SABIC, Exxon Mobil Plan Major US Complex

SABIC and Exxon Mobil, who have been partners for 36 years at the Al-Jubail plastics-producing site in Saudi Arabia, are planning to build and jointly own a major petrochemical complex in Texas or Louisiana near natural gas feedstock.

SABIC has long indicated it wanted to be a player in the fracking revolution in the United States. The new plant will include a world-scale steam cracker and derivative units, presumably polyethylene and possibly polypropylene.

Before making final investment decisions, the companies will work with state and local officials to help identify a potential site with adequate infrastructure and conduct economic and marketing analyses.

“We are focused on geographic diversification to supply new markets,” said Yousef Abdullah Al-Benyan, SABIC vice chairman and chief executive officer.  “The proposed venture would capture competitive feedstock and reinforce SABIC’s strong position in the value chain.”

Neil Chapman, president of ExxonMobil Chemical, said: “We have the capability to design a project with a unique set of attributes that would make it competitive globally. That is vitally important as most of the chemical demand growth in the next several decades is anticipated to come from developing economies.”

The project in Al-Jubail (called Kemya) is a 50/50 JV between SABIC and Exxon Chemical Arabia. The joint venture was established in 1980, and produces ethylene, propylene, low-density polyethylene and linear low-density polyethylene.

The site has the capacity to produce about 700,000 metric tons per year of ethylene, and more than 1.1 million tons of polyethylene.

SABIC and ExxonMobil have begun construction on a new, multibillion-dollar elastomers plant at the site.  The facility will have the capacity to produce about 400,000 metric tons per year of TPEs and related products.



North America, Packaging, Polyethylene ,

K2016: Wittmann’s ‘Smart’ Approach to In-Mold Thermoforming

Metal thermoforming takes place inside a single-cavity injection mold supplied by IKV Aachen (Institute for Plastics Processing) in a novel technology that will be shown at K2016 by Wittmann Battenfeld.

A specially treated metal sheet blank is inserted into the mold by a robot equipped with the new R9 control system and then thermoformed by a stamp during mold closing. The formed metal sheet is then insert-molded with polyamide.

The part is molded with an EcoPower 110/350 equipped with the new generation control systems, called B8.

Wittmann's new B8 control.

Wittmann’s new B8 control.

The demonstration is part of Wittmann’s take on Industry 4.0, showing control from a single source and increased security from cyber threats.

Primary and auxiliary equipment shown by Wittmann at the K fair will be networked via the B8 machine control system, using a uniform Windows interface. This enables interaction to be coordinated as well as transparent.

Wittmann uses its own proprietary 4.0 router. Only appliances that identify themselves to the router with a security certificate are granted access to the production cell. The router is integrated in the injection molding machine.

It dispenses with the manual allocation of IP addresses to the individual appliances within a production cell, allowing a “plug & produce” approach.

Furthering the idea of connectivity, an EcoPower Medical 110/350 will be remotely operated outside a cleanroom with a tablet computer. In the cell, the central pump component of an inhalator from Boehringer Ingelheim microParts GmbH will be manufactured from PEEK

Europe, Injection Molding, Insert Molding, Medical , ,

Athena Automation Set To Double Machine Shipments

Athena Automation, Bob Schad’s startup machine-building company based in Canada, expects to build and ship 30+ injection molding machines this year, about double the 16 that were sold last year. The company has built 45 machines since 2012.

“In the past half year, we have reached a number of milestones on our way to becoming a leading provider of customized injection molding systems,” CEO Schad reported in a recent update.

They include:

  • A new just-in-time manufacturing plant has been completed.
  • Repeat orders, mainly for PET preform and closure applications, are waiting to be filled.
  • The first systems integrating Athena machines with third-party in-mold labeling automation were installed in North America.

New developments include introduction of multi-material cube and a closure molding package.

Athena expects to have the first 4500 kN machine by early next year. “The machine is the same concept as existing 1500 and 3000 kN machines with generous mold capacity, excellent rigidity for mold life, all-electric energy efficiency, space-saving 2-platen design, and pre-engineered options for stack, cube, and rotary molds,” a company spokesperson told The Molding Blog. It will also have new features for high speed operation.

Athena Automation is more confident pressing forward with investments since an Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Husky Injection Molding Systems, Schad’s earlier startup.

A three-year agreement between Athena Automation and Sipa SpA to build PET injection and blow molding systems expired in February. Athena had participated in Sipa’s booth at K2013, but will not exhibit at K2016.




Injection Molding, North America

K2016: Wacker Will Introduce First Silicone 3D Printer

Wacker will introduce the first industrial 3D printer for silicones at K2016 this October.

The ACEO Imagine Series K uses a drop-on-demand method developed by Wacker, which is one of the top three global suppliers of silicones. The printer head deposits tiny silicone droplets layer by layer. The silicone is formulated so that the droplets flow together before curing, which is activated by UV light.

Silicone parts with lattice structures can be 3D printed. (Wacker)

Silicone parts with lattice structures can be 3D printed. (Wacker)

Wacker says the result is a homogenous part that does not differ much from injection molded parts. With the use of water-soluble support materials, it is possible to create internal lattices and overhanging structures.

The technology will be offered by Wacker as a service starting next month. Customers can upload designs and order 3D-printed silicone parts. Wacker is building an ACEO campus near its main site in Burghausen, Germany. When finished, customers can test products there in an Open Print Lab.

“The automotive and aerospace industries are currently the main customer sectors for 3D,” says Bernd Pachaly, who started developing a system solution for 3D printing with silicones with his team two years ago.

Sealiing lip is made from 3D-printed silicone. (Wacker)

Sealiing lip is made from 3D-printed silicone. (Wacker)

At the moment, additive manufacturing is growing most rapidly in medical applications, according to Wacker. Biomodeling and customized geometries are described by Pachaly as particularly promising. “In these types of applications, silicones can display their favorable properties particularly well. Silicones are heat resistant, flexible at low temperatures, transparent and biocompatible. They can furthermore be pigmented in any color and have good damping properties.”

K2016 will be held in Düsseldorf, Germany Oct. 19-26. Wacker’s plans were outlined at a recent pre-K press conference in Düsseldorf.

Additive manufacturing, Medical , ,

Is Metal Injection Molding Obsolete? Hardly

A headline on a 3D printing Web site announces: “Ricoh makes metal injection molding obsolete with new highly efficient metal 3D printer”.

OK, it’s still silly season in the 3D printing world.

Metal injection molding (MIM) is thriving, getting business the old-fashioned way—one tough application at a time. One example is a recent MPIF prize winner from Advanced Forming Technology, an ARC Group Worldwide Co., Longmont, Colorado, for a MIM 17-4 PH stainless steel ferrule that goes into an aerospace engine made by Rolls Royce.

MIM jet engine part. (MPIF)

MIM jet engine part. (MPIF)

The part provides a conductive path between the screen and the engine, while offering support to a cable and preventing the placement of cable loading on the screen. It shows the capabilities of MIM: complexity, net shape, accuracy. The part had been made from machined bar stock.

Oh, and guess what. The part can be manufactured in minutes in an injection molding process, as opposed to hours in a 3D printer. And what kind of strength characteristics do you get from a 3D printed part?

The annual North American powder market for MIM is in the range of 2.7 to 3.5 million pounds, according to the Metal Powder Industries federation (MPIF). The Metal Injection Molding Association (MIMA) forecasts business increasing in the 5 to 10 percent range in 2016.

“The MAM (metal additive manufacturing market) currently remains small and limited to about 15 commercially available materials,” said Patrick J. McGeehan, MPIF president, in a recent state-of-the-industry presentation. “Most companies in the Powder metal industry view MAM as a complementary technology and an opportunity to enter a new technology sector.”

The great bulk of the action in metal additive manufacturing is in laser processes, not 3D printing. Most MAM production runs are less than 100 parts.

And that Ricoh printer? It’s not even commercial, and may never be.

Additive manufacturing, Aircraft, Metal Injection Molding (MIM) ,

The Brewing Battle Over Compostable Plastics

Offerings of compostable plastics continue to expand, but so does the disconnect regarding their actual compostability.

Save That Stuff, a leading compost hauler in the Boston area, told the Boston Globe it will no longer encourage companies to use compostable dishware because it “contaminates” food waste. Area farms that received the food waste turned away trucks that had compostable plastics because they didn’t break down quickly.

Compostable plastics and food waste ae collected together at MIT bin.

Compostable plastics and food waste are collected together at MIT bin.

The issue is complicated. Users mix food scraps and compostable plastics. There are misunderstandings about the compostability of compostable plastics. There are too few industrial-scale composters.

Of course, it’s cheapest and easiest for institutions and restaurants to throw the compostable dishware in with the food scraps. But they compost at significantly different rates.

In a blog post titled “Death of Composting”, Ayr Muir vented about the extra costs he had incurred to use fully compostable packaging only to discover that Save That Stuff had stopped delivering his company’s food waste to composting facilities. And he has been paying 60 percent more for composting versus landfill.

“I’m trying to keep my cool but I’m not doing a very good job of it,” said Muir, who established Clover Food Labs in 2008 to emphasize sustainable food sold through trucks at MIT and other locations around Boston.

The upshot? “I expect we’ll move away from compostable packaging and instead move to post-consumer recyclable,” said Muir.

Meanwhile, the biodegradable plastic industry continues to expand.

At K2016—the giant German plastics exposition—BASF will unveil an expansion of its compostable ecovio product line, which is made from polylactic acid and fossil fuels. Emphasis to date has been on food-contact products. The new product will target expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam replacement with an ecovio foam. It’s a drop-in from a manufacturing standpoint, and the product has good energy-absorbing characteristics. And it has “outstanding compostability” in an industrial composting plant.

Customers want an environmentally friendly solution that they can tout to their customers, who can also brag that they are replacing EPS foam with an environmentally friendly product.

And then everyone is disappointed and expresses shock when they discover the product is being landfilled because there are no local industrial composters—or they are too expensive.

None of this is new to anyone who has been paying attention for the past dozen years. Ayr Muir is an MIT grad and should have done his homework.

But considering that even he is surprised at the technical limitations of biodegradable plastics, we need the plastics industry to do a better job of presenting these products in an appropriate context.

Compostable plastic will next target EPS foam. (BASF)

Compostable plastic will next target EPS foam. (BASF)

Europe, North America , , ,

K2016: Composite Tablet Housings Are A Technical Tour de Force

One of the interesting technologies at K2016 will be all-new, single-process composite lightweight housings for consumer electronics devices, such as tablets or smartphones. The goal is to significantly reduce weight compared to magnesium while providing stiffness and strength at low cost.

A new manufacturing process developed by three companies will be demonstrated live for the first time at Engel’s stand at K2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

The cell will run new technology developed by Leonhard Kurz Stiftung & Co. and Bond-Laminates, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lanxess. Andy Dentel, project manager at Bond-Laminates explains: “We start with a semi-finished thermoplastic composite with the trade name Tepex dynalite. This is formed by closing an injection mold, back-injected, and decorated inline using an in-mold decoration integration process specially developed for this purpose, an advancement over Kurz’s existing in-mold process. It involves the use of a transfer coating system.”

Housings ae 0.6 mm thin. (Engel)

Housings ae 0.6 mm thin. (Engel)

Housings with extremely thin walls for laptops and other devices are produced in a single processing step. The demo product has a wall thickness of just 0.6 millimeters

Engel engineered a highly automated manufacturing cell for the new material combination that can be scaled to mass production. “We see enormous potential in this area,” says Stefan Engleder, chief technical officer at Engel.

The cell was specifically designed for the combination of continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic preforms and IMD films. Three technologies are combined: Engel “organomelt” for shaping and functionalizing thermoplastic fabrics, variomelt for optimizing the surface quality, and IMD. Extensive post-finishing is normally required for composite parts. The workhorse of the cell is an insert 500V/130 single injection molding machine with a roll-to-roll IMD unit, a six-axis robot, which handles the semi-finished and finished parts, and an infrared oven which was also developed and built by Engel for preheating the thermoplastic fabrics.

The Tepex dynalite material is reinforced with continuous glass and carbon fibers, embedded free of air inclusions in a polycarbonate matrix. “The advantage of our composite material is its very high strength and stiffness, combined with good toughness. These properties are what enable us to reduce the wall thickness so much, without compromising on the mechanical performance of the decorated components,” says Dentel.

Because the component is coated directly in the injection molding process, using a dry coating technology developed by Kurz, an additional coating process step can be eliminated. The result is substantial savings on costs, logistics, energy consumption and resources. “You don’t have to invest in a coating line, and you don’t have to separately store, transport, clean or pre-treat the injection-molded parts prior to coating. In other words, all the many processing steps required to coat composite components can be eliminated, since they are now integrated into the in-mold decoration process. In addition, you don’t have any coating waste due to overspray,” Dentel continues.

Integrating functions via the injection molding process reduces costs even further. For example, the demo part has an integrally molded frame around the edges made of a flame-retardant polycarbonate reinforced with 50 percent short glass fibers. Snap connections and screw bosses are also integrated into the part

Automation/Robotics, Carbon Composites, Electronics, Europe, In-mold labeling (IML), Injection Molding, Insert Molding, Polycarbonate, Reinforcing Material , , , , ,

K2016: Just Exactly What Is Industry 4.0?

The term Industry 4.0 will be prominent at K2016 and is being billed as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Is this just marketing hyperbole, or does it really mean something?

A recent press report from Messe Düsseldorf makes this statement about Industry 4.0: “Supporters of Industry 4.0 say it represents a paradigm shift from centralized to decentralized production – made possible by technological advances which constitute a reversal of conventional production process logic. This means that industrial production machinery no longer simply ‘processes’ the product, but that the product communicates with the machinery to tell it exactly what to do.”

Well, closed-loop process control has been around for some time. And what’s so bad about “centralized production”, that is plant wide and remote monitoring of manufacturing processes?

in a paper called “What We Mean By Industry 4.0”, consultant PwC seems to take a different tack.

“While Industry 3.0 focused on the automation of single machines and processes, Industry 4.0 focuses on the end-to-end digitization of all physical assets and integration into digital ecosystems with value chain partners. Generating, analyzing and communicating data seamlessly underpins the gains promised by Industry 4.0.”

In the PwC view, all data about operations processes, process efficiency and quality management, as well as operations planning are available real-time and optimized in an integrated network.

Nothing new here either. Digitization of processes and procedures is at least 15 years old and well established. And so is the connection of those processes to the Internet. And so is the concept of connecting the digital dots throughout the enterprise and an enterprise supply chain.

How all of that happens has been evolving, and has not been a revolution in any sense.

When you walk through K2016 in October, I think it’s best to view Industry 4.0 as an ongoing—possibly accelerated–effort to increase the quantification of processes, communicate the data, and close the loop on digital systems.

Engel, which calls its approach Inject 4.0, has already laid out several specific examples of how this will take place, such as the integration of the e‑flomo system monitor and electronic temperature control at the controller level.

Another interesting example from Engel is the “e-connect.monitor”,  which makes it possible to check the status of process-critical machine components during operation, analyze the data online, and project remaining service life.

Checking screw wear on a large injection molding machine could require two entire days of downtime to remove, clean and measure the screw.

In the Engel approach, sensors are placed on the screw that transmit data that can be analyzed using algorithms based on the meaning of previously collected data.

The e-connect.monitor can also keep an eye on the  spindles that actuate the axial movements in electric injection molding machines.

The point is that important progress is being made in controlling processes and communicating the data.

The sensors of the new e-connect.monitor measure the wear-relevant parameters of injection screws during operation. (Engel)

The new e-connect.monitor uses sensors to measure the wear-relevant parameters of injection screws during operation. (Engel)

Europe, Injection Molding ,

Apple Eyes Insert Molding For iPhones

Apple has been awarded a U.S. patent for an insert molding approach that would allow phones to become thinner, while also increasing usable area of the display.

In an effort to replace a space-consuming flange, the insert molding technique provides an outer housing member for a portion of a small electronic device. The key component is a thin plastic film used as an internal structural member. The outer housing is secured to at least a portion of the thin film. That assembly is placed in an injection mold. Another outer housing section is then overmolded on top of the assembly, creating a strong seal.

In current conventional practice, an internal flange has been used to support the phone’s cover window and liquid crystal module (LCM).  The flange impedes the ability to make devices thinner and may also impede usage of a peripheral area of the cover window, according to the patent.  

Molded side surfaces (403) provide protection for glass window (404) in new Apple invention. The display assembly (408) may include LCD and LCM.  (UPSTO)

Molded side surfaces (403) provide protection for glass window (404) in new Apple invention. The display assembly (408) may include LCD and LCM. (UPSTO)

Electronics, Insert Molding, North America , ,

Complex MIM Part on AR-15 Rifle Wins Design Award

While the domestic firearms market declined in 2015, new applications are emerging for metal injection molded (MIM) parts.

One example is a front sight base used on the controversial AR-15 rifle. The MIM-4605 low-alloy steel part is much larger than the typical MIM part and has a complex geometry. The switch from a part machined from bar stock to the MIM part resulted in savings of more than 30 percent.

Molding machines at AFT.

Molding machines at AFT.

It won the Grand Prize in the Aerospace/Military Category in the recently announced winners in the annual awards program held by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF). The molder is Advanced Forming Technology, an ARC Group Worldwide Company based in Longmont, Colorado. AFT has electric, hydraulic and hybrid machines that range from 17 to 106 tons of clamping force and produce injection capacities up to 185 g.

According to the MPIF annual report on business conditions, the decline in the firearms market began during late 2014. Firearms represented 21 per cent of MIM demand (determined by cumulative part weight) in 2015, down from previous years.

The MPIF report stated: “Knowledgeable observers forecast the market increasing in 2016 to a more normal growth pattern, or possibly spiking again. Recent mass-casualty shootings in North America have impacted firearms sales as citizens seek personal protection options and react to proposed tougher gun controls. Overall, the majority of members of the Metal Injection Molding Association (MIMA) forecast business increasing in the 5–10 percent range in 2016.”

Complex molded metal part replaced machined bar stock in AR-15 rifle. (MPIF)

Complex molded metal part replaced machined bar stock in AR-15 rifle. (MPIF)

Defense, Design, Metal Injection Molding, Metal Injection Molding (MIM), North America