Mold-Masters Announces ‘SmartMold’

Mold-Masters has developed a product called SmartMold that is described on the Milacron Web site as “a small powerful PC fully integrated with sensors in the hot runner.”

The technology is an interesting attempt to gather conditions in the hot runner and communicate that information wirelessly to give engineers another tool to help improve processing conditions.

More details may be available at the Milacron exhibit at K2016. Established in 1963, Mold-Masters is a leading suppliers of hot runner technology and systems that was acquired by Milacron three years ago.


Molds & Moldmaking, North America , ,

New Insert Molded Electronics Are Very Thin

Polycarbonate film replaces light pipes in newly developed electronic illumination devices that are very thin.

TactoTek, a Finnish manufacturer of 3D injection molded structural electronics is commercializing the technology that enables sophisticated lighting in very thin 3D plastic “smart surfaces”.tactotek_electronics_within-_plastic

“This (is) a key innovation for IMSE technology—employing the plastic material that is the structure of a part as a light guide,” says Antti Keränen, TactoTek CTO and co-founder. “Using this technique we can create very bright, evenly distributed illumination within structures as thin as 2 millimeters.”

Traditional electronics typically include a cosmetic surface structure and use a separate light pipe structure to direct lighting. In the TactoTek invention, printed electronics and light emitting diodes (LEDs) are insert molded and use the optical plastic layer to conduct light.

Hasse Sinivaara, head of product management, says: “By using the molding material of a cosmetic surface as a light guide, TactoTek IMSE technology removes design constraints that have prescribed thick, multi-part assemblies, and as we remove parts, we remove design time, weight and minimize electrical and mechanical assembly—very appealing when considering form factor innovation and total cost of ownership (TCO).”

The design accommodates printed electronics, such as circuitry, touch controls and antennas, and discrete electronic components, such as LEDs and ICs.

The company prototypes and manufactures products in its Oulu, Finland, factory that includes complete, vertically integrated production capabilities; mass production can be performed by TactoTek or TactoTek-licensed production partners.

Eighty percent of its business is automotive, with most of the rest in appliances. Applications include:

  • Control panels in cars and home appliances with mode-specific lighting, and “intelligence”,
  • Encapsulated sensors, such as accelerometers, impact and ambient light sensors molded directly into the surface skins of designs,
  • Printed capacitive buttons and sliders for responsive soft touch controls, and
  • Sophisticated lighting for advanced styling,

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under grant agreement No 725076.


Capacitive buttons are shown as 305; LED leads as 310; and the masking layer is 121. (United States Patent 9,297,675)








Automotive, Consumer Goods, Design, Electronics, Europe, Injection Molding, Insert Molding ,

Brad Cleveland: 1960-2016

One of the most understated (and best) people I have met in the plastics business was Brad Cleveland, who passed away last week from cancer.

In a story he told often, he was paging through the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2001 when he saw a tiny agate-sized classified ad. Larry Lukis, a tech guy who had an idea for an injection molding company, was looking for a CEO. The company? Protomold.

He was hired and headed up the business and manufacturing side of the 10-employee company.

Lukis had developed algorithms to quote  parts over the Internet, eliminating most of the time-consuming and expensive skilled labor conventionally required. It was a dream for industrial design engineers who could quickly, and inexpensively, receive demonstration or starter production parts made in production plastics from aluminum molds.

Brad was good at building a customer base, a manufacturing team, marketing, and attracting investors. Communications and responsiveness may have been his best skills. He was doing what the 3D printing business was hyped to do, but he and Lukis–who operated behind the scenes–did it more effectively.

By 2013, the company employed 730 people globally and had more than 7,000 customers in the product development and engineering communities.

By that time, the firm had added a CNC-machining service, had manufactured millions of plastic and metal parts, changed  its name to Proto Labs and went public on the New York Stock Exchange.  Revenues in 2013 rose above $150 million.

That year, he announced plans to retire to attend to his health and work on other interests.

Injection Molding

K2016: Engel Will Show New IMD Technique

The latest in efforts to replace painted interior automotive parts with in-mold decorating (IMD) will be shown in the Engel booth at K2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany Oct. 19-26.

In the DecoJect approach, the film is punched out and stays on the component, allowing surface structure and haptics as well as color and pattern. In other systems, the paint is transferred from the film onto the part.

Surface textures can be achieved with a new approach to in-mold labelling. (Engel)

Surface textures can be achieved with a new approach to in-mold decorating. (Engel)

The technology will be shown in a fully automated production cell on a duo 5160/1000 injection molding machine making Mucell-foamed door panels with a leather grain.

Following part removal, the DecoJect thin film is drawn in, heated by an IR radiator located in the gripper and preformed directly in the mold with the aid of a vacuum system. The film is then immediately back-molded and punched out before the robot removes the component and transfers it to an integrated laser station for fine trimming. A ready-to-fit component leaves the production cell every 60 seconds.

Designs can be changed with roll replacement, making smaller batches more economical, according to Engel.

The polypropylene film in the demonstration comes from Benecke-Kaliko (Hannover, Germany), which belongs to Continental technology group.

Other partners in the technology demonstration include Georg Kaufmann Formenbau of Busslingen, Switzerland, the Galvanoform Gesellschaft für Galvanoplastik in Lahr in southern Germany, hot runner manufacturer HRSflow, headquartered in San Polo di Piave, Italy, ICO System International in Lüneburg, Germany, and Borealis headquartered in Vienna, Austria.

One of the challenges in mold technology was very fine controllability of the electric valve gate drives.





In-Mold Decorating, Injection Molding, polypropylene ,

Thermoformed PA66 Sheets Offer Promise For Auto Lightweighting

DuPont is advancing its Vizilon thermoplastic composite technology in European demonstration projects with the goal of automotive lightweighting.

It’s an interesting composite: A polyamide 66 matrix is used in continuous-glass fiber woven reinforced consolidated sheets. The sheets can be stamped or thermoformed into various shapes and then can be overmolded with an engineering thermoplastic so that inserts or complex part features can be included.

Vizilon TPCs are used for the large structural floor pan, lower and upper windshield cross members and B-pillar of the Renault EOLAB prototype. The TPC floor pan is 16.5 kg lighter than a conventional steel vehicle floor, and is said to offer outstanding mechanical performance.

A Vizilon TPC oil pan concept is getting financial support from the English government as part of a light-weighting initiative called Alive6. Total project funding is $13.8 million and is led by Jaguar Land Rover.

The composite oil plan developed by DuPont and injection molder Nifco weighs 1 kg less than the steel version. It “has been engineered with continuous glass fibers that are infinitely longer than those used in normal reinforced plastics, to deliver optimum performance while remaining lightweight,” according to a press release issued by Nifco last week.

The goal of the ALIVE6 project, which was launched last year, is to create a prototype engine.

Automotive, Composites, Europe, Polyamides , ,

New Process Targets Improved Bonding of Hybrid Parts

Metal and plastic are said to bond together better in a newly developed turnkey, automated treatment process that will debut at Plasmatreat’s booth at  K2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany, Oct. 19-26.

Plasmatreat says it launched the research project with AKRO-Plastic two years ago because the interface between plastic and metal is a risk factor. “Over time, particularly corrosive media can cross the interface and penetrate the component, causing damage and even delamination.”

In the new approach, the metal insert is treated with an anti-corrosive plasma-polymerized layer generated under atmospheric pressure. AKRO developed a plastic compound that molds to the layer to ensure a long-time stable, media-tight bond, according to the partners.

The automated PT1200 plasma cell comprises a molding machine, generator, robot, and plasma jets. A robot guides the metal inlay initially beneath the plasma beam to remove contamination from its surface. A functional coating is applied immediately afterwards from a second plasma nozzle. The coating process is based on a process developed and patented several years ago by Plasmatreat in conjunction with the Fraunhofer IFAM in Bremen, Germany.

A conveyor belt transports metal inserts from the plasma cell to the molding machine. At the end of the belt, a second robot picks up the component, briefly warms it under an induction heater and then places it in the injection mold. Here, the PlasmaPlus coating creates a covalent bond between the metal and the plastic.

AKRO-Plastics, which is building the molding tool and doing all tests, formed an exclusive partnership in the field of nylon and polyketone to develop the technology.

Other partners in the K2016 exhibit are KUKA, Arburg and Krallmann. In the demonstration, stainless steel is overmolded with a specially developed polyamide 6 compound loaded with 30 percent glass.

Metal is pretreated and then bonded to a special plastic compound. (Plasmatreat)

Metal is pretreated and then bonded to a special plastic compound. (Plasmatreat)

Automation/Robotics, Automation/Robots, Automotive, Europe, Injection Molding, Insert Molding, Joining, Polyamides, Reinforcing Material ,

K2016: KraussMaffei Develops New Polyamide Reaction Process

KraussMaffei will be marrying thermoplastics and reactive process machinery in one of the more interesting technology demonstrations at K2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany, Oct. 19-26.

In a collaboration of nine partners, polyamide 6 frames for the roof shell of a demonstration sports car will be produced at the KM exhibition booth several times a day on a resin transfer molding press (RTM) of just 350 metric tons. Normally an automotive injection press for structural parts would require a significantly larger clamping force. In another innovation, the part produces near net shape in a reactive process, saving valuable carbon fiber as well as production time and cost.  

Frames for the roof shell of the Roding Roadster R1 sports car contain a high loading of carbon fiber. (KM)

The Roding Roadster R1 sports car is being developed by Forward Engineering.

The trick of the trade is the polymerization of caprolactam into polyamide 6 inside the mold.

A pre-shaped semifinished product made of fiber layers is infiltrated in a mold with caprolactam infused and mixed with activator and catalyst.

“The Roadster roof frame is based on a hybrid construction of fibers in conjunction with plastic and metal. The production process on the KraussMaffei K 2016 exhibition booth will last about two minutes. The system is intended for high-volume projects and is designed for multiple-shift operations,” says Erich Fries, head of the Composites/Surfaces business unit at KraussMaffei.

Roof shell frames contain a high loading of carbon fiber. (Forward Engineering)

Roof shell frames contain a high loading of carbon fiber. (Forward Engineering)

Called T-RTM, KM says the process has benefits over traditional RTM with epoxy resin or polyurethane (PUR). For one, water-like viscosity allows the caprolactam to penetrate the fiber layers even with low internal mold pressures. Also, the high flow capacity allows the minimum wall thickness to be reduced and the fiber volume content increased by about 60 percent.

The thermoplastic parts can be reheated and reshaped, making them weldable and recyclable, according to KraussMaffei. The roof frame material can be regranulated and used together with its fiber portion to produce parts.

In another interesting attribute, KM says that polyamide 6 has higher impact strength and more ductile fracture behavior than thermosets.

Development partners include KraussMaffei, Forward Engineering (component design, hybrid concept), Alpex Technologies GmbH (T-RTM mold), Dieffenbacher (production of preforms/handling), Saertex (fiber layers), Henkel (bonding), Handtmann (aluminum inlays), TUM / LCC (fiber selection) and Keller (extraction technology).

The concept of polyamide (or nylon) reaction molding dates back to 1982 when Monsanto invented RIM nylon, or Nyrim, which is an elastomer-modified polyamide 6. The material was commercialized by DSM and later is now owned by Brüggemann Chemical of Germany. The material’s high cost compared to traditional RIM materials led to slow acceptance. Krauss Maffei hopes its approach, particularly automation of the process,  will be more economical. 

Design, Europe, Polyamides, Reinforcing Material, Resin Transfer Molding , , , ,

Metabolix Gives Up On the Bioplastic Business

Tired of paddling against the current and running out of money, the owners of Metabolix are selling its bioplastic business to CJ CheilJedang Corp. for $10 million. The first $2 million of the purchase price was paid by CJ on execution of a letter of intent and the remaining balance is payable on closing of the transaction, which is expected in mid-September. The company announced last month plans to ditch the bioplastics business.

Metabolix will transfer to CJ a portfolio of intellectual property including the platform microbial strains used to produce fermentation-based products, as well as patent rights covering the production and use of Mirel PHA biopolymers. CJ will also acquire laboratory equipment associated with the biopolymers business. The arrangement is also expected to include a sublease to CJ of a portion of Metabolix’s Woburn, Mass., facility.

“We believe this transaction will help put the Company on a more stable footing and enable us to move forward with our plan to make Yield10 Bioscience our core business,” said Joseph Shaulson, CEO of Metabolix. Metabolix anticipates a staff of approximately 20 with an annual net cash burn rate in the range of $5 million once it has completed its transition and related restructuring. The company plans to rebrand itself as Yield10 Bioscience.

It was a bumpy ride for Metabolix. Researchers Oliver Peoples and Anthony Sinskey  co-founded Metabolix in 1992 after work at  MIT that identified ways to engineer biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) out of plants and bacteria. In 2006, Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) entered into a strategic alliance to manufacture and commercialize Mirel PHAs and built a significant manufacturing plant in Clinton, Iowa. The material was pricy and the market for biodegradable plastics did not develop as expected. ADM dropped out and closed the plant in 2012.  Metabolix’s stock plunged after the announcement. Share prices went from a peak of $32.52 in 2011 to 39 cents today.

Metabolix struggled to find alternate manufacturing and began to focus on specialty applications such as PVC and PLA modification.

CJ Cheil Jedang was founded 1953 as a sugar and flour manufacturer and was originally part of Samsung Group. It’s not clear if CJ sees the fit as a packaging supplier or as a companion to sugar production. The purchase price is certainly a bargain. Metabolix’s total R&D expenses just in the past five years were almost $100 million.

North America, Packaging

Molex + Phillips-Medisize Will Greatly Accelerate Medical Electronics

Bob Cervenka, one of my favorite American molders, began Phillips Plastics in 1964 in a northern Wisconsin creamery, with the idea that he could be successful if he always used the latest technology. He was an early adopter of the reciprocating screw, later moved into metal molding, was an early believer in early involvement in the design process and later established a technology center to explore new ideas. A significant technology center at an American custom molder? Yes.

In 2009, Bob’s health declined and the company endured one of its toughest ever stretches of business, triggered by the global financial meltdown in 2008.

The company moved into the realm of the investment capital world, first acquired by Kohlberg and later by Golden Gate.

This morning it was announced that the company (now called Phillips-Medisize) was acquired by Molex, an elite electronics injection molder. What a great fit. Phillips-Medisize brings a focus on the medical market and joins a manufacturing company with a similar emphasis on high-level, specialized technology.

The marriage of electronics and medical molding will be greatly accelerated by the combination. Phillips-Medisize’s goal is to become a global leader in the manufacturing of biologics drug delivery devices.

Phillips-Medisize brings annual sales exceeding $700 million, 4,300 employes, and 17 locations around the world. It will operate as an indirect subsidiary of Molex, LLC when the transaction is completed later this year.

Molex will help Phillips-Medisize grow globally, an idea that was anathema to Bob Cervenka. Tim Ruff, senior VP of business development and corporate strategy, Molex, LLC, commented; “Combined with Molex’s expertise in electronics and broad global manufacturing presence, we are confident that together we can significantly expand our medical solutions capabilities globally.”

My only regret is that Phillips was a very transparent company from its earliest days through the excellent stewardship of CEO Matt Jennings. Molex is a very private company which has never been willing to discuss its injection molding business, which is substantial. But that’s selfish. This company is great new American injection molding powerhouse.


Injection Molding ,

Robots Aligned On Same Axis Expedite Door Panel Molding

Left and right door side panels are molded in a single shot by Arkal Automotive on a 1,600-metric ton injection molding machine from KraussMaffei at its Crock location in Thuringia, Germany.

The system features two linear robots, mechanically coupled on a single axis and operated via a single central control system. The two LRX 350 linear robots, which are arranged on a joint z axis, demold the components in a parallel process, and then deposit them a storage area.

Side panels are molded in a single shot

Side panels are molded in a single shot

“This is the first time that we combined two mechanically coupled x/y axes of the LRX series on a z robot axis with a new control concept,” says Thomas Marufke, managing director at KraussMaffei Automation. Both linear robots as well as the MX 1600 can be programmed and controlled via the central MC6 control system

The door panels are made of 30 percent fiber glass-reinforced polypropylene on large multi-daylight molds customized for this application. The molds are equipped with a “flying platen”.

Arkal currently manufactures approximately 3,600 door side panels per week in three shifts, alternating between front and back panels.

The production location in Thuringia houses 11 injection molding machines, eight of which are from KraussMaffei.

Automation/Robots, Automotive, Europe, Injection Molding, polypropylene ,