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Articles from 2004 In July


E-Update Industry News

PROCESSORS IN THE NEWS

Mid-summer, and the M&A rumor mill heats up

According to plastics M&A strategic advisor specialist Thomas Blaige & Co. LLC (Chicago, IL), 2003 saw a doubling of the value of mergers and acquisitions among plastics processors compared with 2002, and this year''s pace appears set to equal or pass last year''s. According to the firm, there were 369 deals completed in 2003, of which 125 involved plastics packaging processors. Supporting the firm''s case were two acquisitions-in-the-making reported in mainstream newspapers in early July.

Unconfirmed as yet is a report in the July 5 issue of the New York Post that equity investor Blackstone Group is in talks to acquire Owens-Illinois'' blowmolding operations. The purchase would come via Graham Packaging Corp. (York, PA), which is one of the largest blowmolders of rigid packaging and owned since 1998 by Blackstone. The newspaper says the acquisition will cost the New York buyout firm about $1.2 billion. It cited unidentified market observers. John Ford, VP corporate communications at Blackstone, says Blackstone has no comment on the story. O-I officials announced earlier this summer that they would make no comments on any aspects of their plastics processing business until a sale was completed.

O-I announced in December 2003 that it was considering divestment of its blowmolding business to reduce debt and fund expansion of its glass packaging capability. The purchase would give Graham additional capacity that it could use to counter recent moves by some leading competitors, including Austrian processor Alpla-Werke''s entry into the North American market, and Amcor PET Packaging''s acquisitions of the South American plastics container business of Alcoa Inc. in 2003, and the PET preform and bottle processing operations of Schmalbach-Lubeca in 2002.

A news items in the July 6 edition of Israeli newspaper Haaretz says privately held Keter Plastic (Herzliya, Israel) wants to partner with a financial investor, and is also pursuing the acquisition of Rubbermaid''s plastics division for $200 million. A subsequent July 13 article at Israeli business website www.globes.il.com reported that Keter is in takeover talks with seven plastics processors, including the Rubbermaid business and U.S. outdoor furniture processor Sirocco. The website quoted Keter''s CEO as saying, "If all goes well, Keter will be a $3- to $4-billion business." The processor will register about $700 million in sales this year.

Keter is the world''s third-largest processor of plastics household goods such as home and garden furniture, tools, and plumbing supplies. Rubbermaid''s plastics division processes similar items for home and office. Keter has 24 processing facilities: 12 in Israel, nine in Europe, and three in the U.S.

Development center opened

Sheet extruder Spartech Corp. (St. Louis, MO) has opened a new 30,000-sq-ft product-development center in Warsaw, IN, which will focus on the creation of new products for its Alloy Plastics and Product Transformation groups. The company will compound materials and produce profiles using two sheet-extrusion lines, a small lab line, two profile extrusion lines, a four-station rotary, and a single-station thermoformer.

Iretex draws a crowd for pallet project

Irish logistics packaging processor Iretex Group Ltd. (Dublin) has entered into a joint venture with VitroTech Corp. (Santa Ana, CA) to develop materials for thermoformable plastic pallets. VitroTech is a materials technology and research company with rights to purchase, process, and sell approximately 35 billion pounds of amorphous aluminosilicate deposits, which can be added to plastics to boost mechanical properties. Also involved in the development are material suppliers Nova Chemicals and Atofina. Technicians from the four firms met in late July and trial processing of a newly developed material was to start at an Iretex facility in Wellington, New Zealand in late August.

UPG adds moldmaking to Chinese offerings

United Plastics Group Inc. (Westmont, IL) has expanded its presence in Asia to include a product design and toolmaking center in Suzhou, China. Close to UPG''s other Chinese facility, which molds for the automotive, electronics, medical, and consumer products'' markets, the new moldmaking facility will have product-design assistance as well as production in the form of EDMs, lathes, grinders, and milling machines. By the end of 2004, the company anticipates having 20 employees, led by Bob Sassman, former president of Arizona Tool and Die (Phoenix, AZ).

Amcor PET adds European sales post

Rigid packaging processor Amcor PET Packaging Europe/Asia has appointed Bas Pije as sales director at its Center of Excellence in Brecht, Belgium. This is a new position. He joins Amcor from Dutch processor Schoeller Wavin Systems BV, where he was business unit manager for materials handling, responsible for sales growth and organizational development in returnable plastics packaging.

Amcor PET Packaging is part of Amcor Ltd., the Melbourne, Australia-based global plastics packaging giant with 238 plants in 42 countries. Amcor PET has about 70 processing sites around the world.

Italtech sold to customer

Italian injection molding machine maker Italtech (Brescia) has been sold by Fiat-owned automation systems specialist Comau to GPM (Gruppo Pegoraro Macchine), a family-owned company based in Padua. GPM has since changed its name to Italtech. The Pegoraro family has interests in molding and in recycling, and is an important Italtech customer. Adelio Grasselli, who founded Italtech but left the company last year, has now returned as managing director.

Plant dedicated to multicomponent tooling

MGS Mfg. Group (Germantown, WI) has moved its Universal Multishot Systems manufacturing division into a new plant in Germantown. Started in 1999, the Multishot division creates turnkey systems for multimaterial parts, including tooling, portable injection units, hydraulic units, controls, inspection/degating fixtures, and onsite installation and training. The new plant will give the company greater capacity for the engineering, development, and testing of multicomponent programs. The company also fabricates rotary platens, indexing rotary stripper plates, and mold bases.

Atoglas streamlines its acrylic sheet business

Atofina subsidiary Atoglas intends to invest in new capacities in Carling-Saint Avold (France) by September 2006, and to concentrate there the cast acrylic sheet production that is now split between two sites in Europe. Production from its Leeuwarden site (Netherlands) will move to France and the site closed.

Last November the processor consolidated sheet extrusion at its plant in Bernouville, France.

B+K building cleanroom for films processing

Bischof + Klein (B+K) is building a Class 5 cleanroom at its Lengerich, Germany facility for processing its Clean-Flex films. The room is to be ready this month. These films see use principally in the pharmaceutical and food industries. The processor already has two other Class 5 cleanrooms, which will be integrated into the larger new one.

EPW Inc. adds to its equipment stable

Processor EPW Inc. (Elkhardt, IN) has acquired a Deckel Maho DMU 200 high-speed, 5-axis machining center, a thermoforming machine from Kiefel, and reaction injection molding (RIM) equipment to strengthen its position in the market for processing large automotive, recreational vehicle, and marine parts. As a result of the spending spree, the processor now has eight CNC machining centers and eight RIM metering machines.

Moldmaker meets new certification

Injection mold builder Mauston Tool Corp. (Mauston, WI) is the first firm to complete certification in both of the programs offered by RJG Inc. RJG (Traverse City, MI) began offering certification programs for moldmaking and mold tryout in June 2003. Companies obtain certification through a series of equipment and training requirements designed to give moldmaker employees a more thorough understanding of plastics processing, and how this knowledge translates to better moldmaking. RJG says it began offering the service to moldmakers after it was approached by a number of molding customers.

Medical device manufacturers merged

In mid-July, medical device manufacturer Memry Corp. (Bethel, CT) signed a letter of intent to acquire Putnam Plastics (Dayville, CT), an extruder of plastics tubing and sheathing for the medical market, among others. The transaction is expected to close this fall. Terms were not disclosed. Putnam''s primary products are multilumen, multilayer extrusions used for guidewires, catheter shafts, delivery systems, and other interventional medical procedures. Putnam CEO and founder Jim Dandeneau will remain with the firm.

MACHINERY MANUFACTURERS AND MATERIAL SUPPLIER NEWS

Financial investor takes over Dynisco

The Audax Group (Boston, MA) has acquired Dynisco from an affiliate of Madison Capital Partners. Dynisco makes more than 30 different auxiliary products for processors, including melt-pressure transducers and transmitters, testing equipment, screen changers, and pelletizers. Its businesses are Dynisco Instruments and Dynisco Polymer Test (Franklin, MA), as well as Dynisco Europe (Heilbronn, Germany), and Dynisco Extrusion (Hickory, NC). Audax says it will make additional acquisitions of companies complementary to Dynisco''s core businesses.

In November 2000 Madison Capital Partners acquired Dynisco, minus its hot runner manufacturing operation, which was renamed Synventive Molding Solutions in 2001.

Blowtec in limbo after bankruptcy filing

Extrusion blowmolding machine maker Blowtec filed for bankruptcy in early July. The Troisdorf, Germany-based Blowtec and its nearby sister firm, Kautex (Bonn), were acquired on May 1 from Swiss parent firm SIG by Munich-based buyout specialist Adcuram Beteiligungs AG. Both Blowtec and Kautex make extrusion blowmolding machinery: Blowtec, machines for processing packaging of less than 30-liter volume; Kautex, equipment for forming technical parts or industrial packaging. Now, Adcuram has backed out of its purchase of Blowtec, says Florian Meise, a member of the management board there.

Meise says he can reveal few details. He will not say whether his firm has already paid SIG for Blowtec, nor whether SIG has returned any money. Blowtec''s future rests on the decision of a German bankruptcy lawyer who will determine if the firm can continue to operate, or whether its assets should be sold. As of mid-July, Blowtec was still in operation and had orders to fill.

Meise adds that Adcurum legally separated Kautex and Blowtec upon acquisition, so that Kautex is in no way affected by Blowtec''s bankruptcy. He says Kautex, now named Kautex Maschinenbau GmbH, is "in good shape" and will continue to operate out of Bonn, with Roger Stehr remaining as managing director. Adcurum considers Kautex a long-term investment, he says.

In 2003 Kautex generated net sales of ¤43 million and had about 200 employees; Blowtec had net sales of ¤37 million, and approximately 150 employees. Both have had financial difficulties in recent years, as extrusion blowmolding machinery sales have plummeted.

SIG (Neuhausen am Rheinfall), in a July 12 statement titled "Unjustified claims against SIG," expressed its " considerable astonishment" at the bankruptcy filing and Adcuram''s claims that it is backing out of its purchase agreement. SIG says it divested Blowtec and Kautex simultaneously on May 1 for a "modest sales price that reflected the business risks that are related to this type of transaction." It goes on to state that Adcurum had all of the relevant financial information in advance of its purchase, and that SIG will take all legal measures to defend the claims.

"The new owners have not adhered to the contractually established agreements to merge the two units. SIG regrets that Blowtec has therefore unfortunately been obliged to file for insolvency proceedings," concludes the statement.

Milacron settles another PC controls dispute...

Plastics processing machine maker Milacron (Cincinnati, OH) has finalized a license agreement with blowmolding machinery manufacturer Graham Engineering Corp. (York, PA) for an undisclosed sum. The agreement settles Milacron litigation against Graham regarding Milacron''s patent on the use of personal computer-based control systems for plastics processing machinery. Graham becomes the latest in a string of machine manufacturers to have taken a license from Milacron on this.

According to the agreement, Milacron will grant Graham a paid-up, non-exclusive license to use the U.S.-patented control technology, and the suit pending between them in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, will be dismissed. Exact terms of the agreement were not disclosed. A Milacron spokesman says that he is not aware of other lawsuits Milacron has filed on this issue, but says the firm is studying other instances of potential patent violations, and is in dialogue with a few companies in an effort to avoid court.

... jostles its leadership...

Milacron (Cincinnati, OH) has made changes in the ranks of its North American injection molding machinery business.

As a result, Ross Anderson, a 15-year Milacron veteran, has been appointed VP and general manager for North America, with responsibility for all operations relating to U.S. injection molding machinery, including manufacturing, engineering, sales/marketing, field service, and finance.

Glenn Anderson (no relation), formerly FM of the firm''s extruder manufacturing business, is now VP and general sales manager for the North American injection molding machinery business. Jay Woerner is now VP global manufacturing and sourcing, working to cut manufacturing costs. He also continues as head of the firm''s operations in India and China.

...and successfully juggles its debt

Only two months after it found itself in an 11th-hour scramble to resolve debt issues, a series of transactions in early June have put machinery supplier Milacron Inc. (Batavia, OH) on substantially firmer ground as it moves forward into an apparently recovering marketplace.

One day after being granted shareholder approval for a financing deal that gives sizable stakes in the company to Glencore Finance AG and Mizuho International plc in exchange for repaid debt, the company undertook several more financial moves to increase cash on hand, created a new revolving credit source through 2008, and consolidated its remaining outstanding debt into a single obligation that won''t mature until 2011.

The shareholders approved Glencore''s and Mizuho''s exchange of $70 million in notes and $15 million in common stock for 500,000 shares of 6% Series B convertible preferred stock. Milacron also said it was on pace to meet its sales and segment targets for both the second quarter and the year, and it anticipated better overall earnings, in comparison to 2003, thanks to a 6% to 8% sales increase in 2004.

Clariant Masterbatches strengthens its Latin American operations

The world''s largest supplier of color and additive masterbatches, Clariant Masterbatches (Muttenz, Switzerland), has opened a Latin American business unit HQ in Suzano, Brazil, just east of Sãpaulo Paulo, and a new manufacturing plant with two compounding lines in Lomas de Zamora, Argentina. The Brazilian facility also includes a manufacturing plant and a collaborative design center. Officials expect the Argentine plastics industry to grow about 8% this year and 6% the next, driven by automotive market demands.

The supplier has had a sales presence in Argentina since 1997, importing products there from Brazil, NAFTA, and Europe.

New LFR pellet supplier appears

PlastiComp, the Winona, MN-based exclusive global marketer of the Pushtrusion process for feeding continuous fibers into polymer melt under high pressure, has started selling long-fiber-reinforced pellets made using the process. Woodshed Technologies (also Winona) developed the process so that molders would not need to purchase precompounded pellets separately; PlastiComp acquired marketing rights in June 2003.

According to PlastiComp president and CEO Steve Bowen, some processors want the benefits of Pushtrusion-fibers retain their length and thus their strength-but do not have the volumes to justify investing in a Pushtrusion line. "It is not uncommon to see both long-fiber pellet and direct inline compounding interest from our customers. Both processes have merits," he says.

Techmer PM boosts its compounding capability

The colorant and additive masterbatch supplier, with headquarters in Rancho Dominguez, CA, has added two twin-screw compound extruders manufactured by Coperion Werner & Pfleiderer to its plant in Clinton, TN, and will add two more there by year''s end in what it says is a move to boost its capacity and ability to rapidly meet customer orders.

Omnexus begins second act without material sales

Internet-based plastics purchasing platform Omnexus, closed by its previous owners in November 2003 (January 2003 MP/MPI), has been revived, at least in name, by the online information platform SpecialChem (Paris, France). SpecialChem has sites offering information on additives, pigments, and adhesives. The new Omnexus will not include online sales, as was the intention when a group of leading plastics suppliers announced the site''s formation at NPE in June 2000.

Instead, the site (www.omnexus.com) is now geared to provide technical services to plastics designers and engineers. "The purpose of this platform is to create innovative products and implement better solutions much faster," says SpecialChem founder and Chief Operating Officer Christophe Cabarry. "Time-to-market is the key in winning competition against low-cost producers."

The new site will have three primary areas of focus. The Innovations and Trends segment will provide news, reports, and research and development advances. The Polymer section allows designers to pick materials on the basis of desired product properties-more than 120 thermoplastics are profiled. The Solutions and Support area offers online interaction with material labs around the world. SpecialChem also recently acquired www.PaintandCoatings.com, which offers news and technical information relating to those topics.

Tetra Laval appeals EC fine over Tetra Fast

Swedish carton packaging machinery giant Tetra Laval is appealing a ¤90,000 fine levied by the European Commission against the firm. The fine is for an alleged failure to provide information regarding the firm''s acquisition, finally approved last year, of stretch blowmolding machine manufacturer Sidel (Octeville sur Mer, France).

The fine cites an alleged lack of information provided to the EC regarding the Tetra Fast blowmolding technology, developed by Tetra Pak''s blowmolding machinery division before that was effectively closed and its technology merged with Sidel. Tetra Pak is Tetra Laval''s carton manufacturing business. Tetra Fast is still in development, but could eventually be a bottle-blowing breakthrough; it uses a hydrogen/nitrogen mixture to create an explosion to expand heated preforms, rather than compressed air. The explosion also sterilizes the bottle, making it particularly promising for use in combination machines since preforms would no longer have to be treated prior to conveyance into the unit. Typically, preforms are treated-usually with ultraviolet or in a chemical bath-prior to stretch blowmolding. Caps are similarly treated before being shuttled into the unit.

Before it was allowed to acquire Sidel, Tetra Laval had to agree that its Tetra Pak subsidiary would sell licenses for its Tetra Fast and other blowmolding technologies; Sidel has acquired one for Tetra Fast.

Ciba hopes new products spark higher demand

Additives supplier Ciba Specialty Chemicals (Basel, Switzerland) is counting on a 5% to 7%/yr growth in demand based on new product introductions the company is making, says Brendan Cummins, segment head plastics additives at the company. Speaking to the press recently, he said he expects recently introduced value-added additives to account for up to 33% of sales (presently less than 30%) in the next five years based on present higher demand compared with the company''s traditional additives. Sales of plastics additives were up 5% in the first quarter of this year. "We''re experiencing an upswing in demand in North America," but Ciba is being hampered there by queues at docks during unloading of material and a lack of available trucking, he says.

Huntsman chases governor''s job

Jon Huntsman Jr., son of the billionaire founder of Huntsman Companies, the world''s largest privately held chemical company, won the Republican slot to run for governor of Utah. Jon Huntsman Jr., 44, was a Deputy U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush. Huntsman received 65% of the vote in the primary elections held June 22. The operating companies of Huntsman manufacture basic products for a variety of global industries including chemicals, plastics, paints and coatings, and others. Huntsman-held companies have more than 15,000 employees, operations in 30 countries, and annual revenues of approximately $9.5 billion.

Report: Big film extruders in Europe get bigger

The leading polyethylene film extruders continue to expand at the expense of smaller companies, according to new research from AMI (Bristol, England) presented in its 127-page report entitled "Corporate performance and ownership among polyethylene film extruders: A review of Europe''s 50 leading players."

AMI reports these top 50 European film processors have increased their production by a third over the past three years, compared to a 10% increase for polyethylene film overall. As a result, their share of the market has grown from 55% in 2000 to 60% for 2003. This increase has often been achieved through acquisition but there have also been some substantial investments. The top five processors by tonnes/yr processed are British Polythene Industries, Rheinische Kunststoffwerke, Trioplast Industrier, Armando Alvarez, and Manuli. The report costs ¤510. More information is available via www.amiplastics.com.

Report: IBCs capture more of industrial containers market

Intermediate bulk containers (IBCs), often sized up to 1000-liter volumes, will continue to take market share in the plastics industrial packaging market from open top drums. This move to larger containers will slow the demand growth for the high-density polyethylene used in these applications, since it takes twice as much HDPE to blowmold five 200-liter drums as it does to process one 1000-liter IBC.

That is one of the conclusions in the report "Turnover and production of blow molded industrial transit packaging in Western Europe 2003", published by AMI Consulting (Bristol, England). The report also highlights steel''s continuing use in packaging of more than 50% of all volume, largely because of its dominance in the oil, agrochemicals, and solvents sectors. Here, though, multilayer-barrier plastic containers continue to make inroads.

The shift from drums to IBCs also impacts the number of units processed. According to AMI''s research, just more than 27 million blowmolded drums and IBCs were manufactured in Western Europe in 2003, and while the market is expected to grow to 29 million units in 2008, this represents growth of just 1.6% per year over the five-year period.

The AMI report says Germany''s Schütz Werke has a dominant position in the IBC sector accounting for more than 20% of production, while Germany''s Mauser and Italy''s Marmor each have about 18% of the plastic drums market. Overcapacity should lead to consolidation, according to the report.

Survey says: Consumers prefer the clear closure

Consumer preference for soft drink and bottled water brands is significantly influenced by whether the beverage container closure is clear or opaque, according to an independent research project commissioned by Milliken & Co. (Spartanburg, SC), a leading supplier of the clarifiers that might see greater demand should the survey results influence beverage brand managers.

Research Inc. (Alpharetta, GA) conducted the project, including 400 in-person intercept interviews with consumers purchasing beverages at retail outlets. "Going into the research, our suspicion was that the closure design impacts consumer preference, but we were surprised to learn that it exerts a stronger influence than even we had suspected," said Martin Horrocks, a market manager with Milliken.

For the study, the research firm set up a beverage cooler that contained an equal number of beverages with clear closures and with original opaque closures. Consumers were asked to pretend they were purchasing a bottled beverage and asked which beverage they would select. Bottled beverages with clear closures were 62% more likely to be chosen than a beverage with an opaque closure, with that number rising among consumers under 18.

More work, less play on tap in Germany

In Germany this summer, talk of longer working hours is a hot-button issue. Politicians, employers, and even some employee union officials there seem to have simultaneously realized that the 35-hour work week for union members is not the answer to the country''s unemployment, now at about 10%, nor will it help the country stay competitive. A similar argument is raging in France, which implemented the 35-hr work week a few years ago to try to increase employment.

In German national media, on television news, and everywhere else one turns, the talk is of more work for the same wage, just to keep the country competitive. For German plastics processing machine manufacturers, speaking during their annual VDMA (German association of machine manufacturers) meeting in Frankfurt in July, the solution to the country''s manufacturing woes needs to be multifaceted and urgent. "We are at a very dangerous time for manufacturing in Germany," said Wolfgang-Dietrich Hein, CEO of the Coperion Group, which includes compound extruder manufacturers Buss and Werner & Pfleiderer. "It is not so much the wages as it is the flexibility of my workforce that needs to change." And, he adds, management needs to have its own flexibility "to reduce my workforce in bad times."

Helmar Franz, president of injection molding machine manufacturer Demag Ergotech (Schwaig, Germany), also highlighted the flexibility issue, and contrasted domestic, union-delayed changes with those at his firm''s plant in China. He explained, "At our plant there, the managers noticed that power was often unavailable on Mondays when all of the local factories started work again after the weekend." Within a week, the management was able to switch the workweek from Monday-to-Friday to Tuesday-to-Saturday.

Like Hein, Franz said he does not believe the answer to Germany''s troubles is simply to cut salaries, now averaging about ¤23/hr for union labor. "People have grown to expect a certain niveau of living standard. The question should be not whether salaries should be cut, but rather-should people be expected to work more to stay at this niveau?"

VDMA highlights German machine sales'' shift

Not surprisingly, the shift is to China, which has become the leading export country for German plastics processing machinery manufacturers. Officials at the plastics and rubber machinery division of the VDMA, Germany''s machine manufacturing organization, provided a wealth of machinery statistics during the group''s July 7 press conference in Frankfurt.

The group reported that this year''s orders appear headed for an 8% to 10% increase versus 2003. "Value of manufactured goods and exports could each grow by about 6%," said Helmar Franz, chairman of the group and president of injection molding machine manufacturer Demag Ergotech (Schwaig, Germany). In 2003 orders grew by 13% compared to 2002.

Germany remains the leading land for plastics processing machinery manufacturing and export, with about 25% of the world''s machines by value made there, followed by Italy with 14%, Japan with 10.3% and the U.S. with 9.7%. Germany''s share of total plastics processing machine exports is about 25.3%, said Franz. In 2003, China passed the U.S. as the most important single-country market for German plastics machinery. Value of goods shipped to China grew 29% to ¤438 million, while those to the U.S. sank from ¤402 million in 2002 to ¤383 million last year. The European Union countries remain the largest export market for German machines at 29.9% of total exports, but outside Asia, German exports to Eastern Europe grew by 33% in 2003 to ¤480 million, or about 15% of total exports.

Injection molding machines made in 2003 were valued at a total of ¤809 million, or 17.4% of total German production. Extruders and extrusion lines account for about 16%, and blowmolding machinery 6.1%. Thermoform machines valued at ¤156 million were made in 2003, accounting for only 3.6% of total German machines'' value. But thermoform machine makers export about 80% of their equipment and thus have a 33.1% hold on the total world export market for these.

Looking forward, China holds the manufacturers'' eyes. Demand there grew 75% in 2002 and almost 30% last year, with a similar figure expected for this year. On a slightly smaller scale, but also with high demand growth, are Eastern European countries.

According to CIPAD, the Council of International Plastics Assn. Directors, the China Light Industry Machinery Assn. reports production value of plastics machinery made in China hit ¤1.2 billion in 2003, up 20% from 2002.

K-M opens lab in response to RIM''s growth

Business at Krauss-Maffei''s Reaction Technology division is growing, according to firm officials at its Summer Forum open house (June 23 and 24) who unveiled its new product design, development, and process trial lab in Florence, KY.

"Right now we''re in the middle of the best year the division has ever known,"

Technology Trends: Additives

Promise of compounds containing nanoclays becoming reality?

Nanocomposites have been the Next Big Thing in the plastics industry for several years now. What has been lacking in all that time is the killer application to prove out the hype.

W hat has appeared instead is a slow trickle of relatively modest applications, mostly in automotive, along with a realization that the best way forward for the technology may be through ''hybrid'' compounds that contain nanofillers—minerals, mostly clay but also talc and others—and conventional fillers.

Because they are so small, nanofillers have a much larger surface/volume ratio than more conventional additives, so any mechanical property enhancements they provide through surface effects can be achieved at much lower addition levels. But it takes a lot of know-how and expertise to disperse and distribute nanofillers in the compound.

This at least partly explains why various players in the development chain are working together more closely than they have in the past. Typical examples are PolyOne''s strategic alliance with Nanocor, which has yielded Nanoblend concentrates and, more recently, Maxxam LST compounds; and collaborative work involving polymer supplier Basell, additive supplier Southern Clay, and end-user General Motors, that has led to the world''s largest applications for nanocomposites. In all cases, the host polymers are polyolefins.

Here is a not-untypical claim by PolyOne (Cleveland, OH) for Maxxam LST: "Compared with many other engineered materials...Maxxam LST compounds require lower processing temperatures, flow easier and cool faster. As a result, with Maxxam LST compounds, customers often use less material, improve cycle times, and lower their energy and equipment costs."

Applications targeted by PolyOne and others include auto interior and exterior trim; small appliance and power tool housings; packaging liners, containers and closures; pipe, conduit, fittings and fascia used in construction; and consumer goods.

Maxxam LST nanoclay compounds are said to offer a combination of light, stiff, and tough attributes and are designed to meet or exceed the capabilities of many engineered thermoplastics, while offering the processing advantages that are inherent to polyolefins.

"We have enhanced the exfoliation process [for separating individual leaflike particles that tend to cling together in stacks], which has enabled us to maximize the performance of the product and make it easy to use," says George Zollos, nanocomposites market development manager.

"This is a significant accomplishment, in that early industry efforts to compound and process nanopolymers failed to achieve significant property improvement and were extremely difficult to process due to improper exfoliation."

GM leading the way

The 2005 version of the Hummer H2 SUT truck is the latest vehicle in General Motors'' lineup to incorporate nanocomposites. Its cargo bed uses more than 3 kg of a Basell compound for its trim, center bridge, sail panel, and box rail protector. H2 program Engineering Manager Bill Knapp says GM designed the vehicle to use the nanocomposite parts for their low weight and dimensional stability.

GM introduced the first commercial automotive exterior application of nanocomposites on the step assist of the 2002 GMC Safari and Chevrolet Astro vans. This January, they debuted on the body side molding for the 2004 Chevrolet Impala. GM is now using about 660,000 lb of nanocomposite material per year, which is the highest volume of olefin-based nanocomposite material used in the world.

"The virtue of using a nanocomposite for automotive applications is that less filler material is required to provide the same or better performance characteristics when compared to conventional materials," says Will Rodgers, staff scientist at GM Research and Development. "Our next applications will be in exterior claddings, interior parts, and in non-support trim."

GM has an exclusive development agreement with polymer supplier Basell USA Inc. and nanoclay supplier Southern Clay Products Inc. (SCP; Gonzales, TX). The parts are molded at Sport Rack Automotive (Sterling Heights, MI). SCP provides Cloisite nanoclay.

Karl Kamena, commercial manager for Cloisite nanoclays at SCP says: "While it may seem a rather modest objective to replace a conventional talc TPO with a nano-TPO, the GM approach was designed to encourage the development of nanotechnology one ''nanostep'' at a time. Rather than targeting ambitious, breakthrough, order-of-magnitude improvement in polymer performance, the objective was to get started. Get a nano-TPO into a commercial application and on to a car."

Nanova LLC (North Huntingdon, PA), a production company spun off from nanotechnology developer Nanomat Inc., is building a demonstration plant for its Nanotalc surface-modified nanotalc. It says the filler should improve barrier and other physical properties such as scratch resistance, stiffness, and toughness. Surface area/volume ratio is close to 25 times greater than normal talc. The company expects applications in moldings and film applications.

Nanomat boasts that it can manufacture "virtually any nanomaterial that you may require—all custom-made to your specifications. Any size, any distribution."

Hybrid approach paying off

Henrik Eriksson, development manager for compounder Polykemi AB in Ystad, Sweden, says business for its Scancomp polypropylene-based nanocomposites (March 2003 MPI) "is progressing just fine." He says the most successful example of commercialization of these grades is the inner door handle for the "smart forfour" saloon made by DaimlerChrysler. Grade used is PP BN140T5, which contains nanofillers to increase performance and conventional fillers to keep the price down.

Eriksson says all grades traditionally used for automotive interiors that had been tried for the door handle had fallen short of requirements.

"Immediately on testing of the nanocomposite it was seen that previous problems with sink-marks and poor surface had disappeared. The combination of superior scratch resistance, excellent impact strength and low weight were also especially appreciated."

Eriksson says Scancomp is also finding use in several (unidentified) products such as medical devices for dental treatment and household equipment. And the company has developed nylon-based nanocomposites for single-layer automobile fuel tanks, where the key advantage is their high barrier to hydrocarbons. "Replacing a seven-layer material with a Scancomp nanocomposite has obvious cost benefits," says Eriksson.

"The development of the fuel tank is near a breakthrough. When it comes to tanks for personal cars we still need to balance some antagonistic properties to fulfill all the requirements. We are confident in succeeding in this effort." Eriksson cannot say exactly what the cost savings may be.

"It seems obvious, however, that a thermoplastic compound with its comparably simple production, moderate raw material costs, and flexibility regarding the final molding technique makes an economically superior alternative to multilayer technology."

Eriksson concedes that the number of commercial applications is still restricted to a handful. "As all the technical benefits become widely known, we think that the orders will multiply.

"An important factor is also the volumes for the expensive nanoclay raw materials. As these increase, their prices will fall, with consequent impact on final composite costs. Rumors have it that Chinese suppliers are also entering the market. This may be making way for a pricing of nanoclay that enables the large-scale market penetration for nanocomposites that has been anticipated for [so] long."

A. Schulman Inc. has a similar philosophy to Polykemi. It, too, is developing compounds containing combinations of nanofillers and more conventional fillers. "The simple approach is not working," says one of the company''s managers at its European headquarters in Wurselen, Germany, referring to the slow take-up of "pure" nanocomposites.

He notes, for example, that pure nanocomposites do not provide sufficient flame retardance for many electrical applications and so addition of specific flame retardants is still necessary. The company is said to be close to obtaining contracts for technical moldings using some of these new compounds. PM

Getting through to processors

Nanoparticles in high-performance plastics and the methods of processing them were discussed at the "Nanotechnology in Plastic Materials" conference at the Wurzburg-based South German Plastics Center (SKZ) earlier this year. What became apparent was that the processing technology, as well as the still unresolved issues surrounding the measuring techniques for quality controls, tend to be a source of confusion for medium-sized plastics processors. Some processors are simply not fully convinced of the advantages of crossing into nano territory. On top of that, there''s the cost to consider: special nanoparticles already cost roughly $100/kg; additives for scratch-resistant, antistatic, transparent coatings go for as much as $1000/kg.

Contact information

Nanocor   www.nanocor.com
Nanomat   www.nanomat.com
Polykemi   www.polykemi.se
PolyOne   www.polyone.com
A. Schulman   www.schulman.de
Southern Clay Products   www.nanoclay.com

Transition from lead is swifter than predicted

Tin will remain the PVC heat stabilizer of choice in North America. Elsewhere, the transition from lead is happening faster than many anticipated.

PVC suppliers are ahead of their own schedule for phasing out lead stabilizers. In a bid to pre-empt legislation banning the heavy metal for environmental, health, and safety reasons, the industry voluntarily pledged to cut its use of lead stabilizers (based on 2000 consumption levels) 15% by 2005, 50% by 2010, and 100% by 2015, and move to leading alternatives calcium/zinc (Ca/Zn) or organic stabilizers.

But the transition is happening faster, and not only in Europe, says Michael Calicchio, global business manager for plastics at additives supplier Honeywell (Morristown, NJ). He predicts that by the end of 2004 more than 20% of PVC processed in Europe will include Ca/Zn stabilizers, exceeding 80% by 2010. Honeywell supplies lubricants to help extruders make the transition without losing productivity, and will reveal new developments for Ca/Zn stabilized compounds at the K show this October.

In North America, tin stabilizers were the best alternative in the 1970s as lead ones were phased out there. How the transition in Europe plays out for those active in both markets—will a Chinese processor shipping product to North America and Europe use a single stabilizer or one for each market?—has yet to be determined, say observers.

Additives supplier Crompton (Greenwich, CT) has tin, Ca/Zn, and organic stabilizers, but outside North America it is betting on the success of its OBS organic types, says plastics additives VP Sean O''Connor. Crompton is trying to drive down the cost of their use, something that has been a decided drawback (July 2002 MP/MPI). O''Connor says OBS grades are only slightly more costly to use than lead and often cost less to use than Ca/Zn, depending on the application. "We think OBS, especially for rigid applications such as pipe, offers great potential." Crompton estimates the lead heat stabilizers market is currently worth about $580 million.

Crompton is also developing OBS grades suitable for use in flexible PVC and in PVC injection molding compounds, and is looking beyond Europe. Connor says the firm has already had success in South America, and is now strongly pursuing the Asian market.

Beyond material transitions

There has been a surge of M&A activity among suppliers. Early this year the German subsidiary of Chemson AG (Arnoldstein, Austria) acquired Allstab (Duren, Germany), making Chemson Europe''s largest PVC stabilizer supplier with over €200 million in annual sales (some €60 million coming from Allstab).

Then in June, Chemson formed a strategic alliance with Akcros Chemicals (Roermond, Netherlands) for flexible PVC solid stabilizers. Chemson took over Akcros'' production, while Akcros does sales and marketing. Chemson once made OBS organic stabilizers under license from Crompton. Crompton officials decline to say whether that agreement continues.

In the spring, Reagens SpA of Bologna, Italy and Singapore-based Sun Ace Kakoh Pte. Ltd. acquired the PVC stabilizers business of Cognis (Dusseldorf, Germany). That purchase will help both further their Ca/Zn stabilizer programs and strengthen Reagens'' market presence in Northern Europe. MD

Penny-pinching with dispersants can backfire

Cutting costs by scrimping on important additives is false economy, say suppliers.

An increasing number of injection molders feel they can save on dispersing colorants for thicker-walled applications by using cheaper imported pigments from Asia, and stearates instead of waxes. But Reiner Hess, head of application technology, Clariant (Gersthofen, Germany) cautions: "Many dispersing agents on the market today, are unfortunately, only price driven. Major sectors in the processing industry are looking to save money and you can''t blame them when their profits are squeezed. But the tendency to cut corners on the quality of pigment, additives, or dispersing agents could result in more product problems than money saved."

As the wall thickness of injection molded products continues to diminish, Hess believes molders will have to pay closer attention to how color masterbatches are dispersed. In packaging films, especially biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) in the 10 to 14 µm range, the market is moving in the opposite direction, with more attention being directed to dispersion quality to ensure color yield, he says.

Mid-sized color masterbatchers are more particular about quality today than in the past, says Isolda Bachert, end-use manager at rival additive supplier BYK-Chemie (Wesel, Germany) because they are under pressure to avoid taking back masterbatches that don''t meet customer standards. She says by upping quality, masterbatchers should be able to target value-added markets and obtain better prices for their product.

The main market for dispersing agents remains colorants, especially organic pigments, which tend to be difficult to disperse, but the agents are also used for other poor dispersing additives such as anti-stats and surfactants.

Organic pigments tend to form agglomerates, and the higher the pigment concentration in masterbatches, the more likely the formation of more and larger agglomerates. Dispersing agents wet the particle surface, help break up agglomerates through mechanical energy in the barrel, and stabilize the particles to prevent re-agglomeration.

Several exhibitors at K 2004 will show advanced products for color dispersion aimed at high-end markets. Clariant has three, two of which are polypropylene waxes made using metallocene catalysts. Hess says that unlike Ziegler-Natta waxes, catalyst ash levels are so low that the company can eliminate residue filtering, thereby producing a cleaner more efficient product for the masterbatcher. "The masterbatcher can also create a more tailor-made molecular-weight distribution than before. This results in better wettability and more surface penetration," he says.

Although masterbatchers may already be able to test these products, they probably will have to wait until Clariant finishes its production-scale plant in Frankfurt in 2006 before they get commercial quantities.

BYK-Chemie is tackling the dispersion market with products that are neither low-molecular-weight waxes nor stearates, says Buchert. Although it has a history in dispersants for paints and thermosets, BYK is a new entrant to the thermoplastics field. At K 2004, the company introduces three grades of Disper Plast, a proprietary polyolefin copolymer-based dispersant which has no lubricating effect, unlike a wax in the barrel. This better overcomes binding forces between pigment particles, Buchert says. Compared to waxes, these powders are said to provide better color strength.

Markus Weimann, in Degussa Goldschmidt''s technical services department (Essen, Germany), says his company''s Tegomer P141 polyolefin wax includes polyacrylates with hydrophilic and hydrophobic groups to improve dispersion. The hydrophilic part integrates with the polar surface of the organic pigment, while the hydrophobic element provides a compatibilizer with the polymer matrix, which prevents re-agglomeration during masterbatch production. RC

Contact information

  BYK-Chemie www.byk.com
Clariant Gmb   www.clariant.com
Degussa Goldschmidt AG   www.polymer-additives.com

The auxiliaries you'll see

In our second K 2004 preview, we take a look at the auxiliaries developments and introductions that will be awaiting you in Dusseldorf.

Plastics parts welding takes on 3-D characteristics

Laser transmission welding is a relatively new joining process for plastics, and because of problems of contact between joints during welding, it often has been limited to two-dimensional welding. A new joining technique, Globo-Welding, operates as a contour welder. The necessary clamping force and laser beam are selectively focused. The welding instrument resembles a ballpoint pen on a robot arm. Via a rotating ball, a colored proprietary liquid is applied to the spot to be welded while the laser beam and the necessary pressing force are pointed vertically to that point. This method, which allows 3-D welding of plastics elements, eliminates the need to clamp the elements together during welding, therefore relieving mechanical stress on the part. Leister Process Technologies, Kagiswil, Switzerland; www.leister.com

Power Backflush screen change makes quick work of contaminates

A compact melt filter, Power Backflush reduces the interruption of the melt flow to help maintain constant melt pressure during pelletizing. The melt flow is led from the material inlet side into a screen chamber, which can contain filter cartridges or wire-cloth filters.

The Power Flush''s heated, steel housing has two diagonally positioned melt-flow pistons that hydraulically move from side to side. Before operation, the backflush opening is controlled by a stop valve. A defined amount of melt is pressed through the filter with the aid of the displacing piston.

The cleaning effect can be controlled, depending on the type of polymer, output speed, and other processing parameters by adjusting the hydraulic pressure while moving the displacing piston. Backflushing takes about 1 second, after which the backflush port is closed again and the displacing piston brought back into operating position. Only 500g of material is lost during cleaning. Kreyenborg GmbH, Munster, Germany; www.kreyenborg.de

Instrument allows easy, reliable use

Wave-Scan is a quick way to measure color, gloss, and physical surface properties of plastics applications. Prior to its introduction, processors often evaluated surface quality visually and described it in numerous inexact expressions such as glossy, brilliant, greasy, or good/bad leveling behavior. The Wave-Scan DOI uses an objective quantifying method to evaluate surface, brilliance, and structure. It allows measurement of the Orange Peel effect on small or curved parts. BYK-Gardner GmbH, Geretsried, Germany; www.bykgardner.com

Compact pelletizers help where shop floor space is limited

Strand pelletizer ips-SGE30 (with a cutting width of 30 mm) is designed for laboratory use and small quantity production of masterbatches. It is the smallest of a line of units, which also offers cutting widths of 60 and 110 mm.

Throughput of the SGE30 is 5 to 150 kg/hr. The small footprint machine includes an a-c motor with either 1.5 or 2.6 kW to cut up to five strands. Granule size ranges from 1.5 to 5 mm at a throughput of 20 to 80 m/min. Other features include:

  • Compact construction measuring 500 by 740 by 1095 mm
  • Easy-to-use controls
  • Controls on left or right for convenient location throughout the shop
  • Simple adjustment of the blade with only two screws offers time savings when changing product or performing maintenance

Strand pelletizer ips-SGE30 Combi comes complete with a 3m-long strand cooling trough, including integrated drying. Strand drying consists of a stripping brush and air knife run by compressed air. It is mounted on the end of the cooling trough with quick-change coupling devices. Throughput varies depending on polymer from nylon 6 at 80 kg/hr to 150 kg/hr for sytrenics and acrylics. IPS Intelligent Pelletizing Solutions GmbH & Co. KG, GroBosheim, Germany; www.pelletizing.de

Temperature, pressure sensors provide necessary accuracy

Produced by outside sources but designed to Kreyenborg specifications, melt-pressure transducers are essential components for pressure and temperature control in extrusion and injection molding. xptrigid offers quick and simple mounting. This transducer is said to be similar in construction to classical melt-pressure transducers but at a lower price. If space and high environmental temperatures are issues, the xptflexible offers an alternative. This transducer provides optimal heat insulation. Melt-pressure transducer xptcombi has an integrated thermo element, which allows concurrent monitoring of pressure and temperature at a single measuring point. Kreyenborg GmbH, Munster, Germany; www.kreyenborg.de

Retrofittable air ring makes operator''s life easy

Dual-lip air cooling rings can be difficult to adjust during processing to increase blown film output. It is also often not possible to adjust the die gap of the blown film die to completely eliminate a so-called "sinus-wave" effect in the gauge tolerance, which produces unevenness in the bubble. With the patented PeakPower dual-chamber air ring, which can be retrofitted onto existing lines, no height adjustment of the lips is necessary since the airflows themselves are separately adjustable. Higher cooling capacity of the bubble is possible thanks to this airflow adjustment. Also, the "sinus-wave" error can be eliminated by controlling output on the upper lip. Polyrema, Hennef, Germany; www.polyrema.com

Unique lubrication system highlights masterbatch pump

The Extrusion Pump GPE/MB (Gear Pump Extrusion/Master Batch) is intended for thermally sensitive melts. In a standard gear pump, the unit''s bearings are often lubricated by the melt itself; in certain circumstances this can lead to damage of the product owing to high shear stress if the diverted lubrication product is fed back to the product flow. In the case of PVC, recirculation can result in "burning" and formation of contamination.

This problem is resolved in the GPE/ MB. Side valves divert melt used for lubrication out of the pump by means of a heated channel, and the lubricating product is not fed back into the melt flow. When processing less sensitive polymers, the return channel to the pump can redirect the melt by way of valves into the main product flow so that no melt is wasted. The channels are completely filled so there is no build-up of contaminants.

The pump interior is flushed by new melt during product changes. These channels have a rheological design with no dead spots in the inlets or outlets. Georg Gillert, director of the producer''s pump technology division, says this model typically saves up to 130 kg/24 hr of material that would be lost with traditional designs. Product changes that can take up to three hours are shortened to 10 minutes, he says. Kreyenborg GmbH, Munster, Germany; www.kreyenborg.de

Added ring seal enhances protective effect of screw plugs

The nylon Kapsto GPN 737/738 screw plugs are equipped with an O-ring for good seal under harsh conditions. The O-ring assures reliable protection during cleaning, maintenance, or assemblies transport. They are available in all common screw-thread sizes from 8 to 60 mm OD. The yellow screw plugs are used to protect screw threads during demounting of injection molds. The manufacturer says this injection tool technique allows the screw thread to be uninfluenced by the creation of parting line burrs. A precise thread geometry allows rapid and easy screwing without thread burrs from entering the bore holes, thereby eliminating a cleaning step. Poppelmann GmbH & Co. KG, Lohne, Germany; www.poeppelmann.com

Vacuum loader capacity increased for higher throughput

Clear-Vu portable vacuum conveying system has a higher capability than previous Clear-Vu loaders. It can be used as a "mini-central" automated loading system for multiple processing lines. The number of stations that can be loaded by a single Clear-Vu unit is eight, but by linking the controllers in series, it is now possible to extend automated loading capability to 24 stations. Blower horsepower of each loader has been doubled, from 5 to 10. This allows an increased throughput from 420 to 1400 kg/hr over a distance of 120 m. The manufacturer has also added the option of a material receiver to the unit with a capacity of 10 kg. Maguire Products Inc., Aston, PA, USA; www.maguire.com

Polymer dryer, heater operates without contact heat, hot air

With the patented Infrared Dryer (IRD) process, the energy from the radiators in this special unit dries moisture-sensitive resins. This equipment producer says drying can be done more efficiently than by either hot-air or dry-air drying.

In principle, infrared drying can be applied to all polymers with this continuous system. Besides drying pellets, it can also be used to preheat any free-flowing material up to 250C.

Prewarmed resin allows a higher hourly capacity through the extruder of material such as wood/PP pellets, which may contain up to 80% moisture. Owing to the preheating, the wood fibers will be less sheared in the barrel. Longer fiber material may be used without fear of breaking, so the end product has higher stability, or the same stability with less filler than previously used.

The smallest of the three infrared dryer types, the IRD-A, handles up to 150 kg/hr and has heaters with a capacity of 15 kW. IRD-B has a capacity from 100 to 1500 kg/hr and the IRD-C can handle up to 25,000 kg/hr. According to Sven-Olaf Zillmann, sales manager for the IRD series, polymers, fillers, and materials such as cork or shredded leather containing more than 50% moisture can be dried without problems.

Volumetric dosing at the dryer inlet is required to ensure product evenness. The material to be dried travels along spirals around the IRD''s wall as the unit rotates. Before finished product exits, moisture is sucked off from the top of the chamber. Most IRD units are equipped with halogen IR beams, but Zillmann says a change of heating source to carbon, middle-, or short-wave heaters, if drying other products, takes less than 5 minutes. Halogen lamps heat from the inside to the surface of pellets and are used to preheat, crystallize, or internally dry material. Middle-wave sources use less energy and can warm or dry the outer surface of material, which is important for heat-sensitive polymers. Drying takes 5 to 15 minutes. Kreyenborg GmbH, Munster, Germany; www.kreyenborg.de

Modular solution allows flexible masterbatch feeding

Quick-change weigh-feeders highlight a compact, modular system for masterbatch producers. The system can be extended to any number of ingredients, although the basic system has a circular arrangement of up to six loss-in-weight feeders. Pneumatic conveyors refill each feeder. "Intelligent" electronic controls for the feeders and regulation modules are interconnected by a field bus. This allows easy connection of an increased number of feeders for future expansion.

The loss-in-weight scales with digital two-wire load cells used in the system are equipped with special screw feeders that feature wide turndown ratios and pulsation-free operation, even at relatively low feed rates. The "Easy Change" feeder design permits the screw hopper, together with the screw, screw tube, and extension hopper, to be removed as one unit for cleaning. This does not include any electronic parts and is therefore suitable for wet cleaning. The system reportedly can be used for online compounding as well as small-lot masterbatch and compound runs where frequent recipe changes are necessary. Brabender Technologies KG, Duisburg, Germany; www.brabender-technologie.com

Welder shortens processing times, improves quality

Most thermoplastics and elastomers can be welded using the Novolas laser transmission welding unit. Laser radiation penetrates the upper, transparent joining part and is absorbed in the lower, darker surface. High welding-seam strength can be achieved in the base material. The unit also allows dark-to-dark or transparent-to-transparent combinations with the aid of special pigments. It can also provide simultaneous welding using one or more laser beams to irradiate the entire welding seam in one shot. This is said to lead to short welding times for applications welded in large series. Leister Process Technologies, Sarnen, Switzerland; www.leister.com

Sophistication highlights multistation feeder

The Multigrav multistation feed system can handle up to eight modules. It is designed for flexible adjustment for continuous gravimetric granulate feeding. A rate of 1:80 feed is possible. The unit consists of a scale hopper and vibrating feeder. For the formulation of a polymer or additive mix, the feeders convey material into a vessel for blending. It can be used as a buffer for the downstream process. Feeding accuracy is said to be better than ±.5%, and normal feed rates per system module range from .3 to 400 kg/hr. Schenk Process GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany; www.schenk-process.de

New generation of hot runner nozzles are reliable

The Z3310 series hot runner nozzles has been extended by four single-nozzle units. They are said to have optimum thermal conductivity provided by heat-transfer pipes. The coil geometry of the heater ensures an even temperature distribution and homogenous heat profile along the entire melt channel. Precise temperature control is achieved with an iron- and copper-nickel alloy thermocouple at the nozzle tip. The nozzle head has an additional clamping flange for simple positioning in the mold. Unlike in the past, the nozzle doesn''t have to be fixed via a locating ring. Instead, it is held directly between the clamping plate and the nozzle-sided molding plate. This reportedly facilitates both minimization of the contact surfaces and reduced heat reflection. Hasco Hasenclever GmbH, Ludenscheid, Germany; www.hasco.com

Options help residue cleaner meet environmental requirements

Fully automatic Hypox polymer removing system eliminates caked-on melt from processing components, screen changers, extruder heads, manifolds, and melt pumps. In a hydrolysis phase, the part is first treated in a cleaning chamber with superheated steam to degrade and vaporize residue. In the oxidation phase, heated air removes any remaining soot. No solvents are used.

To meet stringent regulations in countries like Germany, Sweden, the U.S., and Italy regarding wastewater and contaminated air leaving the cleaning chamber, the manufacturer offers two options. A drain box can be added to the Hypox unit to concentrate and seal contaminated water for waste control collection by specialists rather than allowing the wastewater to return to municipal sewage treatment. The second option is a chamber following the Hypox operation that burns any acidic fumes before the air is freed into the atmosphere. MOVEngineering, Parre (BG), Italy; www.movengineering.com

K-Tron expands Bulk Solids Pump feeder line

The BSP 150 is the third and largest model in the company''s new BSP feeder line; models BSP 100 and BSP 125 were introduced in March. They use positive displacement action to feed free-flowing materials with high accuracy. The BSP employs vertical rotating spools that create feeding ducts. While within the duct, material moves in "plug flow," moving smoothly from storage hopper to discharge outlet, achieving true linear mass flow. The BSP 150 uses four feeding ducts to reach feed rates of 45 to 4500 cu dm/hr.

Both gravimetric and volumetric models are available, and the BSP 150 can also be incorporated into K-Tron''s new K4G continuous gravimetric blender. In-house tests done on the smaller BSP 125 showed it approached a linearity error of ±.1% at over its 100:1 turndown range compared with a volumetric screw feeder''s average error of ±2%. It also exhibited a 50% to 70% improvement in repeatability. K-Tron International, Pitman, NJ, USA; www.ktron.com.

Washing granulator takes the mess out of containers

A special granulator system targets the recycling of bottles and containers containing residual liquids. Waste is collected and fed into the granulator using a special lifting and tilting device. Water is added to apply friction to dissolve any hardened material from the surface of the plastics. The dirty water is spun off, and the scrap is dried. The units come with capacities from 100 to 5000 kg/hr. Systems can be dedicated to PET bottles, polypropylene battery casings, and high-density polyethylene containers. Herbold Meckesheim GmbH, Meckesheim, Germany; www.herbold.com

Blending control system eases operator work

A special blending-management system, COLORnet, capitalizing on the recently redesigned Gravicolor range of gravimetric batch blenders, is the first of a generation of controls that will be sold under the CONTROLnet name. This Ethernet-based operating platform integrates control of storage, drying, blending, and conveying of plastics materials into one family. Communication between the blending units and other conveying and drying units is made by an embedded microcontroller and onboard Ethernet port. Besides controlling the blending unit, COLORnet includes an integrated conveying control that eliminates the need for a separate control of the hopper loaders. It is possible for one vacuum pump to be shared between several controls, reducing purchase and operating costs.

The graphic display with touch-screen COLORnet unit is one-third the size of the former text-based controller but costs the same. Other units of the CONTROLnet family to follow COLORnet in the future are LUXORnet for drying, METROnet for conveying, and POCKETnet for remote, wireless control access. Motan GmbH, Isny, Germany; www.motan.com

Large slate of in-line measurement systems offered

Application-specific wall thickness measurement and control for tubes and hoses can be handled by the ultrasonic UMAC-Cl system. It allows flexible and specific configuration of the measuring task. UMAC G scanners measure wall thickness at the hot end of pipes up to 1600-mm OD. Type A scanners are compact in design for integrating directly into cooling tanks. These scanners can be used for measuring extruded medical tubing.

The measuring data processor, Wallmaster, in conjunction with the UMAC system, has easy-to-understand graphics featured on either a conventional or touch screen panel. It can be connected to a UMAC unit, several types of sensors, as well as fault detectors. If connected with the ODAC laser-measuring gauge, outside and inside diameters of tubes can also be controlled.

The ODAC 333TRIO unit provides three-axis diameter and ovality measurement of tubes and hoses. Contrary to conventional two-axis gauges, this laser scanner provides accurate measurement of minimum, maximum, and mean diameter, independent of shape and orientation of the product. Zumbach Electronic AG, Orpund, Switzerland; www.zumbach.com

Line of new equipment helps processors cut costs

A number of new equipment highlights should encourage better use of energy and reduce production costs. A self-cleaning dryer allows masterbatchers and compounders, who need to produce small color lots requiring frequent material changes, the chance to reduce the operator''s work load.

This unit cleans itself automatically, requiring no human interactivity, says Michael Eloo, technical manager at the producer. Also new is the Gala Form C-PET technology for compounders. It produces crystalline pellets straight from the unit and eliminates the cost of energy required, as well as an extra work step, to reheat the pellets and change them from an amorphous to a crystalline state. Also new is a system targeting compounders to produce low-wear glass-fiber compounding. Gala Kunststoff- und Kautschukmaschinen GmbH, Xanten-Birten, Germany; www.gala-europe.de

Melt-to-preform processes could change dynamics of preform supply

PET preform molders who want leverage on materials pricing may love new melt-to-preform plant designs that effectively turn them into their own suppliers. Savings of at least 10% are expected.

Two leading PET plant engineering firms are running pilot plants that mold preforms directly inline with polymer production. One of these, Zimmer, works with Husky Injection Molding Systems on Zimmer''s Direct To Preform (DTP) process. In Switzerland, Inventa-Fischer is working with Netstal Machinery on a similar system. Both systems eliminate the need for production and drying of PET chips prior to preform molding, and remove transport costs or distributor markups.

A pilot plant at Zimmer''s headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany is operating with a Husky machine using a two-cavity mold. A commercial line would be much larger: DTP plants feeding 16 or more 144-cavity preform molding units are envisioned.

A standard bottle-grade PET plant includes a polycondensation unit, a granulation unit to form chips, and then a solid state polymerization (SSP) reactor. The material''s viscosity and crystallinity do not reach levels required for processing until it is solidified and goes through SSP. Following SSP, flakes are shipped to processors'' silos and must be dried before use. In contrast, the Zimmer and Inventa-Fischer plants include no SSP reactor, and PET viscosity is raised while still a melt.

Both firms claim processors should see savings of 10% or more. Brigitta Otto, senior polymer technology manager at Zimmer, says the Zimmer portion of its system would be built above existing preform machines, so that no increase in floor space is required. She says the plants are likely to be available in 150-, 300- and 600-tonnes/day models. Otto says the raw materials required for PET, purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and mono-ethylene glycol (MEG), are readily available commodities.

Integrating Husky machines into a DTP unit is "not a big change for us," says Benoit Jeanjot, technical center team leader at Husky''s Dudelange, Luxembourg facility and the point man at the manufacturer for the Zimmer project. Husky did change a standard preform molding unit''s barrel and screw since, rather than serving to plasticize material, the screw must serve as a buffer to insure that melt is pushed into the shooting pot with no backflow. The screw also serves to ensure additive distribution in the melt. Zimmer leaves as an option the possibility to run melt away from the molding machines to a pelletizer where standard PET chips are formed and crystallized.

The Inventa-Fischer pilot is running with an eight-cavity Netstal unit. Waldemar Schmitke, GM PET systems at Netstal, says the firm made a special machine for the project that uses two injection units to fill the mold, with a vent alternating the melt between them. As the melt from one is injected into the mold, the other unit is filled. A bypass vent sends excess melt to an underwater pelletizer to form chips. Melt production will be at least 110% of the preform unit''s capacity, so that at least 10% of the melt will always be bypassed to form chips, he says.

Unlike the Husky unit, Netstal has removed the plasticizing screw from its preform unit for the melt-to-preform process. Standard preform molding units cannot process very high IV melt since shear generated by the screw creates higher acetaldehyde (AA) content in the melt. AA, a result of thermal decomposition of PET, is blamed for creating unpleasant odors in bottled water. The scavengers used to reduce AA content are costly, notes Schmitke, so decreasing use of these benefits processors. By removing the screw, the Netstal melt-to-preform machine can process higher IV melt without creating higher AA content; the higher IV could enable users to cut preform weight without reducing mechanical properties, he explains. Werner Stibal, senior VP for technology at Inventa-Fischer, says plant size will likely range from 100 to 300 tonnes/day. He says the firm is in talks with "all of the major preform processors as well as the major bottlers," and adds, "I am certain we''ll sign our first commercial contract for the melt-to-preform plant this year."

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

Contact information

Husky   www.husky.ca
Inventa-Fischer   www.inventa-fischer.com
Netstal   www.netstal.com
Zimmer   www.zimmer-ag.de

Livonia, MI with Jack Roush

Equally at ease in pit row, the cockpit of his World War II vintage P-51 Mustang, or in front of a computer poring over a CAD model, Jack Roush embodies the diverse capabilities and ingenuity of the company he founded nearly 30 years ago in Livonia, MI.

That company, Roush Enterprises Inc., has grown from a lone building in Michigan, to 57 facilities and more than 2000 employees worldwide.

Spread from North America to China, Roush makes everything from engines to customization kits. But the company''s face to many racing fans is stock car drivers like Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, who routinely take victory laps under the watchful gaze of Roush himself.

"I try to lead my race teams," Roush explains. "The buck stops here on my desk." And true to his engineering background, Roush admits that, "any part that breaks—it''s personal with me, and I undertake a resolution of those issues with great enthusiasm."

Team owner and CEO of Roush Racing and chairman of the board of Roush Enterprises, Roush has delegated day-to-day operations of his businesses, but admits to remaining "hands-on managerially," even though his true comfort zone lies elsewhere.

"I spend the bulk of my time making deep dives," Roush says, "down to the roots of the company with regards to expanding the technology, developing a different market or capability, and solving problems that occur in the completion of commitments we''ve made to our customers."

Graduating with a degree in mathematics from Berea College (Berea, KY) in 1964, Roush landed a job at Ford Motor Co. In the 12 years between that first job with Ford and founding the precursor to Roush Enterprises in 1976, Jack earned a masters degree, worked briefly with Chrysler, and even taught sporadically. The one constant was always cars.

Today, after starting Roush Racing in 1988, his teams boast 24 national championships with three titles in the last four years, including the 2003 Winston Cup, 2002 Busch Series, and 2000 Craftsman Truck Series. Roush manufacturing has played a role in all those victories as well as nearly every NASCAR event.

"We do lots of prototyping and small batch runs of plastic and composite parts," Roush says. "NASCAR vehicles today, be it a truck or a car, have a composite nose and tail, and we''re the suppliers for all the Ford cars." Roush also helped design and manufacture the roof flaps that prevent vehicles from becoming airborne when they lose control.

An avid collector of cars, one vehicle in Roush''s collection is unique. Hanging from the rafters, what''s left of a mangled AirCam plane is suspended by cables. Taken for a test spin by Roush on his 60th birthday two years ago, the plane''s disfigured carcass now hovers above Roush''s prized Cobras and Mustangs as an ominous reminder.

Roush flew the landscape photography plane as it was intended—close to the ground. But it was also headed straight for a power line. Normally, the line''s towers would have alerted Roush, but groves of trees left them obscured, and he never saw them. Less than a mile from the airport, Roush hit the line and crashed into a lake. Incapacitated, it was only one Larry Hicks, a retired Marine who trained in Vietnam to extricate people from sinking helicopters, that saved Roush.

"[Hicks] went and got me," Roush explains, "and I''m having this conversation with you today with some days I wouldn''t have if he hadn''t gotten me out of the water. That was his first rescue."

Roush cites survival of another sort as his biggest career highlight, though.

"I''ve been able to survive the supplier wars in Detroit with a viable business and maintain my independence,'' Roush says. "The fact that we''ve been able to do something with some amount of appeal in the marketplace, and to be able to get up in the morning and do something that I enjoy, regardless of whether I thought I''d get paid for it, is a wonderful thing. Having succeeded in that regard is enough for me, and that''s a lot."

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Plastics syringes challenge glass market dominance

Global plastics pharmaceutical packaging is expected to rise in value by 4.3%/yr to $22.2 billion in 2007; prefilled syringes predicted to grow 8.8%/yr to reach $5.9 billion. Infection prevention and ease of use are driving growth.

The only impediment to wider use of prefilled systems is price, which Freedonia says is typically 25% higher than for medication packed in vials and ampoules. (Projections from Study 1664, The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, OH).)

Despite 80% of the demand for prefilled devices coming from developed countries, China will generate the fastest growth in demand based on rapidly expanding pharmaceutical manufacturing capacities, predicts Freedonia.

Parenterals, drugs administered by injection, have traditionally been packed in borosilicate glass since the 1920s, says Klaus Holtzhauer, product manager for syringes at Schott Forma Vitrum (St. Gallen, Switzerland). His company, one of Europe''s largest glass producers, only recently considered plastics as a supplement to its existing line, he admits. "Glass has a high reputation as primary packaging material for injectables, but there are some applications where glass cannot offer the optimum solution, such as emergency medicine, due to its fragility," Holtzhauer says.

After testing a number of polymer alternatives, his company decided on cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) for sterile prefillable syringes. Holtzhauer says the key factors are low weight, shatter-resistance during filling or use, high barrier properties, and the fact that plastics allow more design freedom to integrate standardized attachments for fitting hypodermic needles to the syringe base.

Schott claims syringes, and "pen" systems with hidden needles for self-injection, are growing at up to 15%/yr in Europe compared to vials at 3% and ampoules, which are stagnating. To cut rising health costs, a global movement toward eliminating medical personnel involvement in favor of self-administration by patients is underway, he says. Such applications require failsafe systems to prevent contamination, and ease injection by non-professionals.

BD Pharmaceutical Systems (Le Pont-de-Claix, France) has introduced its BD Disposable Pen for auto-injecting preset doses from a 3-ml cartridge. It also makes a prefilled syringe, BD Readyfill, but this uses a silicone baked onto a thin glass barrel which is said to offer mechanical stability. Competitor Schott thinks its choice of COC offers better sterilization possibilities for its TopPac syringes, which can be sterilized by autoclave, gamma irradiation, ethylene oxide, or electron radiation. Holtzhauer further says that the use of ready-to-fill plastic syringes eliminates three production steps (checks for breakage, washing, and sterilization) over glass. Depending on the application, Schott includes an antioxidant or a low percentage of ultramarine to disguise yellowing when gamma ray sterilizing COC syringes.

The company molds these from one of three Topas-brand COC grades from Ticona (Frankfurt, Germany). Ticona is making a push to establish COC as a material of choice for single-use syringes since it brought a 30,000-tonnes/yr plant in Oberhausen, Germany onstream in 2000. Company president Lyndon Cole admitted at a recent press conference that the facility''s output is below capacity, and the company sees medical use for the resin as a way to up demand.

Alexander Haag, manufacturing science director at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma (Biberach, Germany) says the plastics syringes his company sources from Schott have already proven invaluable in life-threatening situations such as heart attacks. "The only thing medical personnel need to do in such situations is to break open a medical kit, remove the needle shield, and inject. There is no time wasted with filling the syringe, confusion in selecting the right drug, or checking to make sure there are no air bubbles present," Haag says. Boehringer presently has one TopPac syringe type from Schott on the market but expects to be marketing more this year.

Since the COC syringe has low water vapor permeability, it can be used to store even small doses of drugs for several years, says Holtzhauer.

Robert Colvin [email protected]

Contact information

BD Pharmaceutical Systems   www.bd.com
Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma   www.boehringer-ingelheim.com
Freedonia Group   www.freedoniagroup.com
Schott Forma Vitrum   www.schott.com
Ticona   www.ticona.com

TPUs bring versatility to footwear makers

Huntsman Polyurethanes'' smartLite injection moldable microcellular thermoplastic polyurethane technology is intended to help shoemakers respond to consumer demands for performance and address new environmental and consumer legislation requirements.

The company says smartLite "is the first footwear technology to combine lightweight properties, strong aesthetic possibilities, and high-quality performance." Soles made from the material are 40% lighter than rubber, can be used in combination with other soling materials like leather, and are recyclable.

The smartLite brand comprises a complete material line and Moldflow analysis and quality auditing services. Huntsman has patent coverage related to the foaming technology, which uses chemical and physical blowing agents.

The company is currently targeting premium brands now using vulcanized rubber soles. But as the technology develops, it hopes to take on more commodity materials such as EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate), since the new TPU scores in terms of bondability and paintability—smartLite requires no mechanical or chemical surface pretreatment.

Commercial grades currently include: smartLite 303, which offers performance equivalent to traditional rubber, but at a density upwards of 700 kg/cu m; smartLite 304 (minimum 600 kg/cu m) general-purpose grade; and high-performance grade 344 for complex moldings and midsoles of dual density units with densities from 550 to 700 kg/cu m. Global marketing manager Craig Roberts says the intent is to reach densities as low as 200 kg/cu m. He says this will be achieved through a combination of new technologies in polymer and blowing agents.

The materials'' high flexibility gives a low risk of flex cracking. Huntsman says that during development of smartLite, more than a million pairs of shoes were introduced into the market and at press time no returns had been reported. Materials can be colored, insert molding is straightforward, and soles can be molded directly onto uppers.

The microcellular materials complement existing solid TPUs already in Huntsman''s portfolio. "We have always had an eye on the thermoplastic market," says Roberts, "but we only had solid TPUs, and we couldn''t get [far] into the market because they are quite hard and heavy. Now we can access a much wider market."

Huntsman conducted an industrial validation period with three pilot customers: Next (Italy), Noel (France) and Jercol (Spain). This "smartLite alliance" has since extended to include companies serving Ecco, Clarks, Camper, and Tod''s. The technology is also being rolled out in Asia. Over the past two seasons, Yeon Jen, a Taiwanese sole manufacturer, has started smartLite production for the La New brand, and in China, Evais is completing validation. Huntsman has dedicated smartLite production in Osnabruck, Germany, its main European TPU facility. Huntsman Polyurethanes, Everberg, Belgium; +32 2 758 9874; www.smartlite.biz

ADDITIVES

Polyolefin processing aid

Kynar Flex PPA 5300, a fluorinated polymer, helps enhance film and blowmolding applications'' appearance by eliminating surface defects. The substance quickly coats barrels and screw surfaces to reduce shear forces. It eliminates orange peel, improves transparency, and can increase output as much as 10% by boosting extrusion speed, says Pierre Elmerich, market manager, Atofina. It also inhibits the formation of knots and drool at extrusion die surfaces. Processors can obtain this material either as a masterbatch or neat so it can be dosed directly during processing.

Elmerich says the aid is also particularly good in eliminating melt fracture in metallocene grades of linear-low-density polyethylene. Atofina, Paris, France; +33 1 49007030; www.atofina.com

RESINS/COMPOUNDS

PC provides high glazing durability for automotive

Polycarbonate glazing systems for automotive applications require resins with good scratch resistance and long life. Exatec 900 is an improved version of the existing 500 grade. It has enhanced abrasion resistance and weathering performance.

A predictive weathering model shows that parts should withstand more than 10 years of outdoor exposure to high-UV light without reduction in properties. Key to this technology is a proprietary weathering coating, Exatec SHX, developed as an interlayer. Also the weathering layer''s water-based primer, Exatec SHP 9X, is less aggressive on molded parts than the previous grade and is said to be more environmentally friendly. Using this new system provides a 50% weight reduction in windows over conventional glass. Exatec, LLC, Wixom, MI, USA; +1 248-926-4200; www.exatec.biz

EVA with broad spectrum

Part of the Levamelt range of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) copolymer is designed for processing protective films for glass windows and screens, protective coatings for machinery, or for sealing layers on re-sealable food package closures. The vinyl acetate content is from 40% to 90%. Content above 50% is best for films for use in low temperatures. It requires no phthalate modifiers for flexibility. Used as a tie layer, the material''s adhesion can be adjusted to account for the various substrates, enabling processors to use just one tie layer material for a broad range of materials. Bayer, Leverkusen, Germany, +49 214 301; www.bayer.com

PUR shortfall to last through 2006

A key feedstock for polyurethanes is virtually sold out worldwide, and supply is likely to remain tight until well into 2006. According to Jean-Pierre Dhanis, president of Ludwigshafen, Germany-based BASF''s polyurethanes division, the company already has 100% capacity utilization of its MDI (methylene diphenylisocyanate) plants, and the picture is likely the same at other majors. Capacity utilization in TDI (toluene diisocyanate) plants is more than 85%.

Customers are already on allocation for MDI. Dhanis says only a global economic slowdown can prevent continuing shortfalls. "There could be a slowdown in China that might help," he says, noting MDI has not been this tight since 1994. Ian Paterson, marketing and innovation manager at supplier Bayer, adds, "There could be shortages. A hard lesson we''ve learned: We are only going to build capacity when we are sure of profitability." Bayer estimates global PUR demand growth at 5% from 2004 to 2006.

No new large MDI plants are coming onstream in the next two years. A minor producer in Hungary, BordosChem, will soon open a 80,000-tonnes/yr plant. BASF is involved with Huntsman and other Chinese partners in a 240,000-tonnes/yr MDI plant scheduled for completion in 2005. Capacity was originally intended to be 160,000 tonnes/yr. The plant will also make TDI. Bayer (Leverkusen, Germany) is adding a total of 120,000 tonnes/yr MDI capacity at plants in Texas, Spain, and Germany, bringing its total to 920,000 tonnes/yr. Bayer is the leading supplier of MDI and TDI, and also is investing heavily in the material''s supply in China (January 2004 MP/MPI). But it has also closed four smaller TDI production facilities in the last two years.

Dhanis says poor margins have prevented supplier reinvestment (a situation that has been at least partly remedied in Europe, with prices rising in July as much as 20%), while all suppliers under-estimated market growth, which in China is running at 10%/yr.

In Brief

BWAY wraps up NAMPAC deal Acquires 10 U.S. sites

Steel container manufacturer BWAY Corp. (Atlanta, GA) has added plastics to its arsenal with the acquisition of North American Packaging Corp. (NAMPAC; Raleigh, NC). NAMPAC, with 2003 sales of $220 million, has 10 U.S. facilities making injection molded pails and blowmolded containers, bottles, and drums.

Italtech sold to customer Grasselli returns

Italian injection molding machine maker Italtech (Brescia) has been sold by Fiat-owned automation systems specialist Comau to GPM (Gruppo Pegoraro Macchine), a family-owned company based in Padua. GPM has since changed its name to Italtech. The Pegoraro family has interests in molding and recycling, and is an important Italtech customer. Adelio Grasselli, who founded Italtech but left the company last year, has now returned as managing director.

Compounder opens plant in China

A. Schulman Inc. (Akron, OH) has opened a facility in Dongguan, China to extrude compounds for the flexible and rigid packaging and automotive markets. Currently the site has one line with a capacity of about 18,200 tonnes/yr.

China''s largest compounder grows

Chinese compounder Guangzhou Kingfa Sci. & Tech. Co. completed a 60,000-tonnes/year compounding plant in Shanghai in July. Its main compounding operation in Guangzhou has 200,000-tonnes/year capacity. Kingfa plans to double capacity at Shanghai within two to three years.

Kingfa compounds commodity and engineering plastics for the electronics, IT, and automobile markets.

"Our economies of scale enable us to reduce our selling prices by 5% to 8%," says Sales Vice GM Thomas Tan. For example, the compounder typically buys neat resin in 500- to 1000-tonne lots for commodity resins and 400- to 600-tonne lots for engineering resins.

Its product portfolio includes PP, PS, ABS, PBT, PPO, and PC/ABS compounds, which it supplies to customers including Sony and Philips.

K-M opens lab in response to RIM growth

Business at Krauss-Maffei''s Reaction Technology division is great, according to firm officials at its SummerForum open house (June 23-24) who unveiled its new product design, development, and process trial lab in Florence, KY.

"Right now we''re in the middle of the best year the division has ever known," Reaction Technology VP John-Paul Mead explained at the event. Mead said the urethanes processing business has made inroads in automotive, construction, and "white goods" like washing machines and refrigerators.

Over the first six months of 2004, K-M''s Reaction division has already logged €58 million in orders compared to €34 million in 2003, an increase of 72%. Mead credits the recent rapid growth to urethanes'' versatility and a greater appreciation of them. "In my opinion," Mead explained, "an entire generation of engineers are just discovering urethanes for the first time."

The division''s new lab includes K-M RIMStar equipment, a variable spray/mix head mounted on a Motoman six-axis robot, and a spray-head mechanical cleaner.

During the open house, K-M showed a console for BMW''s 7- and 5-Series vehicles, created entirely from urethanes using the company''s RIMStar equipment. The console sandwich was composed of a soft outer skin, foam core, and a reinforced urethane substrate.

Husky positions Shanghai as global small machine base

In an interview with Modern Plastics at the recent Chinaplas show, Husky president and CEO Robert Schad outlined production plans for the firm''s new facility in Shanghai. Although declining to give a startup date, Schad said the China operation would eventually manufacture all of the firm''s small Hylectric machines (900-, 1200- and 1600-kN machines); production of these would be transferred from Bolton, ON.

Schad added that Husky is also considering production of smaller machines in Shanghai than those currently on offer. These could include 600- and 750-kN presses.

The Shanghai site is home to Husky''s already operational technical center. Hot runner production also commenced in mid-2004 on a small scale; a full-fledged manufacturing cell starts work in September.

Commenting recently on the firm''s third quarter results, Schad said, "For fiscal 2005, we expect to invest approximately $70 million in capital assets, the majority of which is equipment aimed at supporting growth in sales, providing customers with better lead times, and reducing costs." He added, "In order to concentrate on these investments we have decided to temporarily delay construction of the new mold facility in Luxembourg and the expansion of our technical center in Shanghai."

Demag, Netstal recharging electric lines

Two members of the Mannesmann Plastics Machinery group will unveil new lines of electric injection machines at K 2004. Netstal''s Elion will be available in four sizes—500, 800, 1200 and 1750 kN—and all but the largest will be running at the show, making technical and medical parts. The machines are characterized by compact drive systems, especially on the clamp end, and they are around 7.5% shorter (but also wider) than the company''s hydraulic SynErgy, which is viewed as complementary. The price of the Elion will be announced at the show. First deliveries should be during Q2 2005.

Thomas Robers, general manager for marketing, sales and application technology for the Nafels, Switzerland company, says the Elion is ideal for cleanroom production, with the mold compartment totally free of oil. The clamp unit uses a completely enclosed lubrication system, the linear guides are oil-free, and the motors use water cooling.

The Elion has a modest top injection speed of 450 mm/sec, but Robers notes the Elion is not a packaging machine: "In the 500- to 1750-kN range, we don''t see typical packaging applications...the 450 mm/sec top speed is sufficient for virtually all target applications."

Field trials with eight machines were only due to start this month, although company CEO Bernhard Merki says various elements of the machine have already gone intensive internal testing.

A prototype all-electric Netstal showed at K 2001 bears little resemblance to the Elion. The first machine was essentially a SynErgy with electric rather than hydraulic motors. The Elion is a new design.

Demag Plastics Group (Schwaig, Germany; Strongsville, OH) is rationalizing its range of electric machines. It will launch the IntElect direct-drive machine on the U.S. market in September. The machine was launched at shows in Italy and the U.S. last May/June, but at that time there were no firm plans to market it in the U.S. The machine is available in sizes up to 1500 kN. At the same time, it is also launching a version with ball-screw drives outside the U.S. This machine, also called IntElect, was launched by the then-Van Dorn Demag in 2001. The company started with a 110-U.S. ton (1000-kN) version, and a range from 50 to 500 tons was envisaged. It will now be available only in sizes over 2000 kN. The company may later make direct drive machines larger than 1500 kN, but is currently constricted by availability and price of the high-torque motors they require.

Meanwhile, DPG is phasing out its El-Exis E "almost-all electric" machines, launched only four years ago in the 600 to 2000 kN range, for all except special customers. Company CEO Helmar Franz says the IntElect proves a more cost-effective solution for production of technical parts. The El-Exis S high-speed range, primarily intended for thinwall packaging, is being extended, with the launch of a 7000-kN version at K 2004, and more sizes scheduled for 2005.

Bayer spin-off focusing on compounding and coloration

Executives at Lanxess, the business spun off from Bayer on July 1 that includes the supplier''s styrenics and engineering thermoplastics operations, minus polycarbonate, say the future of their business lies in purchasing nylons and PBT, and then adding value to the materials via compounding and coloration.

"Good quality polyamide and polyester basic resins are available throughout the world," says Hubert Fink, head of the firm''s semi-crystalline products.

This strategy of local sourcing and then compounding will be apparent in the Americas and Far East. Local sourcing is a less costly way to quickly bolster its positions in these markets. In Europe, it has substantial material supply facilities. Thermoplastics account for about €1 billion of the firm''s €6 billion in annual sales.

Lanxess intends to build a compounding facility in China by 2006 for nylons (PA6 and PA66) and PBT, and is contacting suppliers, say officials.

Lanxess is also pondering what to do with its ABS business. "In ABS we don''t have the market position that we''d like to have," says Fink. The firm will try to develop this business, though divestment could be an eventual option. Fink says the firm will offer a broad range of custom-colored ABS in Europe where the firm sees high demand for these, but not in Asia and North America. Bayer plans an initial public offering or other manner of divestment of Lanxess not later than early next year.

Arburg formalizes Chinese presence

Injection molding machinery manufacturer Arburg (Lossburg, Germany) has formed a fully owned subsidiary in the country, augmenting the office it has had there since 1997.

Arburg Shanghai Co. Ltd. will be headed by Zhao Tong and serve Hong Kong and the Guangdong province.

Delphi prescribes medical market for growth

After spending three years determining which market segments offered the best prospects for growth, Delphi Corp. (Troy, MI) settled on the medical sector and created Delphi Medical Systems Corp., a new subsidiary.

The company made its debut at the Medical Design & Manufacturing exposition in New York in June, and has already secured a contract with Sunrise Medical, a provider of home and extended care products. For now, the company will use existing capacity to meet orders, but is looking to create new capacity internally and through strategic acquisitions.

A former subsidiary of General Motors, Delphi has long been linked with automotive, but has worked to diversify and wean itself from GM.

Building & construction boom?

Dow has brought out a new grade of its high-temperature-resistant PE, described as a one-step, cost-effective alternative to cross-linked PE (XLPE) pipes for hot-water transport. Dowlex 2344E, a bimodal grade, reportedly offers advantages over XLPE such as flexibility, easy welding, possibility to extrude in multilayer structures, and high hoop strength. RC

Contact information

Aliaxis    www.aliaxis.com
Atofina Chemicals   www.atofinachemicals.com
BP Solvay Polyethylene   www.bpsolvaype.com
Dow Chemical   www.dow.com
Ion Beam Applications   www.iba-worldwide.com
Uponor   www.uponor.com

Wood composites continue to build a marketplace

Technical advances in machinery and materials have coupled with regulatory changes to present new opportunities.

Voluntary elimination of wood that is pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate preservatives—by 2005 in Canada and at the end of 2003 in residential construction in the U.S.—has opened wider the door for a composite lumber industry (featuring extrusions of PVC or polyethylene compounded with wood flour) that was already enjoying accelerated growth.

Pressure treatment is used to extend a wood product''s life, increase its strength, and ward off mold and rot. But the chemicals are thought to increase the likelihood of lung or bladder cancer.

Wood-composite lumber is therefore making greater inroads due to its relative environmental friendliness, while still offering resistance to the elements. And many manufacturers, like market leader Trex, use recycled plastics and wood. Between two existing manufacturing facilities in the U.S., with a third under construction, Trex processes more than 100,000 tonnes/yr of wood and reclaimed polyethylene film.

Peter Simko, a senior engineer with Carney Timber (Barrie, ON), works with that company''s line of extruded composite decking and railing, as well as molded fixtures sold under the brand name Xtendex. The company loads virgin HDPE with 50% organic fibers in the formulation of its product.

Organic fillers like rice husks, flax, hemp, other plant derivatives, and wood flour are the norm in composite decking, offering an attractive price and lending added mechanical functionality to the boards. But they do pose some processing challenges.

Mike Millsaps, sales and marketing manager for JSW''s extrusion machinery in North America, says moisture content can pose big processing hangups. JSW has patented a degassing extruder to handle the problem. Softer woods like pine have more moisture than harder woods, but processors working with wood flour that has moisture content of 7% or less should consider themselves lucky, Millsaps says.

"You have to keep the wood flour under a certain temperature to prevent burning and oxidation of the polymer, but you have to [have it high enough to] drive out the water," he says.

A number of processors use a separate twin-screw compounding extruder to feed several single-screw lines profiling the lumber. "You''re only going to make a mess on that section of your plant," Millsaps explains. The alternative is to pre-dry the material, using dedicated furnaces, or to try inline compounding.

The Europeans are coming

Krauss-Maffei has not been active in extrusion equipment for wood composites until now, but in June it said it was "almost ready" to enter the U.S. market with a machine developed specifically for that sector. A prototype has already been tested, based on a KMD 130 twin-screw counter-rotating machine, capable of a throughput up to 700 kg/hr.

The equipment uses a cascade configuration, with an initial, twin-screw corotating section designed to pre-dry the material before feeding it to the hopper of the second section. It can accept compounds with 6% to 8% moisture.

Cincinnati Extrusion (Vienna, Austria) has made several advances in its vented, conical, twin-screw extruders for wood composites since it ran a line at K 2001. The company''s Fiberex machine is scheduled to produce polypropylene-based material at K 2004 at a line speed of 3 m/min—10 times faster than three years ago.

The machine uses a new three-zone screw design, as well as vacuum calibration. It applies water-, rather than air-cooling, of the profile, which allows speeds up to 5 m/min, even for profiles with asymmetric and complex geometries. The line employs gravimetric dosing of wood flour, additives, and resin.

In spite of these and other gains, the products still face one important hurdle compared to traditional lumber. "The major stumbling block in the market is still price," Millsaps says.

"It''s two to three times the price of pressure-treated wood, depending on what you get. But they''ve come a long way in appearance, so they''re getting those issues worked out." TD

Contact information

Cincinnati Extrusion   www.sms-k.com
JSW   www.jsw.co.jp/en/
Krauss-Maffei   www.krauss-maffei.de/k/english
Principia Partners   www.principiaconsulting.com

Battered and bruised, SPI and SPE look to regain lost relevance

Outlets for discussion, education, and camaraderie, industry associations only exist because of and for their members. But as change affects those members, it inevitably influences their associations, too.

Born in plastics'' embryonic days, the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) emerged in 1937; its technology-focused contemporary, the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), followed in 1942.

Back then, SPI and SPE meetings coincided with advances in plastics that were exploding as rapidly as plastics'' adoption into all manner of products. There was no question as to these organizations'' relevance. But, as plastics moved into the 21st century, its trade associations limped behind, reeling from the same rapid growth and decline the industry endured in the 1990s; for the first time, many members didn''t renew their membership, struggling to justify the cost.

Rock bottom

SPI''s troubles started at home, when the American Plastics Council (APC) looked to go on its own during 1998 and 1999 after a series of perceived missteps by its parent. APC split formally in 2000, giving SPI considerable pause. "SPI had to take a step back and take a pretty hard look at who they were, what they were doing, and what their role would be without the APC," admits SPI President Don Duncan.

For SPE, the apex from which it declined was 1993 and 1994, when the association''s membership peaked at nearly 38,000. It has now settled at about 23,000, but for almost a decade its ranks and revenues fell precipitously.

"I think in the late ''90s, as membership began to wane," new SPE Executive Director Susan Oderwald says, "and the organization went through a number of both financial and project areas that didn''t work out, we lost our focus. The industry was changing very rapidly, and I think we really kind of lost touch with what members wanted."

>From these lows, both groups are on the upswing, and once again finding relevance in their members'' businesses. SPE''s annual technical conference, ANTEC, drew 2952 attendees in May, up 12% from last year. If it can hold to budget—and thanks to temporary measures like the repealing of division rebates until 2006 for 2005 activities—SPE is forecasting a net of $200,000 for 2004.

SPI''s 2003 membership survey found that 87.3% (up from 83.8% in 2002) of its rank-and-file are satisfied with its products and services in a year when it managed a balanced budget. Its triennial event, the National Plastics Exposition (NPE), drew 63,238 attendees and 1932 exhibitors in 2003. Although down from records in 2000, the numbers were still considered a success.

Changing with the times

Long-time SPE members are coping with changes the association deemed necessary to improve its position. Some, like shifting to e-mailed newsletters and launching a quarterly European publication, have met with a chilly reception, but SPE has taken pains to gauge members opinions on all actions.

"One of the things that I learned early on," Oderwald explains, "is to never assume that you''re the market. The closer you are to an organization like ours, the less objectivity you have about what the typical member wants."

The group is also moving away from focusing on geographic development, allowing members to instead coalesce around new technologies in Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which could evolve into divisions. In the last year, two SIGs—Rapid Design Engineering & Moldmaking and Radiation Processing of Polymers—grew out of Europe.

To combat problems connecting with its members, SPI restructured its governance, giving its three stakeholders—processors and materials and equipment suppliers—equal say. The group has also been more vigilant in public policy: Duncan meets with the EPA and OSHA, among other regulatory agencies, on a monthly basis.

The group''s most visible effort to reach out to the public at large is a new exhibit at the Epcot Center in Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL)—a 5000-sq-ft plastics pavilion will open unofficially in July (the grand opening is in September), initiating a three-year run.

At SPE, Oderwald is optimistic. "Value, especially in this arena, is highly perishable," Oderwald says. "it''s not about what you did for me a day ago, or six weeks ago. You have to remain current and vital. I think we''ve come a long way and have a few lessons to learn, but I think we''re on the right road."

Tony Deligio [email protected]

Contact information

Society of Plastics Engineers   www.4spe.org
Society of the Plastics Industry   www.socplas.org