Injection molded metals have their say at medical event

By: Tony Deligio 15. April 2014

Engel hosted a West Coast Medical Day event last week at its Corona, Calif. technical center, and while plastics dominated the agenda, the Austrian injection molding machine and automation supplier invited speakers from a metal molding customer and a new technology partner who gave attendees a glimpse into another side of injection molding.

Liquidmetal Technologies, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., only has two licensees for its amorphous metals, but the fact that one of them is Apple has garnered the company a great deal of attention. Paul Hauck, VP worldwide sales and support for Liquidmetal is new to his position (five weeks in when he presented in Corona), but not the industry, bringing 27 years of experience in metal injection molding.

As it pushes to broaden commercialization of its moldable alloy, which was initially discovered by NASA during research in the 1960s, Liquidmetal has sought partners, reaching an agreement with Engel in 2010 to supply machines especially outfitted to mold Liquidmetal, and a deal in 2011 with Materion Corp., to produce the specialty alloy.

Hauck laid out Liquidmetal’s intellectual property position—the company has 58 U.S. patents with more than 50 pending—and then got into the unique characteristics of the material and its process, infusing his presentation with knowing commentary of the limits and strengths of traditional metal injection molding.

At various points, Hauck compared the precision of Liquidmetal against die casting, MIM, investment casting, and machining, saying the molded alloy could hold tolerances within ±.1, putting it on par with machining and ahead of the others. “Liquidmetal shines in areas with very high part complexity,” Hauck said.

One slide compared the strength (in MPa), hardness, strength-to-weight ratio, and elasticity of Liquidmetal Alloy versus magnesium, aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel, with its alloy—a mix of zirconium, nickel, beryllium, calcium, and titanium— besting those metals, often by quite a bit. Hauck noted that the individual components of the alloy have very high melting temperatures, but combined together in the alloy, they melt at 720 C with a density of 6g/cm3.

A key differentiator from traditional MIM: Liquidmetal molding produces near net shape parts (shrinkage of only .2%), where MIM components can shrink as much as 20% and require the secondary processes of debinding and sintering. Post-molding Hauk said all a Liquidmetal part requires is degating.

In terms of the molding machine, Hauck showed a Schwertberg-made Engel eMotion, that instead of a traditional reciprocating screw injection system, features an induction heating system, which draws a vacuum and warms to 700 C, with a plunger to feed the melt. The material, which comes in ingots versus the powder/binder mix of MIM, is automatically fed via a modified loading section.

Liquidmetal is currently undertaking ISO 10993 parts 4, 5, 10, and 11 biocompatibility testing, a necessary step for greater medical adoption, and Hauck noted that the preliminary results “were very good.” Finished Liquidmetal parts are corrosion resistant and non-magnetic, with a very fine surface finish. “If you have a polished tool,” Hauck said, “you’re going to have a polished part.”

Hauck said the machines can create parts as heavy as 80g, with a maximum shot size of 100g. If individual parts weigh 5g or less, tools of 32 or 64 cavities are possible. From a design standpoint, Hauck said components should have radii, and given that shrink rate of .2%, some draft is required. Wall thickness can range from 1 to 4 mm, but Hauck cautioned that if designs go thicker, the finished components risk crystallization in the thicker sections, negating the inherent strength of the amorphous structure. It is that feature which makes Liquidmetal particularly compelling.

“Liquidmetal has the name ‘metallic glass’,” Hauck said, “but that’s deceiving. Technically it is true but the finished material is still quite flexible.” To prove this, Hauck showed videos of Liquidmetal test plaques being flexed mechanically but returning to their original shape, while other metals were permanently deformed.


Oregon-based MIM molder expands sales into China
Hauck’s presentation was followed by former MIM colleague, John O’Donnell, medical market manager and senior applications engineer at Kinetics Climax, an Oregon based metal injection molding company that has standardized on Engel presses since its inception in the 1980s as Injection Molded Metal Products.

Today, Kinetics has 400 employees operating 25 hybrid and hydraulic injection molding machines 24/7 to produce 60 million parts annually.

That output, and the current repeatability of the MIM process, reflect the technology’s maturation from its birth in the 1970s. “Even though MIM is a 35-year-old technology,” O’Donnell said, “it’s really just starting to grow because it’s taken about half that time to perfect it and make it the robust process it is today.”

For his part, Hauck estimated that MIM is growing anywhere from 15-30% per year and now constitutes a $5 billion industry.

That growth is felt acutely at Kinetics, which O’Donnell noted is “bursting at the seams” and weighing an expansion. From a sales standpoint, it has already increased its reach, recently opening a sales office in Shanghai from which its able to sell Chinese customers MIM parts molded in the U.S.

Whether it’s MIM, Liquidmetal, machining or something else, Hauck noted that savvy engineers will listen to the part’s design to find the right process for its fabrication. “With any given part,” Hauck said, “it seems like it always wants to find its way back to the right process. [Liquidmetal] is not trying to chase applications that are the wrong fit.” 

Proprietary barrier pits PET against PP/EVOH packaging

By: Tony Deligio 9. April 2014

Mullinix Packages Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind., was an early mover in the thermoformed PET packaging space, helping pioneer the use of CPET in the early 1980s, according to Tim Love, VP sales and marketing at the company.

Speaking at this year’s Packaging Conference, Love detailed Mullinix’s work to further advance PET, pairing it with a proprietary oxygen scavenger developed with packaging innovator, Boh Tsai, a holder of  patents at American Can, Amoco, and Ciba, helped to create “glass-clear” packaging that can maintain zero oxygen permeation for more than 4 years. Even at that point, the company says the amount of headspace oxygen is still lower than the initial oxygen.

Love said Oxy Rx prevents oxidation of foods and drinks, protecting flavor, with clarity for low-temperature APET applications, as well as the ability to be crystallized into an opaque package that can withstand retort sterilization of 260 F and microwave and conventional oven reheating to 400 F. In addition, the packaging is still recyclable in the PETE recycling stream.

Among its other novelties is a “designable” shelf life of anywhere from 4, 12, 18, or 24 months. The gaudy zero-oxygen-permeation-over-4-years test results were actually achieved in a package with a very high surface to volume ratio and fairly thin (20 mils) sidewalls. Perhaps most novel: that that barrier can be put on hold until its needed.

“We can create a dormant state,” Love said. “We can put [Oxy Rx] to sleep for a period of time until it needs to be used. That way, we're saving the capacity for that scavenger to be effective.” In one slide, Love showed testing where the packaging didn’t start consuming oxygen until after 14 days in inventory.

Love said there are some limits to the “incubation period,” but that processors have enough of a window to make it practical to build up package inventory prior to filling.

In response to Plastics Technology questions, Love estimated the potential market size for thermoformed PET utilizing Oxy Rx technology at $150 million. At this time, there are no commercial products on the market using the technology, but there are several applications undergoing tests to confirm shelf life. Love wouldn’t comment on the let-down ratio for Oxy Rx, or what percent of a finished sheet it comprises, noting that that information would be proprietary and ultimately depend on the required shelf life.

Plastics Diplomacy

By: Tony Deligio 9. April 2014

On a visit to the machinery manufacturer’s Taoyuan, Taiwan facility (pictured), Aran Chao, sales director for Chen Hsong subsidiary, Asian Plastics Machinery (APM), listed the top five export markets for the company as:


  1. China
  2. India
  3. Brazil
  4. Turkey
  5. Iran


Chao said Iran’s emergence as a top market for its machines coincided with global thawing of relations with the Islamic Republic following last year’s nuclear accord. In fact, during a tour of the company’s assembly facility, Chao noted that a majority of the completed injection molding machines in one factory bay would soon be headed 4000 miles west to Iran.


The Chen Hsong group, including APM, serves the middle east from an office and warehouse located within a free trade zone in Dubai. If Iran can build out a downstream plastics processing sector to support its massive natural gas and petrochemical resources, that office, and other equipment sellers in the region, might need to expand.

Production of polymers and plastic products is slated to jump from 800,000 tons today to 11 million tons by 2015, per the National Iranian Petrochemical Industry Development Plan. If successful, the productive capacity of Iran’s plastics industry will rise from 0.5% of the global total to 3.8%.

According to a GlobalData report entitled “Plastics Industry in the Middle East - Increased Focus on Downstream Petrochemicals to Drive the Sector”:


The Middle East already has a large downstream petrochemicals industry and this move will further boost the downstream petrochemical capacity in the region. Diversification drive will also encourage the plastic processing industry which is currently very small and scattered.


In short, diplomatic success could soon translate to business success for the Persian plastics industry.  

Time to Get Drying Right

By: James Callari 7. April 2014

It’s one of the most nettlesome of issues…resin drying. Even the most grizzled of molders is often vexed by it. Well coming in the May issue there might be a solution to your resin-drying problems.


You’ll be receiving your May issue with a supplement—as in another publication.  We’re calling this supplemental publication Drying Done Right. It will contain materials tips from our noted Materials Know How columnist Mike Sepe; equipment tips from injection molding wizard John Bozzelli, frequent author of our Injection Molding Know How column; and an article highlighting molders and extrusion processors who are on top of their game when it comes to drying hygroscopic materials and were willing to share their secrets about it with us.


So look for this supplement with the regular May issue of Plastics Technology. Both publications will come at the same time in a polybag.


Meantime, check out our Drying Knowledge Center and Drying Zone for more insights on this critical topic.

Photo of dryer desiccant bed courtesy of Dri-Air Industries

How Many of Your Employees Stick Around This Long?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 2. April 2014

One thing that everyone in plastics processing can agree on is that good people are hard to find. And one thing that I find successful processors have in common is that they have nurtured and held onto a loyal, experienced crew of long-term employees. I’m sure many of you are proud of—and grateful for—your 10-, 15-, and 20-year veterans. But how many of you can match this:

Moldmaker Richard Benn just hung up his tools after 50 years at family-owned custom thermoformer Ray Products in Ontario, Calif. He started as a toolmaker at the company when it was at its original location in Alhambra, Calif., on Feb. 17, 1964, hired by founders Allen and Margaret Ray. Benn retired on Feb. 17, 2014, exactly 50 years later to the day. He was given a send-off by Brian Ray, third-generation president of the company. As a retirement gift, Benn received the keys to a brand-new Chevy Silverado pickup. Richard’s old truck had 300,000 miles on it, and the company thought a new one would be a good way to send him off into retirement.

When Benn started, his duties were building small thermoform tools and fixtures for trimming and bonding. Over the years, as Ray Products expanded from 750 ft2 to 48,000 ft2, and its manufacturing scope shifted from baby bassinets in the 1950s and ’60s to computer enclosures in the ’70s and to today’s repertoire from DNA-sequencer parts to solar-energy modules, Benn showed his ability to adapt and keep pace with changing technology.

“Ray Products will miss its most loyal employee, but we wish him all the best as he embarks on this exciting new chapter in his life,” said Ray. “These days, it’s rare to find employees who come into a job with his level of dedication. But Richard is the kind of employee every company owner dreams of. We have benefited tremendously from his work and are honored by his 50 years of service.”

“It’s been quite a journey,” responded Benn. “I’ve watched this company grow leaps and bounds, and I am proud to be a part of that success. I have known the Ray family for 50 years, and Ray Products and its employees are like a second home. I’ve had a great run and now it’s time to pass the torch.” Benn says he plans lots of travel, visiting family and putting some miles on the motorhome.

Photo:  Ray, Benn, and Daniel Sweet, v.p. of operations, stand in front of the new truck, Benn’s retirement present. Sweet himself received a lifetime achievement award from the SPE Thermoforming Div. in 2011.

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