HP’s New 3D Printer: Better, But Still Far From Prime Time

Hewlett Packard’s ambitious effort to remake the industrial 3D printing business is picking up steam with a growing cohort of materials’ collaborators and new equipment hitting the market in March.

A new machine–the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4210—that debuts in March is said to hike the “break-even point” for large-scale 3D manufacturing to 110,000 parts at a cost level hat HP says is as much as 65 percent less than other 3D printing methods.

The “break-even” point, which is a significant upgrade for 3D printing, is based on printing 1.4 full build chambers of parts per day/five days per week over 1 year of 5 cm3 parts at 20 percent packing density on fast print mode using polyproylene and the powder reusability ratio recommended by HP. PP is expected to be commercially available this summer. The model is expected to cost more than $200,000.

Of course, that’s still not prime time industrial speed or size. And it’s still unclear if the mechanical properties would be adequate, or comparable to injection molding. Previous HP 3D parts lacked the isotropic properties (strength in all directions) of injection molding.

That’s the nature of the beast.

In the Jet Fusion process, ink-jet print heads deposit a fusing agent that absorbs heat and another ink that blocks the heat. The part builds with a high-intensity light layer by layer.  In the molding process, parts are formed under high pressures in a mold. The 3D printed part may have less stress, but it’s hard to see how it could ever match the directional strength of a molded part.

It’s also unclear if 3D printing can match—or even come close to matching—the part-to-part repeatability of injection molding, especially for tight-tolerance features. One problem is that it’s a whole new science to get the powders to spread evenly in the bed.  Another issue is that the cost of powders used in 3D printing is significantly higher than the pellets used in injection molding—10 to 20 times higher, in fact. It’s possible the prices could drop some as volumes rise, but materials’ cost is still a huge problem for 3D printing.

The new printer widens the market for 3D printing, but in no way makes a serious intrusion in molding’s turf. It will find its market niche in applications with part requirements that are relatively low. With 3D printing no mold is required, although digital manufacturing by services like Proto Labs are serving that market well with inexpensive aluminum molds.

The big advantage of 3D printing will be the ability to make custom or intricate parts that could not be made with molds. There’s a market for that, but it’s not the mass market. Another factor is that the industrial design community is conservative, and even after decades, many practitioners did not design well for injection molding, let alone 3D printing.

HP also is expanding its Open Materials Platform with new partners Dressler Group and Lubrizol, as well as the addition of polyamide 12 and glass beads for reinforcement and filler.

Other materials’ players include Arkema, BASF, Evonik, Henkel, Lehmann & Voss, and Sinopec Yanshan Petrochemical Co.

Could these new HP 3D printers some day replace a room of injection molding machines?




Additive manufacturing, Polyamides, polypropylene ,

Dow’s Huge Sadara Project Looks Like A Winner

Sadara Chemical Co., Dow’s huge joint venture in Saudi Arabia with Saudi Aramco, is putting significant wind in the company’s sails as it prepares to spin out from DowDuPont in the next 18 months.

All 26 units at the Sadara complex achieved commercial operations last year. In the third quarter alone, it sold more than $669 million more than in the same period in 2016. As it ramps up this year, sales will continue to boom. It’s expected to achieve enough sale volume to rank as a Fortune 500 company on its own this year.

Work on the project began in 2011, way before there was any hint that Dow would be forced to remake itself under pressure from activist investors. Annual nameplate capacity of the plants in the complex will be 3 million metric tons of capacity per year. Total investment is $20 billion.

The Sadara polyurethanes business reported strong demand and price increases in downstream higher-margin applications, as well as higher merchant sales of MDI.  Last year, polyurethanes grew at about 1.6 times the rate of GDP growth. TDI capacity (200,000 metric tons) at Sadara replaces closed output at Freeport, Texas and elsewhere.

The complex enjoys a significant competitive advantage in both feedstock costs and in allocations of ethane streams.

Feedstock costs were locked down at the beginning of the project and were recently reconfirmed by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Petroleum. DowDuPont CEO Edward Breen commented: “All agreements will be honored… I would tell you also the other big thing (is that) we really grabbed the last ethane allocation available, which gives Sadara competitive edge.”

Sadara’s mixed feed cracker started up in August, 2016, cracking ethane gas and naphtha liquid feedstock to produce chemicals for the site’s other facilities. Sadara’s four polyethylene production units came on-line between late 2015 and early 2017.

Thirty-six polyethylene products have been qualified to-date for more than 600 customers in 70 countries. Sadara’s specialty chemicals portfolio includes facilities that manufacture propylene oxide, propylene glycol, ethylene oxide, glycol ethers, amines, isocyanates and polyether polyols.

Dow last year boosted its ownership stake from 35 to 50 percent.

Dow is responsible for marketing Sadara output through its established sales channels. It purchases and sells Sadara products for a marketing fee. The target markets are China, India, Southeast Asia and Central Europe.

HDPE, polypropylene, Polyurethane foam , ,

Apple Invents System To CoMold Plastic and Ceramic

Apple is developing ways to improve the durability and usefulness of ceramic as a housing for smart phones and watches.

In a patent application published today, Apple discloses a method of insert molding a ceramic housing. Thermoplastic is injected into the mold, giving the part added crack resistance and the ability to incorporate design features not possible with ceramic alone. The advantage of comolding is that the parts adhere without use of adhesives.

The concept of insert molding ceramic, of course, is not unique, but the Apple patent application details features specific to an electronic device. None of the information is technically groundbreaking, but reveals Apple’s thinking on future devices.

Apple likes the aesthetics, strength, scratch resistance and optical properties of ceramic as shown in its smart-looking Apple watch.

But there are drawbacks. “For example, small retaining features for coupling housing components together (e.g., clips, arms, detents, grooves) may be relatively simple to mold into a plastic piece, but may be difficult or impossible to form out of glasses and ceramics,” the patent application states.

Another problem is that ceramic can be brittle under stress.

The patent application states: “Moreover, the flowing of polymer material into imperfections and/or irregularities in the ceramic component (e.g., microcracks, discontinuities, or the like) may increase the overall strength of the ceramic and polymer part. In particular, the polymer material may reduce the stress concentrations that occur at or near such features, thus reducing the likelihood that the ceramic material will crack, shatter, or otherwise break under stress.”

One powerful way to overcome ceramic’s tendency to break under stress is to use a comolding of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic—the same reinforcement used in the fuselage and wings of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The Boeing composite uses a thermoset binder. Apple said it may also use a thermoset, but that would require a slower forming process.

The application also states that in some instances it may be desirable to use a transparent plastic (such as acrylic) to show the inner workings of the device. There are also provisions to mold in body-tracking sensors.

For most purposes, the most likely plastic Apple would use for comolding ceramic would by polyamide (invented by DuPont as nylon), a strong engineering thermoplastic widely used in cars.

The drawing shows plastic (200) internal to a smart phone so that latches (such as 206) will bend and snap when attached. Plastic may be used internally or externally in the Apple invention. (USPTO)

ABS, Carbon Composites, Carbon Fiber, Consumer Goods, Design, Electronics, Insert Molding, North America, Polyamides , ,

What Ever Happened to That 8,800-Ton Husky Press?

Here’s an update on one of the two biggest injection molding machines ever built:

An 8800-ton press built by Husky Injection Molding Systems for Chrysler Corp. 20 years ago is now located at Macroplastics in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where it makes ag bins. It was originally built to mold a composite body for a $6,000 “world car” envisioned by Chrysler. It was dubbed the Composite Concept Vehicle or CCV, and was much touted to the automotive trade press in Detroit.

Here’s the way the vehicle was going to be molded: An outer molding was to be fitted to an inner for both the right and left sides to form the body in white. Then the halves would have been joined with specially developed adhesives. A tubular steel frame would provide stiffness. The planned power source was a Briggs & Stratton 25-hp, 800-cc engine. Resin companies such as Ticona were on board to provide special compounds. Paragon Die & Engineering and Weber Manufacturing partnered in the project.

Weber  built a $2 million nickel shell mold for the CCV’s left inner body panel that measured approximately 14 by 8 by 6 ft.

The world car never made it off the drawing board, but Chrysler used the press to make Jeep tops.

It won’t go down as one of the world’s biggest presses, but Ferriot, Inc. is installing a 2,250-ton Negri Bossi BI-POWER injection molding press at its production facility in Akron, Ohio.

The Negri Bossi BI-POWER VH2000-22500 press features an integrated Columbia industrial PC and a variable delivery pump hydraulic system. A wireless Amico system will enable remote monitoring of the press around the clock, which will allow the press’s manufacturer to perform remote diagnostics, troubleshooting, and intervention in real time via the Internet.

Automotive, Construction, North America

KraussMaffei Expands Chinese Production

KraussMaffei, once the largest global producer of plastics processing machinery, will substantially increase its Chinese footprint under ChemChina, which acquired the iconic German company last year.

Capacity and employment at an existing plant in Haiyan, China will be increased over the next two years, a KM spokesperson told The Molding Blog.

The GX and MX series injection molding machines and the ZE Performance KM Berstorff twin extruder are now made in Haiyan.

Additionally, tire and rubber manufacturing operations of a sister Chinese company will be integrated at the Haiyan site.

KraussMaffei premiered a locally made GX press at the Chinaplas trade show in Shanghai last April. The company’s emphasis in China is on large machines (400 to 3200 tons of clamping force), avoiding competition with the lower priced Chinese-based machine manufacturers.

The GX series, with a dry cycle time of only 2.3 seconds, is described as the fastest two-platen injection molding machine in Asia, and targets applications in automotive, packaging and medical markets.

Christian Blatt, CEO of the KraussMaffei Group in China, said: “We want to better serve our customers in their partner network, since both mold makers in China as well as end customers of plastics processors are operating on increasingly tight schedules.”

Look for KM to accelerate design changes that make machines simpler to operate and maintain as a result of its growing Chinese presence.

ChemChina’s acquisition of KM helped stabilize the company’s at one-time shaky employment situation in Germany.  “The further improved access to the Chinese market will continue to generate growth through which existing jobs in Germany and Europe will be secured”, said Peter Krahl, Chairman of the works council of KraussMaffei. Horst Lischka, Company Representative of the IG Metall responsible for Munich and member of the Chairman’s Committee of the Supervisory Board of KraussMaffei, commented: “Under the new ownership, KraussMaffei is on a clear course. Most recently the 5,000th employee was hired. ChemChina is a reliable partner.”

Global employment grew 350 this year while revenue for fiscal 2016 rose 5 percent to 1.27 billion Euros and are expected to top 1.3 billion Euros in 2017.

Recently, ChemChina placed KM into its Qingdao Tianhua Institute of Chemistry Engineering Co. Ltd. Subsidiary, so that it could be quickly listed on the Shanghai stock exchange, giving the company improved access to Chinese capital.

“KraussMaffei’s business would make up about 85 percent of the listed company”, said CEO Frank Stieler, CEO. KM will still be based in Munich,

The Qingdao Tianhua Institute of Chemistry Engineering Co. Ltd. is currently listed on the Shanghai stock exchange under the ticker symbol 600579.SS. Trading has been halted for the past five months in accordance with Chinese regulation.

At Chinaplas, KM demonstrated a GX 450-3000 injection molding machine producing loading crates for fish with a shot weight of 240 g in a cycle time of approximately 11 seconds. Ability to produce thin walls will be one of the trump cards the company hopes to play in China.



Cost Synergies at DowDuPont: Are They Real?

As I’ve commented before, I have trouble understanding the DowDuPont merger. One problem area  is the promised $660 million in procurement savings.

In the first place, let’s be clear: the Dow and DuPont merger was totally driven by dissident shareholders who wanted to see improved financial performance from the iconic companies. Management fought these efforts. DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman lost her battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz and retired two years ago. A hedge fund led by Daniel Loeb pushed for a breakup of Dow.

Somehow the answer was an 800-pound gorilla consisting of Dow and Dupont with plans to break them into three companies. Activist funds were not happy with the plan and pushed for further breakup, with the result of a huge chunk of assets being reassigned two weeks after the creation of DowDupont Aug. 31.

DuPont’s renowned performance plastics business (DuPont after all created the nylon business) was based in Delaware up until Aug. 31, and then was part of the Michigan plastics group for two weeks, and then it was back in Delaware as part of a hodgepodge of Tyco-like specialty businesses after that. DuPont’s global-leading industrial biomaterials business also seemed lost in the shuffle.

One of the rationales for the creation of DowDupont was the opportunity to create synergies, both market and cost.

Cost synergies of $3 billion were promised

“We remain committed to our target of $3 billion, no change to that expectation,” CEO Ed Breen recently said on a conference call. “Our previously stated timeline still holds; we expect to reach a 70 percent run rate by the end of year one and 100 percent run rate by the end of year two.”  The savings’ breakout by division is $1.2 billion for material sciences, $800 million for specialty products, and $1 billion for Ag.

Almost one-third comes in headcount reduction, and based on the cuts I saw, they could have taken place without creating DowDupont. Some savings came from facility closures, also much of which could have happened regardless of a merger. 

A big chunk of savings ($660 million) is also projected to come from DowDupont’s $35 billion in combined procurement spend, which I also find difficult to understand. There are often opportunities to save when two companies merge by building large contracts on commonly purchased items. It’s a ton of work because most companies don’t manage procurement optimally. What you usually find are a mish mash of old contracts, old systems, mismatched engineering specifications, and a lot of  fiefdoms. Another consideration is that the way procurement departments account for savings is often  questionable. Even when verified by a finance official, I’m often left scratching my head.

More than 50 procurement teams are working globally at DowDupont to study contracts and identify opportunities for savings. That job usually takes a while, and is imperfect because of poor foundations of building common, easily groupable specifications.

And part of Breen’s promise to shareholders is that DowDupont will spin into three new companies within 18 to 24 months. How is there an advantage of combining the spends if there will be three different companies?

And meanwhile there are all the costs of integrating and reintegrating the components in the three divisions and companies. The IT work, the legal work…time and money. One of my favorite medical systems in Boston has been working on this for five years, and that’s without a merger.

Potential procurement savings have been used as a rationale to combine companies for many years. Big numbers are always thrown out in initial press releases. But I have never seen any follow-up on the extent any of these savings were ever achieved. There are some great pros, like DuPont CPO and author Shelley Stewart, working on the DowDuPont project, but supply management execs are often handed mission impossible

I sought input from an old friend and the person I respect the most in procurement research: Pierre Mitchell, Chief Research Officer and Managing Director at Azul Partners.

Pierre, who also provides commentary on the excellent web site SpendMatters.com told me in an email:

“I think these cost synergies are a bit meaningless.  Sure, many corporate projects will kick off to reduce costs (e.g., go back to suppliers for another pound of flesh), and mergers can indeed drive savings. However, the firms are so massive, there’s not too much ‘mega synergy’ left, and what’s left out of the story are the increased costs when the firms split.  I’ve dealt with many firms who’ve been spun out that have to rebuild their backoffices from scratch.  Sometimes that’s good and you can re-invent yourself a bit with clean sheet processes and systems (and shed your old SAP R/3 system or whatever).  I suspect the crop sciences folks will stand themselves up just fine here.  This deal is not about cost savings though, it’s about corporate engineering to peel off business to make them more focused (not necessarily a bad thing) and command a higher multiple – and “unlock” them from their larger legacy businesses – whether large hydrocarbon based supply chain or an amalgam of businesses like in the specialty chemicals business.”

Good insights.

North America ,

Dell Uses 1 Million Pounds of Recycled Carbon Fiber This Year

Global computer manufacturer Dell Technologies says it will use approximately 1 million pounds of recycled carbon fiber this year, more than double the volume from the previous two years—880,000 pounds.

The carbon fiber recycling program was announced in 2015 as part of the company’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan, which includes using 100 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials in its products.

Carbon fiber was first used in the Latitude 7440 and is now being used across the entire Latitude 5000 line (14 products to date). “We are looking to expand use beyond just Latitude into other notebook enclosures, where this material is best suited to be used  – which will lead to volume growth,” Stephanie Schafer, a senior engineer who heads Dell’s sustainability efforts, told The Molding Blog.

 In 2014, Dell became the first IT company to use UL-environment certified closed-loop recycled plastics in a computer when it launched the OptiPlex 3030 All-in-One desktop. Since then Dell has shipped 95 products with closed-loop recycled plastics.

Also as part of the 2020 program, Dell earlier this year shipped its first packaging diverted from becoming ocean waste. Recycled plastics are collected from waterways and beaches for use in the new packaging tray for the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. The ocean plastic is mixed (25 percent) with other recycled HDPE plastics (the remaining 75 percent) from sources like bottles and food storage containers.

Since 2008, Dell has included post-consumer recycled plastics in its desktops, and as of January 2017, reached its first 2020 goal of using 50 million pounds of recycled materials in its products.

For the carbon fiber initiative, Dell partnered with resin compounds’ supplier SABIC, which uses virgin and recycled polycarbonate in the carbon composite. SABIC sorts, chops and pelletizes off spec, excess, or scrap from carbon fiber manufacturing processes after it has been respooled and resized. The parts are produced by Dell’s existing injection molders.

Use of the carbon fiber fits into a trend toward lighter and thinner notebooks, Schafer said at a webinar today on “Closing the Circle in Manufacturing Through Eliminating Barriers to Using Recycled Content”. Schafer also said that potential use of PCR is limited in engineering applications because repeated histories compromise the mechanical properties of the compound.

The webinar,  part of a series, was organized by the North American Plastics Recycling Alliance (NAPRA) and  the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).  NAPRA membership includes PLASTICS and the American Chemistry Council.

Those organizations want manufacturers to significantly increase use of recycled plastics because of growing challenges, including low fossil fuel prices and China’s coming ban on plastics’ waste imports.

Carbon Fiber, Electronics, North America, Polycarbonate , , ,

Making Magnetic Molded Parts Faster, Cheaper

Two inventions point to new ways to create magnetic properties in molded plastic parts.

Sabic applied for a for a method of manufacturing a functionally graded part in which magnetic fields are applied within a mold to separated portions of a plastic compound containing a magnetic filler.

The magnetic filler comprises magnetic particles, magnetic fibers, iron, nickel, cobalt, ferrites, or/and rare earth magnets.

The inventors say that the invention overcomes cost and efficiency problems with currently used ways to make functionally graded magnetic parts.

In a separate patent application, two North Carolina inventors eliminated the in-mold magnets in an effort to create a less costly and faster approach to magnetic molding.

An electric current is applied to the mold while forming apart from polyamide and a metal to align the poles of the suspended metal in a single direction before the mixture has hardened. A magnetic field is then applied to the hardened mixture to provide the product with magnetic properties. The loading of ferrite particles is 30 to 33 percent.

In the magnetic plastic induction system, a DC transformer (206) applies a current to an injection mold (209), aligning the poles of barium ferrites particles loaded in polyamide. (USPTO)

Magnetic Material, North America

Kurz Eyes 3D Printing On Foil

German foil maker Kurz is developing a technology that will replace in-mold decorating (IMD) with 3D printing for specific applications that create a whole new look of customized decorated and functional plastic parts, including the  incorporation of electronics.

In the new Kurz approach,  decorative foil ply is clamped (or held with vacuum) to a support with a predefined surface geometry. The ply has a plastic-facing layer with a heat-activated adhesive. Plastic molding compound is applied by a robotically guided 3D print head.

The robot arm carries and guides the print head of the 3D printer to follow the contour of the curved surface.

As more plastic is applied dot-by-dot, the plastic is heated only slightly above its melting temperature, so that it solidifies immediately, eliminating the potential for running. “Thus, a high printing resolution can be achieved,” states the patent, which was published Nov. 14.

“Since the plastic molding compound is successively applied in small quantities, only minimal heating beyond the melting point of the plastic is necessary. In addition, the application of the plastic molding compound is performed in an unpressurized manner.”

As a result, “foil plies having sensitive decorative or functional elements can also be used, which would not survive the pressure and/or temperature conditions during injection molding.”

“The drop-by-drop or layer-by-layer application of the plastic molding compound additionally opens up significantly expanded design possibilities for the molded body in relation to injection molding…The properties of the plastic molding compound, for example, the color or the conductivity of the plastic molding compound, can be varied over the volume of the molded body, for example, to provide further decorative or functional structures inside the molded body.”

Advantages of the approach over insert injection molding include:

·         The opportunity for internal decorative or functional (such as magnetized)  features, including use of plastics with different optical properties,

·         The ability to customize each piece,

·         The ability to adapt to rapid design changes,

·         Elimination of tool cost, and

·         The ability to use sensitive electronic foils that would be destroyed by the high heat and pressure of injection molding.

The cons are also significant and will ensure the continued use of IMD for most production parts. They include higher cost and slower production speed.

Plastic (12) such as ABS, polycarbonate or ABS/PC is deposited by a printhead (3) on a foil ply 11, which is thick enough to overcome the inherent stairstep roughness of a 3D-printed object. The foil is supported by a polished substrate (5). (USPTO)

ABS, Additive manufacturing, Europe, In-mold labeling (IML), Polycarbonate , ,

Thermoplastics Break Out In 3D-Printed Autoclavable Tools

Additive Engineering Solutions of Akron Ohio has successfully printed autoclavable composite molding tools in 16 different thermoplastics using a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine from Cincinnati Inc.

AES was formed two years ago as a spinoff from a metal-forming contract manufacturer. The company’s focus is on tool and mold production and says it can process almost all materials in pellet form that can be used in an injection molding machine.

“With our BAAM, we’re able to print parts at a scale of 12ft long, 5.5ft wide, and 6ft tall,” says Andrew Bader, a cofounder. “The pieces we print can also be bonded together to build even larger parts.”

The concept of printing autoclavable tools for the aircraft and other industries was demonstrated last year by a consortium headed by the Deposition Science and Technology group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tennessee. Digital tool manufacturing reduces costs and leadtimes. Tools can be printed and machined in hours, compared to an average lead time of 14 weeks for conventional production methods. The tools were tested in Boeing autoclaves.

Vlastimil Kunc, who heads the research effort at ORNL, told The Molding Blog that there are several commercial sites using or testing polyphenylene sulfide and other materials for 350ºF cure cycle applications.

“Cincinnati Incorporated has printed in a variety of high temperature materials on our BAAM machine,” says Rick Neff, the company’s additive manufacturing products and sales manager. “We have used PPS and PEI both with carbon fiber reinforcing. There are seven other CI customers (besides Additive Engineering Solutions) using BAAM either for materials research or tooling applications. 

Techmer PM collaborated with ORNL and BASF to design two new, 3D-printable, engineering thermoplastic compounds – Electrafil PPS 3DP and Electrafil PPSU 3DP– for high-temperature autoclave tooling applications. They are provided in pellet form. Previous high-performance composites lacked adequate thermal capabilities.

Tom Drye, Techmer’s vice president for emerging markets and innovation, said that both compounds are optimized to withstand a 350°F, 100 psi autoclave cycle with minimal dimensional changes (CTE) through the cure cycle of the printed tools and parts. The composition and rheology of each have been developed for deposition rates exceeding 50 pounds/hour through a 1-inch extruder. He said the compounds are designed to tolerate process changes during long build times and extended residence times.

The materials also are fully recyclable, according to Drye. The molded parts, which can exceed 900 pounds each, often go through several iterations.

Drye told The Molding Blog in an email: “These new engineered plastic tools will replace expensive metal tooling used to make pre-preg composite parts used in aerospace, automotive, and other demanding applications such as: engine cowlings, interior cabin panels, trim tools, liftbacks, etc.  Major OEM’s are investing heavily into this technology to reduce costs, increase design freedom, and improve speed to market.”

A 3D-printed thermoplastic mold manufactured at ORNL withstood testing in an industrial autoclave. The concept is now being widely adopted. (ORNL)

Additive manufacturing, Aircraft, Engineering Thermoplastics, Molds & Moldmaking, North America, Polyphenylene sulfide , , ,