Google Invents Molding Process For Phone Lens

Injection molding is hot in Silicon Valley.

Apple has famously invented new technology for the molding of amorphous metals and composites, racking up more than 50 patents in its IP portfolio.

Now Google is getting in on the act.

Google Technology Holdings, Mountain View, California, was awarded a patent this week for injection molding a display for a phone or other mobile electronic device that it said overcomes limitations of previous versions, particularly breakage of the edges of the glass  lens.

In the invention, a stepped flange is added to the perimeter of a lens coated with liquid-repelling material. The lens is inserted in a mold. Plastic is injected to cover the perimeter, including the stepped flange. Optically clear light-curable resin goes on the rear surface of the transparent lens.

A display module is placed on the resin, which is then cured with at least one optical source. The housing is then molded, using the flange to help guard against edge breakage of the lens.

Patent drawing shows critical steps in Google invention. (USPTO)

Consumer Goods, Electronics, North America , ,

SABIC Strikes Gold With PC Glazing

SABIC stuck to its guns and is slowly starting to see substantial results from years-long efforts to advance polycarbonate glazing in cars.

The company announced today that the new-generation Buick GL8 and GL8 Avenir from SAIC General Motors (SGM) feature the world’s largest polycarbonate (PC) rear quarter window. It’s not a demonstration car—it’s one of the biggest sellers in the China market.

The new rear quarter window is 40 percent (3kg) lighter and more impact resistant than a glass window. Molded PC also offers design enhancements not possible with glass.

The new rear quarter window measures 1200mm by 450mm. (SABIC)

A new production facility for PC glazing in Yuyao City, China, built by supplier Ningbo Shentong Auto is the first mass production PC glazing line in the country. Manufacturing capabilities include the latest PC glazing technologies, including advanced two-component injection compression molding and flow coating processes. The second shot is ABS, which is used for the blackout areas.

SABIC provided technical assistance and transferred expertise to Shentong on part design, process simulation, equipment selection, testing, prototyping and coating.

“In addition to significant weight reduction, PC glazing allows for greater innovation than is now possible in glass, like design and styling freedom, thermal efficiency and parts integration,” said Jun Luo, Shentong’s deputy general manager. “With our investment in this new manufacturing capability, combined with the benefit of SABIC’s support and expertise, we are now in a strong position to help automakers realize the value from this technology and, ultimately, speed up its wide-scale adoption in the industry.”

SABIC said the ABS/PC combination meets the design and dimensional tolerance requirements of the large rear quarter window. A silicone hard coat protects the part against abrasion and weathering.

ABS, Asia, Automotive, Design, Green, Injection compression, Injection Molding, Polycarbonate , , ,

The Trump Presidency: Be Careful What You Wish For

Amid optimism that the incoming Trump administration will boost American manufacturing, officials of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), formerly known as SPI, are pressing for at least five regulatory reforms.

They are:

  • Timely development of regulations under the “new” Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The hope is that federal regulations will prevent “conflicting state-by-state rules which would make compliance impossible”.
  • PLASTICS wants the Trump Administration to remove the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) control of hazardous energy or lockout/tagout (LOTO) standard (29 CFR 1910.147).  The standard impedes application of newer, safer controls, in the trade group’s view.
  • Administration resolution of environmental rules that could increase electric power costs.
  • Withdrawal of the Department of Labor “Overtime Rule”, which could add “significant administrative burdens and greatly increase operating costs for all businesses in the US.”
  • Review of OSHA’s Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illness rule, which requires employers to submit injury and illness data to OSHA.

In a Webinar yesterday, PLASTICS CEO Bill Carteaux said that the list was reviewed with the Trump transition team in December, and that there is a feeling among business people that there could be a return to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president. Reagan famously took on unions such as the Teamsters and air traffic controllers and attempted to create a more business-friendly environment. Like Reagan, Trump also supports stimulation of the economy through large tax cuts.

Of course, there are some huge differences between the Reagan and Trump economic agendas, and the trade issue could be a tremendous problem for the American plastics industry, which enjoys a trade balance.

Reagan was a free-trader, and stated: “Our trade policy rests firmly on the foundation of free and open markets.” The Reagan administration launched the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations in 1986 that lowered global tariffs and created the World Trade Organization.

Trump wants to renegotiate or dump NAFTA, and slap a 35 percent tariff on products made in Mexico and sold in the U.S. He also wants to impose similar tariffs on Chinese imports, which could spark a trade war. He also opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The American plastics industry has an $11 billion trade surplus with Mexico, and also has a trade surplus with Canada.

As Trump takes office, plastics manufacturing in the United States is in very good shape, particularly in comparison to 2008-9 when financial deregulation contributed to the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, and the liquidation of many plastics processors.  

According to a report reviewed by Carteaux, the American plastics industry generated $418 billion in shipments in 2015. Another $153 billion was generated by upstream businesses. Employment in plastics manufacturing industry grew 0.3 percent annually from 1980 and 2015, while employment in all of U.S. manufacturing fell 1.2 percent per year during that period. That reflects growing penetration of plastics in transportation lightweighting, medical and other applications, as well as the beneficial impact of the shale oil boom.

No doubt PLASTICS has a case for what seems a modest regulatory wish list, and undoubtedly there was a federal regulatory overreaction since 2009, particularly in the financial realm. It’s hoped we can also expect good news on taxes, including on the R&D tax credit  at the very least.

But the trade position of President-elect Trump could create dangerous consequences for all American businesses.




Management, North America

ThyssenKrupp Will Build Its First Commercial PLA Plant

Cofco, a state-owned food processing company, is building a plant in Changchun, China to produce 10,000 metric tons per year of polylactic acid (PLA), arguably the most important of a large and growing range of bioplastics.  

The new Cofco plant will be the first to use a new PLA production technology developed by ThyssenKrupp and subsidiary Uhde Inventa-Fischer, which has built some 450 plants to produce plastics.

About eight years ago, scientists at ThyssenKrupp began work on its own manufacturing process for PLA in conjunction with Uhde Inventa-Fischer. A pilot plant with a capacity of 500 tons per year was built in 2010 in Guben, Germany to demonstrate the process, which is called PLAneo.

Commissioning of the Chinese plant is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018. ThyssenKrupp is providing engineering, key plant components and supervision of erection and commissioning for the facility. 

The biggest producer of PLA is NatureWorks, which has a nameplate capacity of 150,000 metric tons at a plant in Blair, Nebraska. Plans to build a wordscale plant in Thailand with partner PTT in Thailand are still on hold. Corbion and Total are building a plant in Thailand with a capacity of 75,000 metric tons. Nantong Jiuding Biological Engineering has a PLA production capacity of 3,000 metric tons per year in China. Zhejiang Hisun Biomaterials Co., has a 5,000 metric tons per year PLA plant in China. Corn is the most commonly used feedstock for PLA in China.

PLA demand is growing around 20 percent annually, still from a small base. Most of the current market has been created as a result of marketing efforts by NatureWorks. Half of the global capacity is expected to be based in Asia by 2022, even though demand there lags large western markets

Asia, Bioplastics, Packaging , , ,

Boeing Invents New Composite Molding Process

Boeing is developing a new technology to improve molding of large carbon composite structures for aircraft, including large fuselage sections with integral stringers and co-bonded frames.

A newly awarded patent details methods and equipment to reduce thickness gradients in molded composite parts caused by gravity-induced settling of the resin during curing.

In the Boeing invention, a composite fiber structure is formed by injecting resin into composite fiber layup, and then rotated to reduce gravity-induced migration of the resin through the layup. The goal is to reduce the vertical gradient to less than about 10 percent. Rotation continues until resin flow stops.

It appears Boeing is trying to speed up production of composite parts improving the molding process. The patent states: “Vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) is being used more frequently to mold large composite structures, such as sections of aircraft.”

VARTM is preferred to conventional RTM because it eliminates matched-metal tooling costs, reduces volatile emissions and allows for low injection pressures. In VARTM process, vacuum pressure is used to force liquid resin into dry composite reinforcements (preforms) that have been laid in a sealed mold.

The “mold” can be just a soft bag enclosing the entire structure to be molded. Resin is pulled into the mold through vacuum pressure.

The patent further states: “When molding relatively large structures, such as an aircraft fuselage, gravitational effects on resin flow behavior can create undesirable thickness gradients in the finished structure. These gradients, which may approach 25 percent or more, result from the fact that the force imposed by gravity tends to draw the flowing resin downwardly toward the bottom of the molded structure during the curing process.”

Bottom wall thickness can be significantly greater than wall thickness near the top of the structure, reducing the integrity of the molded structure, and adding unwanted weight.

Boeing famously pioneered use of carbon composites on the Dreamliner 787, but had to develop much of the technology itself, including the large autoclaves used to cure fuselage and wing sections. More than half of the airframe is composites, eliminating the need for 1,500 sheets of aluminum and up to 50,000 fasteners.

Patent drawing shows a fuselage section (10) with cobonded frame members (12) and stringers (14). The goal of the invention is to reduce bottom wall thickness (16). (USPTO)

Aircraft, Carbon Composites, Design, Epoxy, North America, Resin Transfer Molding , , ,

Tiny Brush Is Produced in Highly Automated Cell

Engel and two partners will show an interesting display of cell integration at Plastec West that was first shown at K2016 last October.

An all-plastic interdental brush developed by pheneo of Bremen, Germany, will be produced in an eight-cavity mold on a clean room Engel e-motion 170/110. Automated functions include taking out eight brushes, a sampling inspection of each 50th shot and the packaging of two shots each in a pouch. Use of a metal insert is not needed because even the bristles are injection molded.

Brushes with up to 500 bristles can be molded in an integrated process. (Photo: Engel)

Brush take out occurs at a typical speed of less than one second. The gripping surface, i.e. the surface of the product that the grippers can touch, is 10×10 millimeters. The brushes are held in the grippers using vacuum suction. After take out, the gripper moves to a shuttle plate, where it places the parts in specially designed holes.

Every 50th shot is driven to the left to a camera module. The other shots go directly to packaging. Five photos are made of the sample piece. Total shot weight is 1.93 grams (0.004 pound).

The mold is supplied by Hack Formenbau (Kirchheim unter Teck, Germany) and Hekuma (Eching, Germany) is responsible for the automation. A specially formulated polypropylene/TPE compound provides stability for the grip and core, while at the same time allowing for a soft bristle. The name of the compounder was not disclosed.

Plastics West will be held Feb. 7-9 in Anaheim, California.

Automation/Robots, Consumer Goods, Injection Molding, Injection Molding, Molds & Moldmaking , ,

CES 2017: China Dominates Molding

More than 200,000 people are expected to pack into Las Vegas this week to attend the 50th Consumer Electronics Show, now called just CES. It’s become a must-attend show to see the latest gadgets and smart gear, from drones to self-driving cars.

Needless to say, plastics are an important part—if not an enabling technology– of just about every item on exhibit, whether it’s a new type of optical film for an enormous HDR television or a complex molded part incorporating electronics.

I counted 18 exhibitors at CES 2017 whose primary focus is injection molding or using another process to manufacture plastic parts. That’s among thousands of exhibitors spread out over 2.6 million net square feet of three separate venues anchored by the Las Vegas Convention Center. For comparison, NPE 2015 had 1.1 million net square feet.

All but one of the 18 I counted are Chinese. None are from the United States or Germany, although companies such as Delphi, Lego and Magna that do captive molding are exhibiting.

The sheer dominance of the Chinese molders in the field of consumer electronics is compellingly—and maybe disturbingly– clear at CES 2017. And to think when I visited Hong Kong in 1993, Nypro had just set up shop in Hong Kong to introduce advanced injection molding to China. Nypro (now part of Jabil) started making precision molds in China five years later, and benefitted greatly from the mobile phone manufacturing boom. Nypro now operates four plants in China. Jabil Optical is exhibiting at CES, but not Nypro.

I certainly don’t feel that punitive tariffs are the answer, but there needs to be more encouragement of U.S. electronics molding through technology grants, Buy America programs, and technical training.  





Electronics, North America ,

IMD Boosts Appearance of Auto Panels

Leonhard Kurz of Fürth, Germany, is introducing several new ways to decorate molded plastic parts.

In one example, overmolded composite parts are in-mold decorated, replacing expensive lacquering and polishing processes. The one-step process using foil was developed in collaboration with machine builder Engel and Bond Laminates, a specialist in composites.

The mold technology requires perfect bonding of the Tepex composite and plastic material. Injection molds had to be developed that would ensure a stable injection molding and coating process. A special foil-feeding unit was also developed.

Auto panels are backlit at night in decorating innovation from Kurz.

In a separate development, Kurz has developed systems to manufacture decorated plastic components with embedded sensors.

According to Kurz, plastic parts have predominantly been manually equipped with sensors using expensive OCA (optically clear adhesives). Integration processes developed by Kurz are said to enable sensors to be applied very quickly and economically by machine.

In another example, automotive plastic components can be lit at night or piano black during the day.

Automotive, In-Mold Decorating, In-mold labeling (IML) ,

Disney Seeks More Realistic Robots

Disney is turning to high-tech processes such as 3D scanning and 3D printing to make robotic characters in Star Wars films and amusement park rides more human-looking.

In a patent application published Dec. 15, Disney Enterprises described new technology to produce injection molded skins on robots that feature wrinkles and other human charcteristics.

Current approaches, the company said, are very labor-intensive, expensive and lack reality.

“While many advances have been made in realistically simulating the physical movement and facial movement of a character, problems with maintaining a realistic or desired movement or facial animation still occur when the robotics (e.g., internal components of a robot including mechanical/structural portions as well as software, hardware, power systems, and the like) are covered with a skin or skin system.”

The new approach starts with a 3D scan of an object, such as a person’s hand. The digital information is then 3D printed to form a mold core. Parts are then injection molded with an elastomeric material, such as TPE.

“It is likely that the interest in robotics will continue to expand in the coming years, and a growing area of interest is how to provide robots that appear more realistic,” Disney stated in the patent application.

It’s estimated that the new approach will reduce manual labor by 20 to 30 percent, while also increasing quality.

Automation of what Disney calls “physical face cloning” has been a goal for more than four years.

Illustration depicts a mold cavity with a model of a human figure. (USPTO

Illustration depicts a mold cavity with a model of a human finger. (USPTO)

Additive manufacturing, Consumer Goods, Elastomers, Injection Molding, North America

Airbus Targets High-Heat Resins With Proprietary SLS Process

Airbus is commercializing a new additive manufacturing technology designed to permit greater use of high-performance engineering plastics such as polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), polyetheretherketone (PEEK), PBT-type polyester, various polyamides, polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), and PARA (polyarylamide), which is usually highly loaded with glass.

The process has been tested in a modified 3D Systems Sinterstation HiQ + HS.

Laser sintered ThermoMELT PAEK part showing support structures. (Airbus)

Laser sintered ThermoMELT PAEK part showing support structures. (Airbus)

“The process is currently in a TRL3 which means that we have enough data to confidently say that the process works, ensure the powders recyclability and achieve almost isotropic results,” says  Thiago Medeiros Araujo, a consultant research engineer at Airbus Group Innovations and Founder at Freeform Printing Ltd., Bristol., U.K.

Materials’ development partners to date include Lehman & Voss, Arkema, Victrex and Toray. Other partners include LSS Sinter Service and German service bureau Rauch CNC.

Thiago Medeiros Araujo shows ThermoMELT part.

Thiago Medeiros Araujo shows ThermoMELT part.

Araujo said he could not provide specific details about the process. ”What I can say is that the hardware changes are the addition of a build plate to act as substrate and other changes to ensure a better heat distribution and more precise laser applications. In the software side the changes aim to allow the execution of an Airbus proprietary laser application.”

In currently available SLS approaches for high-heat plastics, parts and powder experience “massive aging effects” due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. The Airbus process, called ThermoMELT takes place at lower temperatures.

Airbus is currently discussing licenses with potential users of the technology.

Additive manufacturing, Aircraft, Europe , , , ,