling among food and beverage processors. The trend is not new, but the pace is increasing, notes Raj Batlaw, marketing manager at clarifier supplier Milliken (Spartanburg, SC). Batlaw says processors of hot-fillable PET bottles typically have to add an additional 5% to 10% of material in package walls to ensure bottle stability during the vacuum created as bottles cool after filling and capping. Milliken, the leading supplier of sorbitol-based clarifiers, has itself benefited from another trend: increasing demand for transparent packaging.

    Milliken officials last year reckoned C-PP demand growth was double or triple that of PP, which is more than 7% per annum. Batlaw only says that C-PP demand growth certainly exceeds that of PP. Still, he notes, the choice of material often "depends on the process.

    "With extrusion blowmolding, PP is not as clear as PET. For injection stretch blowmolding its clarity matches that of PET. It used to be that PP output was much lower," he says, so that the advantage of PP''s lower material costs compared to PET were offset at processors by lower volumes. "There have been significant advances on the resin side and on the processing side that have improved this," so that lower outputs when processing PP are no longer such an issue.

    Milliken refuses to discuss current projects, but RPC is not the only processor touting its success. In April, Graham Packaging (York, PA) announced it has begun supplying a new six-layer blowmolded wide-mouth C-PP container for Libby''s fruit. The fruit had been in metal cans, but according to George Plummer, a national account manager at the processor, the transition from metal to plastic was driven by such benefits as better processing through filling lines and lighter weight.

    The six layers include an unidentified oxygen barrier and a UV absorber. For these bottles, Graham uses vacuum panels to allow the framework of the bottle walls to move or flex while absorbing the vacuum. The result is that bottle strength improves as the bottle cools. The processor began using such panels on PET bottles two years ago.

    Design remains trump

    Processors, working with mold and machine manufacturers, continue to use design to further the use of stretch blowmolded (SBM) PET containers. For instance, Belgian bottler Spadel developed a 3-liter "rolling bottle" design for its Spa brand mineral waters. The bottle''s design allows users to roll it on its sides to allow spill-free pouring of water. Strengthened lateral walls ensure the bottles do not contract as they empty. The bottler worked with stretch blowmolding machine maker ADS (Cergy-Pontoise, France) on the bottle''s design.

    The machine maker has a history of designing machines and molds suitable for oddly shaped bottles. For this bottle, additional indexed heating (heating some parts of the preforms more than others) was required for the bottle''s flat shape on one axis.

    Processor Amcor PET Packaging was able to transfer the designs it already uses for 1.75-liter PET bottles for liquor brands Canadian Mist, Early Times, and Southern Comfort to a new range of 750-ml versions launched in late 2003.

    The 750-ml design for Canadian Mist has an indented grip and an asymmetrical body to resemble the custom look of the 1.75-liter bottle. The new 750-ml PET bottles for Southern Comfort are designed to match the glass version with distinctive insets on each side of the bottle.

    Matthew Defosse [email protected]

    Contact information

    Milliken & Co.   www.milliken.com
    Bayer MaterialScience   www.bayermaterialscience.com

    Thermoformers need to sell their process - and invest in CAD

    The next few years could be a bonanza for both thick- and thin-gauge processing, but only for processors with the right tools. Speakers at the SPE''s European thermoforming conference offered guidance.

    Heavy-gauge thermoforming is a fantastic process, but only a small number of the potential customer base knows it. That was one of the main conclusions drawn from a lengthy workshop on thermoforming market development at the Society of Plastics Engineers'' (SPE) thermoforming conference in Viareggio, Italy, in late March.

    Ed Probst, sales director at heavy-gauge thermoformer Profile Plastics (Lake Bluff, IL), said his firm saw the need to organize its own seminars for potential customers to explain the benefits of thermoforming for large parts.

    "There remains a large number of people in the market who are ignorant of thermoforming. We still find plenty of firms using [glass-fiber-reinforced composites] or injection molding for large parts, where thermoforming would be a better option."

    Some European processors view ignorance in the market as an indication that sales personnel need more technical knowledge so they can answer potential customers'' questions directly. One processor at the conference told the audience he thinks this could open a large new market to European thermoformers. "In Europe, most sales people [at thermoformers] have an engineering background, but in the U.S. they do not," he offered.

    But not many European thermoformers were at the conference to hear this opinion. As noted by Frank Nelissen, CEO at packaging thermoformer Nelipack (Venroy, the Netherlands), "There are more U.S. thermoformers here than Dutch or English combined." Indeed, only a handful from the latter two nations were in attendance, even though the Netherlands has about 250 thermoformers, and the U.K. nearly double that. Pondering the poor turnout from his homeland, Nelissen said, only half in jest: "Too many thermoformers do it for fun and not for a living...Most are not involved at an international level, but customers often are international and expect their suppliers to be as well." Nelipak thermoforms for various markets at three plants: one each in England, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

    Insist on 3-D CAD data

    If thermoformers want to compete with other processes such as injection molding, and other materials such as metals, then the they should insist on 3-D computer assisted design (CAD) data in all of their projects, said Manfred Geiss, general manager at the Sesslach, Germany machinery firm bearing his family''s name. The firm makes industrial thermoforming machinery and CNC cutting equipment, as well as molds.

    "The longer the CAD/CAM string can be extended, the more successful thermoformers will be," Geiss declared. "But if the string is interrupted, then you are losing time, money, and profit."

    Of critical importance, if the customer''s product data is not in CAD form, is to have it converted, preferably into 3-D CAD data, as soon as the processor receives it, he said. "The further you go without CAD data, the worse it gets," Geiss noted, since if CAD data is not used from the start to make tooling, then processors "should forget about using CNC trimming machinery" to finish parts, as the necessary accuracy cannot be achieved.

    Often, observed Geiss, customers have 3-D CAD files on hand but do not send them to processors or toolmakers since they assume they can''t work with them. At his firm, "We never work from 2-D drawings," he said, and asserted that time spent upfront in transferring data to 3-D CAD is well worth the effort. If customers send sample parts, he recommended using non-contact 3-D digitizers to generate this data.

    Simulation''s good, too

    Thermoformers also need to catch up with injection molders in the use of simulation software, said Bernhard Hegemann, head of the engineering department at the Institute for Polymer Testing and Polymer Science in Stuttgart, Germany.

    Here, too, processors should not enter unless they are capable of working with 3-D CAD data, he said. Hegemann thinks it will take years before thermoforming simulation reaches the levels already seen at injection molders today, with much of the delay due to processors'' hesitation.

    "Most thermoformers are waiting on simulation," he observed. "But simulation is a powerful tool to optimize your profits."

    For those processors who want to pursue simulation, input needs to include processing parameters, material data, and a suitable model that represents the process. "The last one is the tough one," he said, as the processor must be able to match his process with the suitable software.

    Based on tonnes of polymer processed, thermoforming remains a niche process compared to film extrusion or injection molding. But the experts on hand concluded that it can be a profitable niche if processors make use of the available technology and remain creative.

    "Don''t just poach work from your competitors; look to applications not yet being thermoformed," advised Ray Lewis, chairman of the European thermoforming division in the SPE. He added: "By all means poach from injection molders."

    Matthew Defosse [email protected]

    Rise above the pack—or leave me in peace

    Many in thermoforming believe that a huge opportunity awaits in the market for off-road machinery applications, but the chief plastics expert at JCB, Europe''s largest manufacturer of construction machinery, says thermoformers need to be very good before they enter his world.

    Lee Styger is chief engineer-polymers at JCB, and as such he controls plastics purchasing totaling more than $40 million/yr. During the SPE thermoforming conference, he challenged processors who want business from OEMs such as JCB to rise high above the norm: "You may be able to mold your product—but so can most of your competitors."

    Styger minced few words. "When I tour your plant, I am going to talk to your operators, and I better be impressed," he said, adding, "They are your best sales people." He questions machine operators about troubleshooting procedures, among other topics, to ascertain not only how well they know their equipment but the firm''s standards, too.

    Styger offered attendees tips for improving. One non-negotiable is having audited quality control. Rare is the processor who does not trumpet his quality control procedures, noted Styger, but, "If you claim you have quality procedures, make sure they can be audited."

    On an issue discussed by a number of conference attendees, he said processors must be able to work with 3-D CAD data. "If you cannot, please don''t waste my time," he offered brusquely.

    Like many OEMs, JCB demands that its suppliers provide them with a formal project manager, "not the managing director on a spare day, but somebody who runs my project." His firm also frowns on processors who farm out work; JCB wants full design capability, subassembly, and project responsibility under one roof.

    Styger did not only challenge processors; he also said thermoformers are in a good position to benefit from changes in the construction equipment market and at his firm. He noted that in every region except North America, most construction machinery is owner operated, meaning buyers often place a premium on cab appearance and comfort.

    "We made a conscious, company-wide decision to move up the food chain on cab appearance," he said. Because of the low volumes JCB and its competitors require on individual parts—from 200 to 14,000/yr—injection molding is generally too expensive to be competitive, and rotomolding does not offer the more demanding surface appearance that JCB is striving for, Styger said. "I would love to see more high-pressure thermoformed parts with appearance equaling that of injection molded ones, but at lower cost. We cannot take lower quality." Matt Defosse

    E-Update Industry News

    BP polymers business headed for divestment...

    Following the lead of other petrochemicals producers, BP (London) has decided to break up its business sectors, putting its olefins and derivatives businesses up for sale. The move involves olefins and their derivatives: low- and linear-low-density polyethylene; polypropylene (BP is the world''s second-largest supplier after Basell); and Barex (a nitrile-based barrier resin) businesses, as well as BP''s share of a high-density polyethylene joint venture with Solvay (Brussels).

    A company spokesman says BP expects to set up a standalone polymers business (valued at about $6 billion in operating capital) by the end of this year, with a partial initial public offering of that business planned for 2005. More of the business will be sold over a number of years. An IPO would circumvent any regulatory problems if BP tried to sell to a petrochemical competitor, and it is speculated that private equity companies would be unable to come up with the amount of cash needed to buy the divisions as a single unit.

    Atofina reorganizing as well

    As part of a reorganization to improve its financial position, French oil and chemicals conglomerate Total intends to adopt a new structure that would facilitate divestiture of its acrylics business, as well as its PVC supply, compounding, and pipe processing operations, among others. This would likely occur via an initial public offering, according to the firm. Total is the parent of Atofina (Paris), the former Elf Atochem.

    The reorganization will form a business tentatively titled CIP (Chlorochemicals, Intermediates and Performance Products), with a new name to be announced when the business is officially established in the fall. Taken alone, the businesses included in CIP had o5 billion in sales last year, and include global PMMA supply leader Atoglass, as well as Atofina''s operations in PVC supply and compounding, pipe processing, plastics additives, and functional polyolefins, plus other nonplastics-related chemicals.

    Milacron''s new investors take stake

    By converting $30 million in notes into 15 million shares of common stock, Glencore Finance AG and Mizuho International plc have laid claim to a 30% share in the Cincinnati-based machinery manufacturer, holding 21% and 9% stakes, respectively.

    Glencore, with 10.5 million shares, and Mizuho, with 4.5 million, received the equity in exchange for debt notes after injecting $100 million into Milacron as it faced a debt deadline in March. Milacron also announced that Steven N. Isaacs, a director with Glencore Finance AG, was appointed to its board of directors.

    Not enough recyclate to go around in Europe, North America

    David Williams, president of the European processors association EuPC (Brussels), has voiced concerns of the growing export of plastics waste from Europe to unspecified Asian countries. He said EU countries need to enforce stricter rules to prevent plastics scrap from being shipped to Asia to be picked over and then landfilled rather than recycled in Europe. He says the shipments have an adverse affect on European plastics recyclers who are unable to access sufficient EU-generated waste to remain viable.

    A similar concern has arisen in North America over PET recyclate. The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) said in a May 10 statement, "the continued critical shortage of bottles collected for recycling will soon cause the collapse of the North American plastics recycling infrastructure." Here, too, export of collected material-35% of the total PET collected is sent to China, says APR-has aggravated the supply shortage and inflated domestic prices for recyclate.

    ProTec, Kawata form European auxiliary alliance

    Japanese auxiliary equipment supplier Kawata (Osaka) has formed an alliance with Mann + Hummel ProTec GmbH (Ludwigsburg, Germany). The collaboration, to be established in Frankfurt next month, will see Kawata Europe market entry-level ProTec products such as dryers, conveyors, and dosing and mixing systems to Japanese users in Europe, particularly those in automobile, electrical, and IT industries with operations in Eastern Europe. In addition, the two firms will work together to market and provide service for Kawata cleanroom-compliant drying systems and mold-temperature regulators for CD, DVD, and plastic lens applications in Europe.

    In the longer term, the alliance may be expanded to encompass technology exchange. Production of Kawata auxiliary equipment may also eventuate.

    ProTec is in the process of relocating its production and R&D facilities from Ludwigsburg to Bensheim, near Frankfurt. Production facilities at Weiterstadt and Konigswinter had previously been relocated to the new Bensheim facility.

    New consulting firm aims to help extrusion processors

    Dana Darley, former president of Kreyenborg Industries, has formed Extrusion Auxiliary Services Inc. (Dacula, GA) to provide equipment consulting, personnel consulting and recruitment, and technical assistance for the entire extrusion process from materials handling through the die. A goal is to ensure that extruders make the most of available auxiliary equipment.

    Services offered include process evaluation, equipment specification, request for bid, review of proposals, and recommendations for purchase. The firm will also assist with documentation and manuals, and coordinate vendors for operator orientation and training. More information, including a partial listing of fees, can be found at www.extrusionauxiliary.com.

    Moldmaker expands reach

    Purchasing a shop with geographic proximity to an existing client in Florida, Ameritech Die & Mold Inc. (Roselle, IL) acquired Pinnacle Mold (Ormond Beach, FL). In addition to its existing machining capabilities, Ameritech added a 400-ton injection molding machine to perform mold qualifications and pre-production runs.

    China eyes automotive prize

    Speaking to state-run media in April, China''s Vice Minister of Commerce, Wei Jianguo, set the bar high for the country''s burgeoning automotive sector, saying it wants to export $70 to $100 billion in full vehicles and components by 2010. To achieve such figures, the growth, even by China''s standards, would have to be nothing short of incendiary. In 2003, automotive exports rose by one-third to $4.7 billion, but Jianguo says the short-term goal is to increase exports by $15 to $20 billion in 2004.

    "China is likely to become the component supply center for international auto manufacturers in the future," Wei said. To achieve this, the government is prodding the development of 10 "automobile and component exporting bases" by relaxing merger and acquisitions rules to allow the creation of large multinational players.

    Self-service polyolefins shopping venture starts

    A so-called ''no-frills'' online purchasing program for polyolefins, Alastian, is now available for European processors from polymer producer Basell (Hoofddorp, the Netherlands). The program is for customers who order truckload quantities and need little or no service. Volker Trautz, Basell''s president, says the service targets those buyers who are very familiar with the polyolefin products they already use, and seldom need technical advice from the resin supplier. Orders are taken around the clock and the company promises "attractive prices" for service users. Those who register now get an unspecified introductory discount at: www.alastian.com.

    Previous attempts at online resin sales, including Omnexus (January MP;MPI), ended in failure. At the time of its demise, former Omnexus VP David Jukes said processors may not have been ready for such a service and predicted the industry would eventually catch up. Basell was never an Omnexus member.

    DSM upping nylon 6 capacity for flexible packaging

    DSM Engineering Plastics will have extra capacity for Akulon in Emmen, the Netherlands, ready by mid-2005. The expansion of the 85,000-tonne/yr capacity plant-by more than 33%, though no absolute data are given-will be dedicated to the production of high-viscosity nylon 6, which is used in flexible packaging, stock shapes, and monofilament. Nylon 6 packaging film is used mostly for food applications to improve barrier properties and extend the shelf life of pre-packaged foods. DSM offers Akulon XP for this application.

    Iranians expand in PO; Saudis sign license deal

    Arak Petrochemical of Iran (APC; Tehran) is expanding capacity of its 50,000-tonnes/yr polypropylene plant by 50%, and output at its 60,000-tonnes/yr capacity high-density polyethylene facility will jump 40%. Both plants use technology licensed from Basell. In Saudi Arabia, the National Petrochemical Industrial Co. (NATPET) has signed a licensing agreement with Basell for a new 400,000-tonnes/yr polypropylene plant at Yanbu Industrial City. Startup is planned for 2007.

    Negri Bossi looking better, slimmer

    Italian injection molding group Negri Bossi, in Cologno Monzese, posted a net loss of ¤5.1 million on sales of ¤105.9 million in 2003, but says it is on the road to recovery after a restructuring exercise that saw its workforce cut from 555 to 368 (achieved in part by increased outsourcing of low-added-value operations); fixed costs reduced by 20.4%; and variable costs by 28.2%. Several months ago, the company underwent a major management shake-up that saw several positions filled by executives from Sacmi, the Imola-based company that bought Negri Bossi in 2002. The Negri Bossi group includes BM Biraghi and Oima.

    Sales in 2003 were down from ¤138.3 million in 2002, when the group recorded a loss of ¤8.2 million. But the 2003 figure includes a restructuring cost of around ¤2.5 million, while the 2002 number included an income of ¤4.3 million from a property sale.

    Toshiba shifts notebook production

    Leaving behind existing production lines in Japan, China, and the Philippines, Toshiba announced that all notebook production would be shifted to its Hangzhou, China facility, where it plans to double capacity to 3 million/yr. China has become the world''s largest PC production center thanks to similar moves by Dell and others. Toshiba''s Filipino operation will close by the end of this year, and the Japanese operation will be ratcheted down until it only includes R&D and product testing.

    Water soluble films giant formed

    Water-soluble films processor MonoSol LLC (Portage, IN) has acquired blown-film processor Aquafilm Ltd. (Worcestershire, England). MonoSol is a market leader in water-soluble films, using mostly cast-film extrusion, whereas Aquafilm is better known as a blown-film extruder. The acquisition gives MonoSol substantial manufacturing capabilities in Europe.

    Construction started on new plastics recycling plant

    Adding to its North American capacity, Plastic Reclaiming Technologies (Huntsville, AL) opened a new facility in La Porte, IN that uses a centrifuge to separate out copper, nylon, PVC, polyethylene, and polypropylene from wires and other waste products. No steam or incineration is used in the process, which, once it reaches full capacity, will reclaim 20,000 tons of plastics annually.

    Composite Technologies moves, expands

    Twin-screw extruder and strand-die pelletizer replacement parts manufacturer Composite Technologies Inc. (CTI) has relocated its sales and manufacturing facilities from Winona, MN to an existing building in nearby Trempealeau, WI. CTI makes OEM replacement parts for over 14 different twin-screw extruder brands. The 10-year-old firm plans to add additional manufacturing equipment and personnel, and this spring will construct a machine assembly and storage building to expand its extruder and pelletizer rebuilding business.

    Colorants suppliers, Maguire Products form alliance

    Colorants suppliers Chroma Corp. (McHenry, IL) and Riverdale Color (Perth Amboy, NJ), along with auxiliary equipment supplier Maguire Products, have formed a strategic alliance in which Riverdale will use its manufacturing capacity to make Chroma''s Injecta Color liquid colorant formulations. Chroma initially had intended to open a new facility for the Injecta Color business, but a meeting with Riverdale officials opened the door for the alliance, and the business is now moving into Riverdale''s plant. The two remain separate businesses, however, with Riverdale focusing on liquid colorants and Chroma assuming responsibility for solids, plus distribution of liquid colorants in the western U.S. Maguire (Aston, PA) will bring its knowledge of feeding and blending systems to the alliance.

    Engel sells largest machine ever in North America

    Injection molding machine maker Engel, with North American headquarters in York, PA, says it has sold a two-platen, 4400-ton machine to an unidentified Tier 1 automotive parts supplier. Engel makes machines to 6000 U.S. tons; the 4400-ton model is the largest yet sold in North America.

    The buyer will use the machine to mold bumper fascias. It is also equipped with a secondary injection unit, mounted over the main unit, which will produce small secondary components while molding the fascias.

    Great Lakes sets up FR JV

    Laurel Industries (LaPorte, TX), a division of OxyChem and Great Lakes Chemical (Indianapolis, IN) are merging their antimony business into a 50:50 joint venture that will produce antimony oxide flame retardants. The new company, GLCC Laurel, will concentrate antimony production in Reynosa, Mexico and close Laurel''s plant in LaPorte.

    PVC bag venture for bagging PVC

    PVC producer SolVin (Brussels) and Eurosak Imballaggi Industriali, a European processor of packaging materials, are launching what they call an environmentally friendly packaging concept throughout Europe using vinyl to package vinyl resin in industrial bags. PVC ECO-Bag is intended to simplify collection of sacks. After use, bags are collected for a closed-loop production of recyclate that is uncontaminated by other polymers.

    Moldmaker completes product development center

    Largely serving the caps and closures market, F&S Tool (Erie, PA) has invested one year and $1.7 million in a new product development center, adding a 100-ton Demag, a 300-ton Husky hydraulic, and a 500-ton Husky Hylectric hybrid. The machines feature high-speed packaging options and software to sample stack tooling and other complex packaging molds. The 55-person company has also added a hot runner and manifold specialist to work full time on hot runner inspection, repair, and design.

    Harvest hopes for a composites bounty

    Harvest Polymers, a distributor of thermoplastics elastomers, has started a composites venture, Solent Composite Systems (Isle of Wight, England), to produce specialty composites for marine, wind-farm, and offshore oil applications.

    U.S. wire & cable market: slow, but steady, growth through 2008

    Demand for plastics for wire and cable applications in the U.S. will grow about 3.2%/yr through 2008, or from 2003''s 1782 lb to about 2098 lb by 2008, according to the report Wire and Cable: Polymer Materials and Structures prepared by Business Communications Company Inc. (www.bccresearch.com). The $3950 report was published in May 2004.

    Thermoplastics make up the bulk of demand and will continue to eat away at the position held by thermoset elastomers. Among thermoplastics, polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride will remain leaders. The report identifies plastic optical fiber (POF) as an application likely to see solid demand growth as several new short-length wire applications are expected to appear in automotive and inside-the-home wiring by 2008; Still, POF remains a small field with only about 15 million lb manufactured last year.

    Shakeup among Reichold leadership

    Dainippon Ink and Chemicals (DIC), parent company of leading unsaturated polyesters supplier Reichold (Durham, NC), has replaced Chairman and CEO Gary Krall with new President and CEO, John Gaither, who spent 32 years with the supplier before leaving in 1998.

    Kreyenborg enters infrared dryer market

    Spare parts and auxiliary equipment manufacturer Kreyenborg GmbH (Munster, Germany) has acquired the infrared dryer range of German engineering firm SIAC GmbH (Neunkirchen). Kreyenborg has also taken on Sven-Olaf Zillmann, who was IR dryer product manager at SIAC.

    Infrared dryers use infrared rays to dry material rather than hot air as in conventional dyers; their principal advantage is lower energy consumption. Kreyenborg says it plans to exhibit the range at this October''s K show and develop it further.

    DuPont opens nylon compounding site in China

    DuPont Engineering Polymers recently celebrated the opening of the DuPont Zytel GRZ nylon resin compounding facility in Shenzhen, China. The site was created to help meet increasing Chinese demand. DuPont is also constructing a polyacetal facility in China in a joint venture with Asahi Kasei, Tokyo. The 20,000-tonnes/yr plant was due to start operations in the first half of 2004. DuPont also opened the Engineering Polymers Technical Center in Shenzhen in October 2002.

    Samyang announces plans for large ETP compounding site

    South Korea''s Samyang Corp. will invest $7.5 million in an engineering plastics compounding facility in Shanghai. Three compounding lines will be installed with an overall capacity of 10,000 tonnes/yr. Key product lines will be Trirex, a polycarbonate resin used in automobile lamp lenses and housings, and Tribit, a PBT resin used in connectors, door handles, and ignition systems.

    U.S. moldbuilders'' survey points to slight uptick

    The latest business forecast survey conducted by the American Mold Builders Association (Roselle, IL) reveals some slight improvements since the winter 2004 forecast. The spring 2004 survey was conducted online and 121 member companies responded-a 35% response rate, about twice that of the winter survey.

    Of the 121 respondents, 11% reported "Excellent" current business conditions. That number was slightly higher in the winter 2004 forecast, but the AMBA says the higher respondent rate makes this survey statistically more significant. Another 75% reported either "good" or "fair" current business conditions, up slightly from the winter 2004 Survey. The majority of responding companies (45%) expect business to remain the same in the next three months.

    Unlike surveys of the past three years, where at least a small percentage of the respondents said they expect business to "decrease substantially," not a single company selected that response, and 6% of respondents expect business to "increase substantially."

    Only 25% of the respondents report that profits are up, and employment is up for only 26% of the respondents. Current average workweek hours for shop employees are 47, and 46 hours for design/engineering employees. The average number of shop employees is 25, and the average number of design and engineering employees is five.

    Premier Material Concepts adds new line

    Sheet extruder Premier Material Concepts (PMC; Findlay, OH) has added a third extrusion line to its facility. The line is built around a 2.5-in extruder, and features a 1.25-in satellite, coextrusion block, 34-in-wide die, 24-in-diameter roll capacity, and the ability to produce thickness from .005 to .080 inch. The processor serves thermoforming and signage markets, among others.

    European plastics suppliers show new face

    As reported in the February issue (MP;MPI), the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME; Brussels) plans to integrate national lobbying organizations as a means to better coordination. In mid-May the APME announced the new organization will be called PlasticsEurope and is to be headed by John Taylor, president of polyolefins supplier Borealis. Nancy Russotto, current APME director general, retains that role in the new group.

    The new association will merge current European and national plastics industry bodies into one networked organization. It will operate from six decentralized offices: one in Brussels, and one each in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK. These regional centers will coordinate activities in nearby countries (including all 25 countries of the enlarged EU as well as Switzerland, Norway, and Turkey). The new organization takes effect no later than January 1, 2005.

    Wilden bringing R&D under one roof

    Injection molder Wilden (Regensburg, Germany), active in a wide variety of markets from automotive to medical parts and cosmetics packaging, is building a technical competence center in Wackersdorf (also Germany) to bring all of its R&D power under a single roof. Wilden already has a 2100-sq-m technical center; the new one will be more than double the size, at 4900 sq m.

    Wilden officials say that while they intend to continue their strategy of operating processing facilities near their customers, they believe co-locating their diverse range of R&D personnel in one building will enable them to realize synergies across different markets. Officials also say that the move will ensure that molding of prototypes and project development testing need not interrupt production runs. The technical center includes R&D as well as moldmaking, project management, and automation technology.

    Wilden has 13 facilitates in Asia, the U.S., and Europe, and is one of the five largest European injection molders.

    Milliken lays its clarifier knowledge online at SpecialChem.com

    Additives supplier Milliken (Spartanburg, SC) has developed a range of services now available online via the SpecialChem website (www.specialchem4polymers.com), including a visual online "Clarified Polypropylene showroom" to demonstrate to designers what effects and shapes can be achieved with that material. The dedicated area of SpecialChem''s website will also include information dedicated to processing polypropylene via injection molding, extrusion, and thermoforming, and the means to contact Milliken experts online at any time. SpecialChem and Milliken also have developed a technical resource center dedicated to hyper-nucleators, supplied by Milliken. Nucleators are plastic additives offering cycle-time and production-cost gains when used in polypropylene injection molding, extrusion, and thermoforming.

    SpecialChem, based in Paris, France, says it has 60,000 registered users.

    Matt Defosse [email protected]

    Milacron seeks Chinese fortune...

    Initial output for china

    Milacron Inc. (Cincinnati, OH) gained a client and a partner simultaneously through a 70/30 injection molding machine manufacturing joint venture with Jiangyin Mould Plastics Group Co. Ltd., based in Jiangsu, China. Jiangnan is an automotive molder, and according to Jay Woerner, Milacron''s VP of global manufacturing and sourcing, it will likely purchase half of the machines that Milacron produces in China for the first two years.

    Milacron will partner with Jiangyin''s plastics processing subsidiary, Jiangnan Mould & Plastic Technology Co. Ltd., to form Milacron Plastics Machinery Co. Ltd. for machine manufacture. Speaking in late April, Woerner was hopeful the Chinese government would approve the venture by late May. Milacron already has a manufacturing facility in India, and this new Chinese plant will complement that operation while initially serving the Chinese market exclusively.

    Milacron declined to disclose anticipated production numbers, specific tonnages, or machine technologies it will build in China, only saying it would be fabricating medium- to large-tonnage machines.

    "Our initial product selection is focused on serving the needs of our joint-venture partner and other automotive plastics processors," Woerner said. The firm is speaking with Chinese component suppliers, but also encouraging its current North American and European suppliers to consider sales, service, and manufacturing in Asia.

    Joint ventures used to be the only way for foreign firms to manufacture in China, but new laws permit them to form wholly-owned Chinese subsidiaries. Among leading injection molding machine makers, Toshiba, Sanjo Seiki, Ube, and Mitsubishi have their own Chinese plants; Demag Plastics Machinery has a JV with Haitian, and Husky is now building its China facility.

    ...as does Engel

    Engel (Schwertberg, Austria) plans to manufacture large-tonnage injection machines in China starting around 2006. Speaking to Modern Plastics at the recent Koplas show in Seoul, South Korea, Engel Machinery Asia President Robert Bodingbauer said a site would be purchased shortly in Shanghai to manufacture 5000-kN-plus injection molding machines. The facility will also house a service center. Engel already manufactures small machines in Asia at a production facility in Pyongtaek, South Korea, open since November 2000. In Europe and the U.S., Engel also adopts a strategy of manufacturing small and large machines at separate facilities. Engel Holding Managing Director Peter Neumann told the magazine at NPE 2003 in Chicago last June that the company was keen to pick up business from the mushrooming auto sector in China (September 2003 MP/MPI).

    Bodingbauer added that Engel has yet to decide what large machines to start with in China. "If we start with 6500-kN machines, production capacity will be around 50 units annually, while if we target 25,000-kN units, 10 machines per annum would make the facility profitable."

    The Pyongtaek facility turned out 335 machines in the year to March 2004. Around 60% of machines are supplied to the local market, and 40% are exported. The production target this year is 450 machines. Production capacity is about 550 to 600 machines.

    Engel also plans to start manufacturing its Victory hybrid electric machines in South Korea and Austria next month. The series employs servos for injection and plasticating, and a hydraulic tiebarless clamping unit.

    In Brief

    India auto market picking up speed

    In mid-April, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) said the sale of passenger vehicles in India had exceeded the 1 million benchmark (1.03 million) for the first time after rising 32% in a 12-month period between 2003 and 2004. These figures included sales of foreign and domestic cars, vans, and utility vehicles. SIAM forecasts growth of 10% to 15% in the next year.

    Amcor plans closures

    Consumer packaging processor Amcor (Melbourne, Australia) intends to close an as-yet undetermined number of its North American blowmolding facilities. Sites to close are among the 11 now in the western U.S. and Canada. The firm has had regional overlap since its 2002 acquisition of Schmalbach-Lubeca''s PET container business. Amcor also intends to close some flexible packaging sites in Europe, but hasn''t given specifics.

    Distribution agreement

    Using a new distribution partner to sell a technology it recently purchased, Moldflow Corp. announced that Hasco America will now offer the Altanium hot runner control system, which Moldflow gained when it acquired Altanium''s creator, American MSI Corp., in January 2004. The deal applies to Hasco''s North American sales force.

    Electric IM expertise

    Industry veteran Barr Klaus has formed Electric Injection Services to help injection molders better use the all-electric injection molding machines they have, or to convert to an electric from hydraulic technology. Klaus retired as VP technology after 36 yrs at machine maker Milacron.

    PUR sandwich makes better bridge

    BASF has signed an exclusive cooperation agreement with the British-Canadian company Intelligent Engineering (IE) for further development of the Sandwich Plate System (SPS), which is already being used in shipbuilding and repair. An SPS licensee has already completed an initial reference project with the construction of a road bridge in Canada. The sandwiches are made of PUR elastomer between steel skins. BASF director John Feldmann says the partnership''s intention was "to develop a genuine alternative to conventional steel bridge construction that would be more cost-effective and of the highest quality. We achieved precisely that with SPS."

    SPS components are much less susceptible to corrosion than conventional constructions. SPS structures are also lighter and faster to build and also offer built-in protection against fire and vibration. In the case of the road bridge, built by Canam Manac Group Inc., in Saint-Martin-de-Beauce, PQ, SPS reduced the weight of the 22m bridge deck by 60% compared with concrete.

    BASF, which together with IE operates the SPS Center of Excellence, near Munich, says several bridge projects are currently under development around the world. BASF polyurethanes subsidiary Elastogran (Lemforde, Germany) and Intelligent Engineering are also collaborating on other applications, including sports stadiums and earthquake-resistant buildings, both of which should benefit from the resistance to vibrations that the polyurethane core in SPS provides.

    Plastec East in Big Apple this month

    The Plastec East exhibition (June 15-17 at the Jacob K. Javits convention center in New York) offers processors a prime opportunity to see the latest in machinery, molds, and materials, as well as three more shows in markets important to plastics processing—medical design and manufacturing, packaging, and industrial design. Altogether, it''s the largest design and manufacturing event on the East Coast: 1700 exhibitors, and 32,000 expected attendees.

    The U.S. Mold Builders Pavilion, sponsored by The American Mold Builders Assn., will showcase the country''s leading mold and toolmakers. At the Enterprise Technology Pavilion, you''ll be presented with leading information technology for effective supply chain management and a comprehensive range of software for the mid-market and medium enterprise.

    Plastec East is sponsored by Modern Plastics, Injection Molding Magazine, and Plastics Machinery & Auxiliaries.

    Free online registration, available at www.plastecshow.com, gives entry to all four shows. Or call Christine Dvornik at +1 (310) 996-9444; fax: +1 (310) 996-9433. Look for Modern Plastics in booth 845.

    Why not Woojin, too?

    Like their Japanese counterparts, South Korean injection machine suppliers are also establishing production facilities in China. Woojin, for example, started up a plant in Ningbo in May with production capacity of 360 hydraulic machines monthly. Production capacity in South Korea is 120 units/month.

    "We are in the process of setting up a 5000-sq-m plant in Shanghai that will turn out 250 machines per month," says Jinhwa managing director Yung-Sa Choo. The firm will manufacture entry-level hydraulic machines with clamping forces of 500 to 5000 kN.

    Dongshin Hydraulics also has China ambitions. A plant is under construction in Ningbo, and should be ready by July.

    Customers move, so PMT does too

    Injection moldbuilder Plastic Molding Technology Inc. (PMT; Seymour, CT) is closing its Connecticut headquarters and moving operations to El Paso, TX, close to customers located in Mexico and other parts of Central America. It will maintain sales and engineering at the old facility until the end of the year when they too will move to Texas.

    PMT opened the El Paso plant in 2001 to serve automotive and electronics suppliers needing small, complex parts processed from engineering resins. The company says full operations at the 40,000-sq-ft (3720-sq-m) shop should start up by this month. PMT CEO Charles A. Sholtis admits the move was not easy.

    "This…is very difficult for PMT since its roots were in Connecticut and have been [there] for more than 30 years. Unfortunately, we felt the impact of global competition and the manufacturing recession," Sholtis says. "But the savings we anticipate achieving will provide PMT the opportunity to grow in the NAFTA market and provide significant benefits."

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

    SMS axes European production

    Production of blown and cast film equipment as well as foam extrusion lines at SMS Folientechnik, part of the SMS group (Meinerzhagen, Germany), is being centralized at the company''s North American production site in Gloucester, MA. This is the second move in four years and will end production of the company''s European-designed and –made film and foam lines. The company''s 2002 purpose-built Vienna, Austria facility, adjacent to pipe and profile extruder maker Cincinnati Extrusion, another member of the SMS Plastics Technology group but not affected by this change, will be kept as a service/sales center for European, African, Indian, and Middle Eastern customers. All design, engineering, and assembly of film lines will take place in the U.S. at Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering.

    In 2000 the then-head of the company, Helmut Eschwey, closed production at Battenfeld Gloucester Europe''s plant in Droitwich, England and transferred it to the Austrian site. At that time he said extrusion line sales in Europe had doubled since 1995 to about €30 million and expansion was necessary, but only in the euro-zone. He blamed the U.K.''s refusal to join the European monetary unit as the deciding factor to relocate. At that time the conversion rate was €1=$.88, making European-made equipment cost effective, whereas at presstime the rate (€1=$1.19) favors production in the U.S.

    Blowtec, Kautex find new home

    Swiss packaging machinery manufacturer SIG (Neuhausen) last month completed sale of both German extrusion blowmolding (EBM) machine manufacturers to Munich-based investment firm Adcurum. No price was given.

    Blowtec (Bonn) makes EBMs for packaging to about 30 liters, and Kautex (Troisdorf) concentrates on EBMs for technical parts and industrial packaging. The two were acquired, along with stretch blowmolding machine maker Corpoplast, by SIG from German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp in May 2000 for about $200 million. Once part of SIG, EBMs for packaging were split from Kautex to form Blowtec. The firm Fischer-W. Mueller was also part of the SIG purchase but was merged into the resulting SIG Kautex and SIG Blowtec. Corpoplast remains part of SIG.

    Trade update

    China makes WTO gains, still earns a ''C''

    Although overall rancor regarding global trade is seemingly on the rise, the World Trade Organization (WTO) reported that anti-dumping investigations declined in the second half of 2003 compared to the same period in 2002, from 161 to 115.

    China remains the biggest target of dumping accusations, facing 30 investigations against its exports, with the U.S., the European Union, and Japan next with 12, eight, and eight investigations respectively.

    The top sectors facing investigations were chemicals (31 investigations), base metals (29), and plastics (16). China ranked first in imposing anti-dumping measures against plastics imports with eight, followed by Australia''s six, and three from the U.S.

    For its part, the U.S. government recently completed an evaluation of China''s compliance with WTO regulations through the first 27 months of participation in the global trade alliance. The report from the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was created by Congress to assess the security implications of trade with China, found overall improvement in the country''s legal framework but was less generous regarding intellectual property rights, where it said, "Enforcement lags seriously behind as piracy and counterfeiting remain rampant."

    Also, as an increasing number of foreign companies start joint ventures there, the commission said China has been slow to liberalize trading rights for these companies, missing a Dec., 11, 2003 deadline to extend full trading privileges to joint ventures with a majority foreign ownership. Minus these rights, China continues to impose conditions like capitalization requirements and import and export levels.

    Overall, citing the "disappointing" results of 2003 in terms of compliance, the commission said China''s performance "would merit a grade no better than a C." Still, foreign companies'' share of the export market in China has gone from 1% in 1985 to 55% last year. In addition, China has let more goods in with imports quadrupling from $104 billion in 1993 to $413 billion last year.

    Monopoly hamstrings Mexico processors

    Due to petrochemical production inadequacies at the state-run oil monopoly, Bloomberg is reporting that plastics processors in Mexico are forced to import 80% of the materials they use, which is hampering growth of the $5-billion dollar industry. Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has monopolized the market for basic materials like polyethylene, according to the Bloomberg report, which quoted Horacio Lobo Zertuche, president of Mexico''s National Assn. for the Plastics Industry.

    Speaking at a press conference in Mexico City, Zertuche said Pemex and the petrochemicals industry in Mexico would need to invest as much as $18 billion over the next 10 years to satisfy the needs of a plastics industry, which is growing at two times the rate of Mexico''s economy.

    In related news, Mexican plastics supplier Indelpro, part of industrial conglomerate Alfa, intends to build a 350,000 tonne/yr PP plant in Altamira, with output by 2006. This will boost its PP capacity to 570,000 tonnes/yr. PP supplier Basell owns a stake in Indelpro.

    Fuel cells could prime inline compounding

    Although it''s only uncovered "the tip of the iceberg," Krauss-Maffei''s Paul Caprio, VP injection molding in the U.S., says interest in its inline compounding technology is continuing to increase, with automotive comprising the largest market share. The company has sold 15 machines to date (14 in Europe and one in North America), but advances in the fuel-cell market could provide a boon. K-M has used the machine to mold thin, highly conductive plates that make up the heart of the fuel cell, using compounds that contain 80% carbon filler.

    "If [fuel cells] really go as everyone expects," Caprio said, "somebody has to be able to make millions and millions of these plates. You can''t wait for a thermoset process; it doesn''t make it affordable." Caprio says the two inline machines featured in its labs have remained busy for customer trials, recipe tests, wood composite programs, and other blends.

    Balda stronger in China, plants flag in Brazil

    In April, mobile phone parts processor Balda (Bad Oeynhausen, Germany) acquired for €20 million the 50% stake owned by Swiss processor Mikron in the Balda-Mikron joint venture, giving Balda sole ownership of the venture''s subsidiary in Suzhou, China. Balda then sold a 25% stake in the Suzhou operation to Taiwanese processor Everskill Ltd. Then, last month, Balda and Lumberg (Schmalksmuhle, Germany) acquired Intesys Metagal da Amazonia Industria e Comercio (Manaus, Brazil), a moldmaker and injection molder of mobile phone parts. The two formed Balda-Lumberg Brasil, a 50/50 joint venture, with the intent to start molding mobile phone components in Brazil. Lumberg manufactures electronic components.

    Balda-Mikron was founded in April 2001 and last year had revenues of €54.8 million. China, with 250 million users, is the world''s largest mobile-phone market, and Balda cites this market—and the relatively inexpensive manufacturing there—as reasons for its acquisition of the Mikron shares. It also predicts heady demand growth in Brazil''s mobile-phone market. Balda is the second-largest systems suppliers for plastic mobile-phone parts and has five manufacturing facilities in Germany.

    Flex-N-Gate purchases Dynamit Nobel

    Tier 2 automotive parts processor Flex-N-Gate Corp. (Urbana, IL) intends to acquire automotive parts processor Dynamit Nobel Kunststoff (DKN; Weissenburg, Germany) from its parent firm, mg technologies (Frankfurt, Germany), for €430 million. The move is to be completed in Q3 2004, subject to the consent of mg''s shareholders and to competition authority approval. mg technologies also recently divested its specialty chemicals businesses as part of a refocusing on its machine manufacturing operations.

    DNK had 2003 sales of €876 million and has 22 production facilities in Europe and two in South America. Flex-N-Gate, with 2003 sales of $1.5 billion, now has 37 facilities, but only five in Europe, all in Spain; the remaining 32 are in the Americas.

    Government and regulation Friend, foe, or a little of both?

    Government policy and regulation: A proverbial double-edged sword—advocating and promoting while imposing costs and impediments. Politics, terrorism, environmentalism, and insurance costs are among the drivers of recent initiatives that have some saying ''About time,'' and others shaking their heads.

    Manufacturing gets political in the U.S.

    Long before it permeated political stump speeches or crept into the headlines of mainstream media, the struggles of U.S. manufacturing became a bitter reality for folks in places like Rockford, IL, who immediately picked up the phones and dialed their local congressperson.

    In the case of Rockford, it was Don Manzullo, the Republican chair for the House of Representative''s Small Business Committee, who has the foreboding figures at his fingertips.

    "[Rockford] is still at 10.6% unemployment," Manzullo explains. "We''re leading the state, and it''s one of the highest unemployment areas in the country."

    Manzullo took over the chair for the Small Business Committee in 2001, a year when the job losses in manufacturing accelerated to 1.3 million. The position gave Manzullo a platform to raise the profile of the problems in industry, and he took advantage, conducting almost 60 hearings to investigate the causes of the free fall and attempt to formulate solutions.

    Voices like Manzullo''s soon joined a chorus of displaced workers and trade associations like the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), the American Mold Builders Assn. (AMBA), and the National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM), all of whose primary weapon in their battle for regulatory attention was the harrowing statistics of American manufacturing''s steady decline:

  • Nearly 3 million jobs lost since June 2000

  • 43 straight months of job losses within manufacturing

  • A $541.8-billion trade deficit in 2003 (up 12.7% from $480.9 bil- lion in 2002)

  • A decrease in total manufacturing GDP from 17.4% of total GDP in 1995 to 14.1% in 2001

    The numbers within the plastics industry were equally damning, as employment fell 9% from 2001 to 2002, with Illinois'' dropping 10%, according to the SPI. The trade association also says an $894 million trade surplus in plastic products as recently as 2002 has turned into a $1.4 billion deficit.

    The harder question, in an environment where outsourcing has become a bad word and China feeds fears in a manner not seen since Japan''s exporting rise in the ''80s, is what should the government do, if anything, to come to the aid of manufacturing? Some would argue this issue is thornier given America''s free-market mantle, which says government should not interfere with business.

    "That statement would be true," Manzullo explains, "if our competitors also followed the same rules; but we don''t have a free-market economy anymore internationally. It''s all managed trade. Like it or not, that''s the way it is, and either you try to compete with an economics book, or you get in there, battle it out, draw your sword, and go nose-to-nose with these guys."

    Before going nose-to-nose with foreign competition, the government has acted on several fronts, which could ultimately affect plastics processors. First, it has formed a new council within the Department of Commerce (DOC) to monitor manufacturing. Second, it has instituted a sweeping review of regulations affecting industry to see which are unnecessarily punitive and review recommendations for changes. Finally, Manzullo and other members of Congress have authored reams of legislation designed to benefit manufacturers.

    Government aid

    Using a series of roundtables with manufacturers across the U.S. last year, the DOC authored a report that offers manufacturing-friendly policy and contains more than 50 recommendations from manufacturers themselves. The Bush administration has nominated Al Frink to serve as the new Assistant Secretary of Manufacturing and Services, who is tasked with finding ways to expand manufacturing, create jobs, and improve competitiveness in the global economy.

    In addition, a Manufacturing Council to the President is being created, as well as an Office of Industry Analysis, which will monitor trends and address tax laws, health care costs, and R&D funding. An Unfair Trade Task Force within the Import Administration will investigate foreign government practices, with the ultimate goal of assisting U.S. manufacturers before they''re irreparably harmed. The group is currently monitoring the top 30 import categories from China to determine possible injury. Finally, a Trade Agreement Enforcement Unit will examine unfair trade practices and work to protect intellectual property rights.

    To assess the economic impact of current regulations on manufacturing, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has created a draft report entitled 2004 Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of Regulation. A final report with reform initiatives will be published later this year after public comment and peer and interagency review. The draft report separated regulations into three categories: economic, tax, and social. The latter includes environmental and workplace rules subcategories.

    Manufacturing was found to bear the highest regulatory burden, with environmental regulations annually costing an average of $206,000 per firm, or $3700 per employee. The study examined a 17-year period from 1987 to 1993, finding that social regulations used to improve public health, safety, and the environment added a total cost burden of $95 billion industry wide, which breaks down to $5.6 billion per year.

    Along these same lines, NAM conducted a study last year, which found that external, nonproduction costs added approximately 22% to unit labor costs for U.S. manufacturers, or almost $5 per hour worked relative to foreign competition. The extra costs derived from corporate taxes, employee benefits, tort litigation, regulatory compliance, and energy pricing. (Editor''s note: Look for more coverage of NAM''s report in the July issue.)

    In spite of these data, the OMB found that compared to 130 other countries, the U.S. was among the 10 least-regulated economies, along with Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, England, Canada, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia, and the Netherlands.

    On the legislative front, Manzullo has created an American Jobs Agenda, which consists of 17 points of emphasis and supports seven existing bills within the House of Representatives. The bills touch on a variety of issues, including health care costs, regulatory burdens, corporate tax relief, countervailing trade actions, and currency manipulation. As far as the chances of getting anything passed, Manzullo says, "In this atmosphere, tying to get more exports overseas and less of the impact of cheap imports, anything''s possible."

    According to The Wall Street Journal, there are now more than 100 anti-outsourcing bills before Congress and state legislatures, as politicians from 33 states work to pass "Buy American" laws.

    The voting booth

    Things are likely to reach a fever pitch as November and the presidential election near. President Bush has made numerous stops in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, which have all seen their strong plastics industries suffer. His challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, has joined the fray, promising to place a 120-day moratorium on existing free-trade agreements the U.S. is involved in to investigate for damages. Little of this will matter, Manzullo says, if things continue the way they have.

    "People still vote with their pocketbooks," Manzullo says, "and you can have all the presidential appearances you want, but unless people are working, they''re not going to have any incentive to try to keep an incumbent president. It''s going to have a huge impact." TD

    German processors balk at regulatory red tape

    ''Out of control'' is how many processors view the current state of government regulation.

    In Europe''s plastics processing powerhouse, there is plenty to complain about, even if, as many admit, Germans often like to complain about their lot. But their situation may resemble conditions for processors in other countries.

    Take, for example, compulsory workmen''s compensation covering on-the-job safety. The current law stems from the Bismarck era in 1884, and mandates that each German plant obtain coverage from a single state-regulated organization, which in the case of plastics processors is an insurance association for the chemical industry: the BG Chemie.

    Michael Trapp, managing director of engineering for plastics compounder Sattler KunststoffWerk (Muhlheim am Main), has had a taste of how the rules work for his company. In 2001, the BG Chemie collected an annual premium of €14,128.17 to cover the safety of his 16 employees. This was almost 75% more than in 2000.

    Trapp says the BG Chemie based the increase on a single, work-related injury, which occurred when a Sattler worker tried to disassemble a machine part. The crowbar he was using ricocheted and hit him on the head, causing a cut that required three days bed rest on doctor''s orders. Trapp says he sees no relationship between the magnitude of the accident and its consequences.

    "Only in a situation where a monopoly dictates the outcome of a trifle costing no more than €300 in medical charges could such an extreme premium increase from one year to the next take place," contends Trapp. "This is endangering the operations of small- to medium-sized processors throughout the country."

    Erwin Radek, head of the BG Chemie, counters by saying that privately operated plans would not necessarily guarantee lower rates or more efficiency. He points to privately financed workers'' accident insurance plans in the U.S., which saw a 50% increase in premiums over the last three years.

    Trapp''s request to the BG Chemie to reconsider the increase was rejected. He has since appealed to a Frankfurt court in a test case, seeking to be freed from compulsory participation in the BG Chemie''s insurance program and instead seek worker''s compensation on the open market. Processors canvassed for this report said they believe the BG Chemie fears losing its monopoly power to dictate accident premiums. As Modern Plastics went to press, the court''s decision was pending.

    Good trainees hard to find

    German processors also may be facing new laws that put the pinch on their operations. Their processor association, GKV (Frankfurt), has taken up the battle against a proposal to slap a compulsory charge on operations if the government believes they do not recruit and train enough new workers.

    The country was stung two years ago by results of the worldwide PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) study of pupils'' learning ability. Germany, which has long prided itself on its education and apprenticeship systems, came in at 22 out of a total of 43 countries studied. Suddenly something had to be done and GKV president Reinhard Proske feels that the country''s business community was made a scapegoat. Politicians started claiming companies were failing to do their fair share of training; parents complained that there were inadequate apprenticeships available for their children.

    Consequently, the government has proposed taxing companies that fail to train young people for new jobs. At press time, the measure was still in discussion. Processors see themselves unfairly treated by the new measure. Ulf Kelterborn, spokesman for the GKV, says that if processors are unable to find enough young people with adequate qualifications, or a youth starts a program but quits after a few months, the companies are taxed as if they have not fulfilled their obligations.

    Sattler KunststoffWerk''s Trapp says he has had plenty of experience training young people, and it has not always been good. "Often the pupils we get have downright awful qualifications in spelling, grammar, and simple math. I''ve even had to teach some of them how to use a dictionary," Trapp says.

    "How are we supposed to train young people in our trade when the schools can''t provide us with young people who have a minimum of qualifications needed for work in the real world?"

    GKV''s Proske says the country''s processors are sinking in a sea of over-regulation, making them less competitive than their counterparts abroad. BC

    Seaport security measures threaten to squeeze trade

    With an implementation deadline of July 1 looming, America''s seaports are scrambling to meet the heightened security standards called for by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA).

    The legislation, which was signed by President Bush in November 2002 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, threatens to create a giant kink in the global supply chain; ports that are not in compliance could face fines, while vessels having visited those ports risk expulsion or denial of entry.

    Even a mild interruption would reverberate throughout the global economy: Each year, America''s 361 seaports process 9 million containers, accounting for 95% of overseas trade. More than 8000 foreign vessels make 50,000 port calls carrying import and export cargo.

    Calling for more security officers, screening equipment, and security infrastructure at ports, the measure requires sensitive areas to have restricted access—granting clearance only to individuals who have undergone background checks—and states that seafarers will be required to carry internationally acceptable identification.

    The American Assn. of Port Authorities (AAPA) estimates that implementing the measure during the next 10 years will cost $5.4 billion, and without full funding secured, a July 1 shutdown of non-complying ports could affect an estimated 10,000 vessels, 5000 facilities, and 40 outer-continental shelf areas.

    Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge tried to allay funding and logistics fears at an AAPA conference in March, telling members that the government has hired hundreds of new inspectors and equipped them with new equipment like gamma-ray inspection machines that can scan a container in 2 to 3 minutes.

    "To ensure that the flow of commerce is not impeded by these new measures," Ridge told the conference, "more than 5000 companies have partnered with us under our Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. We work with them to the reach a higher degree of security across their entire supply chain." As part of the program, companies can qualify for "FAST" lane access at ports, and reduced inspections.

    Overall cost of implementation for the act remains a concern—despite $8 billion in grants the federal government has supplied—with the AAPA campaigning to secure $400 million in funding in the 2005 federal budget.

    Beyond those costs, Ridge acknowledged to the AAPA audience the complexity of the task, with a quip about the globally integrated nature of shipping, and the potential hang-ups it raises.

    "Not long after I became the President''s Homeland Security Adviser, I boarded a ship in New Orleans Harbor," Ridge said. "The vessel was registered in Singapore; the crew was from India; and the cargo was American grain, on its way to Japan." The extent to which this remains the case will soon be seen. TD

    Fighting the good fight for the EU''s processors

    Lobbying for plastics processing in the multilingual, multicultural European Union is tough, admits Alexandre Dangis, managing director of the European Plastics Converters association (EuPC; Brussels, Belgium). But changes to the draft REACH legislation are a recent, significant success.

    "The European political carousel is very hard to keep track of," Dangis explains. "When you talk to the [European] Commission you can have solid discussions and use facts and figures. But in the Parliament it is much more political, so obviously it''s much more critical to ensure efficient lobbying is taking place there."

    New Parliamentary legislators have just been elected, so he does not yet hazard a guess whether current political winds blow for or against processors. The REACH legislation itself calls for application risk assessments on a wide range of new and existing chemicals produced or imported into the European Union before a chemical can be used, or, if already existing, before it can continue to be used. What remains uncertain is who along the supply and use chain will be responsible for this risk assessment, and whether or not plastic materials fall within the scope of the legislation.

    Despite the difficulty of changing lawmakers'' minds, Dangis says his organization more than punches its weight and points to changes in the REACH legislation as a recent victory. "We''ve influenced previous drafts that were never publicized. There was real improvement between the earlier Internet consultation report and the final draft [October 2003]," he says. "The major concern of the EuPC was to shift responsibility [for proving materials'' safety] to the suppliers of chemicals" and to ensure a level playing field for plastics (compared to other materials) in EU waste management targets, goals that he says are realized in the current draft.

    One significant change in REACH has been the deletion of polymers from the list of materials whose assessment is mandated. Still, Dangis notes the issue is not settled yet as the Commission left wording in the draft allowing it to later add polymers, once it has had time to consider its decision.

    Dangis says the current draft, being evaluated at the Parliament and by member states, still has significant issues for processors. These include ensuring that costs of the certification process do not cascade from suppliers onto processors in the form of higher material pricing, making processors less competitive "and essentially favoring imported semi-finished goods over ones made in the EU," he notes.

    The EuPC is also concerned that suppliers may simply stop supplying some materials to avoid assessing them, forcing processors to find alternatives that may be more costly, less effective, or simply nonexistent. A major concern also is the inclusion of a definition of compounds, masterbatches, and recyclate, and wording specifically exempting recyclate from testing requirements. "Now it''s not clear if recyclate is in or out of the legislation. If they are not specifically exempted, that will be the end of the plastics recycling market in Europe," he says.

    A significant portion of the EuPC''s efforts still involve teaching legislators what plastics processing is, and making clear to them that it involves about 1.5 million employees. Most legislators, he notes, rarely give a thought to where plastic parts and products come from; they are somewhat familiar with the chemicals and plastics supply industries, and the end-use industries such as packaging and automotive, but do not have a clear picture of the intermediate processing that is required.

    "It''s certainly not easy," Dangis explains. "They only think of plastics when they see it on the street as litter. We need to convince them that we are working toward sustainability." To that end, the EuPC, in concert with its members, intends to develop more projects like the PVC industry''s Vinyl 2010 effort.

    "We don''t just want communications and PR campaigns; we need real projects with real targets, because if we don''t set them, then they [legislators] will." MD

    Coming soon: An updated ANSI standard for HIMMs

    Revisions also address newer technologies such as all-electric, two-platen, and processing equipment with more than one injection unit.

    The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI; Washington, DC) is at work, revising a significant injection molding machine safety standard to address designs not covered in the current version.

    "The standard calls out appropriate guarding measures for the hazards that have been identified," says Walt Bishop, executive director, SPI Machinery, Molders & Moldmakers Divs.

    SPI''s Injection Molding Section, Standards Development Committee of the Machinery Div., and Safety Committee of the Molders Div. are drafting the revised ANSI/SPI B151.1 standard, created to minimize hazards to personnel associated with the manufacture, care, and use of horizontal injection molding machines (HIMMs) operated in the United States. Newer technologies, such as all-electric, two-platen, and equipment with more than one injection unit will be specifically addressed for the first time. (ANSI stands for the American National Standards Institute, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system.)

    The revision would set minimum safety requirements for HIMMs, primarily focused on access guarding and machine safety interlocks for units built on or before 2004.

    When a final draft is complete, it will be circulated by SPI to the injection molding community for its input. "Once the input from the molding community is received, the SPI standards development committee will review the comments and respond and adjust as required," Bishop says. Safety requirements for the manufacture, care, and use of ancillary equipment for HIMMs are not covered.

    Revising the standard is no easy task, considering the wide variety and sizes of machines manufactured and in use, and by the virtually infinite combinations of parts being produced, the production methods used, and operating conditions. Several key sections have yet to be finalized and are subject to change within the working committee. A copy of the working draft obtained by Modern Plastics indicates the standard is being revised to:

  • Address machine designs not specifically covered in the current version

  • Better describe the requirements by addressing each of the "Requests for Interpretation" generated by the current standard

  • Quantify requirements, where possible, to facilitate compliance by equipment manufacturer and user

  • Add additional safety information in an appendix

  • Harmonize standards for HIMMs

    Consequences, disagreement

    Although ANSI standards are not government mandates, U.S. Occupational, Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors frequently refer to them during plant inspections and accident investigations.

    "OSHA field inspectors use the safety standards that are developed by SPI as a supplement to the OSHA General Guarding Requirements," Bishop explains. "Typically, when a revision to a new standard is issued, it is expected that existing installations have been brought into compliance with previous iterations of the document." All remanufactured/rebuilt machines are expected to comply with the prevailing standards.

    When it comes to whether the latest ANSI safety standard for molding machines merits the cost of compliance, many agree to disagree, which comes as no surprise given the potential impacts on the bottom line. "Existing machines 20 to 25 years old and running have been performing admirably for many years," notes Carl Irick, director of engineering at Epco LLC (Fremont, OH), a machinery and engineering services firm for injection molding, blowmolding, thermoforming, extrusion, and die casting.

    "The argument is, do we have the right and authority in the U.S. in what we call ''suggestive standards,'' which are not part of any law, to do that?"

    The 1997 standard reportedly cost OEMs more to build conformity into new presses. At the same time, bringing existing presses into compliance added to the cost by slowing production, a disastrous consequence considering ever-shrinking lead times. "It can be awfully expensive to comply with some of the proposals," Irick explains. He serves on the Standards Development Committee.

    Bishop contends that the 2004 standard will have minimal impact on users and therefore require very small adjustments to bring machinery into compliance. "The 1997 version was much more sweeping and therefore the costs associated with that edition were significantly higher," he says.

    The proposed draft contains an added section for electric IMMs."Concerns are addressed regarding dynamics of the clamp drive mechanisms, such as sudden stopping by an operator opening the safety gate, which would deploy a mechanical device required in the 1997 version," Irick says. "One solution discussed is for a latch keeping the gate closed until motion is stopped [time-delay/sensor interlocked] and deploy the ratchet mechanical device to obstruct mold closing."

    The committee is addressing whether additional safeguards are necessary when making mold changes, an area situated behind the movable platen on large two-platen machines. "We could see as a standards group there is access behind the movable platens, whereas on other machines, you either have hydraulic motors, a big hydraulic cylinder, or other components back there," observes Loren Mills, manager, product safety, Demag Plastics Group (Strongsville, OH) and a member of the committees drafting the revised ANSI/SPI B151.1 standard. "You have to address how a person can get into a two-platen machine and whether you need emergency stop buttons."

    Recognizing the impossibility of updating equipment and changing operation methods allied with existing machines immediately after approval date of this document, a period will be provided to employers for updating machines. Machinery makers will have one year to start producing machines compliant with the standard, and existing installations have three years to bring them up to compliance, Bishop says. SPI hopes to have the document completed and ready for submittal to ANSI for review by the end of the summer. GV

    In practice, REACH proves problematic

    A test case in the German state of North Rhein-Westfalia (NRW) has shown how problematic the European Union''s REACH program may prove for plastics processors. NRW, one of Germany''s most industrialized states, asked to be a test case for the REACH program and was helped in conducting the test by a group of governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as manufacturing firms in four industries, among them plastics processing.

    The state chose plastics because of its importance to the local economy, explains Rudiger Baunemann, director the German plastics suppliers association VKE (Frankfurt). With the test, he says, "We wanted to see what REACH would really do to the industry." The project received the sort of priority uncommon to many government projects, facilitating organization and completion in a short time span: September to December 2003. The goal was for industry and agencies to "play REACH," and by so doing, qualitatively discern what the real-world effects might be.

    They were near catastrophic. HT Troplast (Troisdorf), one of Europe''s largest plastics processors serving the building and construction industries, was the plastics guinea pig. Even a firm of this size, notes Baunemann, was swamped by both the level of work and the investment in personnel and tracking systems that would be entailed to implement REACH.

    For the NRW state government the results were just as bleak as it realized by test''s end that it would need to add masses of agency employees to handle the additional work created by REACH applications, a difficult step in times of budget cuts, notes Baunemann. Now CEFIC, the trade group representing Europe''s chemical supply industry, hopes to run a pan-European test similar to the one conducted by NRW.

    Baunemann says he spends much of his time visiting German processors to encourage them to speak with their government representatives about REACH. "Many processors are not showing concern yet. They''ve heard that polymers will not be covered by REACH and stopped worrying," he explains. But in fact many will be affected, primarily by the legislation''s close look at numerous additives used in the plastics industry, he says. According to the VKE, additive sales in the European plastics industry totaled €3.72 billion in 2001, the last year for which data is available. European additive use accounted for about 25% of global use. MD

  • Whatever happened to carbon fibers?

    Mass production of high-performance composite parts remains stuck around the corner.

    The story generally went like this: Supply would rise, prices would drop, and automotive OEMs would then demand plenty of parts reinforced with carbon fibers.

    Why? Because they offer strength and durability far beyond that of glass or natural fibers at weight savings of 50% or more compared to some metal parts. The fact is, though, that prices have indeed dropped as capacity has jumped, but carbon fiber is still a long way from use in mass-market vehicles, says Patrick Kim, a composites engineer at DaimlerChrysler. He spoke during an automotive conference at the JEC composites show in Paris in late March.

    Price and volume

    Kim says that in the last five years pricing for heavy-tow carbon fibers has dropped significantly, from about €17/kg to €11/kg. But better pricing is of little use until the processing industry shows it can make carbon fiber-reinforced parts in the volumes required by carmakers. "We [OEMs] believe composite technologies work. The question is, can you make them in the volumes and the quality that we need?" Kim said.

    (BMW has taken matters into its own hands with in-house production of the roof for the M3 CSL. But volumes are limited, and cycle times are several minutes; see Countdown to K, p. 94)

    The falling prices also may have been anomalous, if not illusory, in the end as most suppliers are now raising prices to take advantage of recently increasing demand from the aerospace market, which is just now climbing out of a trench that was made deeper by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

    "There is not enough carbon fiber to go around now, and supply will be even tighter in 2005," explains Tim McCarthy, VP marketing and sales in Europe for supplier Zoltek. "This is a result of demand from the aerospace and wind energy fields."

    Industrial vs. aerospace

    Most carbon fiber suppliers concentrate on expensive grades designed for aeronautics or other high-end uses, and many added capacity during the 1990s as airlines indicated they would boost use of carbon fiber-reinforced parts.

    The Sept. 11 attacks, however, put a brake on aircraft manufacturing, causing a rapid shift from potential under-capacity to woeful (for suppliers) over capacity. Prices dropped as many suppliers chose to sell high-end fiber at cost, or less, for industrial applications in an effort to protect market share, according to Zoltek. Carbon fiber for aerospace applications is usually a higher-strength, lower-tow material that—when not dumped into the industrial market—costs from €5 to €10 more than the Zoltek industrial fibers, says the company.

    Zoltek has a capacity of 7700 tonnes/yr from plants in Texas and Hungary. It claims to be the leader in supply of carbon fibers engineered specifically for industrial applications, and says its production methods allow it to sell fiber more cheaply and still turn a profit. The company also claims it can build a new plant in six months or less should demand require it. McCarthy says the costs described by Kim are based on Zoltek pricing.

    Non-transferable

    Price aside, even though demand from the aeronautics industry is rising as leading airplane makers Airbus and Boeing boost production, Kim sees little sign that greater use of the fibers in aeronautics and other high-value-added applications will translate to progress in automotive parts.

    He says, "There is no direct technology transfer from aerospace, race cars, etc., to mass-market automotive; we need automotive-specific solutions." Ian Moreton, from carmaker Rover MG, places some of the blame on carmakers, few of which have test criteria for carbon fiber-reinforced body panels.

    Says Zoltek''s McCarthy: "The processes to make carbon fiber-reinforced parts don''t yet do everything they should. We''ve got to get much better on compression and injection molding." Carbon fiber is more brittle than glass fiber, a disadvantage particularly in injection molding, which can cause substantial fiber breakdown.

    Down the road

    Zoltek predicts extensive use of carbon fiber-reinforced automotive parts likely will not happen for several years yet. It has had a partnership with BMW for some years to develop a series production car with all-carbon fiber-reinforced structural components, and late last year BMW notified Zoltek that its fibers met all BMW performance requirements and that it would be BMW''s preferred supplier throughout development and during the first five years of production.

    However, BMW stresses it has no intention of using carbon fibers simply for their own sake. This is confirmed by current models from the carmaker, which show that for the near future at least, it is banking heavily on aluminum as a route to lightweighting.

    Matthew Defosse [email protected]

    Composites recycling initiative ''will be ready''

    The European plastics composites industry says it is on schedule with preparations for end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycling laws that come into force in the European Union in 2006.

    Pascal Diaz, president of both automotive parts processor iNoPlast (Saint-Desirat, France) and trade group European Composites Recycling Concept (ECRC; Brussels), says the main issue concerning ECRC "is to find outlets for recyclate with an economic value equal to or better than the cost of paying to have the material landfilled."

    ECRC helps finance the cost of developing, validating, and promoting the recycling of composites, while identifying markets for recyclate. ELV laws will place responsibility for ELV disposal in the hands of carmakers, and strictly limit landfilling. With a few exceptions, by 2006 manufacturers must ensure that at least 85% of the average weight of an ELV is recovered and at that least 80% is reused or recycled. By 2015 the quotas increase to 95% recovery and 85% reused/recycled.

    Diaz says ECRC still needs to develop collection systems suited for each OEM, and recycling centers have to be found in each country—cross-border transfer of organic waste isn''t allowed. Matt Defosse

    What dismantled cars reveal

    Strip enough cars apart and you get a feel for which materials are trendy and which are not, according to Michel Costes, CEO of French automotive consultancy Mavel. At the firm''s Automotive Benchmarking center in Lyon, it dismantled more than 40 late-model European cars, and Costes presented the results to a large audience at the JEC composites exhibition in Paris in late March.

    Mavel found an average of 130 kg of plastics per car, with polypropylene (PP) by far the dominant material (43%), followed by polyurethane (14%), with nylons and polyethylene each weighing in at 8%. Glass fiber-reinforced plastics account for 6 to 14 kg/vehicle of the total plastics content, with average glass loading of 24%. Nylons are usually glass fiber-reinforced; PP, in contrast, rarely contains glass, but is usually loaded with talc, since PP sees less use in the structural parts that require the greater strength afforded by glass fibers, explained Costes.

    Costes identified some trends he thinks will drive continued use of plastics in automotive applications, including front-end development. "The real trend with these [front ends] is the use of different materials in a single part." He predicts plastics could see significantly greater use in front- and rear-end modules, specifically multifunctional brackets (often molded of long-fiber-reinforced materials, then covered with a plastic skin), trims, and underbody panels.

    Matt Defosse

    Contact information

    Zoltek   www.zoltek.com

    Melamine foam replacing polyurethane in aircraft seats

    RESINS/COMPOUNDS

    Melamine foam replacing polyurethane in aircraft seats

    Significant weight-savings potential is causing airlines to partly replace polyurethane (PUR) in seat cushionsing with Basotect melamine resin foam from BASF. French seatmaker Groupe JSO has patented a process for combining Basotect, which it obtains in blocks and then cuts into shapes, with other foam materials.

    Basotect was originally intended for applications using its good sound-insulation and fire-resistance qualities, and those that placed no direct load on its fine cellular structure. Although flexible, it cannot be used on its own in cushioning because it has poor recovery properties and tear resistance, and is made only in one hardness. JSO''s Soly''t (pronounced "so-light") is a composite cushion with a core of Basotect encapsulated in molded PUR foam. Physical properties exceed those of the standard foams used in aeronautics. Soly''t showed no signs of compression fatigue when subjected to 80,000 load cycles.

    Soly''t also conforms to the aircraft industry''s tough fire safety rules, where approval is only given to cushions that can withstand a direct flame of 1000C for two minutes while retaining 90% of original mass.

    Agnes Timbre-Sauniere, managing director of JSO, says Basotect''s density of less than 10 kg/cu m means that Soly''t cushioning can be made 50% lighter (70% for special comfort products) than standard PUR foam cushioning. A 555-seat Airbus A380 equipped with Soly''t seating would be 600 kg lighter than one with 100% PUR.

    "One planemaker calculates that savings in fuel would recoup the cost of refitting an aircraft with Basotect cushions in just two months," says Werner Lenz, responsible for sales and marketing of Basotect in France.

    The first aircraft to be completely fitted with Soly''t cushions was an Aerospatiale ATR 42-500 belonging to Air Caraibes. Cathay Pacific has since replaced the cushions in its first- and business-class seats with the cushions, and Corsair will reportedly use them in Boeing 747-400s.

    Timbre-Sauniere says she can imagine applications for Basotect outside the aircraft industry. One U.S. company has a license from JSO for production of seating for trains, and other manufacturers in the U.S. already use Basotect in flame-proof mattresses. BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany; +49 621600; www.basf.de/basotect. Groupe JSO, Toulouse, France; +33 563 310069; www.soly-t.com

    Nanocomposites find new home in nylon 6

    Dinalon compounds contain less than 8% by weight of clay platelets. One has a modulus greater than that of a 30% mineral-reinforced compound (4.4 vs. 3.0 GPa), but is 15% less dense. Deflection temperature under load is also higher (104C vs. 95C at 1.8 MPa). A second grade, intended as an alternative to impact-modified nylons, has a greater modulus (1.6 vs. 1.3 GPa) and lower elongation (4.65% vs. 40%), but comparable impact strength (60 vs. 90 kJ/sq m). Grupo Repol, Almazora, Spain; +34 902 292292; www.repol.com

    Insulation advance could prompt increased sheet sales

    Driving a technology push and simultaneously trying to prompt a market pull can be tricky business, but specialty chemicals supplier Cabot (Boston, MA; Rheinfelden, Germany) hopes to do just that with Nanogel, an aerogel that can replace insulation materials like glass, wool, polystyrene, and polyurethane. Success could spell more business for processors of double-walled plastics sheet in the construction industry.

    Nanogel is a translucent, hydrophobic silica aerogel, says Donald Beck, Cabot marketing manager Europe. The material, with granules sized .4 to 4 mm, are filled between twin-wall sheeting to improve thermal insulation by a factor of two to four times that of other materials currently in use. It reportedly has minimal light transmission loss; it is also a good sound insulator and diffuses light, reducing shadows and glare. Cabot claims it is the first to develop a manufacturing process that can economically produce aerogels for markets other than aerospace applications.

    Nanogel bulk density is only 90 to 100 kg/cu m, so architects and builders needn''t redesign window supports to adjust for added weight. Filled-sheet weight usually falls within the limits of supports already used. Late last year the supplier formed an agreement with the Structured Products division of GE to comarket Thermoclear twin-wall polycarbonate sheet filled with Nanogel.

    Flammability tests at Dutch research center TNO show multiwall PC filled with Nanogel earns an S1 classification in smoke buildup (no smoke) and a d0 classification (no burning droplets). Beyond the construction market, Beck sees its potential as a sound deadener in automotive parts. Cabot Corp., Boston, MA, USA; +1 617-342- 6254; www.cabot-corp.com/nanogel

    ADDITIVES

    Agents clear up haze, improve productivity

    Clearlite NU004 is a micronized, sodium benzoate-based additive to increase the overall crystallization levels of semi-crystalline polymers. It improves mechanical and physical properties. Another new grade, sorbitol-based NU005, in addition to its nucleating effects, clarifies polymers to reduce haze and improve transparency. The additives can be used in a wide range of housewares and packaging products. Great Lakes Chemical Corp., Indianapolis, IN, USA; +1 317-715-3000; www.greatlakes.com

    Semifinished goods

    Agricultural films block UV, transmit visible light

    Thermic films used to increase plant growth, speed up harvests, and create more abundant quality produce have traditionally been made from LDPE that used mineral fillers, or coextrusion with vinyl acetate (EVA) or butyl acrylate (EBA) to achieve optimum infrared (IR) radiation transmission. Repsol YPF has developed a compound for agricultural films using a new family of mineral fillers that reportedly won''t degrade or reduce visible light transmission, and can provide very low or very high haze, depending on what''s needed.

    Ideally, films must block IR radiation between 7 and 14 µm, but still be transparent to the visible portion of the light spectrum that fuels the photosynthetic process. A good film can also reduce the risk posed by frost and lower the energy consumed when heating a greenhouse.

    In experiments conducted by IMAG Institute (Wageningen, the Netherlands) comparing Repsol''s clear ultra-thermic (CUT) film to a three-layer coextruded film containing EVA without mineral fillers, it was determined that a tomato crop under the CUT film used 8.3% less energy than a tomato crop facing similar conditions under the EVA film. In an experiment made to replicate clear, direct-light days of a hotter sun, hazier films with values up to 90% light transmission and IR blocking of 97% were proved. Repsol YPF, Madrid, Spain +34 91 3484015; www.repsol-ypf.com

    Wire, cable extrusion growth heads to developing regions

    Despite stagnating sales in developed regions, emerging markets are offering processors strong opportunities to make money.

    Growth in wire and cable consumption in Eastern Europe should ensure the continent as a whole remains a major market for some years, according to Gustaf Akermark, sector vice president at polymer producer Borealis (Stenungsund, Sweden), speaking during the Wire 2004 show in Dusseldorf, Germany in April.

    Kurt Eder, vice president of the wire and cable trade association IWCEA, and director of Eder Engineering (Vienna, Austria) says many cable producers are following their customers east, where wages are substantially lower than in their existing markets. Automotive cable harness maker Leoni (Nuremberg, Germany), for example, has moved operations from England and Germany to Slovakia, Romania, and Ukraine. Sumitomo Electric Industries and Sumitomo Wiring Systems have a new automotive cable harness factory in Kisber, Hungary and the two companies plan to setup wire extrusion in Eastern Europe as well.

    In North America, where summer power blackouts caused havoc last year, processors are hoping power grid operators will buy new cable. "The power failure showed just how much investment is needed," says Larry Brunell, VP of U.S. grid operator International Transmission Co. (ITC; Novi, MI). According to the U.S. Dept of Energy, power demand is expected to increase by more than 25% in the next 10 years. The Edison Electric Institute estimates the cost of modernizing electricity transmission networks at $56 billion.

    Exhibitors at the show say U.S. wire and cable extruders may face stiff competition from low-cost production sites in Mexico and Central America in the future. Many of them are relocating production just across the border in Mexico to exploit wage differences.

    Nevertheless, Tim Laughlin, Houston, TX-based global business director for wire and cable compounds at Dow, says he sees many opportunities, even in stagnating regions.

    "Telecom and IT have become commodities, and commodity markets only look at price. They''re not interested in technical improvements," Laughlin says. "In the future I believe there will be fewer grades available in the commodity sector." His company is tossing its R&D money toward value-added grades, many in automotive and power cable, which he says processors are willing to pay more for if they truly offer substantially improved properties.

    One such value-added grade is an insulation compound, Dow JQDB2230NT EXP1, a polyolefin-based material for high-speed extrusion of thinwall telecom insulation, LAN, and high-speed telephone cable. Processors can achieve output of almost 2500 m/min (8000 ft/min). The company also introduced an unfilled tree-retardant, crosslinked polyethylene insulation compound with the flexibility of a filled ethylene-propylene rubber—but with long-life electrical properties. ''Trees'' are branched fractures starting at an impurity in the insulation. This can allow moisture and dirt into the cable, leading to cable failure.

    ExxonMobil (Houston, TX) is hoping that one of its newest offerings, a linear low density PE, LL4004EL, for low-voltage power cable insulations, can improve silane crosslinking speed and ease processing to help retain production in developed areas. "We believe...improvements, including optimizing its antioxidant package, will provide a cost-effective alternative for cable manufacturers to improve their bottom lines," says Malcolm Kaus, the company''s PE products technology manager.

    Teknor Apex (Pawtucket, RI) says it has the first lead-free stabilized PVC insulation compound that meets Underwriters Laboratories'' listing for continuous service at 90C in wet locations. Donald G. Ouellette, industry manager at the company, says lead-based heat stabilizers can compromise the cable''s electrical performance. The company will only say that the stabilization includes no heavy metals, but declines to reveal its composition.

    Although polyolefin and engineering polymer makers are quick to say they are not anti-PVC, most admit their new products are designed to take market share from the polymer. GE Advanced Materials has introduced a family of modified polyphenylene ethers that it says can replace PVC, flame retarded PE, and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in wire-coating applications for direct-current cord and plug segments of consumer electronics. Noryl WCD910 and WCP860 have a lower density than PE or TPU, for up to 30% weight reductions. This year the company plans to unveil halogen-free flame-retardant versions of these materials.

    Borealis'' Akermark says that although PVC still commands two-thirds of the world''s wire and cable business, polyolefins are showing good acceptance in Europe. Polypropylene is growing at 5%/yr and PE at 4%, while PVC is at 1%/yr. He expects in the future that costs, rather than environmental issues, will be the major deciding factors as to what polymer is used. Since PP compounds have a lower density than PVC, he sees PP offering processors a more cost-competitive alternative.

    Borealis has added a tougher, flame-retardant jacketing material, Casico FR4805, to its line for cables used in areas sensitive to smoke, corrosion, or toxic combustion. It also has new Borcell insulating PE compounds for telephone, TV, and data cables. Data cable compounds produced from Borcell and containing chemical blowing agents have expansion degrees of up to 50%, and physical foam expands them up to 80%.

    New Equipment Offerings

    Extrusion machinery manufacturer Maillefer (Ecublens, Switzerland) has a new crosslinking process, IRPex-A, for inline cable curing, which uses a series of infrared (IR) ovens. The number of ovens and length of the crosslinking line depends on extrusion speed and cable thickness. The one-step method eliminates post-processing of peroxide crosslinked automotive or building wires in either saunas or hot water baths. Manuel Felder, executive VP for marketing/sales, says the IR sources have a life of more than 10,000 hours and the unit can handle, for example, inline crosslinking of .05-sq-m cable extruded at up to 300 m/min.

    A technology introduced at Wire 2002 by Troester (Hanover, Germany) has now come into production. The SRRD (Single Roll Roller Die) system produces flexible flat cables (FFC) by extrusion. Lamination is currently used to produce FFCs, which are parallel-lying circuit-board conductors insulated with film to produce a rectangular cross section. Such low-weight cable can replace cable harnesses in narrow spaces such as car roofing, and minimizes the risk of faulty wiring due to the clear parallel arrangement of individual strands.

    Tim Pohl, R&D director, says laminated FFCs often cannot be placed in areas with high heat or moisture ingress because of the possibility of layer separation. What has held up development in extruding FFCs, he says, has been the lack of precise flat conductor guideways and appropriate flat dies. In the SRRD system, a preheated set of conductors is moved through a guideway and transported onto a roll with polymer film. The film is heated to near crystalline melting point, and guided through a forming head where melt is over-extruded onto the film and metal conductors before passing over a chill roll to the winder. The SRRD can be widened or narrowed to accommodate different widths of FFC without having to remove the die. Pohl believes this system might be a way of keeping automotive cable harness assembly jobs in developed regions. BC

    Contact information

    Borealis AB   www.borealisgroup.com
    Dow Chemical Co.   www.dow.com
    ExxonMobil Chemical Co.   www.exxonmobil.com
    GE Advanced Materials   www.ge.com
    International Transmission Co. (ITC)   www.itctransco.com
    IWCEA   www.wireworld.com
    Leoni   www.leoni.data.cables.com
    Maillefer SA   www.mailleferextrusion.com
    Sumitomo Wiring Systems   www.sws.co.jp
    Teknor Apex   www.teknorapex.com
    Troester GmbH & Co. KG   www.troester.de