Microsoft Invents Micro Molded Light Guides

Microsoft has developed a micro injection molding technology to make light guides for handheld and other electronic devices. The micro light guide receives light from an illuminator and reflects it to a display surface.

Wedge features in the guides are separated by less than 10 micrometers. Lengths of the light-guiding wedges are less than 50 micrometers.

In some embodiments, the mold that defines the microstructure light guide uses pixelated areas to enable selective temperature adjustment.

Micro guides are needed to provide displays as computing devices decrease in size. Conventional techniques for manufacturing light guides cannot achieve required tolerances for the tiny sizes, according to Microsoft. The micro molding process is an attempt to produce tight tolerances as net shapes that do not require expensive secondary machining.

The plastics that will be used for the light guides are polycarbonate or acrylic.

The inventors are Kurt Jenkins, manufacturing research engineer at Microsoft who specializes in development of new injection molding processes for optics, back-lights and micro-structure replication, and Lincoln Ghioni, also a mechanical engineering researcher at Microsoft, Redmond, Washington.

Patent drawing shows cross section of mold for micro light guides. Pixelated areas are designated 312, 314, 316, and 318. The mold cavity is 230. (Source: USPTO)

Patent drawing shows cross section of mold for micro light guides. Pixelated areas are designated 312, 314, 316, and 318. The mold cavity is 230. (Source: USPTO)

Acrylic, Electronics, Micro Molding, Molds & Moldmaking, Polycarbonate , , , , ,

Space Station Uses 3D-Printed Bioplastic

Polyethylene made from sugarcane is now being 3D-printed in Outer Space.

Braskem developed a special grade that can be produced in a zero-gravity 3D printer developed by U.S.-based Made In Space for use on the International Space Station. It will fabricate tools and spare parts based on digital patterns transmitted from Earth.

The first bioplastic part 3D printed on the Space Station was a pipe connector for a vegetable irrigation system.

Space station 3D printer. (Made In Space)

Space station 3D printer. (Made In Space)

Polyethylene made from sugarcane ethanol was chosen for the project because of its flexibility, chemical resistance and recyclability, and because it is made from a renewable resource.

“The ability to print parts and tools in 3D on demand increases the reliability and safety of space missions. This partnership with Braskem is fundamental for diversifying the raw materials used by the Additive Manufacturing Facility and for making this technology more robust and versatile,” said Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space. The original plastic used by the space printer, which was launched two years ago, was ABS.

The equipment’s printing bed is made of Braskem’s ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW-PE), which is said to provide increased tack for printing green polyethylene and offers superior abrasion and impact resistance.

Made In Space was founded in 2010 as the world’s first space manufacturing company,

Additive manufacturing ,

Evonik Boosts Capacity For Structural Foam

Reflecting growing demand for structural foams to lighten weight, Evonik is boosting capacity to make performance foams in Darmstadt, Germany, “by about 20 percent as a first step.” The expansion is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Structural foam is used to lighten the SpeedFoiler catamaran. (Evonik)

Structural foam is used to lighten the SpeedFoiler catamaran. (Evonik)

“We have experienced double-digit growth of the Rohacell brand in recent years and have indications that this success will continue. With this consistent level of growth in global demand, we see this capacity expansion as a positive and necessary step toward assuring our customers of their continued access to our innovative product – now and far into the future,” said Matthias the Kottenhahn, SVP of High Performance Polymers Business

“Whether it is an airplane, a car, a ship, a wind turbine blade, an electronic device or even a hockey stick – all can benefit from less overall weight,” said Andreas Hoff, VP, performance foams.

Rohacell is a rigid, structural polymethacrylimide foam used as a core material in sandwich composites in aerospace, automotive, marine, sports equipment, electronics and medical applications.  Evonik said it can withstand high temperatures and pressures.

The Darmstadt plant is the original Performance Foams production facility, with additional production locations in Mobile, Alabama, and Shanghai, China.

Aircraft, Alternative energy, Automotive, Design, Sports , ,

Stratasys, Siemens Target Composites in 3D Printing Collaboration

The Holy Grail for additive manufacturing and 3D printing is volume production.

The process has failed to meet the hype of publications such as the Economist and the New York Times because of slow build times and high materials’ costs.  One good production target is composites, particularly those used in aerospace applications.

It was announced today that Stratasys and Siemens are partnering to improve the prospects for additive manufacturing in large-scale production. As part of the new collaboration, the Stratasys Multi-Axis Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator incorporating Siemens Motion Control hardware and PLM software is being showcased at formnext 2016 this week in Frankfurt, Germany.

It’s an approach for automated composite part production that alters from the traditional print-by-layer mindset of additive manufacturing.

“With our complete 3D printing ecosystem of customer applications, hardware and software platforms, advanced material offerings and consulting services, Stratasys is uniquely positioned to help manufacturers leverage 3D printing to transform their business models,” said Dan Yalon, executive vice president, products, Stratasys

Stratasys and Siemens have been collaborating on multiple projects including the direct link from Siemens’ NX software for CAD/CAM/CAE to Stratasys’ GrabCAD Print platform – enabling an easier design-to-3D print workflow.

“Siemens is enthusiastic about this partnership with Stratasys and the opportunity to help our customers adopt a new manufacturing mindset that we believe will result in better products produced more economically and delivered more efficiently,” said Zvi Feuer, SVP manufacturing engineering software, Siemens PLM Software. “We are committed to the industrialization of additive manufacturing with all of its unique advantages, including complex part geometries, on-demand

At the core of the 3D Demonstrator is Stratasys’ advanced FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology synchronized to complex multi-axis motion. It provides the flexibility to integrate subtractive manufacturing, inline inspection and verification and product finishing. Stratasys engineered materials make structures that are optimized for weight and performance. “The result is a new hybrid manufacturing approach that is unconstrained by the traditional limitations of composite lay-up and the layer-by-layer limitations and support material requirements of traditional 3D printing,” stated a press release.

Demonstrator at formnext produces composite parts.

Demonstrator at formnext produces composite parts.

Additive manufacturing ,

Total Bets On Bioplastics; Forms JV With Corbion

Total S.A., one of the seven major global oil companies, is making a significant investment in the bioplastics industry through a joint venture with Corbion.

The companies are creating a 50/50 joint venture to produce and market polylactic (PLA) plastics. They are building a PLA polymerization plant with a capacity of 75,000 tons per year at Corbion’s site in Thailand that already has a lactide (PLA monomer) production unit that will become part of the joint venture. Corbion will supply the lactic acid to produce PLA and the lactide.

The new company will be based in the Netherlands and will launch operations in the 1st quarter of 2017, subject to regulatory approvals.

“I’m very pleased with this joint venture, which aims to become a major player in the growing bioplastics market. This investment is consistent with our One Total ambition of expanding in biofuels and bioplastics, in addition to our more traditional oil- and gas-based products,” said Bernard Pinatel, president of Total Refining & Chemicals. “Corbion’s unique position in the lactic acid and biopolymers value chain makes it a natural choice for Total. The joint venture will allow us to supply an innovative material that is 100 per cent renewable and biodegradable and that responds to sustainability concerns.”

Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Corbion, stated: “PLA is one of the first renewable, biodegradable polymers able to compete with existing polymers. The joint venture, which will combine Total’s technical and marketing knowledge and leading position in polymers with Corbion’s expertise in lactic acid and biopolymers, will enable us to supply innovative products and will accelerate market acceptance.”

It’s a big bet on a market that has been driven by NatureWorks, to date the sole producer of PLA. NatureWorks in the past has encouraged the addition of another producer to help develop the market and remove sole-sourcing concerns of many large buyers.  PLA is mainly used for food packaging, disposable tableware and textiles, as well as in numerous other industries such as oil and gas, electronics, automotive and 3D printing.

Significant improvements have been made in the technical properties of PLA, a niche that the new JV hopes to exploit using Corbion’s proprietary lactide technology.  Overall growth rates continue in the 10 to 15 per cent per year range, but there have been some hiccups. One was a noise issue when PLA was used for chips’ bags. Another came when Lego found the material lacked adequate creep resistance for use in in its ubiquitous bricks. Lego set up a research group to develop a bioplastic it could use as a complete replacement for ABS.

No name has been announced yet for the JV.

Bioplastics, Europe, Packaging , , ,

Engel Makes Composites With In-Situ Polymerization

Engel Austria is combining in situ polymerization of sold caprolactam and injection molding in a parallel process in a novel exhibit at Composites Europe 2016 in Düsseldorf, Germany, Nov. 29 to Dec.1. The result is net shape polyamide 6 composites made in a single step.

The exhibit will demonstrate a completely new reactive unit that can be combined with different types of injection molding machines. It’s an on-demand process that melts and process the solid monomer. Advantages include significantly reduced thermal load, and higher product quality.

Engel has developed a pre-series manufacturing cell in partnership with Schöfer, Schwertberg, Austria, which specializes in molds. The concept was first demonstrated in 2013, and was also shown at K2016. Shovels are produced on an Engel v duo 1560/700. The clamping unit is equipped with a sliding table fitted with two mold halves for easier accessibility.

Dry, pre-shaped reinforcing fabrics are inserted into the first cavity and infiltrated with the reactive matrix. Solid caprolactam is melted and metered in the reactive unit. Because the monomer has low viscosity in the molten state, the dry fibers can be easily wetted.

Because reactive processing takes place below the polymer’s melting temperature, the composite semi-finished product can be transferred to a second cavity immediately for injection molding with reinforcing ribs and contours of short glass fiber-reinforced PA 6. A viper 40 double robot handles the parts.

The technology will challenge resin transfer molding, which also makes composite parts from dry preforms in a single step. Target markets are automobile, teletronics and technical components.

Engel is putting significant focus on developing production systems for lightweight components. The composite manufacturing systems developed for aircraft component manufacturing are too slow for automotive and other high-volume markets.

The Center for Lightweight Composite Technologies established in 2012 by Engel in St. Valentin, Austria, is a testbed and skunk works for lightweight manufacturing. It’s now being expanded with a second (larger) v-duo 1700 machine with clamping force of 1,911 tons. The machine is equipped with a high-pressure metering system for reactive process technology, and may be combined with an IR oven.

Fiber-reinforced shovels are produced on an Engel v-duo 1560/700.

Fiber-reinforced shovels are produced on an Engel v-duo 1560/700.

Automotive, Electronics, Europe, Injection Molding ,

Engel Beefs Up Design & Production of Screws

The plasticating screw, invented in the 1950s, does not usually get a lot of focus at international plastics shows.

But Engel put significant emphasis on the plasticating unit at K2016, calling it the “key to the quality and performance of injection molding machines.”

Universal Automotive Screw G18 (UAS) standard PP targets standard neat plastics as well as glass fiber reinforced polyamide. (Engel)

Universal Automotive Screw G18 (UAS) targets standard neat plastics as well as glass fiber-reinforced polyamide. (Engel)

Engel announced it will develop more specialized designs and is investing $18.7 million to boost capacity.

“The challenge for us is to ensure that even new materials can be processed faster and to a higher quality standard despite the increasing stresses on mechanical components,” said Günther Klammer, head of the newly reorganized Plasticizing Systems Division. The group includes experts in metallurgy, welding technology, rheology, plastics engineering, design, NC programming, and manufacturing technology.

Engel produces 6,000 screws and barrels with diameters from 15 to 170 mm annually – a figure set to double by 2020.

Engel showed several of its new screw designs at its booth at K2016. They included the Universal Automotive Screw G18 (UAS) for a wide range of materials, and the Mixing Barrier Screw G16S (MBS), which targets a high level of homogeneity for master batches in high-performance applications.

The barrier geometry of the MBS was developed in collaboration with the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria, and a customer in Germany. The MBS is available with diameters between 35 and 90 mm. An MBS with a diameter of 90 mm, built into an ENGEL e-speed injection molding machine, molded cartridges at K2016.

To boost capacity, funds will be invested in additional machine tools and heat treating equipment. Engel uses a new laser method for welding metal carbides onto the screw flights.

The Mixing Barrier Screw G16S (MBS) is designed for homogeneous mixing in fast-running applications. (Engel)

The Mixing Barrier Screw G16S (MBS) is designed for homogeneous mixing in fast-running applications. (Engel)

Injection Molding ,

FRX Polymers Targets China, Boosts Capacity

A novel halogen-free flame retardant polymer once abandoned by Bayer is now rapidly gaining ground with growing production capacity and several major financial backers.

Sales of Nofia phosphonates by FRX Polymers are doubling year on year from a small base, said Kevin Trudel, VP sales, in an interview at K2016.

FRX has added new sales and application development positions in Europe and Asia and established a new business unit in China.

“Our business is in a high-growth phase and we’re positioned to add resources in key functional areas so we can capitalize on the market momentum we’ve generated,” said Marc-André Lebel, CEO of FRX Polymers, which recently secured $22 million in Series D equity financing. Backers include a Chinese bank, BASF, Evonik, and Israel Cleantech Ventures.

FRX has placed a strategic focus on China, which it said is the fastest-growing market for flame-retardant plastics in the world. More than 70 percent of the production for copper-clad laminates (CCL) for the electronic printed circuit board market is concentrated in China, said Lebel. FRX formed a subsidiary in China called Shanghai FRX Polymers Ltd.

One of the emerging applications for Nofia is composite circuit boards.

FRX Polymers announced a debottlenecking of its Antwerp, Belgium facility in the fourth quarter of 2015 which increased capacity by 30 percent.  Plans are underway for a major debottlenecking project over the next 12-18 months. The plant is in a Bayer complex that produces feedstocks used to make Nofia polymers.

Nofia flame retardants are described as tough and transparent, with high melt flow for use in consumer electronics, textiles, building and construction, and transportation markets. They replace halogenated flame retardants, which are being phased out due to toxicity concerns. They are being sold as polymeric flame retardant additives, flame retardant engineering plastics, and as reactive flame retardant additives for thermosetting resins.

To date, the company has nearly 200 patent applications, of which more than 100 have been granted.

The polymer is made via a polycondensation process like that used for polycarbonate.

One of the key developers of the technology was the late Dieter Freitag, once the top plastics research executive at Bayer and a believer of the polymer’s future despite lack of corporate interest. After retiring from Bayer in 2000, he consulted with a development company called Triton that incubated FRX.

 FRX, which is based in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, employs 35, triple the level of three years ago.

Flame Retardant

Polyamide Strut Mount Cuts Weight, Improves Ride

The first-ever glass-reinforced polyamide automotive strut mount housings are a finalist in the in the 46th-annual SPE Automotive Innovation Awards competition. Winners will be announced Wednesday evening at Burton Manor in the suburbs of Detroit. 

First announced a year ago, the strut-mount housings are on all four corners of the 2016 Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan and represent the first application of polyamide housings on the front and rear

ContiTech Vibration Control – the developer of the technology with GM and BASF – said  that there is a weight reduction of around 25 percent and a longer service life. “High-performance plastics are the material of the future in the automotive industry,” said Kai Frühauf, who heads ContiTech Vibration Control.

Polyamide strut mount. (SPE Automotive)

Polyamide strut mount. (SPE Automotive)

The spring strut mount is the interface between the spring strut and body and allows low-friction rotational movement of the spring strut in the front of the vehicle, providing contact of the tire to the road.

Spray water, road salt, sand, gravel, and vibrations can cause the spring strut to wear.

“Key to success was the early integration of our customer in the development process, which meant that we were involved in system design right from the outset and could contribute our specialist experience,” said Stefan Wöhler, a developer at ContiTech Vibration Control.

The material is Ultramid A3WG10CR 50 percent glass-reinforced PA 6/6.

Polyamides ,

SK Chemicals Targets Western Markets at K2016

Korean plastics producer SK Chemicals is “aggressively” promoting its high-end engineering plastics such as a “greener” polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) in Western markets, the company announced at K2106.

SK Chemical CEO Kim Cheol met with resin producers and compounders to promote the company’s line, which includes Ecozen copolyester PETG, Ecotran PPS, Skypura polycyclohexylene, and Skypel thermoplastic polyester elastomer.

SK at K2016. CEO Cheol is second from left.

SK at K2016. CEO Cheol is second from left.

An additive manufacturing grade brand-named Skypelte was introduced at K2016.

The company has an interesting new bio polyester alloy based on biomass that is used in window panels and steering wheel bezels of the 2015 Hyundai Ioniq EV, which will go up to 110 miles on one charge, and is expected to go on sale in the U.S. by the end of this year.

The optimized PETG/ABS composition replaced a PC/ABS blend, resulting in a reported 57 percent reduction in carbon emissions and an 88 percent reduction in VOCs. There are functional benefits as well, specifically a significant increase in molded part chemical resistance, according to the company. By weight, the biomass content is 25 percent.

The processor is Seoyon E-Hwa Interior Systems Manufacturing. The part is a finalist in the 46th-annual SPE Automotive Innovation Awards competition. Winners will be announced Nov. 9 at Burton Manor in the suburbs of Detroit. 

SK Chemicals began as Sunkyong Fibers Ltd. In 1969. The current name was adopted in 1998. In 2013, SK Chemicals and Teijin Chemicals launched a joint venture called  INITZ and begin constructing a 12,000 metric tons per year PPS plant in South Korea. The JV is targeting a global market share of 20 percent in PPS and annual sales of $280 million by 2020. The PPS is said to be the world’s first chlorine- or sodium-free grades, and uses proprietary technologies of SK Chemicals. Chlorine and sodium byproducts can lead to the corrosion of molds and functional deterioration of metal parts, such as defective contacts, according to SK.

SK Chemicals, which also makes drugs, had 2015 sales of $874 million.

spe

Components made partially of bioplastics are used in a Hyundai EV. (SPE Automotive Division)

Injection Molding