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Articles from 2016 In September


Special Report: How millennials are influencing the shape and style of plastic packaging

Special Report: How millennials are influencing the shape and style of plastic packaging

Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released earlier this year by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015 now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51 to 69), and represent $200 billion in buying power. With immigration adding more numbers to this group than any other, the millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 81.1 million.

This special report examines consumer behaviors of this age group that packaging designers and brands need to effectively address and act on in order to capture this large market share.

The article also includes a sidebar with results from a survey conducted with sister brand Packaging Digest that assessed whether our readers felt plastic packaging has a future with millennials.

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At K 2016, start the day the bioplastics way

Frank Diodato

Much has changed in the world of bioplastics since the Bioplastics Business Breakfast event was organized for the first time back at K 2010. Six years ago, when talking to product developers or converters, most were quick to agree that bioplastics were undeniably a good idea—but just not for their business. Fast forward to 2016, and the discussion has undergone a radical shift. The concept of the circular economy has caught the attention of politicians and companies, and with it, the perception has grown of how this could impact, say, the impending problem of resource scarcity, or help create new jobs and increase competitiveness, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting better waste management, to name but a few benefits.

NatureWorks Business Director Frank Diodato at the K 2013 Bioplastics Business Breakfast.

The bioeconomy is an essential component of the circular economy, as it provides the resource base for economic activities. Today, bioplastics are an acknowledged part of the bioeconomy, an economy where goods are made from responsibly produced biomass. Moreover, they represent an industry that has the potential to help decouple economic growth from resource depletion and environmental impact.

As an industry, bioplastics is demonstrating impressive growth. In fact, worldwide demand for biobased plastics has been forecast to see 8 to 12% annual growth through 2020, far outpacing conventional plastics. Packaging is currently the largest market, but as properties improve and volumes increase, opportunities are also opening up for durable consumer goods, medical devices and the automotive industry, to name but a few.

The realization that bioplastics present an opportunity to contribute significantly to a company’s sustainability strategy—and impact its bottom line—is one thing. Understanding how to leverage this opportunity is something else again. To that end, Michael Thielen of bioplastics magazine once again is hosting the Bioplastics Business Breakfast event at the K show, a compact series of mini-symposia on October 20, 21 and 22 from 8 AM to 12:30 PM presenting the latest industry insights and developments. A central theme is the sustainability and durability of biobased materials for broad applications. On day one, the focus is on bioplastics in packaging; day two offers an in-depth look at PLA, the bioplastic “workhorse” while the third and last morning is devoted wholly to durables and bioplastics.

The breakfasts offer participants an occasion to meet peers and colleagues, and to connect with experts from industry, academia and associations on a relatively informal basis. The morning sessions finish by lunch, leaving participants ample time to explore the 17 halls that make up the rest of the show, where innovations and a host of novel products and bioplastics technologies will also be on display. Participants interested in finding out more about the products and developments presented can visit the booths of—among others—companies presenting at the Bioplastics Business Breakfast event.

K 2016 is styled as a premier business and information platform geared to the future, with innovation as its hallmark. The Bioplastics Business Breakfast seminars fit seamlessly into this conception.

Change is in the air. Circular thinking is taking hold throughout the value chain, from product design and production processes to new business models and consumption patterns, and bioplastics have an important role to play in that. Participants in the Bioplastics Business Breakfast event at K 2016 can take advantage of the opportunity to learn about what’s going on in bioplastics and talk to experts, and to find out how they can truly become part of—and leverage—this emerging technology.

Participants should register in advance at the bioplastics site.

Corbion seeks allies on alternative feedstock for PLA project

Corbion seeks allies on alternative feedstock for PLA project

Last week, lactic acid producer Corbion (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) organized an extremely well attended and highly worthwhile get-together in Amsterdam at a venue overlooking the city’s IJ river. The goal was an ambitious one: to join forces on second-generation feedstock for PLA. As had been previously announced, the company had already successfully produced PLA based on second generation feedstock at lab scale. Commercializing the technology, however, will require significant investment and partnering throughout the value chain.  Corbion is therefore seeking to form a consortium of enthusiastic partners to share the burden.

“We’re investing in second generation organisms,” said CEO Tjerk de Ruiter. “We’re also looking at new molecules, such as biosuccinic acid and FDCA. But nothing will happen without market pull. Today we’re here together to see if we can make things go a little faster.”

As he pointed out, first generation feedstock sources for PLA produce perfectly good PLA, but continue to give rise to discussion. As Corbion enters the PLA market, the question facing the company – and in a more general sense, the industry -  is that of where to focus its resources: what is the right way forward?

“Feedstocks in general are a hot topic,” said Corbion bioplastics marketing director François de Bie. “Especially when it comes to bioplastics. Bioplastics do not compete with food or feed as regards arable land use. But public perception is different.”

In the course of the search for second-generation feedstocks, Corbion has evaluated anywhere from 200 to 350 different sources, and successfully produced PLA a small amount of PLA based on lactic acid derived from woodchips and bargasse. Technical program manager Peter Baets: “We carried out production of lactic acid via a feedstock agnostic process. The challenge is now to scale the process up. For example, the lactic acid produced from these C5 and C6 sugars contains far more impurities than with first-generation feedstock. Because it is non-volatile lactic acid, it is also much harder to separate the product from the impurities. Right now it’s a conversion process with high yield losses. The economic optimization is on track for commercialization in 2020.”

The idea of forming a consortium to push the project ahead is bold, but it has captured the attention of the industry. The workshop was attended by some 75 representatives from research institutes, industrial companies, venture capitalists, even competitors from all around the world. As Marc Lankveld, senior director of biobased innovations put it: “Is there a market? According to the signals we’ve received – yes. Is it technologically feasible? We’ve already done it. We need to join together to make it happen.”

He continued: “We need enthusiastic members to create a value chain for PLA based on alternative feedstocks. Can we realize this?”

The workshop then continued in the form of breakout sessions, during which the numerous aspects of this question were discussed, debated and evaluated by the participants. In the end, it became clear that this workshop was merely the first step in a process that was unanimously felt to be a route worth pursuing. 

As Tjerk de Ruiter concluded: “I believe we underestimate what consumers are looking for. We want to put more sustainable products on the market. We’re building a PLA market and this is an opportunity to look for areas to use second-generation PLA. We need communication, we need to invest, but we, as Corbion, are here to make this happen and hope we can find partners to help us. Wouldn’t that be great!”

Engel sets up regional hub in Thailand

Engel sets up regional hub in Thailand

With sales and service subsidiaries in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as several representatives, Engel is already very well positioned in Southeast Asia. The Austrian injection molding machine manufacturer is now going one step further with its presence in the region through establishing a regional hub in Bangkok, Thailand.

Engel’s Reyre will head but the Southeast Asian hub in Bangkok, Thailand.

"We are viewed as a technological leader in the region, are among the leading regional providers for the automotive supply sector, and are experiencing a great deal of growth, especially in the area of packaging", says Dr. Christoph Steger, Chief Sales Officer of the Engel group. "This is precisely why we are now combining the responsibilities for these dynamic markets: to benefit even more from the resulting synergies in future, while at the same time, together with the strong local teams, fulfilling the specific requirements of individual countries in an even more customized manner.

As of October 1, 2016, Romain Reyre will be taking on the management of the new organizational unit. As President Southeast Asia, he will be responsible for the entire region. Romain Reyre can look back on 25 years of professional experience in the plastics and packaging industry. Within this time, he has lived in Europe, the United States, Latin America and Southeast Asia. "We are pleased to have found a sales expert like Romain Reyre, who, on the one hand, is very proficient in the plastics industry and our target industries, and who, on the other hand, has been living in Southeast Asia for some time and understands the local markets", says Steger. "In combination with the established teams in the individual countries, the new Southeast Asia hub will increase our market clout in the region. We will be able to even more effectively support our customers there in successfully solving the challenges presented by increasing quality and efficiency requirements."

A major factor in the long-term success of Engel in Asia has been its ongoing investment into local branches. Engel is the only European injection mold machine manufacturer that has three production plants in Asia (two in China including the one operated by affiliate Wintec, and one in South Korea), thereby guaranteeing its customers short delivery times, fast service, and flexible adjustment of products and system solutions to regional requirements.

Teknor Apex lends materials expertise to development of first nasal-only ventilation mask

Nasal-only mask

The first nasal-only alternative to standard full-face oxygenation and ventilation masks that have been medical mainstays for many decades relies on the sealing and cushioning capabilities of a super-soft thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) developed by Teknor Apex (Pawtucket, RI).

The patent-pending, single-use SuperNO2VA mask from Revolutionary Medical Devices Inc. (RMD; Tucson, AZ) consists of a transparent, rigid polypropylene (PP) component with access ports for an anesthesia circuit or hyperinflation bag, plus a TPE cushion that is over-molded onto the PP structure. The TPE cushion, molded of Medalist MD-10105 medical elastomer from Teknor Apex, plays a critical role by providing a strong yet comfortable seal to the patient’s face.

Over-molding the TPE onto a PP substrate proved to be challenging, explained Chris Morehouse, Market Manager, Regulated Products, for the TPE Division of Teknor Apex. “The lower the durometer of the TPE, the more difficult it is to make it adhere to PP,” said Morehouse. Moreover, the “TPE part is complex, with thick- and thin-wall sections and recessed areas, or undercuts, that must retain their shape during ejection of the part from the mold,” said Morehouse.

Morehouse brought together the RMD and Teknor Apex teams to discuss these challenges, noted RMD’s Tom Reilly. “We made trips to the Teknor Apex application development lab in Leominster, MA, and their facility in Kentucky. Teknor Apex reformulated the TPE to attain exactly the durometer we wanted while still achieving a strong bond to the PP part. In an over-molding process at Leominster, they demonstrated that the TPE would bond successfully.”
 
The massive undercut at the nose section of the TPE cushion calls for a compound with a high degree of strength and elongation, noted Ryan Redford, RMD’s Director of Product Development. “Typically an undercut with a material that soft would tear apart,” he said, “but the cushion came out of the mold with absolutely no problem. To this day our contract molder is impressed with the Medalist compound.”

RMD uses the China-based contract molding subsidiary of a U.S. company to injection mold the components for the SuperNO2VA mask. The cushion part is produced in blue, green, pink or yellow for purposes of color coding. Teknor Apex supplies the Medalist MD-10105 in pre-colored compounds from a U.S. plant and will supply identical grades from a plant in Singapore once it receives ISO-13485 certification, which is expected by December of this year.

Use of sedation in medical procedures is on the rise as a result of more sophisticated surgical techniques, an aging population and a greater incidence of obesity, according to Michael Pedro, MD, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of RMD. “The SuperNO2VA mask is an efficient and versatile alternative to full-face masks and nasal cannulae, and it is particularly advantageous for intra-oral procedures such as upper endoscopies and bronchoscopies,” said Pedro.

Innovia puts an end to 'wrap rage' that stems from tough plastic packs

Innovia puts an end to 'wrap rage' that stems from tough plastic packs

Innovia Films (Cumbria, UK) is expanding its portfolio of peelable biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) films to help alleviate the frustration of consumers trying to pry open plastic packaging.

Propafilm RCP, which is now available in 52 and 60 microns, is a  proven, easy-to-open, food packaging film range that now includes heavy duty, high barrier and snap wrap options.

The main benefit of using Propafilm RCP is that its seals are a breeze to open. Consumers of all ages and abilities can easily peel open the seals to get to the product inside. Whether they are young, an older adult or have physical limitations, no excessive force is necessary. Forget scissors, sharp implements or the risk of cutting yourself by accident. Gone are the frustrations of so-called ‘wrap rage’ when you just can’t get into the pack.

For product packers, achieving this easy opening is simple: the seal strength is consistent every time and the film can be used on existing packaging machines without any modifications required.

Another key benefit of using Propafilm RCP is that product spillage can be hugely reduced. With traditional films, opening packs often results in the packaging tearing. Propafilm RCP delivers reliable clean and neat opening, without destroying the pack. In addition, because the pack remains intact, resealing also becomes an option, when a label is applied. This allows products to be kept tidily in kitchen store cupboards.

Amaia Cowan, Innovia Films’ Product Manager—Speciality Packaging Films stated: “Brand owners are waking up to the fact that easy-open is increasingly becoming a major purchase consideration for consumers, especially those with reduced dexterity. We have listened to consumers who often complain about the difficulty of getting into conventional packaging.  Our easy-to-open packaging range makes their life that little bit easier. Rest assured, these films continue to protect the products they wrap while providing an enhanced product experience.”

The acrylic coating ensures a broad sealing range, which enables a wide packaging operating window and good machinability in all standard formats: flow wrap, vertical form seal or overwrap. Their moisture and aroma barrier properties make them an ideal choice to preserve many food items, including dried and chocolate-based products.

In July, PlasticsToday reported that Innovia is to focus solely on its BOPP business after it sold off its cellulose films business to Futamura earlier this year.

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Ex Tour de France champion to commercialize low-cost carbon fiber

Ex Tour de France champion to commercialize low-cost carbon fiber

Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is partnering with carbon fiber manufacturing pioneer Connie Jackson and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to bring what’s dubbed the most significant development in carbon fiber production in over 50 years to global markets.

LeMond Composites, a new company offering solutions for high volume, low cost carbon fiber, has secured a licensing agreement with U.S. Department of Energy’s ORNL. The agreement will make Oak Ridge-based LeMond Composites the first company to offer this new industry-disrupting carbon fiber to the transportation, renewable energy, and infrastructure markets. Jackson and several of her ORNL teammates joined LeMond Composites in 2016.

LeMond Composites plans to establish production capacity of 4000 tonnes annually. In terms of production equipment, LeMond Composites has a working relationship with RMX Technologies and is very interested in their plasma technology. “We have not completed our evaluation of their equipment for our process,” notes Jackson, CEO of LeMond Composites. “But, it is likely that we will incorporate the RMX technology as part of our equipment and development portfolio.” RMX previously licensed carbon fiber production technology from ORNL.

L to R- Ed Western, ORNL; Nic Wegener, President LeMond Technologies; and Greg LeMond, Chairman and co-CEO of LeMond Companies and a composite part fabricated using the new low-cost carbon fiber; Photo credit, ORNL’s Jason Richards.

“We can provide the advantages of our carbon fiber to many industries by improving strength, stiffness, and weight reduction. If you imagine replacing steel, aluminum, and fiberglass with our carbon fiber, you begin to understand the scope of the potential market,” adds Jackson. “Our process will have global applications and we are ready to move forward with scaling the technology.”

Besides marketing the carbon fiber to other companies, LeMond will also manufacture some select composite components for bicycles, transportation and wind power applications as well as bike frames. Pultrusion will be one of the processes employed.

A breakthrough process invented by Jackson and a research team at ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility (CFTF) will reduce production costs by more than 50% relative to the lowest cost industrial grade carbon fiber. This new carbon fiber has the mechanical properties of carbon fiber costing three times as much. Until now, manufacturing carbon fiber was an extremely energy-intensive process. This new method reduces energy consumed during production by up to 60%.

“We have assembled the only team in the world that has executed this proven technology which uniquely positions us to deliver a successful outcome for our customers and stakeholders,” said Greg LeMond. “From experience, I know that having the right team is a distinct business advantage.”

The biggest obstacle to widespread use of carbon fiber has been its high cost. This new process will reportedly allow high volume, cost sensitive industries around the world to reap the benefits of carbon fiber composites at a fraction of the cost while incorporating chemistry geared toward recyclability.

“The development of this new process demonstrates the value of coupling basic and applied research, which is a hallmark of ORNL, and it underscores the Department of Energy’s commitment to addressing our nation’s most pressing energy challenges,” said Thom Mason, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director. “The Department’s sustained investments in scientific research and development and in specialized facilities such as CFTF are enabling a variety of applications that will lead to improvements in fuel efficiency and position U.S. industry for global success.”

ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility began operations in 2012, supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies offices, to demonstrate the possibility of low-cost carbon fiber at a semi-production scale.

Growing demand from the automotive industry is due in large part to the global push to increase the fuel economy of nearly every vehicle produced. In the USA, the demand is being driven by the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. These standards demand a fleet-wide average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025. The single best way to improve fuel economy is to reduce the weight of the cars and their component parts. ORNL and Jackson’s remarkable breakthrough technology puts CAFE standards within reach, ensuring cost-effective weight reduction through the use of high quality carbon fiber without sacrificing the strength and safety of the steel it replaces.

“We understand the growing demand from the automotive industry and we are currently in negotiations with several of the world’s leading automotive brands and their suppliers,” said LeMond.

For the wind power industry, carbon fiber can be used to make turbine blades lighter and stiffer, thereby increasing the efficiency of the system. Previously, carbon fiber was too expensive for maximum utilization in this market.

Additional sectors, including shipping, air travel and marine, could see significant energy savings through the use of carbon fiber in the light weighting of their containers, planes, and ships. Carbon fiber composites can also be used to build, reinforce, or repair bridges, tunnels, commercial and residential structures.

“As a result of the affordability of this carbon fiber we believe that world-wide mass adoption will be inevitable. We are positioning ourselves to grow and meet this demand by locating our company in Tennessee, a state that through Governor Haslam and Commissioner Boyd’s forward-thinking programs like Tennessee Promise, will provide a steady stream of quality employees for our company,” said LeMond. ”Our close proximity to ORNL adds a value beyond measure and we are looking forward to future collaborations with them. Additionally, with the input of the University of Tennessee, The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and the emerging composites corridor, I believe the Knoxville area will become the world hub for carbon fiber in the future. On a personal note, the bike riding in this area is incredible.”

LeMond Composites plans to expand its campus by building its first carbon fiber production line at their recently purchased facility at 103 Palladium Way in Oak Ridge. The facility is strategically located immediately adjacent to ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility. The first commercially available product will be ready in Q1 of 2018.

Sustainable brands are big business for multinationals

Sustainable brands are big business for multinationals

While it isn’t easy being green for Kermit the frog, if you’re a green brand, the future looks bright.

Take for example London-based Unilever's reported $600 million purchase of natural products company Seventh Generation (Burlington, VT) this week as the latest in a series of green acquisitions. Organic Monitor (London), a research, consulting & training company, predicts the trend to continue as large multinationals look to build a foothold in sustainable product industries.

Seventh Generation is a giant in the North American market for natural home care products. The acquisition expands Unilever’s footprint in the fastest growing segment of the cleaning products industry. It will also help the multinational achieve its sustainability goal of halving its environmental impacts across the value chain.

The trend of green acquisitions is spreading from the food, personal care to home care industries. In July, SC Johnson (Racine, WI) bought the natural home care & personal care brand Babyganics (Westbury, NY). Just like Unilever, SC Johnson will look to grow distribution of its new green brand in mass market channels.

Unilever, on the other hand, is predicted to build synergy between its green brands. It previously acquired the natural skincare brand REN, expanding its international distribution. Rumors are the multinational is also reportedly seeking to add Hollywood actress Jessica Alba’s company Honest Company to its portfolio. If this is the case, Unilever will be the first multinational to have a major presence in the organic food, natural personal care, and natural home care product industries.

Unilever is not first (nor the last) multinational to go on a buying spree in sustainable product industries. L'Oreal (Île-de-France, France) paved the way when it bought The Body Shop (London) and Sanoflore in 2006. By buying 'green expertise,' L'Oreal subsequently developed natural & organic lines for some of its popular brands. Colgate-Palmolive (New York City) and Estee Lauder (New York City) have also bought green brands, however not all multinationals have been successful. Clarins (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) bought the organic cosmetics brand Kibio in 2010, only to shutter it a few years later. There are also questions on how brands like Jurlique (Mount Barker, Australia) and Burt's Bees (Durham, NC) have fitted into their 'adopted parent' organizations.

Organic Monitor sees the trend of green acquisitions to continue. The research firm foresees multinationals will buy green brands as they look to enter fast-growing sustainable product industries. Purchasing 'green expertise' also helps them achieve their sustainability goals of reducing environmental and health impacts. The major question however is whether the green brands will thrive or survive under their new parent companies.

A closer look at scientific molding theory

A closer look at scientific molding theory

Plastic injection processing has experienced massive change in the last 20 years. The days of molding by time and pressure have given way to molding by position, peak pressure and process repeatability. Don Paulson, RJG and John Bozzelli were major pioneers in the development of decoupled and scientific molding, as the procedures were developed and given structure. Plastic injection as an art gave way to plastics processing as a science of repeatability and standardization.

Garrett MacKenzie

In recent years, the term "scientific molding" has become a buzzword of sorts. There are many organizations claiming to be scientific molders and trainers. It is important to note here there are many variances from one training program to another. Great care should be taken when choosing a training source for scientific molding theory and applications. 

First, we need to understand what scientific molding is as an application. It is the science of process development, recording, standardization and repeatability. These variables are strictly dependent upon machine and mold validation and design. Poorly functioning machines, or molds that fail from a design perspective, may inhibit or remove a manufacturer’s ability to develop a process that is repeatable. For instance, the chances of controlling a process are poor if the cavitation has not gone through the process of balancing the runner to ensure equal flow into each cavity. Equally, control is hard to achieve if a barrel is worn to the point that it is impossible to maintain a consistent cushion. Moldflow is an excellent source of testing mold design prior to its inception and construction. From a machine validation standpoint, John Bozzelli and RJG have tools and training available for machine and process testing.

Once the machine and tooling have passed validation, a process is developed using the decoupled molding technique, which then is further developed into a science-based process and application through testing and recordable data. One analogy that describes the development of scientific structure is this:

We have all seen a pit full of balls that children love to jump into. Imagine that one of these pits is filled with nearly all red balls (the red balls representing processes that do not work and produce scrap or cannot be controlled) and a few blue balls (representing processes that are repeatable and profitable, efficient with little to no scrap). Imagine reaching into the pit with your eyes closed trying to grab a blue ball. With so many red balls, it takes time to finally grasp a blue ball in your hand. When you finally achieve this, you take great pains to record everything you had to do to grab the blue ball so that the next time you try to get it, it becomes easier and faster to obtain.

In a nutshell, a science-based process is a process that has been validated as profitable and repeatable; following validation, a "snapshot" of sorts is taken (through process recording) of all settings and monitoring actual. This helps to ensure that the next time a press is set up, the process can be repeated. It also stores a standard of recordable data that can be compared historically, which helps to identify changes within the core molding system. In essence, the more care we put into documenting every recordable condition from a previously successful run, the easier it becomes to repeat that process.

The following variables should be recorded and monitored as scientific molding data pertaining to the plastic injection industry standards. When changes in molding conditions are noted, these variables can help determine the cause of change, and repeating previous molding variables often will return the process to a good running state.

This article outlines the basic scientific molding approach. We will provide you with multiple reference sources to further examine the applications and theories of scientific and decoupled molding. Some of the primary variables that affect process consistency are listed below.

The key to any successful molding operation is to record all data that is available when the process is producing minimal scrap and is at optimum efficiency. By replicating these variables at machine start-up, you ensure that you are repeating your previous run. Here are some other factors that can help to determine the success of your operation:

Process variable

Description

Fill time

Fill time is the amount of time taken from the beginning of shooting material to the point of reaching cut-off.

Peak pressure

Peak pressure is the maximum pressure achieved at the point of velocity cut-off prior to dropping off into hold pressure.

Running mold temperature

Mold temperature should be measured at various points in the mold in a running state. Measure individual cavities, runner system, bushing area etc.

Screw rotate time

Screw rotate time is the amount of time it takes for the screw to recover.

Melt temperature

Melt temperature is the actual temperature of material as it exits the nozzle tip. This measurement should be taken while barrel is in running state.

Cycle time

The amount of time taken for each shot to be produced.

Cushion

Cushion should hold steady between 0.15 and 0.35, depending on part size.

Water pressure (to process)

Gallons per minute measurement taken prior to mold entry.

Water pressure (from process)

Compared with "to process" pressure for calculation of pressure drop.

Barrel temp actuals

Actual running temperatures of barrel zones. Comparisons should be made between barrel temp actual and setpoints to ensure barrel temperature is in control.

Mold open time

Actual time mold is open between shots.

Back pressure (actual)

Actual pressure held during recovery stage (PSI).

Material moisture

Material moisture is a critical control that should be measured regularly to ensure that material has been properly dried.

Regrind percentage

Regrind usage should be controlled to ensure that process variance is minimal and consistent. It is important to maintain consistent regrind usage through proper blending or reextrusion.

It is important to note that there are several steps that are part of establishing a robust process. These studies include:

  • Viscosity curve;
  • cavity balance;
  • pressure drop study;
  • gate seal;
  • cool time.
  • Melt temperature is a key variable that is often overlooked! Once processes are validated, it is imperative that melt temp be recorded. When problems occur, melt temp should be one of the primary checks made prior to process adjustments. It is one of the focuses that can identify problems with your machine, or changes within the molding environment.
  • Measure and record the GPM of your tool's circuitry. By measuring this variable on every circuit, you are able to test your mold in the future when molding conditions show signs of overheating. It can help you to determine if the tool requires descaling. Each circuit should have a unique identification number. This is done by repeating your watering procedure. Keep the same supply and return pattern either by hard plumbing your loops, or by establishing a watering diagram that maps out the watering layout. It is also recommended that your circuits be uniquely identified in or out and that color identification (green, yellow, white etc.) be used. This not only improves your watering time, but will reduce the potential of miswatering.
  • A validated process should not require change. Process parameters should be capable of being repeated each time a mold is set and started. Before changing your process, it is important to look at your monitoring variables first! What changed? For instance, if fill time is slower, look at your temperature actuals. Check your thermolator: Is the actual temperature the same as your setpoint? Yes, there will be times when you will need to change your process to correct a molding condition. First, check for mechanical changes. After confirming that your machine, mold and auxilliary equipment are in a correct state, make changes to your process that replicate your process monitoring variables (fill, peak, etc.).
  • Prior to process changes, monitor your molding variables for significant fluctuations. A cushion that varies sporadically can be a sign of a worn check ring or barrel wear. Barrel temperature fluctuations can point toward bad heater bands or thermocouple positioning/ failure. Also consider recent mechanical changes made while servicing a press, and whether they might impact the validity of your process.
  • Always consider whether your operator could be affecting your process. Inconsistent cycles can wreak havoc on your consistencies. Improper part handling can cause defects that might be mistaken for a processing problem.
  • Part weight is a key recordable variable. Once a process has been validated, part weight (full shot, including runner) should be recorded. The data should not only include part weight after cycle, but also part weight with pack and hold removed. This can help you identify where in the process you are experiencing a change. Part weight should be verified at the beginning of each start up.
  • A clean and well-serviced mold is imperative to any successful molding operation. Tools should be cleaned no less than once per shift, and materials that are prone to gassing may need to be cleaned twice per shift. Slides and guide pins should be lubed, but it is important to remember that overgreasing can be detrimental to your process efficiency. Always clean your mold prior to any process change: Defects could be directly related to dirty vents.
  • Material moisture is a key function that is often overlooked when process defects occur. Moisture analysis should be part of your start-up procedure, and is completed prior to start up. Upkeep of your dryers is essential to your success. Dryer filters should be cleaned every shift, and you should routinely feel the supply and return hoses on your dryer. When a dryer is functioning properly, the supply hose will be hot and the return will be warm.
  • It is imperative that you analyze the effectiveness of your fill time. Some materials require a fast fill, but if you max out your velocities, you lose control of consistency. Monitor your fill and verify that your setpoint is being reached consistently. Whenever possible, your fill speed should be determined by performing a fill time study.
  • Hold time is a crucial element of your cycle. Establishing a time that is too low results in part-weight variations and process inconsistency. Too much time adds time to your cycle that isn't needed. Performing a gate seal study not only verifies that you are achieving gate seal consistency, but is a crucial step toward process optimization.
  • It is important to understand that adding regrind to your process changes material response. The best approach to introducing virgin/regrind into your molding equation is to treat it as a different material. Determine the optimal virgin-to-regrind ratio that reutilizes your regrind effectively without increasing your scrap rate. Once you've established an effective blend and process, record the process separately from a virgin run. Also, record the process monitoring data separately, then consistently repeat the blend ratio. You can further your ability to mold consistently by re-extruding your regrind with virgin base. This will reduce the potential of drop-down inefficencies (pellet size/ weight vs. regrind size/weight) and promote consistency.

Garrett MacKenzie is the owner/editor of plastic411.com, as well as a consultant/trainer to the plastic injection industry. He has spent more than 31 years in plastics processing, engineering and development, including experience with U.S./ Japanese automotive OEMs and handgun manufacturing. He can be contacted at garrett@plastic411.com.