Large 3D-Printed Plastic Tools Advance

When Boeing embarked on its ambitious plan to make huge structural sections for the Dreamliner 787 aircraft from carbon composites, big questions remained on manufacturability. The biggest composite parts ever made had been hulls for yachts. Not only were the Dreamliner parts larger, they had to meet the cost and speed demands of series production.

Now 3D-printed plastic tools are emerging as a strong alternative to metallic tooling. This is a far different animal from the small 3D-printed tool inserts produced for injection molding.

The aircraft tools can be huge. The assembly tool being built for the new Boeing 777X passenger aircraft is 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall. It’s comparable in length to a large sport utility vehicle and weighs approximately 1,650 pounds.

Made from carbon fiber and ABS, the tool was developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), using a Cincinnati Inc. Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine. Printing time was 30 hours. The proprietary extruder on the BAAM has a feed rate of 80 lbs/hour. Materials tested include ABS, PPS, PEKK and Ultem.

“The existing, more expensive metallic tooling option we currently use comes from a supplier and typically takes three months to manufacture using conventional techniques,” said Leo Christodoulou, Boeing’s director of structures and materials. “Additively manufactured tools, such as the 777X wing trim tool, will save energy, time, labor and production cost and are part of our overall strategy to apply 3D printing technology in key production areas.”

Vlastimil Kunc, leader of ORNL’s polymer materials development team, added: “Using 3D printing, we could design the tool with less material and without compromising its function.”

Boeing is using the tool in its new composite parts’ production facility in St. Louis. The function of the tool is to secure the jet’s composite wing skin for drilling and machining before assembly. First deliveries of the 777X are scheduled for 2020.

Several partners are working with ORNL to develop tools that can be used in autoclaves. Compounder Techmer PM, for example, developed custom formulated high-temperature carbon fiber-reinforced plastics for tools that endure multiple autoclave cure cycles, withstanding temperatures over 355 F and pressures of 90 psi.

BAAM 3d printer. (Techmer)

The tools were printed on ORNL’s BAAM, machined on a Thermwood 5-axis CNC machining center, and then surface finished by TruDesign.

Other partners include US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Boeing, TruDesign, and BASF.

In addition to allowing more design freedom, 3D printed tools are five to 10 times faster and cheaper than metal tools.

3D-printed high-temperature plastic tool. Techmer)

ABS, Additive manufacturing, Aircraft, Carbon Composites, Carbon Fiber, Engineering Thermoplastics, North America, Polyphenylene sulfide, Reinforcing Material ,

Chinese Investor Pumps Some Life Into Liquidmetal

Long-struggling Liquidmetal is now operating under Chinese management, which is injecting capital and new life into the Cal Tech spinoff.

One interesting development from a molding perspective is the addition of metal injection molding (MIM) to its manufacturing lineup. MIM offers a lower cost alternative to the injection molded Liquidmetal parts. MIM production, located in China, is expected to come on stream later this year.

Injection molding and die casting will take place at a new California manufacturing plant. Other projects include development of lower cost metal alloys and molds.

“These efforts allow us to present customers with industry-leading capabilities to address applications, from low cost to very high performance in China, United States and Europe, said Bruce Bromage, EVP at Liquidmetal, in a recent conference call with analysts.

Lugee Li is now the CEO and largest shareholder in Liquidmetal. He is also CEO of Eontec, a vertically integrated Chinese producer of metal parts.

Amorphous Metals, Asia, Metal Injection Molding (MIM), North America

Carbon Reduction Projects Advance Despite Donald Trump

Donald J. Trump may feel that climate change is a hoax, but there will continue to be steady growth in new technologies that reduce the impact of the plastics’ industry on carbon emissions.

Lightweighting in cars and aircraft is a major ongoing strategy, particularly in aircraft because carbon composites are game changers that reduce fuel and maintenance costs, while also improving comfort for passengers. Development in sustainably sourced plastics continues, with major real gains coming in soda bottles. In the newest development, DuPont and BASF are betting big on a type of bio feedstock that portends major changes for plastics packaging, in both film and bottles.

NeoChloris pilot project at the University of Illinois. (NeoChloris)

One of the other developments that is very interesting is the potential use of technology that sequesters carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel fired power plants and other industrial sources or directly from the atmosphere (by means of algae).

One example comes from a technology startup based in Chicago called NeoChloris, named for a type of green algae.

The company’s patent application was published this week. It describes equipment that grabs carbon and converts it to methane through anaerobic digestion. “The additional carbon-sequestering biomass generated can be harvested for use as raw material for biopolymers, bioplastics, biodiesel, biochar, and the like, with the extraction waste being anaerobically digested to generate methane,” states the patent application.

NeoChloris has funded laboratory research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that it says successfully proves the core concept behind its technology. “Results of this research demonstrate that our process will be able to sequester more carbon dioxide and produce more biofuel than competing technologies,” the company states.

The company also designed and helped install a biogas measurement system for an anaerobic facility treating manure at a swine farm in the Philippines. As a result, the company earned Certified Emission Reduction (CER) carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

The next step?

”We are keeping our go-to-market strategy hush-hush for right now,” says Charles R. Stack, chief technology officer at NeoChloris. “The rest of the industry would love to know what we are doing.” 

Companies like NeoChloris may not be getting any help from the federal government in the next four years, but there is enough underlying momentum from responsible corporations and other governments (e.g. Japan, California) to keep efforts moving along.

Aircraft, Bioplastics, Locations, North America, Packaging

Mexican Trade Issue Clouds US Plastics Outlook

President Trump’s Mexico policy is the elephant in the room as the U.S. plastics industry emerges from a difficult 2016.

“Shipments of plastics equipment rose steadily during the six-year period from 2010 through 2015, but this trend hit a plateau in 2016,” said Bill Wood an economist, commenting late last year on data reported by the PLASTICS Committee on Equipment Statistics.    

Milacron reported that demand for large injection molding machinery was weak in 2016, creating demands for price discounts.

U.S. 2016 production of resins for domestic use and exports was 79.6 billion pounds, a 1.7 percent increase as compared to the same period in 2015, according to data from the American Chemistry Council.

The stock market has boomed since Donald Trump’s election due to high hopes of economic growth fueled by tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and reduced regulations.

That ebullience has not carried over to the plastics industry in the United States. U.S. production of major plastic resins totaled 6.8 billion pounds during January 2017, a decrease of 0.9 percent compared to the same month in 2016.

The consensus economic forecast is for a 2.1 percent growth in U.S. GDP this year, up from a 1.9 percent growth in 2016.

Yet, there is a sense of caution in the plastics industry.

In its recent earnings webcast, Milacron forecast zero to two percent organic growth this year. Considering that demand is still fairly strong in China and India, that forecast does not indicate a lot of confidence in the underlying strength of the U.S. plastics market.

And the trade situation with Mexico is unstable.

That’s a problem because the American plastics industry has an $11 billion trade surplus with Mexico

Mexicans are angry about the talk of “the wall” and border adjustment taxation. Bills have already been introduced in the Mexican legislature to favor imports from countries other than the United States.

Officials at the Plastics Industry Association (formerly known as the Society of the Plastics Industry) are collecting data from members on how Mexican trade restrictions could affect them in an effort to thwart any harmful changes.

The Mexican trade issue injected uncertainty into what was already a soft American market.





Management, Markets, North America

PEEK Overmolds Press-Formed Composite Part

Composite engineering will become increasingly complex to provide strong structural parts for aerospace and automotive load applications.

A good example comes from the ThermoPlastic Composites Research Center (TPRC) in Enschede, the Netherlands. TPRC is a testbed for advanced composite development involving academic and industry.

In a two-year collaborative project, a continuous fiber-reinforced shell with relatively simple geometry was stiffened with a sophisticated injection molded grid. The injection tool is complex, and the process becomes more challenging when combined with continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics.

The thermoplastic composite insert was press formed using TenCate Cetex TC1225 engineered C/PAEK. It is then overmolded with a high melt flow (40) Victrex PEEK. The beauty of the engineered PAEK is its relatively low melting temperature, allowing overmolding with PEEK at moderate insert temperature. The heat of the injected plastic melts the surface of the insert.

Design is one thing; manufacturability is another.                                

According to the TPRC researchers, the stiffness and strength performance combined with extreme dimensional accuracy stresses the manufacturing process.

Corporate collaborators were Autodesk, Harper Engineering Co., KraussMaffei, Safran S.A., Samvardhana Motherson Peguform (SMP) and Victrex PLC.

The injection molding machine used was a KM 750CX with 160 metric tons of clamping force and a stroke volume of 318 cc (19.4 cubic inches).

TPRC researchers Mark Bouwman, Thijs Donderwinkel and Jeroen Houwers worked on the experimental validation and modelling of the mechanisms underlying the overmolding process. They translated these to numerical models using a thermoforming software package (AniForm) combined with Autodesk Moldflow to predict interface strength and warpage caused by process-induced residual stresses.

Stiffness and manufacturability are combined in new composite design. (TPRC)

Aircraft, Automotive, Compression, Design, Europe, Injection Molding, Injection Molding, PEEK, Reinforcing Material , , , ,

BASF, DuPont Get Closer On Potentially Disruptive Bioplastic

A newly improved polyester bioplastic is potentially a major player in the production of bottles and film in food packaging. Many other applications are possible.

DuPont and BASF have competing entries under development based on furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), which has been known for at least 80 years. What’s new is that processes are said to be less costly, improving the economics to make novel polyesters. DuPont is partnering with Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) while BASF is teaming with Avantium, which will use its YXY technology.

FDCA can replace terephthalic acid in the production of polyesters.

Plastics made from FDCA have better barrier properties than standard PET as well as better mechanical properties, allowing thinner walls. Avantium claims that productions costs are also lower: $1200 per metric ton versus $1600. Obviously, the price of oil is critical in the economics of the material. The carbon footprint is more than 60 percent lower, according to Avantium.

DuPont’s initial entry is called polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF), which is derived from Bio-PDO (1,3-propanediol). The BASF entry is called polyethylene-furanoate (PEF).

“This molecule is a game-changing platform technology. It will enable cost-efficient production of a variety of 100 percent renewable, high-performance chemicals and polymers with applications across a broad range of industries,” said Simon Herriot, global business director for biomaterials at DuPont. 

The BASF-Avantium JV is called Synvina and is based in Amsterdam. Currently developmental quantities are available. There are hopes to build a 50,000 metric tons per year plant at BASF’s Verbund site in Antwerp, Belgium, but no dirt will fly until customers are convinced.

Primary initial targets are film for food and bottles for beverages, and fibers for carpets and textiles. Injection molding will be among future target applications. PEF is described as suitable for foil pouches, bottles for carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks, water, dairy products, still and sports drinks and alcoholic beverages as well as personal and home care products. PTF and PEF can be recycled in existing recycling streams, according to the producers. It’s not clear if there are performance differences between the two bioplastics.

Avantium has development partnerships with The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, ALPLA and other companies on the Joint Development Platform for PEF bottles. Other partners include Mitsui and Toyobo, which is developing PEF films about 10 micrometer in thickness that can be used for food packaging, in electronics applications such as displays or solar panels, and for industrial or medical packages.

According to Synvina, PEF films have a 10 times higher oxygen barrier and 2-3 times higher water vapor barrier than standard PET. They are fully transparent. There are new packaging opportunities, such as transparent pouches for soups.

“FDCA is a sleeping giant with huge potential. Although it was first produced in the 1950s, it has never been successfully developed and brought to market until now,” said Tom van Aken, CEO of Avantium. “I strongly believe that Synvina will wake up that sleeping giant and make it available for industrial use. With the development of a proven FDCA production process, and the construction of a strong partnering and cooperation network, Avantium has provided Synvina with all necessary prerequisites. It will benefit from BASF’s expertise in market development and large-scale production and as a reliable chemical company in the business of intermediates and polymers.”

ADM and DuPont are planning to build an integrated 60 ton-per-year demonstration plant in Decatur, Illinois to provide material for testing and research.

The raw materials for the products are industrial agricultural sugars. Bio-PDO is now made in Tennessee. Avantium, which is a 2000 spinoff from Royal Dutch Shell, operates a pilot plant in Geleen, the Netherlands.

They currently use so-called first-generation feedstocks, such as glucose from corn, sugarcane or starch, but plan on evolving to more expensive second-generation feedstocks such as cellulose, woodchips, grass, agricultural waste streams. Customers prefer bioplastics derived from nonedible feedstocks, but it’s not likely that they will pay a premium for them based on current conditions.

Bioplastics, Europe, Green, North America, Packaging , ,

PolyOne Expands Conductive Compound IP

PolyOne, Avon Lake, Ohio, is expanding its intellectual portfolio of electrically conductive compounds with a new technology for incorporating carbon nanotubes in polycarbonate.

A patent application published yesterday discloses a technology covering single- and multi-wall nanotubes that constitute from about 0.1 to about 10 percent by weight of the compound. The claim covers use of additional additives or plastics, including ABS, PBT, PLA, impact modifiers, flame retardants, carbon fibers  and glass fibers.

The carbon nanotubes described in the patent application have an aspect ratio ranging from 10:1 to 10,000:1 and a diameter ranging from about 0.5 nm to about 1000 nm.

The patent application states: “The present invention has found that carbon nanotubes can be the only type of electrically conductive particle dispersed in the polycarbonate in order to minimize the effect on mechanical properties on polycarbonate than if other conductive fillers, such as carbon black and metallic fillers, were used.”

PolyOne sells a broad range of conductive compounds under the brand umbrella Therma-Tech. One example is Stat-Tech PC-CB2/000 CR PC with carbon nano filler.  

In a recent press release, PolyOne described how Akboru Elektrik, a Turkish supplier of lighting systems for pools, hot tubs and gardens, is using Therma-Tech thermally conductive polymers to replace aluminum for heat sinks in LED swimming pool lighting. The expected useful lifetime of the lights is said to be increased by 200 percent while part weight is reduced.

Underwater waterproof pool light. (PolyOne)

Asia, Conductive Material, Consumer Goods, Design, Electronics, North America, Polycarbonate , , ,

Composite System Cuts Weight 25%

Hybrid components of fiber-reinforced plastic and metal are formed and back-injected in a single step in a German automotive lightweighting research project called LEIKA.

Partners in the German government-funded project include KraussMaffei and the Institute for Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology at Dresden University of Technology.

“The resulting process and structure quality, together with the achieved cycle times of significantly less than two minutes, supports the potential of such hybridization on both the material and production end,” says Martin Würtele, director of injection molding technology development at KraussMaffei.

The system is being used to make a hybrid floor structure for electric vehicles in a development project. Metallic outer layers of steel are combined with a core of CFRP. “The first test results are excellent,” says Würtele. “The mass is reduced by 25 percent compared to an all-metal lightweight construction solution. Simultaneously, it was possible to demonstrate comparable performance under the most important load conditions with regard to stiffness and crash situations for components with significantly lower mass.”

Plastics can be used for compression in the mold or reinforcement for local areas in the component. Aspects include integration of a flat sheet die as well as a conveyor belt with an insertion robot.

“The new test system lets us project a large number of incredibly varied processes on a single system. This lets us offer significant added value to our partners from the automotive industry,” says Michael Krahl, project manager of LEIKA.

One of the goals is flexibility.

KraussMaffei designed a bolt-on unit of reduced height that is integrated with the production line, including a press, infrared oven, robot and conveyor belt. KM says that the unit is capable of both injection molding and extrusion, portioning the injection volume in the process.

Up to five areas can be reinforced locally in one cycle.

Integration of the conveyor belt makes it possible to deposit portions of plastic. “The speed of the conveyor belt results directly from the process parameters, such as injection speed or throughput. This is a clear advantage for the Institute for Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology because there is no longer any need to set the conveyor belt manually beforehand and there is no discharged melt. In the event of a change in discharge speed, the conveyor belt speed adapts automatically and with deliberate control,” says Würtele.

The unit has newly developed software that is completely integrated into the production line electrically.

KM also says the system has high shot weight consistency with an SP 12000 injection unit with direct drive. The motors for plasticizing and injection are arranged in a series and directly flange-mounted on the screw, making it possible to prevent transverse forces opposing the flow of force.

Weight is reduced 25 percent in a floor component. (Photo: KraussMaffei)

Automotive, Carbon Composites, Design, Europe, Green, Injection Molding, Reinforcing Material , ,

PATAC Pioneers 3D-Printed PA6 For Intake Manifold Parts

IThe Shanghai-based Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), a joint venture between General Motors and SAIC Motor, wants to take a leadership role in developing 3D-printed parts for intake manifold development. Read more »

Additive manufacturing, Asia, Automotive, Polyamides , ,

Nike Develops Improved 3D-Printed Golf Ball

Nike is developing a 3D-printed golf ball that it says may last longer and outperform the best golf balls made today.

3D-printed golf balls are not brand new, but high-tech 3D printed golf balls are.

Nike is still using an elastomeric material for an inner core and a rigid material for an outer core, but the 3D printing process allows for smoother transitions between a multitude of layers as well as the introduction of unique internal geometric feature, such as voids, that may improve performance.

The key goal is to balance soft feel with resilience. Hardness allows long drives with minimal spin. Softer balls spin more, improving control for shorter shots to the green.

In one configuration of a new Nike patent, each shell comprises rings aligned at a different azimuth angle of 0 to 90 degrees. In another, each shell layer may be formed from many arcs extending away from the work surface. That type of construction is not possible with injection or compression molding.

In the final step, the golf balls would still be fused and overmolded with a material such as DuPont Surlyn. The type of 3D printing used is fused deposition, but no specific type of printer is identified in the patent. In fact, some aspects of the technology appear to be new developments, including control and mixing systems.

The inventor is Aaron Bender, a compounding chemical engineer at Nike, Beaverton, Oregon.

Nike developed its first golf ball 18 years ago, and ironically announced last August that it will be phasing out of the golf ball business and focusing on golf clothing. The invention application was filed at the end of 2013.

It’s not your father’s golf ball. (USPTO)

Additive manufacturing