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Articles from 2004 In June


Technology integration

When it comes to new technology, sweeping, enterprise-wide investment and more modest expenditures can both yield significant, bottom-line results for your operation. The key to a good payoff is knowing where you''re at, and keeping the big picture in mind as you plan for where you ultimately need to be. MP examines four technologies that can make your business leaner and meaner.

When adding automation, you can''t plan too much

The game plan really depends on what processors want to accomplish and how much they have to spend. Industry experts offer advice on where to begin and how to get the most out of your investment.

Automation''s rapid ubiquity is a function of results: increased competitiveness, reduction in labor costs, improved part quality, and consistency. But how do processors figure out how to enhance operations with automation? What criteria determine the equipment that meets their needs? And how much automation can molders buy?

1. Identify your goals

"The molder must identify up front what they want to do with the automation," says Tom Schaffner, regional manager at Wittmann Inc., based in Torrington, CT. "As you would not place a person on a production line without any instruction, neither would you buy automation equipment without a purpose."

The typical purposes shouldn''t be surprising." Some of the important reasons we purchase robotics and automation equipment is to reduce the need for human resources, ensure a consistent molding process, and eliminate damage to parts falling directly on a conveyor as dictated by our applications," says Thomas Nagler, VP of custom injection molder Natech Plastics (Ronkonkoma, NY).

Either suppliers or third-party integrators can then help translate these clear and simple goals into specific solutions. You just have to decide what you''re trying to achieve, and to what degree.

"The reality is most new customers are first-time users of robots from fairly small companies," observes Joseph Portelli, plastics program manager, Fanuc Robotics North America Inc. (Rochester Hills, MI). "They often rely on the expertise of the robot supplier or want an unbiased opinion from a third-party systems integrator." Upon analyzing a molder''s operations and goals, suppliers and consultants can review parts and applications, establish payback needs, and identify options and potential labor savings. Whether a robot meets required production volume and margin on the molded product is obviously significant. And molders must identify which tasks will be automated in a given period of time so they can calculate return on investment. Payback generally takes one to two years, according to automation experts.

Processors with prior automation experience may not require guidance in demonstrating the justifications for investing. They may, however, need help identifying areas that will produce the best results.

2. Think of the big picture

Robots in the plastics industry are often used for simple pick-and-place operations. However, experts advise molders to envision the big picture, taking into account the total process from pellet to shipment.

"Some equipment can offer certain flexibility as a result of its design," Wittmann''s Schaffner points out. "For example, a sprue picker can be used to remove sprues and small parts from a mold. If you want to perform more complex operations such as packaging, cooling, or assembly of parts, then you would require a servo robot."

Robotics used in the plastics industry generally fall into one of two broad categories: gantry, beam, or traverse robots, and articulated machines. "The beam or traverse robots tend to be limited in their capability," Fanuc''s Portelli says. "Beyond extraction, you might be able to have some stacking capability, but this is fairly limited."

By comparison, articulated robots are more sophisticated and flexible. "You can do so much more," Portelli says. "You can do extraction, assembly, packaging, palletizing, sorting, deflashing, and various types of welding." These units can be reprogrammed to perform other functions as the need arises.

Because processing needs constantly change, experts advise that it''s more cost effective to consider purchasing equipment that can be used with other molds or machines. "It is always best to look at any future applications when designing a system for a specific application as it can affect many, if not all the requirements," Schaffner says.

3. Get specific

Robots cost anywhere from a few thousand to several hundred thousand dollars, which includes the equipment, training, and installation.

"For example, something as simple integrating a Pin Marker with the robot may be only a few thousand dollars, plus the cost of the equipment, and have a payback of only a few months," Wittmann''s Schaffner says. "Alternatively, a complicated automation work cell that removes multiple parts from several machines, erects and conveys boxes, and then places the various parts in the box before indexing them along a conveyor, may cost $250,000 and yet still offer an attractive payback of less than nine months." Suppliers say they can work with molders to implement automation in phases.

Natech Plastics is shopping for replacement robotics for 110-ton and 210-ton injection molding machines. The processor operates nine injection molding machines, eight of which are automated. Among the variables it is considering are equipment and delivery costs, startup and training expenses, finance terms, and historical experience with a robot brand/controller, says Nagler.

"These robots were purchased in 1998 and are wearing down, requiring significant maintenance and showing evidence of reduced speed and precision. This time we will more seriously consider all-servo technology for at least one of the two in order to keep ahead of the curve in our industry."

Last September Natech added a 110-ton all-electric Toshiba injection molding machine to address a shortage of capacity in that tonnage range.

"We had an existing 190-ton Toshiba hydraulic that did not have robotics, and as such this machine was relegated to legacy tooling that did not support robotic part removal, or other applications where the part dropping directly onto a conveyor did not affect part quality," Nagler says. "When we made the decision to purchase the machine, we decided to purchase robots for both machines, increasing the versatility of the 190-ton unit."

Natech, which runs many three-plate molds and requires robots that have both a main arm (for part removal) and sub-arm (for runner removal), relied on its suppliers to recommend the proper-sized robot for the specified machine.

"Three levels of robots are typically available today in order of increasing functionality and price," Nagler says. These include pneumatic control in all motion directions; pneumatic control in vertical and crosswise motions, with servo-motor control in the traverse direction; and servo-motor control in all motion directions.

"We decided upon type two as we could not justify the large price differential, which was two to two-and-a-half times more for the all-servo technology." GV

A material matter

As processors cut checks on a monthly basis for resin, plant utilities, labor, and rent, they likely aren''t thinking about their material handling system. But industry suppliers Nucon Wittmann, Conair, and Motan would encourage them to, saying an efficient, centralized system has a direct correlation to each of those bills.

"Our customers are fighting to be competitive," Chuck Thiele, a senior consultant with Conair (Pittsburgh, PA) says, "and in every hour of lost machine time there is money out the door."

A well-conceived, properly-designed, and effectively-implemented material handling system can offer a processor material savings, more efficient energy consumption, reduced labor, reduced floor-space needs, and greater out put. But that doesn''t mean it ranks high on many processors'' priority lists.

"My impression is that a lot of processors still see material handling as an afterthought," says Rob Miller, president of Nucon Wittmann (Markham, ON). "They don''t see how it can make them a better company; they don''t see how it can make their process more efficient. It''s just something to get resin into the feed throat."

"Processors buy their machine and maybe a robot and granulator," says Dan Saigh, national sales director for Motan (Plainwell, MI), "and then their budget is used up, and they say, ''You know what? I forgot to buy the material handling system. I have to somehow dry material and get it to these items.''"

Assessing needs

The first and most obvious step when implementing a material handling system is an assessment of current capabilities and longer term desires. "The first thing we ask," says Miller, "is, ''What do they want to accomplish?'' Do they just want to move material?" Expanding beyond a simple point A to point B loading system, Miller says Wittmann tries to stress that the system is capable of more, and if designed properly, it can help a processor with less obvious issues like inventory control, throughput, and quality.

In order to achieve that big-picture take, Saigh breaks down a number of basic production characteristics for the plant. These include machine rates, lb/hr of material usage by machine, and drying temperatures of materials and their residence times. On the material side, Saigh determines if the resins come in bulk, gaylords, or bags, and if additives are used for coloring or process enhancement. From here, Motan creates a matrix, matching output requirements with equipment needs.

At this stage, one decision (central vs. press-side systems) will dramatically change a processor''s plant layout. "Generally, I''d say there are more beside-the–press customers out there than there are central-type customers," explains Saigh. "[Moving to a centralized system] is quite a mind-shift. It''s a pretty aggressive change from the norm."

This step can also be taken incrementally to avoid the full capital impact that could come from switching over to centralized material conveying and drying in one fell swoop.

Saigh points to a recent customer, Sioux Chief (Kansas City, KS), as an example of an incremental implementation. The injection molder of plumbing fixtures installed a central conveying system only, allowing their drying hoppers to be moved off the shop floor into one location. This eliminated the need for loaders at each machine, and it also cut in half the number of dryers running.

"Their immediate savings was floor space, labor, and material," Saigh explains. "They haven''t realized energy savings yet, but that''s the next step." In the project''s second phase, Motan will replace all the individual dryers with a single, larger unit.

By pre-wiring units, laying out tubing beforehand, and implementing in shifts, installation can have a relatively negligible effect on uptime. Using a benchmark plant of 15 injection machines, Saigh says a centralized system could be installed in approximately two to three weeks, with actual machine downtime being as little as 15 minutes.

Bottom-line results

For those reluctant to make such a sweeping investment, Conair''s Thiele does the math. "If a guy''s making 20 material changes a week," Thiele says, "and every time he changes material, he has to empty the hopper, clean it, refill it, and then redry the material, he can have four hours of downtime on the material changes at least." Extrapolating further, that''s 80 hours of lost production a week—on a machine worth $75/hr, $6000/week in machine time alone.

"I was talking to a customer," Thiele says, "and he''s realizing 40 hrs/week of increased machine utilization. And this is a small guy—I think he has nine or 10 machines. He hasn''t even looked at energy or labor savings." TD

Opinions divided on roll handling automation

Despite productivity gains, high initial costs could be holding back more widespread implementation.

Blown- and cast-film suppliers have been dickering for a number of years about fully automated roll-handling systems (March 1998 MP/MPI), but they''re still not widespread, says Robert Wirtz, general manager for extrusion at equipment supplier Windmoller & Holscher (Lengerich, Germany). He says most processors don''t see a true relationship between the high costs of the systems and the benefits in output improvements they bring.

"Most of the lines we sell today include semi-automatic roll handling, which appears to be sufficient for most processors," Wirtz says. According to him, pallets or wagons used in unloading finished rolls represent the extent of automation at most processors. He believes it all comes down to costs.

(A fully automatic system generally includes shaft coring, reel unloading, conveying mechanism to a palletizing station, loading, reel inspection, placement of cardboard "headers" as edge protection, and robotic overwrap packing, says Werner Bamberger, head of automation and electronics at tenter-frame and extrusion line manufacturer Bruckner Maschinenbau, based in Siegsdorf, Germany.)

Edgar Gandelheidt, managing director and CEO of processing equipment builder Kiefel Extrusion (Worms, Germany), agrees with Wirtz about costs, and adds, "We''re also seeing more concern among our customers to improve the quality of their product. When operators unload slit film rolls by hand there is the danger of bumping the completed roll on the pallet or truck, damaging the top 2 cm of the film," he says. This results in the processor delivering less than the customer ordered—and in most cases the entire shipment is returned to the processor as unacceptable in quality.

To help processors eliminate this problem, Gandelheidt says his company is introducing a roll-handing unit with an electric shaft puller device that is attachable to a forklift (see accompanying photo). Premiering this October at the K show, the unit grabs the shaft and holds it while sliding the cored rolls gently onto trucks to prevent damage. Gandelheidt believes this low-cost innovation provides most film processors a means to improve quality while saving on investments in fully automatic systems.

Dave Finnemore, product group manager at SMS Folientechnik (Vienna, Austria) doesn''t completely agree that fully automatic roll-handling systems have not made inroads. He says within the last five years very large commodity film processors of products such as stretch wrap, including Trioplast Industries (Smalandsstenar, Sweden); Orbita-Film (WeiBandt-Golzau, Germany); BPI (Greenock, Scotland); and Manuli Deutschland (Schkopau, Germany) have all invested heavily in fully automated roll-handling systems, primarily for labor savings. Some processors rely on automatic guided vehicles (AGV) to transport finished rolls to the warehouse, but Finnemore says many see this as overkill. "Often processors say a fork lift can do the job cheaper and faster," he says.

One new element that is starting to be incorporated to fully automatic systems is an automatic roll-weighing station positioned just before the robot that picks up a reel. Finnemore says this helps eliminate returns of delivered goods that don''t meet agreed-upon roll weight and length.

"Both semi-automatic and fully automatic roll handling are growing, but not for the same-size processor group," Finnemore says. Completely automated systems (for example for 800-mm-diameter rolls of cast stretch wrap) start at €180,000/line and can go as high as €300,000/line, he says. Large processors see the value in reduced costs and better end-product quality.

"Take a country like Sweden, where an operator can earn up to €50,000/yr. In about two to three years a processor can expect a payback and be able to delegate the operator to more responsible work than off-loading," he says. "The big players, those producing 4m-wide mother rolls, processing 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes/yr of polymer, are the ones moving toward fully automatic roll handling."

Orbita-Film Managing Director Han Joachim Baumann says installation of fully automated roll handing has paid off for his company. "You shouldn''t underestimate the savings achievable by eliminating the human element," he says. End-product quality has improved substantially and payback was possible quickly, he says.

Bamberger says for lines running up to 600 m/min, manual—and even in some cases semi-automatic roll handling—are beyond the limits of how much operators can physically handle. Fully automated off-loading is mandatory in these cases, he says.

Besides speed of film output, Bamberger says that in industrialized countries regulation is the real driver of fully automated roll handling. Rules have been so refined to protect workers that in many cases fully automated roll handling is the only possible solution.

"In a transverse direction orienter or Pull Roll-/Winder-system regulations already demand that these areas be off-limits to workers and only accessible following machine shutdown in case of a mechanical problem or film break," Bamberger says.

A more prosaic consideration that may be hindering wider installation of both semi- and fully automated systems is shop floor layout, says Gandelheidt. Finnemore agrees, saying that fully automatic systems can require up to 50 sq m more space per line, which many plants just don''t have available. BC

Inmold temperature control: simple solutions yield major savings

Water temperature control, despite its fundamental importance to a processing operation, still appears to be one of the items where too many buyers think they can take shortcuts.

With processors hesitating longer than ever regarding capital expenditure decisions, currently it''s the simplest and cheapest temperature controllers drawing the highest demand. Even companies like GWK (Kierspe, Germany), best known for their plant-wide integrated systems, have been obliged to introduce budget systems.

But regardless of the fact that it''s a buyer''s market right now, the fundamental point for processors is that even the most basic system, as long as it''s set up properly, can quickly yield significant savings. Sometimes the investment required is truly minimal, since the processor has most or even all of the equipment needed, but just isn''t using it properly. Simpler still is cleaning pipework that''s gotten clogged over time, thereby limiting water pressure.

Strange but true: not everybody seems to appreciate that cooling time is money. Here are some actual case studies from GWK.

Case 1

The end user of a technical molding bought in quantities of 2.5 million parts/yr requests a 5% reduction in price. An analysis of current costs at the molder indicates no room for further discounts. But the business is too important to risk losing. Is there a way out?

A look at the machine cycle shows a cooling time of 23 seconds. A thermal calculation and an evaluation of cooling channel design and temperature controller specification indicates that the actual cooling time required is 12 seconds.

A modification of the tool to incorporate conformal mold cooling (in which the cooling channels conform to the contours of the core and cavity) would cost €25,000. But the potential part cost saving is 18%, equivalent to €70,000/yr. The company went ahead with the modification, gave its customer the discount, and still managed to make a profit.

Case 2

Production of a large molding needs to be increased from 400,000 to 520,000 parts/yr. But the existing machine and mold are already fully utilized at the current rate, and other machines on hand are deemed not suitable.

The investment for a second production cell (a 27,000-kN machine, peripheral equipment, and mold) would be approximately €1.8 million. But this cost cannot be covered by the income from the additional 120,000 parts/yr. Do you reject the order, and perhaps lose the entire business?

A thermal calculation and evaluation of cooling-channel design and temperature controller specification shows that a 35% cycle time reduction is possible solely through elimination of hot spots. The cost of optimizing the temperature control system is roughly €80,000—negligible in comparison to €1.8 million.

Case 3

A processor running 20 machines molding technical products observes problems with his water quality. Lime scale in the pipework is affecting heat transfer in the mold, resulting in longer cycle times and product quality problems.

A thermal calculation shows that the deposits have caused a 60% increase in cooling time, and the scrap rate has quadrupled since production startup. This loss in efficiency is costing the molder nearly €2.5 million/yr.

On the other hand, installation, maintenance, and operation of centralized water treatment equipment costs approximately €50,000/yr. PM

Peter Mapleston, Bob Colvin, Tony Deligio, and Greg Valero reporting.

Contact information

Bruckner Maschinenbau GmbH   www.brueckner.de
Conair   www.conairnet.com
Fanuc Robotics America   www.fanucrobotics.com
Kiefel Extrusion GmbH   www.kiefel-extrusion.com
Krauss-Maffei   www.krauss-maffei.com
Motan   www.motan.com
Nucon Wittmann   www.wittmann-ct.com
Orbita-Film GmbH   www.orbita-film.de
SMS Folientechnik GmbH & Co. KG   www.sms-folien.com
Wittmann Inc.   www.wittmann-ct.com
Windmoller & Holscher   www.wuh-lengerich.de

Virtual design

When Jeff Roque interviewed with Nucon Wittmann last September for a cost estimator position, it was a question he asked company President Rob Miller that helped land him the job and ultimately changed how the company prepares quotes and fulfills material handling system designs.

"I asked, ''Did you ever think of putting [plant schematics] in real-world or 3-D AutoCAD drawings so you could actually do a complete plant drawing with piping, coupling, and automatic takeoff?'' That''s kind of what got the ball rolling."

Several months and about 90 jobs later, Roque and Wittmann have used the program to give customers a unique perspective on their material handling system plans. Rather than using 2-D isometric drawings or blueprints, Roque takes an AutoCAD drawing of the plant with actual coordinates, imports it into AutoCAD, and drops in machines, material lines, couplings, hoppers, loaders...the works.

By rendering and manipulating the model, he can give processors multiple views of their project, letting them know when a plant floor might be getting cluttered, or a low over-hanging crane or duct might block a future material line before installation begins.

If clients have an AutoCAD drawing of their plant, Roque is off to a running start, but in about 50% of the jobs, he builds a plan from scratch. This can be done relatively quickly thanks to his 15 years of experience with the program and architectural background. Using a current job that has seven machines with blenders as an example, Roque says it will take about four hours for him to complete a schematic, and five minutes to calculate takeoff, or pipe lengths. This compares to two to three days if he drew the system by hand, and it wouldn''t offer customers the 3-D perspective of their plant.

"The average person can''t interpret a blueprint," Roque says, "but if you put it in 3-D, it becomes 100% clear what''s going on." Roque continues to add capabilities, and in the near future, he hopes to create AVI files of the layouts that could be viewed as a virtual tour on a majority of computers, versus AutoCAD files, which need an AutoCAD seat to be viewed. TD

Second-hand for a leg up

Used, high-quality equipment allows processors in developing countries to compete in world markets demanding higher quality products than locally produced machines can offer.

This sentiment was expressed repeatedly by visitors from Africa and some Asian countries during Resale 2004, a marketplace of used equipment in Karlsruhe, Germany at the end of April.

Used equipment is important for companies in these regions because of a shortage of capital for new factory investments, says Eberhard Jochem, from the Fraunhofer Institute and member of the Resale advisory board. "An extreme example is India, where used goods make up about 75% of capital equipment imports," he says. Nikolai Kozlik, president of Korporation Resoul (Kiev, Ukraine), a trader of used Western European processing equipment, believes the import of second-hand machinery significantly helped his country see a 10% growth last year.

There are other reasons why the market is booming. "The rise of the euro against the dollar has meant a deterioration in the competitiveness of new machinery [from Europe]," says Hans-Jurgen Muller, managing director of the Federation of German Export Trade (BDEx; Berlin). "This is precisely the situation that benefits used machinery."

Plastics and rubber processing machinery made up the second-largest group of equipment shown during Resale. Robotics and automation handling offerings showed double-digit growth compared to the previous show.

"The situation has clearly improved since the end of last year," says exhibitor Eckardt Knauff, managing director of Plast Engineering Knauff (Taunusstein, Germany). "We are profiting from international demand. Growth from Africa is especially strong." Bulgarian and Romanian processors are increasingly seeking more efficient equipment to prepare for possible entry into the European Union in 2007, he says.

Processors aren''t just replacing existing equipment—they''re modernizing to expand output. "We are active in packaging films," says R.N. Anna Rao, Progressive Cores and Containers (Hyderabad, India). "We want to bring our plant up to date by using imported second-hand technology." Food packaging equipment such as thermoformers, film extruders, and post-production waste recycling units are sought out, says Mohammad Hassan Faruque of Trade Com Services (Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Jurgen Kinnart, director of Plastic-Maschinen Handelsgesellschaft (PMH; Hennef-Kurscheid, Germany), a specialist in used extrusion equipment, says some of his customers purchased new equipment from Asia but, dissatisfied with quality and service, have returned to PMH to buy reconditioned European-made equipment.

Robert Colvin [email protected]

Oldies but goodies

Many processors are sitting on a goldmine of unused molds The worst part is they don''t know it, says Frederic Lutz, managing director of Fair-Moulds.Net (Offenbach, Germany), an Internet platform that helps mold buyers and sellers find each other.

"Especially in tough economic times like these, it is possible to sell used tooling for substantially more than the scrap metal price," Lutz says. His company started offering product on the web last October. It allows financial transactions for selling, buying, or renting molds. It charges no commission, just an insertion fee (€100 for three molds) to the seller when publishing mold availability. So far the company has sold 300 molds.

Lutz says molds for medical parts are in great demand, as well as 20-plus-year-old molds, since retro design is a continuing trend worldwide.

Contact information

Ebay   http://business.ebay.com
FairMoulds.Net   www.fairmoulds.net
Korporation Resoul   www.resoul.com.ua
Plama Plastik-Maschinen GmbH   www.plama.de
Plastic-Machinen Handelsgesellschaft mbh   www.pmh-extruder.com

Putting the Kunststoff into K

Although much of the talk in the run up to the world''s biggest plastic exhibition in the material''s arena has focused more on who isn''t going to be in Dusseldorf versus who is, the materials companies that are coming still plan on generating a buzz with the latest resins, additives, and masterbatches.

Dow emphasizing polyolefin innovations

The theme of Dow''s exhibit is "Experience Innovation," and it will highlight the company''s portfolio, as well as its consultative approaches for converting business challenges into market opportunities. Latest performance-differentiated brands include Versify plastomers and elastomers, Inclosia Solutions, and Inspire propylene-based performance polymers.

New catalyst technology is at the heart of the Versify range of propylene-ethylene copolymer plastomers and elastomers, designed to improve optics, sealing, hot-tack performance, elasticity, flexibility, and softness for flexible and rigid packaging producers, manufacturers of thermoplastic elastomers and olefins, and converters in the consumer products sector.

According to Kurt Swogger, VP for plastics R&D, Versify polymers have a unique polymer architecture that differentiates them from typical Ziegler-Natta catalyst-based and metallocene catalyst-based copolymers of propylene. "The new narrow molecular weight distribution and broad crystallinity distribution result in improved temperature performance against comparable metallocene products. The broad crystallinity distribution results in broad melting behaviour—a high melting shoulder is maintained even as the overall crystallinity of the polymer decreases."

For film producers, for example, the polymers'' low modulus, good heat resistance, and excellent optics produce films with very high clarity and sparkle that offer a soft-touch feel, which is dry and nonrubbery. They also have excellent adhesion to ethylene and propylene polymers and low-noise characteristics.

For producers of rigid packaging and consumer durables, the range additionally provides low heat-seal initiation and a broad sealing window, resulting in flexible, transparent, and heat sealable parts.

Dow currently has developmental projects underway with several customers and has plans to convert existing facilities in order to produce Versify plastomers and elastomers on a commercial scale in the second half of 2004. www.dow.com

Styrenics, engineering plastics, PURs, and pigments from BASF

Thanks to a special process developed by JSO (Toulouse, France), BASF''s super-lightweight Basotect melamine foam can now be used in aircraft seats. Several airlines have already fitted the new seat-cushion in their aircraft.

BASF will show improved types of styrenic polymers like Styrolux styrene-butadiene copolymer and Styroflex SB-based TPE. For standard styrenics, the highlight is the Colorflexx service—developed with partner companies providing masterbatches, dosage equipment, and mixing elements—that enables customers to do their own coloring.

In the company''s portfolio of engineering plastics new grades of Ultrason (polysulfones and polyethersulfones) have been developed. Some of them are now being used in films used for the production of LCDs. New Ultramid nylon grades for automotive applications like the first truck-oil sump made of thermoplastics will be highlighted.

In polyurethanes, one focus will be on the SPS steel-polyurethane sandwich systems that are used in ship and bridge building. Innovative ideas for motor encapsulation and for pipeline insulation will also be presented.

Technology highlights include collar joining for plastics/metal composites, and computer simulation techniques to predict performance in use. BASF''s new products and concepts for powder injection molding (PIM) will be shown for the first time to a wider public. www.basf.com

DuPont''s new engineering thermoplastic vulcanizates

Twenty years after its last new-product launch in the TPE arena with Alcryn, DuPont is unveiling a new class of engineering thermoplastic vulcanizates for demanding automotive and industrial applications. DuPont ETPV, an alloy of a high-temperature nylon in a highly crosslinked polyester elastomer, is said to combine many desirable characteristics of cross-linked rubbers with those of thermoplastic elastomers. The range will complement DuPont''s existing Hytrel polyester-based TPEs. Alcryn is a registered trademark of Ferro Corporation and is available from the Advanced Polymer Alloys Division of Ferro. For more information on Alcryn visit www.APAinfo.com.

DuPont ETPV is intended especially for applications where high resistance to heat and fluids is required. Parts resist oil, grease, and chemicals over a temperature range of -40 to 160C; further testing up to 170C is under way. Targeted under-the-hood automotive applications include ducts and hoses; ignition seals; two-component seals and body plugs; hydraulic hoses; and inboard constant-velocity-joint (CVJ) boots.

Supplied in the form of pellets, DuPont ETPV is suitable for injection molding, blowmolding, extrusion, or multicomponent molding on standard thermoplastic processing equipment. Initially, two grades are available with Shore A hardnesses of 60 and 90. Both grades are available in standard (1000 hours at 150C) and heat-stabilized (3000 hours at 150C) versions. DuPont, ww.dupont.com

From GLS, soft-touch adhesion for modified nylons

New grades of specialty alloys offer a soft touch in thermoplastic elastomer and urethane formats, while promising superior adhesion and overmolding compatibility with modified nylons, polycarbonate, ABS, and PC/ABS.

Targeting K 2004 for rollout, GLS Corp. (McHenry, IL) will introduce its Versaflex OM 6100 series of nylon overmolding TPEs and its new Versollan line of rubberized TPU alloys.

The Versaflex material is specially designed to bond with standard and modified nylons that have undergone heat stabilization, lubrication, and impact modification. GLS says the material offers a soft touch, a dull matte finish, good surface quality, and the ability to be colored. Applications include grips, nonslip surfaces, overmolded seals or gaskets, and noise reduction in markets ranging from lawn and garden to sports and leisure.

Versollan wil be introduced with two grades (RU 2204, 2205) and can adhere to PC, ABS, and PC/ABS in insert- or overmolded parts. The material''s softness, ranging from 55 to 65 Shore A, is suited to grips in demanding applications like power tools, garden equipment, handheld electronics, and sports products. GLS Corp., www.glscorp.com

Solvay''s vulcanized TPEs have range of hardness

A series of nine vulcanized thermoplastic elastomers, NexPrene 9000, employs a proprietary curing technology for crosslinking the elastomer phase. This results in a material with soft touch but good brightness. Hardness ranges from 40 Shore A to 50 Shore D. Delivered in natural color with a yellowness index of less than 16, the materials can be easily colored. Bright whites are obtained with concentrations of titanium dioxide as low as .5%. It exhibits low fogging levels caused by out-gassing. Unlike thermoplastic rubber products, NexPrene 9000 eliminates predrying requirements. Solvay Engineered Polymers www.solvayengineeredpolymers.com

Elastogran promoting honeycombs

Elastoflex E polyurethane can be used to make high-strength lightweight composites by spraying it over a cardboard honeycomb sandwiched between two layers of glass fiber mat and then hot-pressing the assembly . The result is rigid, robust, tough, impact-resistant, and capable of withstanding huge strain. Typical applications include car boot spaces, spare wheel covers, hat racks, and sunroofs. Composites in the boot space in a Mercedes M-Class cope with a load weighing 250kg without buckling or denting. Elastogran, www.elastogran.de

Atofina fluoropolymer coating helps protect metal parts

Kynar Flex 2850PC polyvinylidene fluoride coats steel and aluminium to protect in highly corrosive environments. It resists acids, ozone, and halogens. The powder can be applied by dry, electrostatic spray.

It meets both U.S. Pharmacopeia and FDA food-contact regulations making it suitable for coating equipment used in the medical, food, chemical, and semiconductor industries.

Grade 2850PC, which includes no additives, has inherent flame retardancy and thermal stability as well as high abrasion resistance. The smooth, high-gloss surface enhances its low extraction characteristics and reduces the danger of micro-organic deposits and growth. Atofina, www.atofina.com

Good flexibility at low temperatures highlights PB-1

Two polybutene-1 grades for heating and plumbing applications provide high chemical resistance, easy weldability, and low noise emission. The linear, highly isotactic, semicrystalline polymer remains flexible even during cold weather. Grade PB4238 white has just come onto the market and will be followed in time for K 2004 with a beige grade, PB4260. They exhibit good creep resistance, have a low memory effect, and create light and easy-to-lay pipes. Basell Polyolefins, www.basell.com

Energy cable requires high purity polyethylene

Supercure LS4201 crosslinkable compound for medium-, high-, and extremely-high-voltage underground power transmission cable helps increase production speed. It has improved ability to degas during extrusion through removal of crosslinking by-products such as methane, which can cause problems if left within the matrix. Time taken to degas a cable generally depends on by-product levels. Traditionally degassing has been accelerated by increasing the processing temperature which can also raise the demand on energy or cause cable core damage.

Gustaf Akermark, VP wire & cable at the producer, says the grade facilitates degassing via inclusion of a proprietary additives package and high polymer purity. The material has low propensity for scorch. Akermark says throughput improvements depend on cable design and size, but as an example, output of a 12-mm-thick cable wall was increased by 25% using this grade compared to the previous one. Borealis A/S www.borealisgroup.com

Microfluidics made easy with Ticona COC polymer

Drug discovery, diagnostics, analytics, and environmental monitoring rely on microfluidic components in many complex devices. Topas cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) has the strength, stiffness, heat resistance, and dimensional stability for such applications. Supplier of microstructured components, thinXXS (Zweibrucken, Germany) has selected the material for microstructured components such as its XXS2000 micropump, which transports tiny quantities of liquids. The unit is no larger than a € 1 coin (22 mm diameter) and weighs 3g. The Piezo-driven diaphragm pump is used to transport liquid or gas in diagnostics or fuel cells for mobile applications. The polymer''s chemical resistance prevents pump damage even from aggressive media. It can be welded and sterilized without loss of mechanical properties. Ticona www.ticona.com

ExxonMobil''s new Exceed grades for sensitive film

Two new grades of Exxon Mobil Exceed metallocene LLDPE are suitable for sensitive lamination film and coextruded film applications. Exceed 1018LC and 1018LE offer very low gel levels, as measured with an optical camera system. Gel content in lamination films can cause optical imperfections, printing, and sealing problems. The issues can be worse in coextruded films with gels causing breaks, inhibiting down gauging, and reducing mechanical strength. The new grades are improved versions of two already commercial, Exceed 1018CA and 1018EB, so that users likely will not have to requalify the new grades with end users. ExxonMobil, www.exxonmobilchemical.com.

Additives

Pigments tapped for FDA food-contact approval

PV Fast Pink E and E01 high-fastness quinacridone pigments are suitable for a range of applications including food packaging, toys, and consumer goods processed in all types of polymers. The additives are said to be easy to process and have good dispersibility. They also have good migration behavior and do not influence warpage in semicrystalline plastics, as well as being both temperature- and weather-resistant in films, thin-walled injection molded applications and blowmolded containers. Clariant/ Pigments & Additives Div. www.pa.clariant.com

Earth-conscious additives from Crompton

Already commercialized in Europe to meet no-lead PVC pipe standards, Crompton Corp. (Middlebury, CT) is marketing new, non-heavy-metal, organic-based stabilizers in the U.S and Latin America in advance of their global debut at K. Its Mark 2284A organotin stabilizer can be used for high-speed extrusion applications like window profiles, as its dual stabilizer/lubricant roles help increase throughput, eliminating chatter.

The Mark 9300 additive for vinyls is a low-phenol line for interior home products like flooring and wall paper. The additive eliminates 75% of the phenol plus VOCs, and although in the U.S. there is no current regulation of the chemical, laws at the local, state, and federal levels require phenol emissions to be reported for OSHA worker-safety standards, and it''s considered a priority pollutant by the EPA.

On the properties side, MARK 9300 helps eliminate the formation of a film caused by some plasticizers that is found on vinyl rolls stored in warehouses that are hot or humid and. Often set aside before being decorated, vinyl rolls that are covered by this film resist printing.

The company''s Mark 228 heat stabilizer targets window and door frames in hotter climates, reportedly giving 20% to 30% better weathering in lab tests—and real-world tests in Florida and Arizona.

Crompton will also highlight two new slip agents, one for use in films and the other in products like bottle caps. Kemamide VO is a vegetable-based slip agent for use in items like plastics bags, allowing users to open them more easily. Kemamide ELO targets botttle caps or similar applications in food contact, making it easier to open containers, and eliminating any plastic flavor from bottled water, etc. Crompton Corp., www.cromptoncorp.com

Great Lakes grades target electronics, electrical applications

Adding to its existing flame retardant portfolio, Great Lakes Chemicals is introducing two grades for use in electrical components such as connectors, relays, and switches. Firemaster BP411 is a brominated polystyrene flame retardant while grade CP44HR is a polybrominated styrene copolymer. Both products offer good thermal stability and blister resistance in thermoplastic polyester as well as in high temperature nylon applications. Also to be unveiled during the show is a halogen-free flame retardant for polyurethane foams. It is directed toward the automotive sector to help producers meet emission specifications. Great Lakes Chemical Corp., www.greatlakes.com

Acquistion broadens Reagens scope

Italian additives supplier Reagens SpA and its Asian partner Sun Ace Group (Singapore) have acquired the PVC stabilizer business of the Cognis Group. During the show, processors can find out how Reagens will integrate the new operation into its business. Sun Ace Group supplies PVC additives from seven plants in the Asia/Pacific region. Reagens officials say the acquisition gives Reagens much improved access to business opportunities in central and northern Europe. Cognis has two manufacturing sites in Lohne and Loxstedt, Germany. These will be renamed Reagens Deutschland GmbH. www.reagens.it

Masterbatches

Single-use cameras sport global design components

Consistency of color around the world is important to manufacturer Kodak for its Ultra Single-Use cameras, which are injection molded of high-impact polystyrene. Whether produced in England, Hungary, Russia, or the U.S., the company expects camera components to exhibit uniform color consistency. Kodak says it has made development of distinctive looks and designs a priority in this range. All pigments and additives have to be photo-inactive so that they won''t influence film quality.

Because Kodak recycles up to 90% of its single-use camera components, color consistency is a top priority, says Brett Blaisdell, plastics engineer, Kodak product development (Rochester, NY). To achieve the color masterbatch uniformity desired, Kodak and Clariant Masterbatches have formed a global partnership to meet production and delivery schedules. Clariant Master- batches, www.clariant.com

Gabriel Chemie specialty grade targets medical applications

The Maxithen polypropylene range was developed for injection molding of single-use hypodermic needle casings. Most of the series complies with ISO 6009, which specifies colors used in order to enable rapid visual identification of the outside diameter of the needles. The colors can be applied in an opaque or translucent fashion and be used in standard-, thin-, and extra-thin-walled applications.

Most applications tend to be transparent or translucent to guarantee that air bubbles inside serum are recognized and eliminated before injection. The range is said to require low dosage rates and is easy to process. Gabriel-Chemie, www.gabriel-chemie.com

Semifinished products

Sojitz—two is better than one in film production

Nichimen, producer of packaging films, has merged with Nissho Iwai, and will be presented under a new name, Sojitz, during this year''s K. The company is showing new developments in the gas and aroma barrier of its Biaxis biaxially oriented nylon film, in thicknesses from 10 to 25 µm. Also on display will be grades of Soarnol polyvinyl alcohol polymers used for gas barrier, oil resistance, and transparency. The material is modified by being copolymerized with ethylene to improve extrudability and moisture resistance. Sojitz Corp. www.sojitz.com

Measurement & inspection

Electronic color-matching system saves time

An electronic color-matching system, Colibri QuickMatch Pro, can help select correct effect shades for plastics and metallized surfaces without the use of a multiangle spectrophotometer. The system works with a complex mathematical model for either color matching effect shades or for improved accuracy with conventional hues. This is an expansion of the producer''s previous Colibri color-matching series, says Hermann Angerer, head of coating effects at Ciba Specialty Chemicals. QuickMatch Pro is available in multiuser versions for several users on a network to work either with their local database or with a central database on a server for easier data exchange between plants. Ciba Specialty Chemicals www.cibasc.com

Making sense of the trade data that concerns your business

If you''re tired of reading market reports that fail to highlight your particular product or end market, some simple tips on how to track and interpret trade statistics might help you to do your own homework. This is the third report in a series designed to help you understand how to make use of the wealth of economic data available for practical business planning.

P rocessors in the U.S. are both blessed and cursed with the vast amount of free government resources and services designed to assist the U.S. producer and exporter. The downside to this huge reservoir of data is that one can easily get lost in the maze of interconnecting databases and agency sites.

If you''re only interested in tracking the trade of a particular product or product group, several sites offer easy, timely, and reliable information.

The United States International Trade Commission''s (USITC) Dataweb and the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis'' (OTEA) TradeStats Express-National and State, both offer researchers quick information on U.S. exports and imports. Each of these sites provides the most recent trade statistics for specific products and countries. However, each site has its own unique advantages. (All recommended websites are listed at the end of this article.)

The USITC''s site allows the user to search for more narrowly defined products and incorporates a wider variety of search criteria. For example, the Dataweb site offers greater and more flexible search parameters, including more classifications of trade, a more detailed commodity search, and the ability to calculate trade figures for several countries at once.

The OTEA''s TradeStats site offers narrower search parameters, but will automatically provide additional market information, which is presented in a more visually friendly format by utilizing tables, charts, and maps.

For example, when conducting a TradeStats "product profile" search, the user is automatically provided with a list of the top-ranking U.S. export/import markets within the given country or product group.

OTEA''s website offers other important trade and economic analysis. In a section called Foreign Trade Highlights, readers can, among other things, find calculations that estimate the U.S. market share of foreign imports/exports over the last several years.

Understanding what you''ve found

Now that you have a better idea of where to look for trade information, you''re left with the equally important task of making sense of it all. Trade data is most commonly used to identify your competition, as well as to highlight the location of promising markets.

To better accomplish these two goals, researchers must always remember that trade data, no matter how recent, only tells us about what has occurred in the past. If, after charting the volume of trade for a specific product over the course of several years, a clear trend is revealed, you must then attempt to find a plausible explanation for this phenomenon, which would in turn allow you to better predict future patterns.

Most often, trends can be at least partially explained by factors within the contemporary political and economic environment.

Changes in a nation''s political leadership or its economic regime can significantly boost or diminish foreign trade within a specific industry. For example, Poland''s full membership to European Union will eliminate trade barriers to EU products, giving them an increased advantage over competing U.S. products.

Similarly, Russia''s ascension to the World Trade Organization will eliminate many of the current barriers to U.S. trade, which will likely help establish many new positive trade patterns.

Readers can obtain a good general overview of foreign political and economic markets by reviewing a U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service''s Country Commercial Guides. These reports provide excellent background information on foreign markets, including the leading U.S. export sectors. However, you should be aware that the estimates used in the Leading U.S. Export Sectors are based on figures provided by foreign custom unions, and should not be considered official figures.

Additionally, in those markets with a particularly fluid economic or political environment, readers will want to supplement the commercial guides with more up-to-date economic sources. In these cases, you should make use of the many overseas offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These can often provide a more realistic and timely assessment of a particular market than official government sources.

Changes in global and regional cost structures can also upset an existing trade pattern. If energy prices rise for Chinese PET producers, as was recently the case, Chinese PET imports are likely to decline. Likewise, cheap access to feedstock in the Middle East has spurred the formation of many new regional resin operations. You can find information on global energy patterns by going to the Department of Energy''s Energy Information Administration (EIA) website. This site provides national and international pricing and up-to-date NYMEX prices and forecasts.

When assessing the impact of international energy prices, a couple of key issues need to be considered aside from the obvious factor of relative cost. Chief among these are quality and reliability. The competitive advantage gained from cheap energy costs can easily be lost if manufacturers suffer from costly downtime and production errors due to unreliable and poor-quality energy supplies. To find out about the energy quality and reliability of a given geographical market you can contact existing U.S. business in the given area through Chamber of Commerce or through the assistance of U.S. programs such as the Trade Information Center (TIC).

Finally, when assessing the importance of trade figures, remember to focus on consumption, consumption, and consumption. What this means is that while it''s always nice to maintain a trade surplus, it is not necessary for healthy growth. If, for example, national or global consumption rises at a faster pace than imports, it is possible that U.S. production and trade will continue to expand despite a growing trade deficit in the same market.

In other words, in a rapidly expanding market, U.S. businesses can lose their total relative market share while simultaneously experiencing significant production growth.

Here are some other examples:

  • Plastics processors in the competitive market for automotive parts can track specific imports and exports of parts and determine trends that show how their own U.S.-based business will be affected. For instance, are imports of automotive taillight assemblies growing, declining or static? Where do those imports come from?

  • The market for medical disposables—almost all of which are made of blowmolded, extruded, or injection molded components—has been relatively immune to trade pressures. But one may be better off knowing ahead of time if this is changing. Using trade data you can track if imports of specific medical products are growing, and even at what rate.

Other important sources

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) compiles and publishes a report detailing the Input-Output Accounts of U.S. industries. In other words, it measures the total value of materials used and produced by each industry.

Plastics manufactures can use this report to roughly calculate the total value of plastics consumed by the nearly 450 different U.S. industries studied. This information is generally used to:

  • Identify attractive plastics consuming end marketsv

  • Track the amounts of plastics being consumed by a given end market
  • Help (when used with existing trade data) extrapolate the real amounts of plastics being imported and exported from the U.S. market

This last procedure was recently the focus of a report commissioned by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). The report showed the true plastics trade deficit to be around 10 times what had previously been reported. Unfortunately, the BEA''s most recent Input-Output report, released in 2003, only provides data up to 2002. But for plastics manufacturers looking for a glimpse of the real plastics trade pattern, this report can offer a more encompassing picture.

By Agostino von Hassell and Mark Bella, of the Repton Group LLC (New York, NY). Contact von Hassell at [email protected]; Bella, at [email protected]

Contact information

BEA''s Input-Output Accounts   www.bea.doc.gov/bea/dn2/i-o_benchmark.htm
Bureau of Economic Analysis   www.bea.doc.gov/beahome.html
DOE, Energy Information Admin.   www.eia.doe.gov/index.html
International Trade Administration   www.ita.doc.gov
International Trade Admin., Trade Information Center   www.trade.gov/td/tic
OTEA''s TradeStats Express   http://tse.export.gov
OTEA''s Foreign Trade Highlights   www.ita.doc.gov/td/industry/otea/usfth/tabcon.html
Society of the Plastics Industry   www.socplas.org
USITC’s Dataweb   www.dataweb.usitc.gov
U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service   www.export.gov/comm_svc

New decorating methods enhance product differentiation

Inmold decoration with films, textiles, even fur, enhances the lifestyle aspect of personal electronics.

As suppliers vie with increasing vigor for market share in an increasingly congested personal electronics sector, they''re counting on aesthetics as well as technology to deliver all-important product differentiation.

Enter FiberLok Inc. (Fort Collins, CO) and its LextraFilm product, insert molded onto housings to recreate the look and feel of denim for Nokia and Motorola phones made and consumed in China. This was first used on end-of-the-line models, known as ''refreshers'' in mobile phone parlance. The two companies added the novel surface effect over the existing design, even using the same tools.

FiberLok "came in on the end of the life cycle," company president Brown Abrams explains. "It was a quick, one-shot promotion kind of thing, and what we''re really looking for is to be designed in from the very beginning."

To that end, FiberLok is currently going through compliance testing with two of the mobile phone industry''s Big Three (due to a nondisclosure agreement, Abrams declined to say which two of Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung they are). If approved, the LextraFilm material would be added to the OEMs'' material resource portfolio, the stable of materials from which designers can choose when creating next generation phones.

"It''s a new frontier of development," Abrams claims, "and when somebody starts, they''re going to win some of the market and take business away from other people."

In addition to needing verification by the OEMs, Abrams says competency on the molding side must be increased before the product can really grow. Companies currently applying decorative insert molding technology generally turn to outside vendors to thermoform the film, and must use robotics to insert the film decor, creating the potential for supply chain and tolerance headaches.

Many molders aren''t set up for it, Abrams claims. "They don''t have the robotic feed, they don''t have the tool design." Ultimately, Abrams says this is holding the technology back, since there would be a "lack of capacity for inmold decorations in a large global line" if a firm such as Motorola or Nokia were to specify an entire line incorporating the technology.

Global full-service operation

Derived from similar considerations is Dow''s Inclosia Solutions operation. Dow says that traditional enclosure development practices involve frequent handoffs between various departments, which can slow the product development cycle and impair innovative industrial design. Inclosia provides full-service enclosure development and production, from involvement at the industrial design stage to responsibility for enclosure manufacturing and assembly.

Inclosia currently has design and engineering centers in Midland, MI and Terneuzen, the Netherlands, and has sales and operations forces in Asia. It says it is assessing options for a regional design and engineering location there.

The company has established a pre-qualified, worldwide supplier network, which enables it to quickly introduce enclosures into a production environment. One company cited is Foxconn Oy (formerly Eimo; Lahti, Finland), a leading global enclosure manufacturer with expertise in decoration, tooling, and automation technologies.

A new take on fabric IMD

Inclosia launched its EXO overmolding system early last year, and in March announced its first commercial product—a leather-clad mouse for Microsoft. Dow describes EXO as a new mass-manufacturing technology that allows virtually any type of fabric—leather, metallics, suede, or denim—to be incorporated in the covering of an electronic device "at a competitive price."

"Traditional processes that combine layers of fabric and plastic often stretch, tear, or crush the fabric," says Mike Hus, technology leader for Inclosia Solutions. "If the fabric edges extend inside the housing, there is a potential for short-circuiting the electronic components, and making the device non-compliant with UL [Underwriters'' Laboratories] or FCC [Federal Communications Commission] standards, something you don''t have to worry about with EXO."

A two-step process, EXO is different from other injection molding systems that incorporate fabrics. First, the base enclosure structure is injection molded. Then, the fabric is permanently bonded to the base, and the edges are sealed to prevent fraying or peeling. Inclosure says the look and feel of the fabric is maintained without compromising device functionality.

IMD''s global appeal

Vicky Hsu, global markets account manager at Taiwanese moldmaker and processor Yomura Technologies (Taipei, Taiwan), agrees that IMD will become a key product differentiation technology for mobile phone-makers. After all, if leopard is your thing, you can already find a ''fur''-clad phone in China. But more conventional surface enhancements are also available. Yomura is one of three Taiwanese processors with IMD technology, according to Hsu. The firm employs back-printed, preformed polycarbonate inserts in its IMD process and is in talks with leading handset suppliers to further utilize the technology.

However, Jay Li, director of industrial design at Cellon International (Shenzhen), says IMD remains a costly process that is time-consuming to ramp up. "It''s a good technology for high-end models but the tool takes longer to develop."

A core technology at Taiwan''s Everskill Technology Co. (Taipei Hsien) is sputter coating of plastics parts to achieve metallic finishes that it plans to apply to mobile phone housings. Everskill is also working with Japan''s Fujitsu (Kawasaki) to develop a variety of magnesium alloy solutions for computer, communication, and consumer products. Everskill and Fujitsu are reported to be constructing a plant in Kunshan, where six magnesium thixotropic molding machines will be installed by year-end. One objective is to mold metal mobile phone housings. TD PM SM

Digital imaging licenses offered

To increase use of its technology, digital imaging company Comeleon Ltd. (Stanley, England) has reduced the entry price of its advanced Imagebox Supa production line technology for applying high-resolution, full-color images onto plastic products and components. The entry-level, high-volume machine is now priced at less than $40,000. Comeleon technology applies images in extremely close register and fit to 3-D plastic components in a post-processing step that requires no further finishing. Previously the firm had charged to do digital imaging, but, as a result of processors'' preference to image inline, it has changed strategy to focus on technology licensing. At press time in May there were three licensees: Omega Plastics, a U.S.-based processor; Yoshida, Japan''s largest processor of cosmetics packaging; and the Chamberlain Group, a U.S. manufacturer of remote handset controls. MD

Roadmap to the finish line

Getting your finish strategy right can mean enhancing your entire brand, says Tina Rippon, technical director with Finish Technologies Ltd., a product development consultant in Bracknell, England. Apple''s strategy for Macintosh computers changed how finish is viewed by an entire industry. Indeed, from jellybean colors to their diffused-white products, Apple has set finish standards whose influence extends far beyond the computer hardware market.

A product''s finish includes the materials and processes used to shape, apply, and integrate not only color, but effect and texture as well. Wherever the ultimate success of a product can be affected by finish, its significance moves up the design hierarchy—a key factor at an earlier part of the design process.

Roadmapping is a useful planning process that identifies and plots current, emerging, and future technologies against future essential product line and customer needs. The strategic use of roadmapping and finish trending provides organizations with the information and knowledge required to make tactical decisions that can reduce time-to-market and yield new and improved products.

Even in the fast-moving telecom market, products can still take more than a year to be developed and brought into production. With mold tool design and build being on the critical path, it''s obvious that early assessment of the materials and finishes proposed is critical, whether it''s the simpler option of texture or the more complex design requirements associated with a UV-cure paint, electroplating, or inmold film.

A finish roadmap can facilitate an approved material and finish palette and inclusion of design requirements for specific finishes in a design brief or the company''s designers'' handbook. This can be regularly updated as new materials and techniques are tested and approved. MD

Recycling may force design changes

Mobile phone recycling has become a hot-button issue among legislators. Swift advances in technology and design have made older phones throw-away objects among many consumers; environmental research group Inform Inc. reckons U.S. citizens will have tossed about 130 million mobiles in the trash between 2002 and next year.

Last year in New Jersey, the first bill in the U.S. specifically targeting mobile phone waste was introduced. In markets such as China, already with 250 million mobile phone users, the number of discarded phones in the future could be even higher.

So much trash will not go unnoticed, and legal pressure is mounting on manufacturers to improve phones'' recyclability. In the European Union, the European Directive on Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) takes effect in 2006. WEEE places responsibility on OEMs to ensure that 75% by weight of the goods they sell are recovered, and that 65% of that recovered material is recycled or used in a new product. Recovery systems need to be in place by the middle of next year.

According to mobile phone manufacturer Motorola, the plastics housing accounts for 15% to 55% of total mobile phone weight, high enough that recycling these housings will be necessary to meet WEEE requirements. Motorola identifies the hard coatings on inmold decorative films (used to decorate phone housings or to protect display lenses) as especially problematic to recycling.

It says hard coatings, often silicone-based, can be difficult to separate from the polycarbonate (PC) or PC/ABS used for housings or the polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) used for lenses; if not removed, the coating materials reduce the mechanical properties of the regrind, making it unsuitable for molding new phone parts.

As a result, Motorola''s Taunusstein-based Advanced Technology Center-Europe worked with the Plastics Institute-Ludenschied (both in Germany) to determine alternative inmold decoration material combinations for mobile phone housings and display lenses that could be ground and mixed with virgin material to mold new parts. Doreen Schnecke, who works at the Taunusstein center, presented results of the study early this year at the SPE''s Global Plastics Environmental Conference.

The testing was done by blending regrind from inmold decorated parts with various percentages of virgin material, and injection molding standard test bars to determine if mechanical characteristics of the new mix were sufficient for use in new parts.

Ultimately, the tests identified three potential material combinations: for housings, a PC/ABS decorated part, to be ground and mixed with virgin PC/ABS for molding new housings; for PMMA display lenses, a PMMA film to be recycled with virgin PMMA; or for both lenses and housings, a PC molding decorated with PMMA film, for recycling in conjunction with virgin PMMA or PC/ABS. The last is particularly interesting—significantly lower costs than PMMA film, and better scratch resistance than non-hard-coated PC films. In all cases, up to 30% recyclate content could be used with no detrimental impact on housing strength.

Schnecke says Motorola will not comment on whether, as a result of these tests, it will or already has changed its phone designs to meet WEEE legislation. Since most mobile phone manufacturers have worked to centralize their manufacturing, it is likely that any changes to phone design to improve recyclability for the WEEE rules will also impact the design of phones sold elsewhere. MD

Contact information

Cellon International   www.cellon.com
Comeleon   www.e-comeleon.com
FiberLok   www.fiberlok.com
Finish Technologies   www.finishtechnologies.com
Inclosia Solutions   www.dow.com/inclosia
Motorola   www.motorola.com
Yomura Technologies   www.yomura.com.tw

E-Update Industry News

PROCESSORS AND PROCESSING

PTA offers M&A data to processors, for free

Polymer Transaction Advisors Inc. (PTA) has introduced a monthly newsletter at its web site, www.polymertrans.com, to provide interested parties in the polymer industry with up-to-date commentary, statistical data, selected pricing information, and the status and outlook for mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, and other strategic alliances around the world.

"We plan to provide insight into the key industry M&A trends, opportunities, and issues so that buyers, sellers, and prospective alliance partners will have better knowledge with which to make their M&A decisions," said William R. Ridenour, PTA president. "Key transactions will be discussed, as well as general market conditions for suppliers of parts, materials, equipment, or technology to the thermoplastic, thermoset, rubber, and composites industries."

Based in Cleveland, OH, PTA is a merger/acquisition advisory firm that provides M&A business valuation, strategic assessment, and strategic partnering services exclusively to the global polymer industry. PTA has affiliate offices in Toronto, Houston, Paris, Frankfurt, and Sao Paulo.

German economy''s cold giving processors the flu

Plastics processors in Germany are losing their competitive edge as the country''s economy continues to slide. In a recent study by the International Institute for Management Development (Lausanne, Switzerland), the euro zone''s biggest economy fell from 20th to 21st place among 60 industrialized countries. Two years ago the country was ranked 15th. Topping the list of international locations offering the best competitiveness was the U.S., followed by Singapore, Canada, and Australia. Countries are rated according to 323 criteria. German government efficiency was ranked 34, a drop of four points. The institute points to other indicators that it says have caused the country''s competitiveness to suffer. Among these are: the lack of entrepreneurialism, short working hours, lengthy holidays, and high wages.

Processor opens site for Dial

Graham Packaging (York, PA), one of the world''s leading bottle blowmolders, intends to open a new site in Hazleton, PA to process PET and HDPE bottles adjacent to current customer Dial''s existing plant. Dial makes soaps and other personal care products.

The 205,000-sq-ft bottle-making plant is scheduled to open September 1, and employ 100. It will be Graham''s 57th plant worldwide and its 36th in the United States, of which seven are in Pennsylvania.

Thirsty Turks prompt expansion

Per capita consumption of bottled drinking water in Turkey is 71.43 liters/yr and rising, according to Gunter Ausserwoger, general manager of Capsnap Europe (Kremsmunster, Austria), a blowmolder of 5-gal (19-liter) bottles and injection molded caps. Capsnap, which formed a joint venture with Teknik Plastik (Watertek, Turkey), has just brought a second bottle plant into production in Turkey, and now has capacity of 1 million PET bottles/yr.

Patent awarded for low-pressure process for LFTs

Envirokare Tech Inc. (Orlando, FL) has been awarded a U.S. patent covering the thermoplastic flow-forming process (trademarked ''TPM'') for low-pressure automated molding of large structural parts of long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics. The process preserves fiber length, resulting in enhanced mechanical properties in final parts.

Envirokare has an exclusive license to market the process for general applications. TPM was developed by Thermoplastic Composite Designs Inc. (TCD: Sims, FL) in the 1990s, which uses it to form parts for the U.S. Defense Dept. TPM is an extrusion/compression process that can be used to create very large parts-up to about 3 sq m. Low pressure maintains fiber length, which reaches up to 7 cm.

Envirokare says it is in discussions with potential partners to commercialize the process.

Trainees welcome, but lacking

The German plastics processors association (GKV; Frankfurt) provided 13% more apprenticeships last year than in 2002-a total of 2213 contracts to train young people were signed. Despite this record level, not all of the 2400 available positions could be filled, due to a lack of qualified candidates, says Ralf Olsen, GKV spokesman. In order to brush up its image, the processor group has started a campaign (Cool for the Future) to attract more youth into processing. More information is available at: www.gkv.de/ausbildung.

Nordenia no newcomer to Eastern Europe

Film packaging processor Nordenia (Greven, Germany) is celebrating the first decade of its plant in Szada, Hungary, near Budapest. The plant, which also serves 14 export markets in addition to domestic markets, processes 23,000 tonnes of film on four lines-three coex- and one monolayer-and also makes BigBags.

AUTOMOTIVE

Carmaker considers parts processing in Middle East

Europe''s largest carmaker, Volkswagon, is asking suppliers to consider moving some of their parts production to Abu Dhabi, according to German news reports. As a result of VW''s purchase in May-in partnership with the government of Abu Dhabi-of Europe''s largest automobile leasing program, the nation will soon be a partner, owning up to 10% of VW shares.

VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder, quoted in the German edition of the Financial Times, says the firm is considering the move for some of its own production, and consequently some suppliers may also be asked to move. VW is considering shifting plastics and rubber processing, and metal working.

Pischetsrieder has said the possible shift has nothing to do with the Emirate''s new status as a large VW investor, but is instead the result of new legislation in Germany limiting emissions-a result of Germany''s signing of the Kyoto Treaty.

Higher metal prices could lead to more automotive plastic use

Metal prices in Germany are reported to be at their highest level since 1989, and scrap is up 75% from the same period last year. Germany''s automobile industry association (VDA; Frankfurt) says the prices of metal, scrap, and coke to fuel blast furnaces, have increased due to high demand in China. The VDA reports that raw materials have increased by an average of 15% since last year, which translates to a €150 to €200 jump in production costs per car.

The sharp increase in metal prices could accelerate the use of plastics as a replacement, yet processors ultimately may not increase their profits much as a result. Car analyst Ferdinand Dudenhofer (Gelsenkirchen, Germany) says the increased costs will probably wind up simply having to be absorbed by automotive parts vendors. "Extremely aggressive competition can be seen in today''s automotive parts market. Small- to medium-sized suppliers are not in a position to swallow additional costs," he says.

Nor are processors of sheet molding compound (SMC), extensively used in exterior automotive panels. Soon after the VDA''s announcement, the European Alliance for SMC says the quandary of low prices paid by automotive customers, and higher prices demanded by raw materials suppliers, have backed the group''s members into a tight spot. The group says SMC prices have remained stable over recent years but says it estimates SMC pricing needs to rise by 6% to 8%.

Pair works to limit fogging

Condensia Quimica (Barcelona, Spain) and Adeka Palmarole (Saint-Louis, France) are collaborating to produce trimellitate plasticizer, used in automotive interior and wiring applications. The material, ADK Cizer C79E, has very low fogging, and good low-temperature brittleness and impact resistance. The material will be produced in Spain, and Adeka will provide sales and technical support.

MOLDMAKER NEWS

Axxicon management conducts MBO; more to come?

Management of injection moldmaker Axxicon Mould technology (Helmond, the Netherlands) bought the company for e27.5 million from Swiss parent Mikron Technology Group. Axxicon''s 2003 turnover was o55 million. The firm says it is the world''s leading manufacturer of molds for optical media, and also is a leader in smartcard molds. It makes customer-specific molds for three markets: medical, high-end disposables, and infocom/IT. Customer-specific molds now account for about 46% of turnover, a number the firm wants to increase to 60% in three years. Axxicon has three production facilities and about 400 employees in Europe. It also has sales offices for optical media molds in Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

Micron acquired Axxicon, then publicly traded, in 2001 but ran into financial problems soon thereafter as the cell-phone market hit bottom. A majority stake was then acquired by a group of Swiss investors, who looked to pare back the business. In March, Mikron sold its 50% share in a cell-phone parts molding operation to partner Balda Group. Following the Axxicon divestment, Mikron now has three divisions: one for metal parts machining; an injection molding division; and one for assembly of metal and plastics parts. It serves the IT and automotive industries, among others.

Axxicon management was backed financially by Dutch private equity firm Gilde Participaties. Axxicon CEO Arno Wendrich says the moldmaker is pleased to regain its independence, adding that Gilde Participaties has the financial strength to back Axxicon''s future moves. One move long under consideration is the acquisition of, or partnership with, a maker of commodity molds to provide Axxicon with a ''cash cow.'' Speaking during a press conference only days before the MBO, Axxicon marketing manager Jaap de Jong said the acquisition of such a moldmaker has long been considered at Axxicon. "However, we have not yet found a suitable partner. Also, we do not know how these molds would be marketed, and if they should be sold under the Axxicon name." Plus, although customers often mention mold pricing as their first concern, he says in fact lead time (i.e., time-to-market for the end user) and quality are really the two main issues, with pricing a distant third. "Time-to-market is everything in the areas we work," he said, "now even more than ever before."

Axxicon is also expected to renew growth plans in North America. Soon after acquiring Axxicon, Mikron announced plans to acquire an unnamed U.S. moldmaker, which sources at the time said was MGS Mfg. Group (Germantown, WI). Mikron canceled this acquisition due to the telecom slowdown.

Wentworth adds services, plans Asian expansion

Wentworth Mold Inc. and Electra Form Industries Inc., both divisions of the Wentworth Technologies Co. Ltd. (Hamilton, ON), now offer technical service support for the installation and mold startup of PET preform injection tools and PET blow molds. Support is available around-the-clock, and the firm now offers the service-which includes technicians on-call to travel to customers in the Americas and Europe now, and in Asia by the end of the year. Wentworth already has a sales and service office in Singapore, but as yet will offer no further details as to what steps it must take to offer 24/7 service in Asia, says Donna Watson, sales and marketing assistant.

The firm has also expanded its supply range to include spare parts for end-user personalized PET stretch blow molds. This includes blow nozzles, guide pins, stretch rods, and other parts. Parts may be ordered alone or with production mold sets.

Watson explains that many customers prefer to order the molds and change parts together at the same time, and appreciate that Wentworth guarantees delivery of both within the normal delivery period of the mold set.

In related news, Electra Form Industries Inc. has installed a Husky SX600 340P/120E 120 test machine to run-off new 96-cavity and 144-cavity Micropitch PET preform molds made by Electra Form.

Top moldmakers are honored

SPE''s Moldmaking and Mold Design division announced the 2004 winners for moldmaker and mold designer of the year. Fred Steil, currently of DME Co. (Madison Heights, MI) won the moldmaker of the year honors for his work as the engineering manager for the mold-component manufacturer. Wayne Hertlein, senior tooling engineer with Collins & Aikman''s Tooling Center (Troy, MI), was awarded the design prize for his work serving the automotive industry.

The SPE also is seeking papers for its rapid design, engineering, and moldmaking conference, "Reduce Time to Market," scheduled for December 22 in conjunction with the Euromold exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany (December 1 to 4). Persons who would like to present at the conference should send an abstract to the SPE''s European headquarters in Antwerp. Email address is [email protected]. Presentations are to last 30 minutes, including time for questions. Titles and subheadings cannot include company names or trademarks.

MATERIALS & MACHINES

Husky updates plans on growth, China, the automotive market, and more

Officials from Husky Injection molding systems (Bolton, ON) used a press conference in Brussels to publicize a number of its ongoing projects and strategies, and discuss further its intent to build on its dominant position. Dave Cook, president of Husky''s European operations based in Dudelange, Luxembourg, says the firm''s five-year plan-in which it intends to at least double sales and grow to at least two to three times the size of its nearest competitor-will not be realized through general machine sales, but much more so through exploitation of niche markets. He says the firm will use the lean manufacturing practices already in place in its PET preform molding machine and moldmaking units to streamline production and boost profitability in other parts of the firm as well.

Cook says the hot runner market is growing "very rapidly" for Husky, a consequence of an ongoing shift to hot runners from cold ones in many applications.

In China, construction of a pilot manufacturing facility for small machine manufacture has been postponed for about one year until 2005, says Cook. But should that pilot exercise pan out, Husky''s long-term strategy currently is to eventually make all of its small machines there. This makes good sense, he explains, since most of the small machine demand is in Asia, and these machines are the most price-competitive, making use of a low-wage manufacturing base such as China virtually mandatory to ensure profitability.

New in Europe for the firm is Volker Neuber, VP service and sales for Western Europe. He comes to Husky after a 12-year stint at GE Plastics, including the last years of GE''s operations in Germany. His background is in materials used for automotive parts, and perhaps not coincidentally, Husky intends to expand its machine sales into Europe''s automotive parts processing market.

Piovan to manufacture in China

Italian auxiliaries manufacturer Piovan (Venice) intends by year''s end to start manufacture in China of tri-phase feeders, single- and two-tower dryers with air flow up to 200 cu m, and compact temperature controller models TW 6 and TO 6, all equipment the firm says is in hot demand there. According to Piovan, more dryers were sold last year in China than in the rest of the world combined. Eventually, other products also will be made there.

The 5000-sq-m Piovan China Manufacturing Center facility will have 20 employees to start and be based in Zhuhai, about 140 km south of Guangdong. It will also house sales, administration, and after-sales service personnel. Piovan already has a 30-employee sales-and-service site in Singapore, which it will maintain.

Alcan acquires CBT rights for architecture, construction markets

Alcan Composites, part of Alcan Inc., has acquired exclusive rights for the marketing and sales of Cyclics'' CBT resin (the cyclic form of polybutylene terephthalate resin) for markets including display and graphic arts, architecture, and general industry-infrastructure applications. Terms were not disclosed.

CBT polymerizes during molding into regular PBT. Cyclics, based in Schenectady, NY, forms strategic relationships with processors or suppliers in the markets it wants to penetrate. Last summer, Cyclics and Dow Automotive entered into a long-term agreement for marketing the cyclic form of polybutylene terephthalate resins into the global automotive, bus, truck, and rail markets. Cyclics currently has product made for it on a toll production basis by Pressure Chemical in Wilmington, NC. Its own plant in Schwarzheide, Germany is targeted to be operational late this year, with a capacity near 2500 tonnes/yr. The company has plans to begin doubling that capacity in 2005.

RP report notes 3-D printer demand, other trends

Rapid prototyping industry expert Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates Inc., announced the availability of the "Wohlers Report 2004," a worldwide progress report on the rapid prototyping, tooling, and manufacturing state of the industry. The report covers all industry facets, including business, product, market, technology, research, and application. This year''s report reveals that in 2003, the RP industry reversed its downward trend, with revenues returning to levels of the past, and product revenues gaining impressively.

"Low-end machine sales soared to unprecedented heights, with 3-D printers becoming the crown jewel of the RP industry," states Wohlers, principal author of the report. "With the increase in the number of machines sold and installed, the total number of models being produced annually also grew. Consequently, material sales were strong."

According to Wohlers, equipment maker Stratasys is inching its way toward dominance as it unseats 3-D Systems as the king of rapid prototyping. And Z Corporation has moved up to the number-two position in annual unit sales. The U.S. continues to maintain its grip on both the production and consumption of RP systems.

The new report sells for $425 in the U.S. and $445 in all other countries. Order online at www.wohlersassociates.com.

PVC no worse than competing materials, says study

The European PVC industry, often under attack from environmental groups, is pleased with the publication of the PE Europe study on the life-cycle assessment of PVC and principal competing materials. This study is the final step in a six-year effort by the European Commission to clarify the environmental performance of PVC. It confirms that there is no reason to legally treat PVC differently from any other material.

The main conclusions of the report are that life-cycle analysis (LCA) should be done on applications and not focus on materials, and that a material''s overall environmental impact must also take into account the length of time parts made of the material are in use.

Not all is rosy for the industry, though, as the issues in the report are often mentioned only in relation to PVC without comparing the performance of other materials, even though many of the issues aren''t PVC-specific. For example, not only PVC but its alternatives and their applications depend on non-renewable resources and result in emissions. The European Council for Vinyl Manufacturing (EVCM; Brussels) also says the study is in part based on outdated reports on the health risks of PVC production.

Battenfeld Chen moves into new digs

Battenfeld Chen Extrusion Systems, part of the SMS Plastics Technology Group, is hosting an open house on July 27 and 28 to welcome customers to its new facility in Shunde, Guangdong, China. The firm was founded eight years ago and now ships between 25 and 35 extrusion lines annually for the domestic market.

The new 8300-sq-m facility, on a 17,000-sq-m site near its old one, is large enough to allow the firm to expand machine production and add new products; open a technical center where different applications and materials can be developed and tested on pipe and profile machinery and multilayer blown film and sheet lines; and house a 1,200-sq-m office.

For information on attending the open house, contact Battenfeld Chen at: Tel: +86-757-22380-110; Fax: +86-757-22380195; or e-mail [email protected]bce.battenfeld.com.cn .

Mitsui gains new Dutch distributor

Mitsui Europe (MMTE) is boosting its European presence with the addition of Kurval BV as its distributor and service agent for Fanuc Roboshot and Mitsubishi injection molding machinery in the Netherlands. Photo shows Kurval Managing Director Rudi Divendal and MMTE President Teruyasu Ishioka.

Berstorff plans production in China

Extruder manufacturer Berstorff plans by early 2005 to move its Shanghai sales office south to a new location about an hour from the city, where it will start assembly of machines sold into China. The Shanghai office was opened in spring 2003 and is Berstorff''s second in China; the firm has had a sales office in Beijing since 2001.

Berstorff makes compound extruders and those for foam and sheet, plus rubber processing extruders. For the Chinese market, screws, barrels, and some other components will be made in the firm''s Hannover, Germany headquarters while machine frames and other parts will be sourced locally from as-yet unidentified suppliers. The firm also intends to begin sourcing locally made auxiliary equipment for its extrusion lines in China as part of a "partnership," according to Manfred Reichel, Berstorff CEO.

DuPont increasing China exposure

DuPont Engineering Polymers (Wilmington, DE) is expanding production capacity for polyamide, PCT, PET, PBT, thermoplastic polyester elastomer, and LCP compounds in China through an exclusive agreement with a licensed contract compounder in Shanghai. Increased supply to the market is expected to start from Q4 of 2004. The additional product supply will complement the existing local offering of acetal and polyamide compounds from a new plant in Shenzhen, China. Meanwhile, a 20,000-tonnes/year polyacetal plant was due to start up in Zhangjiagang, China as a joint venture of DuPont and Asahi Kasei (Tokyo) in June.

Reprieve for Ticona plant as airport backs off plans

A plan to expand the Frankfurt Rhine-Main airport with a runway located less than 700 m from, and directly in the flight path of, Ticona''s 77,000-tonnes/yr-capacity acetal plant in Kelsterbach, Germany, has hit a snag and has been postponed until 2009 or 2010. The state-owned airport tried to box through the expansion despite protests from residents, national safety officials, and the EU Commission in Brussels. It had proposed relocating the Ticona facility, but company president Lyndon Cole told Modern Plastics he felt Ticona could win any court case if the state tried to appropriate the property.

In related news, Ticona says de-bottlenecking of its plant in Shelby, NC should raise liquid crystal polymer capacity there by 40%. Ticona markets the material under the Vectra name.

Ticona does not provide total capacity tonnage. The supplier says it is the world''s leading LCP supplier, and had planned to increase capacity at Shelby in 2005; demand forced the firm to push the increase forward, according to Mariellen Turano, Vectra global business director. LCPs see use in molded electronic/electrical components, sockets, and switches, among other applications.

New Stamax line is now online

Sabic Euro petrochemicals officially opened its second line in Genk, Belgium for producing Stamax long-glass-fiber-reinforced polypropylene pellets, raising total output to 35,0000 tonnes/yr. The firm announced the expansion last summer. The material is seeing increased demand from a number of industries, but primarily from the automotive sector, where parts molded of Stamax often replace more traditional materials such as metals, glass-mat thermoplastics, or sheet molding compound.

Sabic Euro Petrochemicals is the former DSM Petrochemicals, acquired last year by Saudi supplier Sabic. In March 2003 Sabic bought glass fiber supplier Owens Corning''s 50% share in Stamax BV, the joint venture formed by Owens Corning and DSM in 1999 to pultrude Stamax P. The Stamax purchase gave Sabic exclusive marketing and sales rights for Stamax in Europe, whereas Owens Corning retains rights to make and market the material elsewhere and intends to do just that (see related article in the June 2004 issue).

Basell expands polybutene-1 capacity with new plant

Polyolefins producer Basell (Hoofddorp) has officially opened a 45,000-tonnes/yr capacity polybutene-1 (PB-1) plant in Moerdijk (both the Netherlands), which replaces a 25-tonnes/yr plant in Taft, LA that is being scrapped. Sergio Danesi, president of Basell''s advanced polyolefins business, says the €80 million, dual reactor plant will remain the company''s sole supplier of the resin for the time being since "demand is substantially below our new capacity-but that says a lot about our confidence in the market growth potential (for PB-1)."

The material is used for film packaging, pipes and fittings, conduits for aggressive or corrosive substances, and as a resin modifier. It sells for €3.50/kg and more, depending on the grade. Nearly 25% is expected to be exported to North America.

In other news from Basell, company CEO Volker Trautz says the firm will soon announce three license deals for the company''s Spherizone multizone loop polypropylene technology (August 2001 MP; MPI ), which is claimed to produce polymer faster and with 60% less energy than competitive systems. The first non-Basell-owned plant will be built in Mexico, Trautz says, and the other two should be announced soon in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

PIC takes stake in two Dow businesses

The Dow Chemical Company and Petrochemical Industries Company (PIC) of Kuwait, a wholly owned subsidiary of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, announced the formation of two new joint ventures. These are MEGlobal, a 50/50 joint venture for the manufacture and marketing of monoethylene glycol (MEG) and diethylene glycol (EG), and Equipolymers, a 50/50 global joint venture for the manufacture and marketing of polyethylene terephthalate resins (PET) and the manufacture of purified teraphthalic acid (PTA).

To form MEGlobal, Dow will sell to PIC a 50% interest in its Canadian ethylene glycol assets; MEGlobal will purchase ethylene from Dow. MEGlobal will also market the excess EG produced in Dow''s plants in the United States and Europe, and may also market the EG produced by Dow and PIC affiliates. To form Equipolymers, Dow will sell to PIC a 50% stake in its PET/PTA business, which includes assets in Germany and Italy.

In a statement, William Stavropoulos, chairman and CEO of Dow, says the new ventures help his firm access less costly feedstocks. For PIC, the ventures are a move upstream and represent the firm''s largest investment to date outside of Kuwait.

Haste makes waste, but plastics waste can be used to make ammonia

Showa Denko K.K. (Tokyo) has started commercial production of ammonia using hydrogen derived from waste plastic as a raw material. The firm recovers 195 tonnes per day of co-mingled post-consumer and industrial waste from homes and plants in and around Kawasaki City, gasifies it at 1,300C, and-after removal of chlorine, sulfur, and metallic impurities-employs the resulting purified hydrogen gas in ammonia synthesis. Production of liquid ammonia is 175 tonnes/day. Chlorine, sulfur, and metallic impurities are all recovered and re-used in processes on site.

Degussa inks high-temperature polymer pact with China''s Jida

Degussa AG (Düsseldorf, Germany) has signed a letter of intent with Chinese firm Changchun Jida High Performance Materials Co. (Changchun) for joint development, production, and marketing of high-temperature polymers. Jida High Performance Materials is engaged in research, development, and production of polyether sulfone resin (PES), polyether ether ketone (PEEK), and related products.

Cooperating with Jida will enable Degussa to strengthen its High Performance Polymers Business Unit, which produces specialty polymers as well as high-performance polymers based on polyamide 12 and polybutylene terephthalate. The high-temperature polymers developed by Jida will broaden High Performance Polymers'' range of high-temperature polymers, which mainly find use in automotive engineering, aviation, and electronics.

New Omnexus caters to designers, materials specifiers

SpecialChem, an e-based plastics, additives, and specialty chemicals information service, has re-launched the Omnexus website it acquired last December with new features. These include a section with reports on innovations and trends, a polymer selection tool, and an area offering design hints and online design support. These free services are at www.omnexus.com. The website also often organizes online seminars on topics pertaining to processing or materials.

Christophe Cabarry, founder and COO of SpecialChem, says the firm already has 75,000 registered users. SpecialChem was created in 2000 and is based in Paris, France. Omnexus was founded and financed in 2000 by a group of large plastics suppliers, but last year the finances were stopped. The site was to be a leading web-based purchasing forum for processors to buy materials. Materials are no longer sold via the site.

Fakuma has drawing power

Next year''s international plastics show, Fakuma (Friedrichshafen, Germany), Oct. 18 to 22, 2005, is already 89% sold out, says fair organizers P.E. Schall (Frickenhausen-Linsenhofen). The next Fakuma will be the 17th edition. The show takes place annually, except in years when there is a K fair in Düsseldorf.

Plant engineering acquisition completed

Swiss plastics supplier EMS Group has sold its Inventa-Fischer plant engineering business to Germany''s UHDE GmbH (Dortmund), part of ThyssenKrupp, for an undisclosed price. UHDE plans and builds chemicals plants. Inventa-Fischer is one of the leading builders of polymer and synthetic fibers plants, and is now working with injection molding machine maker Netstal on a project to mold preforms directly from PET melt (see article in the July issue).

ExxonMobil Chemical names global sales manager for PE

The Houston-based suppli

Telecommunications: Processors gain in race to make up lost time

Saddled for most of the 20th century with only the most rudimentary communications systems, developing markets are now adopting telecommunications and information technology at an unrivaled pace.

We have a number of countries screaming for our technology," says Jack Dispenza at Lucent Technologies, the company that grew out of the mother of all phone companies, Bell Laboratories. "In the new or emerging markets, we''ve skipped 100 years of evolution. We go right into radio-based infrastructure. You no longer stretch miles of copper—they get all the [new] technology overnight."

Technical Manager for Lucent''s Design Engineering Center of Excellence, Dispenza says these markets'' appetite for technology isn''t likely to be sated soon. "I think the emerging markets are so numerous that the pace of trying to satisfy them will continue for quite some time," he says, citing, but not limiting growth to, such regions as China, India, Eastern Europe, and South America.

Lucent provides much of the infrastructure needed to support wireless networks in places such as China, which now boasts the world''s largest landline and mobile telecommunications networks: 523 million subscribers, according to the U.S. Commercial Service. From January to August 2003, 8.5 million users were added every month, yet overall market penetration remains anemic at 20.3% for fixed lines, and 19.5% for mobile users.

To exploit this vast, untapped market, Chinese telecommunications carriers invested $25.4 billion in telecom infrastructure in 2002 alone. And this commitment is forecast to continue, especially for wireless technology, which is slated to grow at 20%/yr.

For the moment, European companies such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Siemens control 70% of China''s market for communications infrastructure (including base stations and switches) based on GSM technology. The U.S., represented by, among others, Lucent, Motorola, and Qualcomm, has staked out 80% of the CDMA sector.

Dialing new applications

In addition to increasing sales opportunities coming from growing markets, plastics are making greater inroads in the information technology (IT) infrastructure market as advances in weatherable polymers allow direct plastics-to-metal replacements for outdoor components. Dispenza cites an impact-modified, flame-retardant polycarbonate from GE Advanced Materials as one such material, allowing for a "stronger-than-steel" enclosure that can withstand UV radiation, cold, impact, and certain chemicals.

Dispenza says there are also opportunities for thermally conductive polymers (to replace die-cast components), as well as electrically conductive polymer applications that offer electromagnetic shielding and control over electrostatic discharge. Technologies such as gas-assist are making an impact, allowing large cabinets to be molded on smaller machines. Multimaterial technologies are becoming more prevalent as well.

Environmental regulations and end-of-life considerations are influencing the market as global companies like Lucent try to create products that meet baseline requirements for the European Union''s Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation.

For Dispenza, the new dynamic necessitates cooperation between larger electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers like Flextronics and Celestica, and smaller processors willing to help with a project from concept to production and distribution.

"In the past, it was ''get material, make stuff, stock the warehouse, and you''re done.'' The current model is ''collaborate on design, get material, create the product, and distribute,''" he says.

Within the telecom/IT market, parts range from micromolded conductors to 30-lb enclosures, and there is no lone global source for such diverse applications. "[OEMs] need to forge relationships between traditional suppliers and EMSs," Dispenza says. "There is no one killer company that does it all. Molders still get orders from my organization, but they actually might be written by one of the contract manufacturers." TD

Market niches, supply chains transform mobile phone industry

2004 is looking like a record year for mobile phone sales, but changing dynamics pose multiple challenges.

Mobile phone manufacturers will ship an estimated 585 million handsets this year, 13% more than in 2003, according to market watcher Strategy Analytics (Boston, MA). Despite such attractive growth, lower entry barriers, fast-changing consumer preferences, and market convergence have transformed the mobile phone sector into an ultra-competitive market with more players than ever. Today, the key to market success is creating standout designs that successfully integrate the most appealing functionalities of computer and consumer electronic products for targeted market niches.

Not so long ago, creating a mobile phone was so tricky that it was the exclusive domain of a handful of specialist firms. It called for expertise in diverse areas from radio chip design to enclosure styling. Players also needed to maintain large, efficient manufacturing operations as well as the capability to supply even more complex base stations.

In recent years, however, much of the handset hardware and software has been commoditized and is available off the shelf—and production can be outsourced to electronic manufacturing service (EMS) firms like Flextronics (Singapore). Design can be outsourced to specialist design houses, or to firms known as original design manufacturers (ODMs), which, as the name implies, offer both design and production services.

The end result is that consumer electronics firms and startups have entered the fray, while some ODMs have even started producing their own brands. Leading ODMs include Taiwanese firms BenQ (the largest, with 15 million units capacity), Arima, Compal, HTC, and Quanta, all of which started out as notebook computer contract manufacturers.

Traditional suppliers such as Motorola and Nokia are increasingly turning to ODMs to reduce risk, as well as beef up their product portfolios. Jonas Twingler, COO at consultant Northstream AB, Stockholm, forecasts ODMs will account for 40% of handset production in 2005 versus 10% in 2002. This poses interesting challenges for plastics processors, according to Twingler. "Many ODMs are not only in the handset business," he notes. Processors with molding expertise in other product areas such as notebook computers would thus be at an advantage. Twingler also feels larger ODMs may take on more risk in order to win business by agreeing to forgo firmly guaranteed volumes, for example. Processors might also be called upon to share some of the risk.

With these developments, the mobile phone industry has moved from a vertical integration model to an outsourcing model, much like the auto industry. Similar transitions occurred in the computer and TV industries. Another similarity to the auto industry is the use of common platforms. ODMs in particular use standard components to reduce production costs, designing custom enclosures around them.

Is it a mobile phone?

Form follows function is the oldest adage of design, and nowhere is this becoming more evident than in the mobile phone industry. The phenomenon is best exemplified in phones boasting gaming and personal organizer functions—large screens that may be touch sensitive, and sometimes unique arrays of buttons.

Roughly 65 million ''camera phones'' will be sold this year, according to IDC (Framington, MA), and global sales are expected to reach 125 million units in 2005. Accordingly, some models are starting to resemble consumer digital cameras. The latest incorporate flashes, zoom lenses, and megapixel resolution on a par with conventional digital cameras.

Korean firm Hyundai Pantech (Seoul), for example, offers a phone that at first looks like a camera, but folds out from a clamshell design to appear more like a conventional phone, prompting the question, "what is it really?"

"It depends what market you are targeting," says Jay Li, Director of Industrial Design at Cellon International (Shenzhen). Whereas in the past one size might have fit all, the emergence of the mobile phone as ''the'' fashion statement has fractured the market into many small segments, particularly in China, where 500 models are released annually.

Li says mobile phone makers in China even design products specifically targeted at pre-teen children, or male business travelers. A case in point—the no-frills Philips Xenium [email protected]++, designed by Cellon specifically for road warriors, boasts a standby time of one month and a design Li describes as powerful and masculine. "Although it only targeted 1% of the Chinese market, it has captured an 80% share of its niche," says Li.

The [email protected]++ employs a monochrome display to reduce power consumption; but as phones incorporate more computer-like functions such as organizers and e-mail, color screens are making rapid inroads. Market researcher iSuppli Corp. (El Segundo, CA) forecasts color screen penetration will grow from 43% in 2003 to 67% this year, and 93% by 2008.

Color screens and more functions increase electronic complexity, and this means more connectors are required to hook up the components. Akihiro Miyachi, assistant manager at Molex Japan (Yamato), says large color screens and built-in cameras require advanced fine-pitch connectors that currently can only be made in Japan. Molex and other suppliers, such has Hirose Electric Co. and Japan Aviation Electronics Industry Ltd. (both Tokyo), ship products such as .5-mm pitch, .9-mm high LCP connectors for linking LCDs to flexible printed circuit boards.

Modular molds cut costs

The pressures of cost reduction and contracted time-to-market are compelling processor Perlos Corp. (Vantaa, Finland), a major supplier of injection molded components and assemblies for mobile phones, to refine its manufacturing strategy. In 2003, the firm used more than 800 molds on its production lines. In the future, the trend will be towards modular molds with core inserts. This will also enable easier modifications if a poorly selling phone is brought back for a minor facelift.

Perlos has tripled its team of designers to nearly 60 to better support design-for-manufacturability while mobile phone designs are still in the conceptual phase. "Previously, our customers wished to attend to the entire product design process on their own, from beginning to end. [Now], industrial design and brand management are still in their hands, but the responsibility for product manufacture has been transferred to us at an even earlier stage," says Jari Varjotie, VP in charge of product design in Perlos'' telecommunications and electronics business sector. The company aims to increase the number of designers to about 100 in 2005.

China Gears Up

As with many other electronic products, China is emerging as the leading global center for handset production. B2B firm Global Sources (New York) estimates China will export more than 100 million handsets this year, up from 90 million in 2003. The local market is also massive, with sales of 82 million handsets projected this year by CCID Consulting (Beijing). iSuppli, meanwhile, forecasts Chinese handset production to grow from 182 million in 2004 (32% of global production) to 231 million in 2008 (34%).

With this outlook, it''s no wonder market players, both local and foreign, are committing investment to the Mainland. Foreign mobile phone suppliers traditionally dominated the market; but in recent years, with entry barriers lowered, local players have captured an increasing share. There are already 37 local phone brands on the market with more on the way, and their share is forecast to grow from slightly less than 40% in 2003 to more than 50% by 2005, according to iSuppli.

Siemens AG (Munich) is one global firm augmenting its presence in China. The firm is boosting production capacity in Shanghai to 20 million handsets this year from the current 14 million. It has also announced plans for a joint venture with local handset maker Ningbo Bird (Zhejiang Province) to develop and market phones.

Local player TCL Corp. (Huizhou) recently tripled capacity to 42 million handsets a year, prompting fears that weaker players could soon be forced out of business. Moreover, Alcatel (Paris) recently announced plans to set up a joint venture with TCL, into which Alcatel would spin off its handset business.

Processors are also gearing up for increased demand in China. Perlos inaugurated its Beijing plant in November 2003, almost doubling capacity in the process. The firm started its first operation in China in 2001 in Guangzhou.

Another telecom processor, Balda AG (Bad Oeynhausen), recently acquired the 50% stake of its partner, Mikron Holding AG, in their Suzhou-based joint venture near Shanghai. The relationship was initially set up in April 2001 to serve the mobile phone sector.

Then in April, Everskill Technology Co. (Taipei Hsien, Taiwan) acquired a 25% stake in the operation, further augmenting Everskill''s presence in China—it already has plants in Kunshan and Shunde. Everskill''s owners include Compal Electronics, Asustek Computer, and Quanta Computer, all of which have plans to start mobile phone production.

More design work is also shifting to China to take advantage of its low cost structure and market potential. TechFaith Holding Ltd. (Beijing) and Japan''s NEC Corp. (Tokyo) formed a joint venture to design and develop 2.5G and 3G handsets. This is yet another indication that, as with many manufacturing industries, a prominent presence in China is fast becoming a prerequisite to global business. SM

Contact information

Balda   www.balda.de
CCID Consulting   www.ccidconsulting.com
Flextronics   www.flextronics.com
Global Sources   www.globalsources.com
Hirose   www.hirose.co.jp
IDC   www.idc.com
ISuppli   www.isuppli.com
Japan Aviation Electronics   www.jae.co.jp
Mikron   www.mikron-tg.com
Molex   www.molex.com
Northstream   www.northstream.se
Perlos   www.perlos.com
Strategy Analytics   www.strategyanalytics.com

Strategy, tactics, and obsession

strategy, n., 1. The science and art of using a nation''s forces to execute approved plans as effectively as possible. 2. A plan of action resulting from strategy or intended to accomplish a specific goal.

tactics, n., 1. The military art that deals with securing objectives set by strategy, esp. the technique of deploying and directing toops, ships, and aircraft in efficient maneuvers against an enemy.

Ifound myself a few weeks ago on an airplane and seated next to a reserve officer in the United States Air Force. He was en route to a training session somewhere on the East Coast. We engaged in the usual airplane chatter. When he revealed to me his military affiliation, my interest was piqued. For some time I''ve read about strategic and tactical military operations, but I''ve always been fuzzy on the distinction; so I took the opportunity to get the definition from an official representative of the U.S. armed forces.

As is often the case, when you express interest in a person''s occupation, they tend to become rather animated, and my officer/seat-mate was no exception. To paraphrase, he put it to me like this:

"Strategy is a long-term goal or plan, the execution of which is played out over a relatively long period of time, and which may not have immediate or obvious impact on day-to-day operations. Tactics are ''on the battlefield'' operations that have apparent and immediate impact on the ''fight'' at hand and are designed to meet short-term goals. In general, strategic goals guide tactical operations."

After my new friend and I parted ways, I started thinking about strategy and tactics in the plastics industry. We use the term "strategy" often in this industry, usually in reference to a processor''s specialty or niche in the market—this molder employs a short-run strategy, this extruder''s strategy focuses on the building and construction market, etc.

Yet when you throw in the "tactic" concept, things change. As a processor you might have well-established and well-communicated strategies that have been clearly developed and position the company to profitably take advantage of some underserved corner of the plastics industry.

In some ways, however, the strategic world lives on a utopian plane above that of running a plastics processing business on a day-to-day basis. There are (tactical) decisions to be made on the shop floor every day that may or may not meet the big-picture strategy. And when your capacity utilization is low and you need to keep machines busy, it''s easy to stray from the strategic goals in an effort to win new business (say, for instance, by low-balling and winning a job you normally wouldn''t bid on).

I was at a conference recently and spoke at length about the importance of sales and marketing strategy. When I was done, a member of the audience raised his hand and said, "Sales and marketing sounds great, but I live in the real world and we have to deal with the here and now." What he meant, I think, was that it''s really hard to meet long-term goals when you''re just trying to get through the end of your shift. Fair enough.

There is, I''m afraid, a disconnect among processors between tactic and strategy. This grows somewhat out of a disconnect between people: The president in the corner office sets strategy; the engineering manager on the floor determines tactic. Ideally, as my friend on the plane said, tactic serves strategy.

But there are processors out there—highly successful ones—who have transcended that gap, and have tactic and strategy in harmony. Such companies, I''ve noticed, are obsessed (from the corner office to the third shift) with implementing that strategy everyday. Deviation is not an option. Such firms are the leaders of this, and every, industry; they set the standard of excellence. Joining them requires an investment of time, creativity, persistence, and sometimes capital, on top of simple survival.

But getting through the shift means more when every job, employee, machine, work cell, sales call, and press release is advancing the plan for success.

Jeff Sloan, Editor-in-Chief [email protected]

Industry Watch

ENGEL TO BUILD LARGE-MACHINE PLANT IN CHINA
Continuing a strategy consistent with being a unified worldwide molding systems supplier, Engel says it will build a new factory for large molding machines in China by the end of 2005. The new plant will complement Engel’s Korean factory for small and medium machines, which parallels what the company has done in Europe and North America.

Peter Neumann, CEO of parent company Engel Holding, says Engel is locating the new plant in China to be near that country’s burgeoning automotive business, with its associated demand for larger presses. The exact location in China was not settled at the end of May, but Neumann confirmed it will be a greenfield project.

Engel also announced that it will open a technology center in Italy, similar to one it opened two years ago in Germany.

On the sales side, the company recently sold its largest machine to date in North America—a 4400-ton, two-barreled, two-platen press. It was shipped to an unidentified Tier One auto molder for producing bumper fascia.

U.S. MOLDMAKERS ARE OPTIMISTIC
Of the 120-plus member companies responding to the spring 2004 online survey conducted by the American Mold Builders Assn. (Roselle, IL), 11% reported "excellent" business conditions. Another 75% reported either "good" or "fair" conditions. All the numbers reportedly are higher than the association’s winter 2004 survey. AMBA has about 350 member companies nationwide.

Most respondents, 45%, expect business to remain the same over the next quarter, although those anticipating an increase in business came in at 44%, up slightly from 41% in the winter survey.

A major surprise was that none—repeat, none—of the respondents expects business to decrease substantially, as they have in similar surveys over the past three years. When comparing current business activity with that of the previous three months, 45% say quoting is up; 40% say shipments are up. Backlog is up for 35%.

Now for the bad news.

Only 25% of survey respondents report an uptick in profits and only 26%

say employment has increased—56% say hiring is static. Pricing pressures are driving profits down for 32% and backlog is down for 32%. The last number can be expected, since lead times have been whacked by several factors, such as high-speed machining and concurrent engineering.

In other news, shop employees put in an average of 47 workweek hours; design engineers put in 46 hours, according to survey results. The average number of shop employees is 25—design and engineering employees average out at five.

PRESS SHIPMENTS DOWN, REVENUE STEADY
Guess what? Shipments of injection molding machines were down last year. According to the SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics’ full-year 2003 report, a total of 3290 units shipped, totaling $688.5 million—a 7% decrease in units vs. the 3537 units shipped in 2002. There was some good news, though. "Surprisingly, there was virtually no change in shipment dollars as 2002 also totaled approximately $688.5 million," the report says.


HUSKY BOSTON OPENS ITS HOUSE TO IML Inmold labeling was a hot topic in Westford, MA this spring at the Husky Boston Technical Center’s open house. IML is one of the differentiating, innovative technologies that Husky Boston’s regional manager, Scott Kroeger, says North America molders must adopt to adapt to the new norm.

"The global economy has altered the landscape of injection molding as we know it," Kroeger says. "Molders in New England have been pioneers in molding. We need to build on that here and inspire the industry in North America to specialize and diversify."

Husky gathered an inspirational group of Yankees to treat attendees to presentations on what the new norm is and how they can better use factory planning, automation, and lean business strategies to hook customers and reel them in.

Speakers included Brian Jones, CEO of Nypro Inc. (Clinton, MA), and Jack Avery, manager of operational assets at GE Plastics (Pittsfield, MA), from whom IMM has pinched the "new norm" phrase.

Paul Gelardi, president of E Media (Kennebunk, ME), also spoke. Gelardi’s company is the exclusive U.S. sales and service agent for automated systems supplier Hekuma GmbH (Eching, Germany). Husky has entered into a strategic alliance with Hekuma to supply turnkey IML systems.

"Molding competence alone is no longer enough," Gelardi says. "Molders must take on a single-source responsibility for producing more complex parts with more sophisticated processes. Automation helps to reduce variability."

SHORT SHOTS

  • Easley Custom Plastics Inc. (Easley, SC) is the new name for custom molder McKechnie Plastic Components, following its acquisition by CH Industries, a South Carolina-based acquisition and growth platform company, which plans to build a group of plastics manufacturing companies through further acquisitions.
  • A strategic alliance was forged between colorant suppliers Chroma Corp. (McHenry, IL) and Riverdale Color (Perth Amboy, NJ). Maguire Products (Aston, PA) also is an ally. Chroma’s InjectaColor liquid colorants will be manufactured by Riverdale. Pelletized color concentrates will be produced by Chroma, and Maguire will contribute technical field services and its expertise in color/additive delivery systems.
  • Electric Injection Services (Newtown, OH) is a new consulting firm formed to help molders justify and optimize processes in all-electric injection molding operations. A leading advocate of all-electric molding, Barr Klaus, is the founder.
  • Milacron Inc. (Cincinnati, OH) has inked a joint venture deal with a subsidiary of Jiangyin Mould Plastics Group Co. Ltd. (Jiangyin, Jiangsu, China) to build medium- to large-tonnage injection molding machines in the PRC for the Chinese market.
  • Ameritech Die & Mold Inc. (Mooresville, NC) has purchased the assets of Pinnacle Mold Technology (Ormond Beach, FL), a moldmaking shop situated near a Tier One automotive supplier, which is a new Ameritech customer. Ameritech Die & Mold South is Pinnacle’s new name.
  • Hommer Tool & Mfg. Inc. (Arlington Heights, IL), a manufacturer of custom round tooling, has purchased the assets of a medical moldmaker and manufacturer of replacement components—Romar Mold Inc. (Arlington Heights).
  • Nypro Inc. (Clinton, MA) has started a joint development effort with Trexel Inc. (Woburn, MA) to create a MuCell product design methodology.
  • RJG Inc. (Traverse City, MI) has completed construction of its new website, www.rjginc.com. Manuals and technical documents can now be downloaded, and an ROI worksheet and RFQ form are also online.
WEB-EXCLUSIVE SHORT SHOT
Resin Technology Inc. (RTi), a resin consultancy based in Fort Worth, TX, recently added a new group to advise processors how to reduce the cost of color concentrate. Sam Beasley—a veteran of PolyOne, M.A. Hanna Color, and PMS Consolidated—will be the managing partner for this division. The company says it has reduced color additive costs 10% to 30% for its clients. For more information, check www.resinpros.com.—MM