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Articles from 2018 In June


Carolina Color adds extrusion capacity at Ohio facility

Carolina Color's new extruder

Growing demand for its patented G2 and G3 product lines has prompted Carolina Color Corp. (Salisbury, NC) to purchase a new extruder from NFM/Welding Engineers Inc. (Massillon, OH). The TEM Series extruder, on display at the recent NPE (pictured), uses a co-rotating, intermeshing twin-screw manufactured by NFM/Welding Engineers under an exclusive North America TEM license from Toshiba Machine Japan. The new extruder will give Carolina Color’s Delaware, OH, operation expanded capabilities.

Carolina Color Corp. displayed the new extruder from NFM/Welding Engineers at NPE2018.
“We have been relying on NFM for our extrusion equipment for both of our plants for the past 15 years because these machines are very reliable and capable of extruding the highest quality material we need for our G2 and G3 product lines,” commented Jeff Smink, COO of Carolina Color. “Also, their service and the knowledge of the engineering staff in compounding color is second to none. Without this partnership with NFM, we would not have been able to develop these technologies and grow our company as fast as we have since the launch of G2 in 2008.”

Paul Roberson, President, NFM/Welding Engineers, stated, “The partnership with Carolina Color over the years has been important for the growth of both companies. Our companies have both learned how to improve our products and processes since the launch of these game-changing color technologies. We are looking forward to the new growth of Carolina Color since its purchase by Arsenal Capital Partners late in 2017.”

Carolina Color is a full-service production operation with complete laboratories for color matching, testing and analytics.

UC San Francisco partners with Chinese 3D-printing company to advance orthopedics

3D-printed part made from Intamsys PEEK filament

Medical researchers in San Francisco are teaming up with a 3D-printing and materials company in Shanghai to forge new frontiers in orthopedics.

The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Intamsys, a manufacturer of industrial 3D printers and a supplier of PEEK filament and other high-performance materials, have announced a joint-research initiative to advance 3D-printing applications in the field of orthopedic surgery. The project will be led by EDGE Labs, a division within UCSF’s  Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. 

Image courtesy Intamsys.

“We are very pleased to work with the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery to advance PEEK applications in medicine, as well as promoting healthcare cost savings in the field of orthopedics,” said Charles Han, CEO of Intamsys. “Collaborating with surgeons to deliver the best possible patient outcomes is what drives our company.”

Because it combines biocompatibility with wear resistance and overall durability, PEEK has replaced metals in a number of orthopedic applications to date. Last year, Evonik reported that its Vestakeep brand of PEEK was used in the design and development of more than 80 medical devices cleared by FDA.

PEEK 3D printing filament from Intamsys integrates those properties in a reportedly affordable package. “This level of industrial-grade printing has not been available at this price point,” said Alexis Dang, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, one of the UCSF researchers that will be leading the project. “We are interested in being able to prototype customized implants using high-temperature materials such as PEEK.”

Intamsys' PEEK filament has unique properties because it does not come into contact with water during the production process and is directly inserted in vacuum packaging, according to Intamsys. These properties make the Intamsys PEEK filament particularly suitable for use in fused filament fabrication printers developed by the company. The material features excellent adhesion between layers, which improves the material's impact resistance, strength and durability, as well as the printing process, reports Intamsys on its website.

Asia to the world: We don't want your plastic waste problem

Asia to the world: We don't want your plastic waste problem

China’s 2017 plastic waste import ban has seen notable quantities of the world’s discarded material being redirected to elsewhere in Asia, but changes are afoot. The message from countries in Southeast Asia, at least, is you’d better consider shipping it elsewhere. Better still, why not handle the recycling of plastic waste at home?

In the most recent development, Thailand’s Department of Industrial Works (DIW) has issued an order prohibiting imports of plastic and electronic waste amidst a surge in imports resulting from China’s ban. Thailand imported around 310,000 tonnes of plastic waste in the first five months of 2018, according to Thai customs statistics. This compares with a paltry 43,000-odd tonnes for the same period in 2017. Year-to-date imports are already at double the level for the whole of 2017, when Thailand imported around 153,000 tonnes of plastic waste.

Asian nations reject the notion of becoming the world’s dumping ground for discarded plastic and other waste streams.

The DIW Director-General, Mongkol Pruekwatana, said his department will now inspect the 2,240 recycling factories across the country after having issued a prohibition order on further imports of electronic and plastic waste effective immediately. The DIW is also working with the Customs Department to block any further imports and will be proposing to Thailand’s Ministry of Industry to issue an indefinite ban on these imports in the near future.

China’s plastics recycling industry has been hit hard by the ban on plastic waste imports implemented in July last year, which effectively deprived the sector of around half of its raw material requirements. Many companies have shut down, while others have laid off significant proportions of their staff. Those that had relatively strong finances, meanwhile, have invested in overseas operations, primarily in Southeast Asia. According to the China Scrap Plastic Association (CSPA), more than 1,000 of its members, representing a third of China’s total, have invested around RMB10 billion (US$1.5 billion) to relocate around four million tonnes of annual recycling capacity to the region.

But these are now being hit by the new restrictions being implemented in Southeast Asia. Vietnam issued a temporary import ban in May this year triggered by a build-up of unclaimed containers carrying plastic and paper waste at its main port in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a report by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (Washington, DC). The port authority will review the situation in mid-October. For its part, Malaysia temporarily suspended new import permit applications in mid-May.

Prior to the import ban, China imported around seven million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Deprived of this stream, efforts to process more domestic recycled plastic have reportedly been progressing slowly. Handling imports and domestically sourced waste material are reportedly two very different channels and it will take time for recyclers to adapt.

Another key challenge facing the plastics recycling industry in Asia is lack of conversion capacity in Southeast Asia for recycled material. At present, Chinese recyclers are shipping back the majority of reprocessed pellets to China, hoping that customs officials will accept them as sufficiently clean and pure. China’s Environmental Protection Control Standards for Imported Solid Wastes as Raw Materials effectively sets a threshold of 0.5% contamination for imports of recycled plastic pellets. These shipments, however, have reportedly been facing delays because Chinese customs are under pressure to ensure not only that imported pellets meet this standard, but also that containers are not being used to smuggle illegal low-grade plastic waste into the country. The customs authority has reportedly initiated 134 crime probes involving 254,000 tonnes of smuggled scrap this year, including waste plastic and metal in recent times.

It is somewhat ironic that a developing economy in China, facing numerous environmental challenges of its own including polluted waterways and air, has provided the impetus for the global plastics industry to reconsider how it handles its waste. For too long, numerous developed economies have been happy to push their plastic waste problems onto emerging economies in Asia without worrying about developing sustainable plastic recycling strategies. The days for such actions would appear to be limited. No longer does any country want to import other countries’ problems. It is time for the developed world to step up to the plate.

Blowmolded roof spoiler employs ABS for heat resistance, paintability

Blowmolded roof spoiler employs ABS for heat resistance, paintability

Novodur HH-112 ABS grade from Ineos Styrolution (Frankfurt, Germany) has been selected by a major European automobile manufacturer for a blowmolded roof spoiler. Among attributes of the grade are the ability to paint it without pre-treatment steps such as surface activation.

Blowmolded roof spoiler can be painted without the need for any energy-intensive surface activation.

Novodur HH-112 is an ABS material specifically designed for high heat resistance and stiffness. It features the melt rheology required for blowmolding processing and a Vicat softening temperature of 112°C.

Energy and cost savings are achieved by taking advantage of the selected material solution. The material offers the advantage of painting without the need for energy-intensive surface activation steps such as flaming. In addition, the final application is manufactured in a single part versus multiple parts having to be assembled.

Car spoilers, in particular roof spoilers, are a trend in the automotive industry that has been observed for several years, according to Ineos. As of today, such spoilers are adopted for about 50% of all new cars. Further, since its color can be customized to the request of the driver, the spoiler may be seen as a signature statement of the car’s owner.

“Due to our long-lasting relationship with the customer and the Tier 1 supplying this part, an efficient technical cooperation drove to this interesting cost-effective solution. With this Novodur HH112 [grade] using blowmolding technology, a high-quality painted surface was achieved,” summarizes Eric Chambost, Key Account Manager at Ineos Styrolution.

New grade of silicone elastomer eyes microfluidic and implantable medical device applications

New products

Materials innovator Gelest Inc. (Morrisville, PA) has introduced ExSil 50, a softer grade of an ultra-high elongation material that has been formulated to meet the requirements of soft-tissue implants or extracorporeal device applications. 

The ExSil class of elastomers have unprecedented elongation greater than 5000% and shape recovery behavior, according to Gelest. They also have self-sealing and tear-resistance properties. The materials are available in an industrial grade, Gelest ExSil 100, as well as soft-tissue compatible ExSil 50.

To view a technical data sheet for the material, click on the PDF:  Gelest-ExSil-50.pdf

Gelest is a manufacturer and supplier of commercial and research quantities of organo-silicon compounds, metal-organic compounds and silicones. The company serves advanced technology markets, including specialty polymeric materials, through a materials science–driven approach.

Milacron reports increased revenue, but analyst deems pace of recovery ‘erratic’

Milacron quarterly report

As plastics processors invest in capital equipment to expand production capacity, replace older equipment or take advantage of new technology, Milacron’s revenue has “picked up,” noted Stephen Simpson, CFA at Seeking Alpha, in his analysis of the latest report from Milacron (Cincinnati, OH). Seeking Alpha (New York, NY) provides market insights and financial analysis.

“With better results and higher multiples across the machinery space, Milacron’s shares have done okay since my last update in May 2016,” said Simpson in his June 22 analysis (“Milacron Delivering, But The Road Is Getting a Little Rockier”). “Though the shares have sold off about 10% recently, they’ve still generated a double-digit return over the past year despite rising input costs offsetting a lot of the progress the company has made with operating expenses. Although I think Milacron’s multiple should have room to improve from here, I’m a little more cautious on the near-term outlook for machinery investment, particularly with trade protectionism bubbling up,” said Simpson.

Milacron has continued to deliver better-than-expected quarters, with revenue exceeding sell-side expectations for five straight quarters. Organic revenue growth “perked up” from 1% in the second quarter of 2017 to 6% in the third quarter and 9% in the fourth quarter, before slowing to 3% in Q1 2018. “The latter was due at least in part to the company’s decision to walk away from some capital equipment business in the auto sector; the company’s largest end-markets continue to do reasonably well,” said Simpson.

Despite the good news, Simpson pointed out that revenue compensation has been “erratic,” with two main revenue drivers “in play for Milacron to varying degrees—demand for molding equipment (the APPT segment) to replace an aging installed base and ongoing conversion from cold runners to hot runners” (the MDCS segment which includes hot runners). 

The MDCS segment saw double-digit organic growth in the second and third quarters of 2017 before a slowdown partly tied to order timing in the fourth quarter and a rebound to 9% growth in the first quarter of this year (against nearly double-digit year-ago comparables). “APPT revenue growth has likewise been all over the place, with growth decelerating sharply from 16% in the fourth quarter of 2017 to flat in the first quarter [of 2018],” commented Simpson.

Simpson noted that Milacron’s margin improvement efforts have had mixed results, as higher input costs have weighed on gross margin, with significant gross margin pressure in Q2 2017 through Q4 2017 before a “modest improvement” in Q1 of 2018 driven by a “more concerted effort to manage the mix” (by walking away from lower-margin business). 

Milacron’s cost reduction program, which is about 75% complete, has paid dividends, as EBITDA margins have remained relatively stable with a slight upward bias, and free cash flow generation has improved a bit, Simpson said.

Simpson’s primary concern involves “slowing demand for capital equipment” in spite of the fact that orders “remained healthy in the first quarter, and machine tool orders remain strong,” even given that capital equipment manufacturers are making “cautious statements.” He added that he’s “taking a little more conservative position at this point in the cycle.”

Looking at the long term, however, Simpson believes there are opportunities for Milacron to grow, particularly since the automotive market accounts for about one-quarter of Milacron’s business (and one-third of the more profitable MDCS and Fluid Technologies businesses). The continued trend to substitute metal parts with plastic to reduce weight and cost will also benefit Milacron, as it is projected that 18% of cars will be made of plastic in 2020. 

Simpson also believes that there’s “more room for increased penetration of hot runners in plastic molding operations” to reduce plastic waste and clean-up labor costs, as well as achieve faster production cycle times.

“I also believe Milacron has opportunities to grow through M&A,” stated Simpson in his analysis. “The company still has too much debt on the balance sheet, but I believe the company could start thinking about meaningful M&A in a year or two. Although plastic molding equipment is a very fragmented market, I’m less interested in seeing Milacron act as a consolidator and more interested in seeing the company acquire more consumables/aftermarket components and technology-driven products,” said Simpson.

First, do no harm, medtech industry urges Trump

China and US containers

The medical device industry is increasingly rattled by the tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by the United States and China and the prospect of a full-blown trade war. Approximately $800 million worth of medical devices and components made in China are targeted by the Trump administration for a 25% tariff, scheduled to go into effect on July 6. That is sending a chill through Minnesota’s medtech industry, reports the StarTribune.

“U.S. hospitals and distributors will likely absorb the brunt of the new import taxes hitting Chinese-made medical devices and components next month, but jobs and research in Minnesota's bustling medical-technology sector could be threatened if a full trade war with China breaks out,” writes StarTribune reporter Joe Carlson.

Home to medtech giant Medtronic, Minnesota and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, in particular, have positioned themselves as one of the United States’ premier medical technology hubs. Minnesota was ranked second, just behind California, by sister brands Qmed and MD+DI in a survey of the top 10 medical manufacturing states. China is an important trading partner for the state’s medical technology industry.

“China is the largest single buyer of medical devices and optical supplies from Minnesota, with exports up 14 percent to $192 million in the first three months of this year,” writes Carlson. It is also a substantial sales market for Medtronic, which has nearly one million square feet of manufacturing and research space in China, slightly more than it has in Minnesota, according to the StarTribune. At a gathering for investors, Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak said that the “China market is going to be, at some time in the future, the biggest market in medtech.”

The medical imaging sector is especially worried that the tariffs will have a negative impact on its industry and potentially affect patient access to medical innovation.

“We have serious concerns the proposed tariffs will impede patient access to medical innovation by taxing inter-company transfers, wherein a company will manufacture component parts in China before shipping them to the U.S. for final assembly and export,” said the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA; Washington, DC) in a press release distributed on June 26. “Slowdowns in imaging R&D impede patient access to higher quality healthcare over time. Further, under the proposed tariff environment, rather than immediately halting component manufacturing operations in China, which is unfeasible with a mature supply chain, companies will likely evaluate the most cost-effective locales for final assembly operations, including outside of the United States,” wrote the industry association, which represents companies whose sales make up more than 90% of the global market for advanced imaging technologies.

“The current tariff proposal runs counter to the idea of putting American patients and some workers first,” said Patrick Hope, MITA Executive Director, in the press release. “Rather than make it more difficult for our member companies to do business in America, elected officials should be supporting the United States as the current global global leader in medical imaging innovation.”

Through the tariffs, the Trump administration hopes to pressure China to cease unfair trade practices and, notably, halt coercion of U.S. companies doing business in China to share technology and intellectual property. Trump has also railed against the trade deficit with China.

On that last point, Carlson notes that the “U.S. and China import about the same value of medical technologies from each other—roughly $5 billion—undercutting any notion that tariffs are needed to correct a medtech trade imbalance.”

Top 10 best definitions of a plastics engineer revealed

Top 10 surprised guy GIPHY

The people have spoken…or at least voted. PlasticsToday’s audience of plastics professionals have selected the best answers to complete the sentence “You know you’re a plastics engineer if…” that we posed throughout April.

In the first round that ran for a 30-day period starting in January readers provided answers that filled in the blank. These ran the gamut from the straightforward and thoughtful to the clever and tongue-in-cheek and all variations therein. Many made us nod knowingly; others made us smile.

We narrowed the many to an even dozen for the second round and asked readers to vote for the “best” among those. Participation was high—we tallied more than 230 votes that decided the Top 10 that we present now in reverse order.

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We're also upping the interactive ante by using Graphical Interchange Format (GIF) files for short video snippets to accompany the selections, the first time GIFs have been used at PlasticsToday.

So grab your popcorn virtual or real and follow along to the big reveal of the #1 choice.

10. You start all of your part designs at the parting line and are frequently overheard stating "the parting line is the starting line" to anyone starting a new part design.

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10. You know that HDTs are not High Definition TVs.    

Because you know that in this business HDT stands for heat deflection temperature.  

Caution: Curves ahead.

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

The next two ended in a photo finish separated by a single vote, so we’ve paired them together even though they are an unlikely match. Both have test measurements in common. While #9 links a technical understanding with the savvy knowledge that comes with experience, #8 combines a standard polymer test measurement with a celebrity in an unexpected way.

9. You know the specific density of most materials without having to look it up.    

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8. You’re more interested in rheology curves than you are in Rihanna's curves. 

Next: Little green men

The next two also finished neck and neck and again we’ve bundled them as a twosome.

7. Your spouse (who has not worked in the plastic industry) can also evaluate plastic parts in the store and identify and name all the molding defects.

While some people are married to their job, it seems a near-certainty that all of those same people are indeed married to their spouses. And through the process of osmosis, spouses over time exchange much of their knowledge professional and otherwise.

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6. You laughed at the flash on the little green army men in Toy Story.

That scene resonated nostalgically with me, too, and the flash was a much-appreciated detail by “those in the know” who staged battles with those durable, skirmish-tested little green men back in the day.

On to the Top 5 countdown...

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#5. You can say, write, spell and abbreviate "polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)" and you know common people call it Teflon.

Plastics is an industry abounding with acronyms, which make sense when some of the formal chemical names can be a mind-testing twister of the brain and tongue, and the above is exemplary of why terms like PET and brand names like Teflon have their place. They certainly roll off the tongue effortlessly and universally. But professionals can flash their know-how by reverting to the formal names, especially among like-minded colleagues.

Next: You know where to look.

 

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#4. You look at the bottom of a plastic bottle to see if it’s blow molded or injection molded.

Plastics professionals have an inquisitive nature about all things plastic, you want to find out more through examination. It's simply second nature to pick up a part or container and assess it. Also, plastics are very touchy feely and that tactile experience reveals a lot about the object’s makeup and perhaps how it was molded.

Over time it becomes a habit that you may not even be aware of unless you draw the unwanted attention of a fellow shopper or store clerk.

Next: You are observant.

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3. Regardless of timing or location, you notice plastic components everywhere...like on holiday, walking down the street or hitting the slopes. Plastic design is always around you.

This one is an extension of #4: those within the industry who are especially plastic conscious and those without would find it quite challenging to take a step without being within sight if not touch of plastic.  In fact, there’s close to a 100% chance that those reading this are holding something made with plastic or looking at a polymeric thing when they do. Or looking through polymers if you wear glasses or contact lenses.

From the ABS in the automobile dashboard to the EVA in our tennis shoes to the polyester in our clothes, we’re surrounded by plastic design because we’re surrounded by plastic.

Next: You have a critical eye.

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2. You visually inspect and complain of poor design and quality on household items or any plastic item…anywhere.

You think to yourself or verbally point out to someone: Here's how I'd have done it, because you know that there's almost always room for improvement. It's something that's inherent in your nature as you assess molded plastic products everywhere and anywhere in your walk through stores and life.

And the #1 selection by PlasticToday’s audience of packaging professionals…

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1. You can't put down an injected-molding part without finding where it is gated.

It’s a habit that for some goes with the territory. For those professionals and for all who have so much more to explore we wish you well in your journey of learning. It’s one that will likely continue into and through your retirement because old habits die hard—and you’ll always be a plastics engineering professional.

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

Romaco debuts blister packaging line with advanced automation

Romaco Unity 500

Romaco (Karlsruhe, Germany), a global supplier of processing and packaging equipment predominantly for the pharmaceutical industry, introduced its new Unity 500 blister packaging line at the Achema 2018 tradeshow, which was held on June 11 to 15 in Frankfurt, Germany. This monobloc machine was showcased along with the Promatic PTT for seam track & trace and the new Promatic PAK 130 case packer. A compact, GMP-compliant design was a key priority for the fully integrated blister packaging line with a maximum output of 500 blisters and 150 cartons per minute. The Romaco Unity 500 is mainly intended for high-performance jobs at medium speeds.

Apart from an advanced level of automation, the Romaco Unity 500 also offers opportunities to improve overall equipment effectiveness.

Romaco Unity 500 was teamed up with a Combo v2 Feeder from Elizabeth Europe. This patented system gives Romaco increased flexibility for feeding pharmaceutical solids in various shapes and sizes. The finished blisters are passed directly to the cartoner’s bucket chain by means of a vacuum-assisted overhead conveyor and QuickTransfer, which works according to the positive transfer principle. Separate servo drives ensure safe operation at individual stations.

Apart from an advanced level of automation, the Romaco Unity 500 also offers opportunities to improve overall equipment effectiveness. Optimized access to all components speeds up and simplifies cleaning of the blister line. The fast product changes add up to significantly less downtime for the Romaco Unity 500. Blister formats from Romaco Noack can be created quickly and easily using the new BlisterMagic software. The system checks automatically whether the desired formats are feasible based on product specifications. 

Romaco, part of the Truking Group, develops engineered system solutions for pharmaceutical applications, but also supplies the cosmetics, food and chemical markets.

Thunderbird LLC acquires Indiana Plastics and Kruis Mold

M&A

Thunderbird LLC (Elk Grove Village, IL) has acquired the assets of Indiana Plastics/Kruis Mold Inc., based in Elkhart, IN, and named the new companies Indiana Plastics LLC and Kruis Mold LLC. Indiana Plastics is a custom injection molding company. Kruis Mold builds and repairs custom tooling and molds for a variety of companies.

According to Kevin Prunsky, co-founder of Thunderbird LLC, the purchase complements Thunderbird’s recent acquisition, announced Feb. 28, 2018, of Williams Plastics LLC (Shelbyville, IN). Williams Plastics provides injection molded drinkware and custom art, design and print services. The string of acquisitions will form a stronger, more complete offering of plastic injection molding design, execution and delivery. Thunderbird has retained the Indiana Plastics/Kruis Mold Inc. management team and added marketing and financial management.

Indiana Plastics maintains a skilled production staff that uses the latest molding practices and modern equipment, along with 50 years of experience, to produce superior injection molded products, explained Thunderbird. Kruis Mold builds and repairs custom tools for the molding industry. 

The companies’ capabilities include injection molding (85 to 660 ton), assembly, in-mold decorating, high-volume molding, multi-material molding, insert molding, design, prototyping, and testing. 

As a member of the Thunderbird LLC portfolio of companies, Indiana Plastics can now cross-manufacture various products with Metal Impact, a manufacturer of impact extruded and machined metal parts, and F&B MFG, a manufacturer of hydroformed and machined metal parts, with Kruis providing mold and tooling support with CNC and wire EDM capabilities, said Thunderbird’s information.

Thunderbird’s portfolio consists of American companies that manufacture their products in America but aim for a larger world market. They specialize in industries including automotive, military, power, industrial and consumer. Thunderbird is looking for opportunities to expand its portfolio to include more businesses in these industries that need financial, marketing and management skills to reach higher levels of growth and revenue.