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Articles from 2009 In June

Updated: Novatec files patent-infringement suit against Conair for EnergySmart dryers

Novatec Inc. (Baltimore, MD) announced June 30 that it has filed a patent-infringement suit against The Conair Group Inc. (Cranberry Township, PA), with estimated damages exceeding $8 million. The company specifically cited Conair’s EnergySmart dual-flow line of dryers, introduced in 2007 by Conair, saying the system infringes on a dual-flow patent filed by Novatec in 2004, which was ultimately granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 2006.

Chris Keller, Conair president, told PlasticsToday that his company has seen the complaint, and flatly stated, "I'm not aware of Conair infringing on anyone's patents, much less Novatec's." Novatec's John Kraft said his company has spent the last six months building its case, filing the suit some two years after the technology in question was launched. "We have now seen their literature, their manuals, their PR releases, and most recently, inspected their equipment, which has confirmed our infringement opinions."

The two companies have been at loggerheads for some time, with Conair dropping its own patent-infringement suit against Novatec over dryer monitoring technology last month, after filing the motion in April but never serving it. Keller said that, in that instance, Conair was specifically concerned with how Novatec described one of its products in sales and marketing literature. When the description was changed, Conair dropped the suit, but Keller stressed that the dismissal agreement signed by both companies left the door open to a future patent-infringement claim by Conair. This current matter is further complicated by Novatec’s claim in a press release that knowledge of the technology in question was misappropriated by Conair officials in the 2004-2005 time frame, when the company was weighing the purchase of Novatec and given access to its patents and patent applications under the restriction of a confidentiality agreement. Keller flatly denied that charge as well, saying his company has not breached any confidentiality agreement. Conrad M. Bessemer, president and CEO of Novatec, and formerly an executive with Conair, said in a press release that his company would be seeking “full and punitive damages from Conair.” 

Kraft said Novatec and partner Maguire are committed to the pursuit of this action and have set aside monies. "The ownership of Novatec has committed a sizeable figure to a reserve fund to pursue our claims," Kraft said, adding that Novatec and Maguire have more than 140 patents and applications, and that the companies have spent "millions on our technology and intend to make sure that our intellectual property is protected adequately." 

In addition to asking Conair to cease selling the technology, Novatec is seeking lost sales damages and indemnification for profits that Conair has earned from the technology since its launch, including sales at last week’s NPE2009, where Conair said it signed two separate purchase agreements for multiple units of the single-stage EnergySmart (ES-1) material-drying systems that totaled nearly $2 million.

In April 2009, Conair filed a patent-infringement suit against Novatec, but never served the company with a subpoena, dropping the suit last month. Bessemer said that action delayed its plans to file a complaint against Conair, but now that the matter has been settled it will pursue its own case.

The patent infringement was filed in the U.S. District court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and relates specifically to U.S. patent No. 7,007,402. Issued March 7, 2006 and entitled “System and Method for Drying Particulate Materials Using Heater Gas,” the original patent application was filed on Oct. 19, 2004, with W. John Gillette designated as the inventor and Novatec as the assignee. The abstract described the patent as protecting “a system and method for drying particulate material in a dual-flow hopper that employs multiple flow paths by which heated gas is inserted into the hopper at different levels. Gas is extracted from the hopper and is divided for flow along two flow paths, one of the flow paths receiving gas that has been dried and the other flow path receiving gas that has not been dried.”

In the motion, Novatec claims Conair has “manufactured, used, sold, and/or offered for sale” devices in the U.S. that infringe on this patent, in particular, its EnergySmart PET drying system. The company is seeking compensatory damages, including all damages suffered as a result of the infringement, saying the company has “knowingly and willfully” infringed. The motion was submitted on June 19, by Charles Quinn and Ronald Shaffer of the Pennsylvania law firm Fox Rothschild LLP on behalf of Novatec.
The patent application says this design differs from previous advances in that it takes advantage of a dual-flow hopper with inlet ports at two different levels without requiring a source of compressed air, a membrane dryer, or an air mixer. Gas extracted from the hopper is split, with some returned to the hopper along a flow path that takes it through a dryer, and the second part sent on a path that bypasses the dryer. Novatec says that since only part of the gas extracted from the hopper passes though the dryer, a smaller dryer can be used, which lowers the initial equipment cost, saves floor space, and reduces the energy required compared to a larger unit.

As part of its filing, Novatec submitted a 12-page promotional brochure for the EnergySmart PET drying system from Conair entitled “Slash energy waste; increase profits” that included diagrams and specifications. [email protected]

Medical plastics center to open at Penn State

During last week’s NPE2009 plastics show in Chicago, John Beaumont, professor of engineering and chair of the Plastics Engineering Technology degree programs at the university, told Modern Plastics that the school is to start a certificate for a medical plastics program by the spring of 2010. A $150,000 Keystone Innovation Zone Starter Kit grant will be used to help establish the program, which is designed to assist plastics processors interested in producing medical devices using multicomponent molding and liquid silicon rubber (LSR) molding techniques, two areas he says present a high potential for growth.

“Adoption of these two molding technologies offers an opportunity to achieve product differentiation versus low-technology commodity imports,” Beaumont says. “There is a projected 10%-20%/yr growth for these specialty products as opposed to an 8% decline for plastics commodity components.” The Starter Kit grant is to be used to establish lab infrastructure needed for materials compounding, multicomponent materials characterization testing, and multicomponent processing. The lab will include a modular cleanroom to act as training and prototype facility.

The program envisioned by Beaumont will handle regulatory issues, selection and processing of medical materials, issues related to sterilization, implants, design, and documentation. Initially the program will be part of the undergraduate studies but Beaumont says as it progresses he expects it will be offered directly to employees of processing operations as a continuing education option.

Beaumont, along with department head Ralph M. Ford, were on the prowl in the aisles at the NPE last week, looking for new equipment to acquire for the program. Beaumont also said new faculty, particularly in materials sciences, will have to be hired to conduct the program along with the existing staff.

Beaumont told Modern Plastics he believes medical processing would most likely not be outsourced overseas since anxiety about quality and accuracy would be too high to allow cost to be the overriding factor. “The health field has considerable doubts about sourcing medical devices from the third world. I think most people are concerned that we can’t even get toys from China without lead in them,” he says. [email protected]

NPE buzz continued: Show better than expected, but bank (non-)lending still a big issue

(Matthews, NC). “We were pleasantly surprised and never had so many appointments with processors attending any NPE,” she says. She also pointed to high interest in the company’s MRS devolution extruder that was premiered at the show for the first time in North America. The prototype unit was shown at the K 2007 tradeshow in Düsseldorf, Germany.

John Van Hulle, VP/general manager specialty color, additives, and inks at PolyOne (Avon Lake, OH) said the quality of the visitors to his booth was very good, often coming with specific applications problems to which they were looking for solutions. Concurring with that was Klaus Lorius, manager sales and marketing at Dutch pipe extrusion equipment specialist Rollepaal (Dedemsvaart), who said, “The number of people in the aisles is definitely down but if you look at who is here, the quality visitors and decision makers are the ones who are coming to our stand. We see very good opportunities to talking seriously with customers and prospects at this show.”

Martin Elliott, regional sales/marketing manager at Holliday Pigments (Comines, France), told Modern Plastics that by the second day of the show he had already had serious visitors from Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S. interested in his company’s ultramarines. Visitors were seeking out his company’s ultramarine pigments to help with concerns on existing applications regarding color fade issues and warping. Joie Komarmi, international business manager at Dyna-Purge (Buffalo, NY), also said the quality of the visitors at this NPE was quite high, with attendees looking for answers to specific processing issues.

“Indeed, we are seeing fewer people than we forecast before the show, yet the ones who are here are in search of solutions to problems that we can help them with,” said Paul Pitman, technical manager polymer additives, PCC Chemax (Piedmont, SC). Ned LeMaster, technical manager at Bergen International (Elgin, IL), a supplier of chemical foaming agents, told us that the show had been better than expected and the company had obtained many new leads. “In tough times, people come to the show to look for ways to save money, cut cycle times, and improve existing products without big investments,” he says.

Although some machines were sold at the show and the buzz around the event was positive, tradeshow sentiment slams into hard reality when it comes time for processors to access capital for “big investments” in primary processing machinery. Edgar Gandelheidt, CEO of film extrusion line manufacturers Kiefel Extrusion (Worms, Germany) and Brückner Formtec, said even processors who want new capital equipment were at the mercy of lending institutions that are not lending at all or only at historically high rates. Ulrich Reifenhäuser, one of the CEOs at extrusion machinery producer Reifenhäuser, told Modern Plastics much the same thing. [email protected]

W. Amsler sold PET SBM machine from booth at NPE

(Richmond Hill, ON) brought two machines to NPE2009 for the first time in its history, and before noon on the first day of the show it finalized a sale price for one of the systems to a customer it had been in negotiations with. Custom blowmolder Dahl-Tech (Stillwater, MN) will take delivery of the L-25 stretch blowmolding (SBM) line directly from McCormick Place, bringing its stable of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) SBM machines to three. The lines join 12 Uniloy extrusion blowmolding units, according to Mark Dahlke, Dahl-Tech VP of manufacturing.
Heidi Amsler, sales and marketing manager for W. Amsler, said the L-22, and L-25 systems in its booth gave the 20-by-20-ft stand a possible throughput of more than 5000 bottles/hr. Dahlke said his company settled on a price with W. Amsler that Monday morning, after it started looking for an upgrade to its older systems that would allow it to produce wide-mouth containers. The company has a lot of business in applications like honey and juice bottles, and it’s currently having molds created for the new system.

W. Amsler’s lines offer throughputs from 1800 to 24,000 bottles/hr, with systems over 10,000 bottles using a rotary design. At the show, the company was stretch blowmolding jars that utilized a spin cutter to remove the top. [email protected]

Giant moldings get brought down to size

Water conservation seems certain to become an ever-more important topic, which must make Graf Plastics GmbH feel pleased. The German processor, using one of the largest injection molding machines in the world, has since late 2006 processed its massive Carat-brand underground tanks for rainwater collection at its Teningen facility.

Sized to hold up to 6500 liters of rainwater, which then is used in toilets, washing machines or garden irrigation, the tanks are processed on a 5500-tonne twin-platen press from Engel that can inject up to 150 kg of material with each shot. The two halves of the tanks are moulded with this machine and welded together.

Clearly controlling a 150-kg shot is no easy feat, and just as clearly you cannot afford to throw out any mistakes. Because Graf offers a 25-yr guarantee on the tanks, it checks each tank for the correct dimensions, wall thicknesses and weight. Any scrap, surplus or tanks that don't pass muster are shredded in a single step with a WLK 30 'Super-Jumbo' single-shaft shredder, which the molder acquired from size reduction machinery specialist Weima (Ilsfeld, also Germany). This shredder is fitted with a completely closable hopper above the machine housing. On one side, two opening doors enable opening of the machine and thereby access to the rotor. Feeding of the material (as complete tanks or a number of clamshell halves) is done via forklift through this opening. The machine only runs when the doors and hopper access are closed.

The shredded material is delivered through a screen with 10-mm perforations located underneath the rotor. Ground material with low dust content and with particle size of approx. 8-10 mm is realized.

Polymerupdate Asian resin pricing, June 22-26: LDPE, LLDPE, and PVC rise, PS falls

. CFR Far East Asia prices reached $1210 to $1220/tonne, with CFR South Asia prices hitting $1240 to $1250/tonne. July Middle East LLDPE shipment offers were at $1250/tonne CFR China and higher, with no avails from Taiwanese LLDPE producers for July as they claimed to have sold out for the month. U.S. LLDPE offers were at $1200 to $1210/tonne CFR China mark, and although there was buying interest at this price, several buyers kept their U.S. material bids below $1200/tonne CFR, given the long sailing time to Asia. LLDPE users across the region were restocking inventories ahead of the approaching peak LLDPE-consumption season.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) prices moved higher with sellers able to achieve price increases due to tight regional product availability. The short supplies were created in part by a switch in production to ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) at some Asian LDPE/EVA swing plants due higher profitability in EVA production compared to LDPE. Spot EVA prices were pegged at $1550 to $1580/tonne. CFR Far East Asia LDPE prices were up at $1230/tonne, with CFR Southeast Asia prices at $1230/tonne. Friday offers rose to the $1250 to $1270/tonne CFR China and CFR Southeast Asia level. Chinese customs data showed a fall in China’s LDPE imports for May, with a month-over-month drop above 21% to 105,181 tonnes.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) prices firmed in Asia last week due to tightness in key feedstock. CFR China PVC prices rose to $870/tonne, with CFR Southeast Asia prices hitting $870/tonne. PVC producers are targeting a $100/tonne hike for July.
Chinese customs data showed that U.S. PVC exports to China in May were at 30,359 tonnes, with total imports of 186,790 tonnes. In plant news, Hanwha Chemical’s 275,000 tonnes/yr PVC facility in Ulsan was restarted a fortnight ago on completion of a maintenance turnaround. The producer’s export availability was limited as it first met domestic buyer requirements.

Polystyrene (PS) prices weakened as demand softened across Asia. Polymerupdate reports that a midweek drop in crude prices prompted general-purpose and high-impact PS buyers to withdraw their inquiries. CFR China general-purpose prices were at $1110/tonne, with CFR Southeast Asia prices at $1100 to $1110/tonne. High-impact prices dropped to $1180/tonne CFR China, while CFR Southeast Asia high-impact PS prices settled at $1170 to $1180/tonne. [email protected]

Court approves sale of Milacron to investment group

Milacron CEO Dave Lawrence said there had been considerable interest in the company, but the existing investor group’s offer was the highest. "These are investors who understand our company, our customers, and the markets that have long relied on Milacron’s products and services,” he said, adding that the group’s sustained confidence in the company is enabling a quick completion of the bankruptcy process.

Lawrence expressed confidence that the reorganized company will be much healthier, and that the new ownership will support advancing technologies, development of new strategic partnerships, and expansion of services to customers around the world.

Motorola and Sabic make new phones from old bottles

Chicago, IL—At last week’s NPE show, Sabic Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, MA) showed a variety of larger transportation-related applications, including concept cars, shatterproof transit operator shields, fold-up electric bicycle components, and aircraft interior panels, but one little device creating a lot of interest was an innovative new mobile phone. Using up to 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content from discarded water bottles, Motorola collaborated with Sabic to develop Lexan EXL 8414 polycarbonate for the MOTO W233 Renew mobile phone, which Sabic reports as being the world’s first certified carbon neutral device.

A million of these carbon-neutral Motorola Renew phones could keep a stack of water bottles equal to eight times the height of the Empire State Building from ending up in landfills.

“The MOTO W233 Renew mobile phone is a compelling example of Motorola’s strong and ongoing commitment to sustainability and the environment,” says Bill Olson, director, office of sustainability and stewardship, mobile devices, Motorola. “Working together with Sabic Innovative Plastics, we co-developed Lexan EXL 8414 resin for the phone housing to give today’s increasingly eco-conscious consumers a carbon-neutral, high-performance solution. Renew is a mobile phone designed from the ground up to be an environmentally responsible and very reliable device.”

Said to be the first mobile phone to use PCR, Sabic says producing one million Renew phones from Lexan EXL 8414 would prevent water bottles eight times the height of the Empire State building from entering landfills. The housing is also 100% recyclable and the resin production uses 20% less energy than standard material processes. The PCR content doesn’t lessen the important material characteristics needed in the mobile phone market, with Sabic reporting the resin has excellent impact and temperature resistance and flow properties to allow for thinner wall designs. And compared to alternative PC resins, the Lexan EXL is said to have exceptional release properties, which can allow for shortened cycle times.

Tom Stanley, vice president technology, Sabic Innovative Plastics, says the company’s relationship with Motorola dates back nearly two decades, which has led to this latest co-development milestone. “In this case, Sabic Innovative Plastics leveraged our global technology expertise to meet Motorola’s precise specifications for an eco-progressive solution that offered the same high-performance properties and processing ease of traditional Lexan EXL resin,” Stanley said.[email protected]

NatureWorks capacity-boost online; plans to release high-heat IM grade in ’09

Senior Scientist Richard Bopp received welcome news from his company’s production facility in Blair, NE. Making a call before his 9:00 am presentation, Bopp verified that the plant had successfully doubled its production capacity for corn-derived polylactic acid (PLA) resin from 150-million lb/yr, to 300-million lb/yr, with the site producing prime product.
In addition to feeding the broadening segment within single-serve and packaging markets that PLA has staked out, Bopp told attendees the new output would also aid the company’s push into durable applications, saying current research should allow the company to release a high-heat injection moldable grade later this year. “The work we’re doing is on durable applications,” Bopp said. “PLA has formed a niche in packaging, but because of the some of the developments made while working on packaging, we feel like we can move into more durable applications.”

Among those developments, was the creation of a single-stage CPLA (crystallized PLA) for the thermoforming market, which utilizes EBS (ethylene bis stearamide) as a nucleating agent. The company is experimenting with different nucleating agents for an injection moldable PLA, as well as shooting the resin into a hot tool, to overcome some of the material’s current deficiencies.

Bopp stressed that those shortcomings, contrary to popular opinion, are more related to the time needed for PLA to crystallize vs. its heat deflection, saying the resin has a “process-time issue” instead of a “heat issue.” To enter into durable injection-molded products, the company is also weighing impact toughening through rubber modification, specialty minerals, and biaxial orientation, as well as working to address concerns regarding hydrolytic stability and ignition resistance.

Bopp believes the key to overcoming some of the issues revolves around advances in stereochemistry. The left-hand/right-hand symmetry of the PLA molecule is important to crystallization, with stereocomplex constructs pushing the biomaterial’s heat performance to 220°C, according to Bopp. The research has already driven PLA into new applications, including the replacement of high-impact polystyrene in hot coffee lids, but the goal is to enter new markets. Bopp pointed out that crystallization also boosts mechanical properties, pushing the melt impact into the 160°C region, compared to a glass-transition of 60°C for non-crystallized PLA, further increasing the material’s potential appeal. [email protected]

Lung Meng’s the only blown-film tower running at NPE

Chicago, IL—Noticeably absent from NPE2009 were rafter-scraping film towers running blown-film applications, as many suppliers still came to Chicago, and brought equipment, but left it idle. The lone operational system could be found in the North Hall and was brought by Taiwanese equipment supplier, Lung Meng Machinery (Tainan Hsien).

Allen Tsai, general manager of Lung-Meng Machinery U.S.A. Inc. (Doral, FL), stands in front of the AH75C blown-film system his company ran at NPE2009. Many larger suppliers brought systems, or components of systems, but opted not to run them.

The AH75T monolayer system with 3-inch extruder and winder was running an Exceed mPE (metallocene polyethylene) from ExxonMobil for a stretch film product. Allen Tsai, general manager of U.S. operations for Lung Meng Machinery Inc. (Doral, FL), said the company had planned to have two operational systems in its booth, with a larger three-layer coextrusion line joining the stretch-film system, but as reports of pullbacks by competitors surfaced, the company scaled down its plans.

The second line, which would have blown a three-layer garbage bag, was to be paired with an inline slitting and packaging system to produce finished boxes of garbage bags. The company still brought the inline packaging system, as well as an automated pre-stretching system for shrink film that reduces stretch-film thickness from 21 to 8 µm, while boosting strength. The company described its booth as a demonstration of its new whole-plant system, offering film manufacturing to bag packaging.

Tsai said the company never wavered in its commitment to run a line in Chicago, adding that NPE2009 had been busy after relatively slow events in Asia (Chinaplas) and Europe (Italy’s Plast). “We’re a machinery company,” Tsai said, “we don’t just want to show customers a catalog.” The AH75T has a maximum film width of 1600 mm and output of 200 kg/hr in high-density PE and 230 kg/hr in low-density PE. [email protected]