Profits at Foboha Projected to Improve By Mid Year

Sales are strong at complex mold manufacturer Foboha, but profitability is a continuing struggle.

Barnes Group, which acquired Foboha in 2016 for $136 million, announced today that a facility consolidation was completed late last year in an effort to boost profitability. A 60-employe Foboha plant in Muri, Switzerland, was closed with production moving into other plants owned by the company.

CEO  Patrick Dempsey said the closing and a restructuring at another subsidiary will result in $5 million in savings this year.

Barnes, best known for mechanical springs and aerospace businesses, has been an aggressive investor in moldmaking technology in the past four years, with the acquisitions of Synventive Molding Solutions, Männer, Thermoplay, Priamus, Gammaflux, and Foboha, a specialist in rotary cube molds that are often show stoppers at major international plastics shows.

The company believes the units create synergy, such as Männer providing hot runners to Foboha. Männer’s plant in Georgia is used as a platform for Foboha in North America.

Dempsey said that profitability at Foboha is expected to improve “meaningfully” by mid year due to the restructuring and use of commercial best practices, improved operational processes and expanded aftermarket service offerings.

Hot runner systems, Indexing, Molds & Moldmaking ,

Finally–A Major Capacity Boost For Ultem

Demand for Ultem polyetherimide began to spike above supply in 2014, allowing significant price increases while SABIC made incremental increases in capacity.

Now a big hike in capacity is coming to meet surging demand in China.

SABIC will expand its Singapore compounding operation, increasing global production by 50 percent. Also in the works is a recommissioning of a PPE plant at Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands by the end of 2019.

“Increased customer demand, especially in Asia, prompted the further capacity expansion plans,” said Ernesto Occhiello, executive vice president, Specialties, SABIC. “While interim capacity gains for both Ultem and Noryl resins have been achieved, global demand for both product lines has increased significantly, and SABIC is planning to expand its capacity to support our customers’ growth aspirations. We will continue to focus efforts to deliver the right capacity, in the right global properties similar to PEEK, which has also seen a big rise in demand. PEEK has advantages in impact strength and thermal properties but is more expensive.

Ultem, which was developed by Joseph G. Wirth in the early 1980s, is currently produced in Mount Vernon, Indiana, and Cartagena, Spain. SABIC said the planned operations in Singapore will localize supply for customers in Asia, reducing lead times, especially for shorter qualification cycle applications.

The new Noryl capacity will provide a second source, a must for many major buyers.

SABIC said it expects better availability of both plastics. The major Ultem investment was first signaled by The Molding Blog based  on an interview with Occhiello at K 2016.


Engineering Thermoplastics ,

Engel Advances In-Situ Polymerization of Polyamide Composites

Engel is significantly fine-tuning a potentially game-changing approach to the production of composite parts.

The overall technology is the anionic polymerization of caprolactam to polyamide 6, which allows full wetting without disturbing carbon or glass fiber placed in injection molds. The approach reflects a trend to recyclable composite components, and the use of the highly productive injection molding process, which allows molded-in features.  

Engel made a relatively low-tech demonstration of the technology at K2016, showing the production of a shovel. The mold was made by Schofer, Schwertburg, Austria, which is a specialist in the development of in-situ molds.  The demonstration showed that the technology had developed significantly since the first prototype machine was shown in 2012.

An evolution of the technology is disclosed in a U.S. patent application published yesterday. In brief, the new approach uses the sprue as a mixing chamber in an effort to overcome sealing problems. High pressure must be maintained in the sprue, and the use of a pressure sensor is recommended.

At K2016, pre-formed, dry reinforcement textiles were placed in the first cavity and infiltrated with the reactive matrix (εcaprolactam). The solid ε-caprolactam was melted and metered in the reactive aggregate. Since reactive processing takes place below the polymer’s melting temperature, the composite semi-finished product was transferred to the second cavity immediately after it was produced where it was functionalized by injection molding. Reinforcing ribs and contours made of short-glass-fiber-reinforced PA 6 were molded on.

Lead inventors of the new technology at Engel are Norbert Müller, development chief at Engel’s Center for Lightweight  Composite Technologies in St. Valentin, Austria and  Lorenz Reith, a reactive mixing expert. 

Patent drawing shows the position of the shut-off needles (13) in the closed position, directly sealing at the sprue (4). (USPTO)

Automotive, Carbon Composites, Carbon Fiber, Europe, Industrial, Injection Molding, Molds & Moldmaking, Polyamides , ,

SILQ: Some Pretty Silly Hype From Steelcase

Office furniture manufacturer Steelcase made the extraordinary claim this week that it has “created a new high-performance polymer material that emulates the qualities of carbon fiber at a mass market price.” No more information available—except that it works really well in a new office chair called SILQ.

“The idea behind SILQ comes from our deep belief about design. The visual language, performance language and material composition should come together to create something that’s truly unique,” said James Ludwig, vice president, global design and engineering in a corporate press release. “We took inspiration from aerospace, the motion of a high-performance prosthetic leg and sculpture, among other things, to understand how the combination of advanced materials and shape could create a simple system that is incredibly thin, extremely strong and highly responsive.” 

The goal was to replace scores of mechanisms in a chair with a simple structure.

The team first created a premium version of SILQ in carbon fiber. They continued prototyping and said they invented a new material and manufacturing process resulting in a high-performance polymer that behaves like carbon fiber.

“The way SILQ is shaped, what it is made of and the way it performs are inseparable,” continued Ludwig. “We pushed the boundaries of materials science and the material became the mechanism.”

According to Steelcase, “SILQ offers an expansive variety of material combinations, including digital printing options, to allow interior designers to create virtually limitless versions for their clients.”

 The chair will be available in the new high-performance polymer as well as carbon fiber. The starting list price for SILQ is $970 and will be available in North America and Asia in Spring of 2018. The carbon fiber version is expected to cost more than $3,000.

 No one from Steelcase was available to The Molding Blog to discuss the magic material. But Ludwig told one interviewer “it was developed using computer modeling to ensure it had similar properties to carbon fiber and would function within the chair in the same way.” He also says the chair is manufactured with a twist on injection molding.

Patents applied for, but none published to date.

All-new polymers—particularly one that rivals carbon composites—are not developed via computer modeling. They’re developed by chemists doing painstaking work for years in laboratories. It’s actually been quite a while since an all-new performance polymer has been invented.

Several publications, such as Wired, bought the story. Not so here.




Carbon Fiber, North America, Office Products

Look For Role of Bamboo To Grow

Look for bamboo’s role in bioplastics (and as a plastics replacement) to grow because of contributions in the climate change argument, as well as a program by China to boost its cultivation.

The case for bamboo is pretty impressive. It can grow as fast as 35 inches in a 24-hour period. And it’s the king of carbon sequestration.

According to the Economist, Chinese bamboo revenues have soared 500-fold since 1981. And they are expected to grow another 50 per cent in the next three years due to government subsidies.

Crushed bamboo is compounded with polypropylene, ABS or EVA rubber and made into a composite that is used in applications such as decking and fencing. One Chinese producer (Bamtec) says the bamboo improves the mechanical properties of the composite and also acts as a natural deodorant.

LG of Korea is developing a bioplastic for automotive interiors using TPO and starch derived from bamboo. GM is developing bamboo slats that can be used as interior trim. Mitsubishi is using bamboo as a reinforcing fiber in biodegradable plastic for interior car parts.

One American company that has developed a new bamboo application is Bamshaft of Arnold, Maryland. Inventor Paul Cain believes that bamboo makes an improved shaft material for lacrosse sticks, but the process is not easy.

Sugars must be removed to improve resistance to warping and cracking. One way is to treat the material with pressurized steam in an autoclave. Or, bamboo may be placed into a chemical bath of sodium hydroxide. Next, sections of bamboo are pressed flat to create layers and are then dried before joining.

The result is a flexible stick—warm to the touch– with tensile and shear that may exceed aluminum.

In a newly developed Chinese  broom, the handle is made from bamboo and the brushes are made from recycled plastic bottles.

Asia, Bioplastics ,

Synventive Targets Balanced Fill With Cavity Sensors

Synventive Molding Solutions, a unit of the Barnes Group, is developing controlled valve pin placement based on cavity sensor feedback in what is believed to be an industry first. A company spokesperson declined to comment on when the technology might be commercialized. A U.S. patent was issued Jan. 23.

Adjustments are carried out automatically by an algorithm executed by a controller receiving melt condition signals from sensors in the mold cavity.

In the Synventive invention, the simultaneous flow through each of multiple nozzles is made uniform by matching as closely as possible the rate of flow or profile of pin feedback that occurred in a test injection cycle.

For example, two sensors are used in the cavity of a 16-cavity mold. A sensor downstream of the gate is a temperature sensor with a user-defined trigger of 250F, with the upstream sensor (located near the entrance of the gate into the cavity) is a pressure sensor with a trigger of 5000 psi. The sensors provide input to a controller using data from the “perfect” test.

The invention addresses one of the key needs of markets such as automotive that require balanced fill for multi-cavity hot runner systems, which dramatically reduce waste and improve productivity.

Synventive describes itself as the leading global supplier of hot runner systems to the global automotive industry. It was founded in 1978 by Richard Devellian, Paul Swenson, Cam Stewart and Bob Eldridge in Gloucester, Massachusetts using technology developed for NASA. Synventive is now located in nearby Peabody.

This schematic drawing shows an electrically powered actuator interconnected to a valve pin that controls flow through a gate into a mold cavity having a single sensor for detecting injection material downstream of the gate. (USPTO)

Hot runner systems, Injection Molding, Molds & Moldmaking , ,

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