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 ,

Walmart’s Buy America Program Is Falling Woefully Short

With much fanfare, Walmart announced a buy America program in 2013. It was obviously an important development because Walmart after all was the company that created the “China Price” by demanding that American suppliers meet the same price as the Chinese supplier. Walmart committed to hike its U.S. purchases by $250 billion by 2023.

Well, the program came with a hitch. The China Price was still in effect. Walmart would give preference to America suppliers, but only if they could meet the same price as the Chinese supplier. And this after Walmart and other multinational giants had helped level several American manufacturing sectors, notably electronics and textiles.

What is the status of the program?

Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart’s VP of U.S. Manufacturing, told me in early 2015 that the program was on plan, but that the next 12 to 14 months would be the most challenging. At that time, the company had a handful of success stories, but was not willing to put a dollar figure on the amount of additional buying in the United States.

A group called the Reshoring Initiative (which describes itself as a partner of Walmart’s) reported in mid-2015 that Walmart had supported at least 43 suppliers to add 4,579 or more U.S. manufacturing jobs since the initiative began. Still, no dollar figure, Walmart’s own benchmark. The jobs’ number is up to 7,000, according to a recent Bloomberg article. That’s 243,000 short of the goal.

Walmart’s program seems like a PR gimmick. And maybe it is. But there are some good things about it.

  • At least Walmart understands that the decline of U.S. manufacturing is a problem. It’s in Walmart’s best interest to have a healthy U.S. supply base. There are many reasons. If the political climate changes, many Chinese sources could be cut off. Manufacturing creates a well-paid middle class—Walmart customers.
  • Walmart has funded some research initiatives in what it calls an effort to rebuild American manufacturing expertise. I wrote about two in plastics tooling.  The effort strikes me as token, and a bit odd in its choices, but at least it’s an effort.
  • In cases reported by its PR group, Walmart has helped a few U.S. suppliers get more business. At its U.S. Manufacturing Summit held in June, Walmart agreed to list virtually all of the supplier ideas on Walmart.com. That’s a big difference from shelf space, but at least it’s something.

If Cindi Marsiglio’s reckoning is correct, the critical period for the development of the program has now passed. And there isn’t much to show for it.

 

 

 

 

Consumer Goods, Management, North America ,

EU Opens Investigation of Dow-DuPont Merger

Shareholders of Dow and DuPont recently approved the merger of their two companies, but regulators, particularly in Europe, may have a major say in the outcome.

The European Union opened an investigation into the potential for reduced competition in crop protection, seeds and polyolefins. Recent concessions offered by the companies are “insufficient to clearly dismiss its serious doubts”, the EU reported.

While there is more concern about impact on the agricultural sector than on plastics, the ag chemicals consolidation is the driver of the combination and any meaningful changes could upset the value of the deal to shareholders. The EU has until Dec. 20 to take a stand.

From my viewpoint, it’s hard to see a huge problem from a plastics perspective. The plan is to create three standalone companies, including one that focuses on materials.

The proposed $51 billion material science company will include DuPont’s Performance Materials segment, as well as Dow’s Performance Plastics, Performance Materials and Chemicals, Infrastructure Solutions, and Consumer Solutions (excluding the Dow Electronic Materials business) operating segments. Dow’s focus is on polyolefins primarily used in packaging and DuPont’s focus is on engineering plastics primarily used in automotive and other technical markets.

From a regulatory perspective, the plastics businesses are a good fit, but it’s not a particularly good fit from a synergistic point of view. I stick to my previous thought that it would make sense for SABIC to trade its engineering plastics assets to the new Dow DuPont materials company in exchange for its fracking-related olefin assets. The resulting company would be an American powerhouse with a great mix of crystalline and semi-crystalline engineering plastics. 

The really bad news about the merger is that R&D efforts will be gutted as short-sighted investors dig for maximum profits. That’s an unfortunate industry trend in engineering plastics. SABIC recently closed its plastics development center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

As a side note, it will be interesting to see the companies at K2016 in October. DuPont and Dow will have their traditional presences in Halls 6 and 8, respectively, and company officials are sure to say that “it’s business as usual” while they are privately passing resumes to competitive companies.  

DuPont had interesting and important press conferences in Europe and the United States before K2013, but has been quiet this year. The long-tenured media person who arranged the American press conference was part of the large DuPont layoffs at the end of last year. Dow seems to be putting a little more oomph into its planning with a booth themed “Face of Innovation”. Kudos to President Jim Fitterling who addresses the elephant in the room in a K2016 welcome video on YouTube.

Automotive, North America, Packaging , ,

What Will Come After the Reciprocating Screw?

The reciprocating screw has been the gold standard for melt plastication since the 1950-60s when it was adopted by a few forward-thinking injection molders like Bob Cervenka at Phillips Plastics in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Sixty years is a long time when you think how fast other technology–ranging from genomics to digital media–has developed just in the past 10 years.

Herwig Juster, a processing specialist (and clearly a thinker), asks in a recent post on LinkedIn: “Reciprocating screws: successful since ever, but what will happen in the future?”

He offers some ideas, but he doesn’t go all Star Trek on us.

Here is a brief summary of his thoughts:

  1. Initially there will be improvements in screws through better understanding of the distribution of melt temperatures in the barrel. A university research group is proposing use of an online ultrasonic sensor-based system that determines the axial profile of the melt temperature in the screw chamber and channels via reflection. “Consequently, though the principle of the reciprocating screw will remain, new screw designs may finally arise in a near future to meet the requirements of processing ultra and high performance plastics, such as PI, PEEKs, PAEKs, etc.”
  2. New approaches such as ultrasonic injection molding hold promise in the micro world. “Overall, this is a totally new concept of injection molding, which requires new strategies for process control as well. Let’s see how this technology develops, but it looks certainly promising in businesses, such as healthcare and watch manufacturing for instance.”
  3. Another idea is inverse screw molding. The melting benefits of a screw are coupled with the precision of injection with a plunger, says Juster. Also, screw flights for conveying the into melt are built into the cylinder.

OK, these are pretty much existing technologies. What does come after the reciprocating screw for mainsteam injection molding? In the 1950s, newspapers were produced with behemoth, man-operated machines  that converted bars of lead into rows of letters that were assembled by the hundreds into blocks that became newspaper pages. Today, newspapers are produced digitally and are virtual anachronisms themselves.

I’m giving Juster, who earned his engineering degree in 2012 from an Austrian university, a lot of credit for putting some thought into this interesting question. I’m also giving him props for giving William Willerts credit for inventing the reciprocating screw. He may or may not be aware that there was controversy back in the day about whether the reciprocating screw was an American or German invention. There was also controversy about whether the technology was adopted faster in the U.S. or Germany.

All I know is what the late, great John Reib, founder of Conair, once told me. He had been impressed with the reciprocating screw machines he had seen at a K Fair in the late 1950s. Some others in the American industry belittled the trend as a passing fad. And that was the case with Bob Cervenka’s competitors who in 1964 were still wedded to the plunger-type machines.

Change will be coming, but maybe it will just be evolutionary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Injection Molding

Co-Injection Buoys Milacron In ‘Soft’ Economy

Pricing pressures are growing in the sale of plastics processing equipment, officials of Milacron said in a recent conference call. Weak pricing had a negative impact of 1.4 percent in the April-through-June (second) quarter and the effect is expected to grow to 2 percent in the third quarter.

Chief Financial Officer Bruce Chalmers told stock analysts that conversion of bids on large projects to hard orders is “lumpy” and one of the areas of weakening pricing. Another area of weak pricing is hot runner sales in China.

Injection molding allows removal of elements that impede recyclability of coffee pods. Tests on recycling are positive, but the jury is still out on the real effectiveness of the approach.

Injection molding allows removal of elements that impede recyclability of coffee pods. Tests on recycling are positive, but the jury is still out on the real effectiveness of the approach.

Milacron reported organic growth of 6.6 percent in the second quarter, driven in part by strong sales of co-injection systems. Milacron sells a patented, proprietary co-injection nozzle that allows two different resins to be combined in a single 3-layer melt stream.

One big hit is Kortec co-injection equipment used to produce recyclable coffee pods. One early adopter is Keurig Green Mountain, which last year sold more than 9 billion single-serve plastic coffee pods. Keurig’s new pod uses polypropylene to replace a plastic blend, and injection molding in place of thermoforming. Keurig says the new cups will make up half of its supply by 2018 and all by 2020.

Milacron also sold its first Klear Can production system. Customers were not disclosed.

Overall, Milacron presented a positive picture of its performance in 2016 given “a soft macro environment” particularly in Europe.

The first Klear Can production system was recently delivered. The technology was introduced at NPE2015.

The first Klear Can production system was recently delivered. The technology was introduced at NPE2015.

Milacron Chief Executive Officer, Tom Goeke said: “The second quarter developed in line with our expectations, as continued end market and geographic stabilization led to organic sales growth within our APPT and MDCS segments.  Orders were robust at 8.5 percent constant currency growth, driven by our APPT and MDCS segments…We remain on track to deliver our full year commitment.”

Milacron Chief Financial Officer, Bruce Chalmers added, “Our adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was slightly ahead of our expectations with a 20 basis point improvement, driven by favorable mix within our MDCS segment and the benefits of our general fixed cost optimization actions from the prior year in our Fluids segment.  We are also pleased that our free cash flow generation in the second quarter maintained its early 2016 momentum, as our financial flexibility continues to increase.”

Hot runner systems, Injection Molding, North America, Packaging, polypropylene , , ,