NAFTA, Plastics & President Trump

By: Tony Deligio 2. December 2016

The build-up and hype around the election of a U.S. president is ultimately a bit anticlimactic given yawning gap between the confetti and balloons of election night and the hand-on-the-Bible of an inauguration.


The 73 days between Donald Trump’s stunning Nov. 8 victory and his assumption of the presidency on Jan. 20 feels even longer than its two months and 12 days, mostly because of the amount of uncertainty in the country.


That November to January gap is usually filled with speculation about how the new administration, assuming there’s no incumbent, will run the country. As much as any speculation is informed, the guesswork here draws on what a candidate campaigned on and the early makeup of his or her cabinet.


Taken at his word, President-elect Trump, among other things, has issued a consistently hard line on free-trade agreements, promising renegotiation for existing ones, like NAFTA, and abandonment of new ones, like the Trans Pacific Partnership. In the case of NAFTA, the potential impact on plastics can’t be understated.


According to SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association’s December 2015 Global Trends Report, the U.S.’s largest trade surpluses in resin, plastic products, plastics machinery and molds were with Mexico. Per the report:


In 2014, as in previous years, the U.S. plastics industry had its largest surplus with Mexico. The surplus with Mexico is attributable to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). U.S. plastics companies are taking advantage of duty-free access into Mexico’s market given the country’s close proximity.


In 2014, the U.S. plastics industry exported a total of $15.8 billion in plastics-related goods to Mexico, with a total trade surplus of $11.1 billion. Again, for each of the major categories, Mexico was the No. 1 market in terms of surplus.


Resin: $6.7 billion surplus with Mexico.


Plastic products: $4.0 billion surplus with Mexico.

Moldmaking: $283 million surplus with Mexico.


Machinery: $215 million surplus with Mexico.


As far as plastics goods and equipment are concerned, NAFTA has been beneficial to U.S. companies if you judge the “winner” in a trade deal by the direction trade predominantly flows. An argument against the deal could be made on behalf of plastics workers whose jobs have been displaced by NAFTA, but on the whole, employment in the plastics industry has been on the rise over the last two decades, according to SPI.


On Nov. 23, the German Plastics and Rubber Machinery Assn. (VDMA) released its latest report noting that in 2015, the U.S. had overtaken China to regain first place among the most important markets for German machinery.


U.S. imports reached a record 719 million euro in 2015—almost three times the level of 2009’s market nadir. VDMA also used the release to call out strong growth in Mexico and tie it to America’s resurgence.


In 2015, VDMA reported that exports of German plastics and rubber machinery to our southerly neighbor were nearly 50% higher than 2014, pushing Mexico to fourth place among Germany’s most important markets.


The VDMA went further, editorializing as much as is possible in such a report, noting:


The Mexican market’s strong rate of growth may also be explained by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has dismantled trade barriers in the region.

It went further yet in a paragraph under the head, “U.S. and Mexico will continue to be important markets in the future”, leaving no doubt where it stands on NAFTA.


Owing to the high level of demand for plastics, plastic packaging in particular, German plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers expect sales to the U.S. and Mexico to remain strong. Existing free trade agreements are of fundamental importance for this; any form of protectionism on the other hand will be damaging to the business activities of all concerned.— Thorsten Kühmann, VDMA Managing Director


I recently completed a swing through Chicago and Milwaukee, visiting six companies over two days. Every single company on the trip had ties to Mexico, most of those with physical operations there. Every company spoke about the strength of their current business, but they were also unanimous in their uncertainty about the future.


With one month and 18 days until Donald Trump stands across from Chief Justice John Roberts, lots of people in plastics are wondering what differences, if any, they’ll see in regards to trade policy between candidate Trump and President Trump. 


Finagling the Flow: Making Viscosity Work For You In Molding

By: Garrett MacKenzie 30. November 2016

Viscosity represents a broad concept with huge effects on any efforts to standardize an injection molding process. It is also one of the most important weapons in a molder’s arsenal for making process changes.


This article will first explain viscosity, and then delve into different situations where it may help or be hurt the goals of zero scrap and high output. It is important to understand that viscosity can be both an effective tool, and a cause for failure, as processors strive to optimize and standardize processes.


Viscosity: Viscosity as it relates to plastic injection is the measurement of how thick or thin a material flows. A good comparison would be the difference between molasses and water. If you were to pour water and molasses at the same time, water would flow much more easily than the molasses. Molasses is thick, and flows slowly. Water is thinner, and flows much faster. Molasses would be considered to be high viscosity, and water would be low viscosity.


The same terminology applies to different materials in injection molding. Materials that are low viscosity flow thinly and quickly, while high viscosity materials flow thickly and slowly. For instance, nylon flows thinner and faster than styrene, thus nylon has a lower viscosity than styrene. Styrene falls in the middle of the material scale, and is considered to be the mean. As such, materials that are at a higher viscosity than styrene are recorded as positive. Materials that are a lower viscosity than styrene are recorded in MSDS data with negative values.


Viscosity vs. Temperature
Temperature plays an important role in adjusting viscosity, under these general rules of thumb: Adding heat will lower the viscosity of a material, boosting the speed of flow. It is important to note here, however, that higher temperatures add to cycle time, and there is a point when higher temperature becomes detrimental to a process by producing more gas and causing material degradation. Melt temperature should be measured to assure that barrel temperature are within the tolerances of the melt window provided by the machine manufacturer.


Reducing heat thickens the flow and slows down the fill rate. Lower temperatures provide faster cycle times, but increase wear on plastics equipment if the temperature becomes too low. Again, it is  important to measure melt temperature to verify that heats are within the melt window.


Viscosity vs. Fill Time
Viscosity has little effect on fill time. Thinner flow fronts flow more easily, however injection speed is established through scientific procedure to be at the mean of slow to fast. The press controls the speed using valves, servos, etc. There is, however, a change in the amount of energy used to satisfy what set points establish as the correct fill speed. Increased energy usage can sometimes result in higher production cost, and vice versa for energy decreases. There are situations where one or the other may become more beneficial based on higher production needs or value costing.


Viscosity vs. Peak Pressure
Viscosity also has a direct relationship to peak pressure. A thicker, cooler flow front will result in a higher peak pressure. A thinner, warmer flow front results in a lower peak pressure. Thus, adding heat lowers viscosity and peak pressure while reducing heat increases viscosity and peak pressure.


Using Viscosity to Address Defects
Several common molding defects can be addressed using viscosity changes. To be clear, this article is not advocating that viscosity can be the cure all for molding defects, but there are situations where adjusting viscosity can improve part functions and/or appearance. Listed here are many of these situations, and methods of using viscosity to improve upon or eliminate the defect:


Sink:  There are several different types of sink, but heat sink and sinks over ribs or deep contours in the mold design can have a direct relationship to viscosity.


Heat sink occurs when mold or material temperature is too hot. Cycle time can also be a factor. In some instances, lowering barrel temperature can reduce or eliminate heat sink conditions.


Sink over ribs/details: Sinks over ribs can be related to two different situations:


Material in the rib can still be too hot, leading to a sink over the rib. In this case, lowering viscosity may improve the condition by lowering heat in the rib area.


Sink can also be caused by material flowing across the rib too slowly, leading to an over-pack condition that causes a pull sink as the part ejects. In this situation, increasing heat can promote thinner flow, flowing faster across the rib and packing it out less. As the part ejects, the rib being packed less allows for better removal of the part.


Flash: There are several situations where flash can be directly attributed to viscosity. For instance, hair line flash can be a sure sign that material is too viscous and a temperature reduction is needed to improve the condition. In some situations where a mold has parting line damage, reducing heat can actually improve flash that was a direct result of that damage.


Knit Lines: These occur when different flow fronts come together as plastic flows through the part cavities. In the case of mold details, knits will occur on the lee side of a detail. Picture a rock in a stream—as the water rushes against it, the rock causes resistance. The water flows around the rock, knitting back together as the two flow fronts meet each other in the rear.


The faster the water flows, the longer it takes for the two flow streams to reassemble as one. The same applies when molding around a detail. Faster flow results in longer, thinner knits. Slower flow results in thicker and shorter knits. In terms of viscosity, higher heat equals faster flow and lower heat equals slower flow. If packing around a detail is causing cracks/ shorts/burns on the knit line, reduce the heat to improve knit line seal and strength.


As noted above, there are many situations where viscosity can be used as a tool to correct poor molding conditions. When standardizing a process, start off with lower level viscosity as determined by melt temperature, and then make adjustments using higher temperatures when viscosity appears to be directly related to molding issues. This assures that cycle times are optimal, thus leading to higher efficiency. Low scrap and high efficiency will lead to higher returns off of your molded products.



Watch This Space

29. November 2016

The final agenda for Molding 2017 is taking shape with lots of updates on injection molding’s premier annual conference and exhibit to come.


The official Molding 2017 website is now live and over the coming weeks be sure to check back and learn about the speakers, sponsors and companies that will be in Charlotte from April 4-6. Plastics Technology’s Editorial Director and Associate Publisher Jim Callari highlights Molding 2017 in his latest column (Get Ready for Molding ’17), and we’re excited to share conference details as they become available.


At this time, we’ve already secured speakers and papers from across the injection molding supply chain, including material manufacturers, mold makers, molders, machinery/equipment suppliers, OEMs and more. The conference will once again feature presentations on the very latest technologies and trends in injection molding, as well as practical guidance and best practices that will help keep current technology up and running.


Preliminary tracks include, but aren’t limited to:


Emerging Technologies: Additive Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, predictive maintenance, and more.

Materials: Engineering materials, thermoplastic composites, bio-based plastics, LSR, recycled/reprocessed materials, and more. 

Tooling: Intelligent molds, servo-electric tool actions, 3D-printed tooling, advances in hot runners, and more.

Robots & Automation: Collaborative robots; adding vision and weight sensing to robots; when should you automate; and more.

Adding Value Through Decorating, Assembly, and Packaging: Going beyond simple assembly and decorating, to packaging, inspection, shipping, and more.

Establishing & Maintaining a Robust Process: Applying principles of Scientific Molding and other strategies to create repeatable molding processes.


If you didn’t make it to New Orleans for Molding 2016, here’s a report on the most recent edition.


If you haven’t already done so, be sure to mark your calendar and bookmark the site, as we countdown to Molding 2017. 

One Place to Hang Out at K

By: Matthew H. Naitove 25. November 2016

If You Thirst for More Than Technology


I gather it’s something of a K Show tradition: Near the end of a hard day at the world’s biggest plastics trade fair, those in the know (and maybe a journalist with an interview appointment) repair to a quiet upstairs lounge at the booth of Gammaflux, the venerable hot-runner controls source (since 1966), based in Sterling, Va.


One of the worst-kept secrets of the show—that upstairs retreat is stocked with 50 (yes, 50) different single-malt Scotch whiskeys. The atmosphere is casual and welcoming. Of course, hospitality is not just its own reward. Amid the relaxed camaraderie, and a bit of liquid lubrication, the talk may turn to the events of the day: “I just got an order for 10 machines—maybe they need hot-runner controls, too?”


Evonik Shares Results of its Post-it Note Campaign at K 2016

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 24. November 2016

Environmental protection and sustainability led visitors’ comments.


If you had the opportunity at K 2016 to visit the always bustling booth of Evonik, you’d be unlikely to miss an artist that was working to transform a black-and-white skyline into a colorful globe.  The company invited customers and visitors to contribute creative ideas, visions or requests through its Post-it note campaign at the booth and via social media. 


Nearly 2000 sticky notes were submitted keeping the Post-it artist busy. Participants could follow the campaign at the booth or on Twitter. An example of one note was: “Make plastic trash usable—100% of it!”. And, that signaled the campaign’s key results regarding visitors’ key concerns:


  • Environmental protection and sustainability—with 511 notes on the wall about environmentally friendly plastics, recycling, or the conservation of resources.
  • Solutions for lightweight construction (127 notes).
  • Biobased plastics (106 notes).
  • New materials for the automotive industry (85 notes).
  • 3D printing advancement (74 notes).
  • Medical technology advancement (69 notes).


Evonik Corporation, which plans to follow up on many of these ideas and concerns, will share interesting stories on Twitter and Linkedin over the coming weeks. It also mentioned posted groundbreaking ideas, such as self-cleaning surfaces and intelligent adhesives.


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