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Car Parts Made From Agave?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. July 2016

 

Ford and Jose Cuervo explore development of sustainable bioplastic.

 

As a company that has long considered itself a leader in biomaterials development for the automotive sector, it was not surprising to hear that Ford Motor, Dearborn, Mich., teamed up with tequila giant Jose Cuervo, to develop a sustainable bioplastic using the fiber byproduct of agave plants.

 

The Plastics Research Group, part of Ford’s Research & Innovation Center, has been developing bioplastics for over a decade, starting in 2000. In fact, Ford now uses eight sustainable-based materials in its vehicles including soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber, and rice hulls.

 

Now, researchers are testing the developmental bioplastic, for which initial assessments indicate to be very promising due to its durability and aesthetic qualities.  Its use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units, and storage bins is being explored. Said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department, “As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel efficiency.”

 

The growth cycle of the agave plant is a minimum seven-year process. Once harvested, the heart of the plant is roasted, before grinding and extracting its juices for distillation. Jose Cuervo uses a portion of the remaining agave fibers as compost for its farms, and local artisans make crafts and agave paper from the remnants.

 

Teaming up with Ford is part of the tequila maker’s broader sustainability plan to develop a new way to use its remnant fibers. Said Sonia Espinola, director of heritage for Cuervo Foundation and master tequilera, “As the world’s No.1-selling tequila, we could never have imagined the hundreds of agave plants we were cultivating as a small family business would eventually multiply to millions. This collaboration brings two great companies together to develop innovative, earth-conscious materials.”

 

Noting that a typical car has about 400 pounds of plastic, Ford’s Mielewski added, “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet. It is work I’m really proud of, and it could have a broad impact across numerous industries.”

 

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 5-billion metric tons (over 11-trillion lbs) of agricultural biomass waste is produced each year. A byproduct of agriculture, the supply of materials is abundant and often underutilized. Yet the materials can be relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass fibers and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.

 

For more on bioplastics, see PT’s Materials Database.

 

K 2016: Are We Seeing Something New Here?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 21. July 2016

I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, believe me. After a while, you think you know pretty much what to expect of them. But every now and then, I leave a show with a feeling that I saw something new happening there.

 

I remember shows in the Seventies when the microprocessor revolutionized plastics machine controls. There was one in the mid-Eighties when I scratched my head at the sudden explosion of robots everywhere. And some of you may have felt like that at shows in the early Nineties: Where did all those electric injection machines come from?

 

This October’s K 2016 show gives hints of possibly being one of those. Maybe it will be the next NPE or K after this one that confirms those hints. I don’t want to overstate the impact of a phenomenon that, so far, seems to have gained more traction in Europe than here. I’m talking about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or “Industry 4.0,” or the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

 

I find the term, “Smart Factory,” a bit more descriptive of the concept—self-regulating production systems in which smart machines talk to each other and to plant supervisory computers and to maintenance departments, spare-parts databases, and, when necessary, to service departments of machine vendors to diagnose problems.

 

This has been a low-level buzz in the background of major international shows for a little while now; only a few machine builders made it part of their public agenda. But this K Show is different: Most of the major names in injection presses will be talking about it and how they are preparing for what they foresee as a coming upheaval in manufacturing. They have differing names for it, so keep your ears and eyes open for the “4.0” designation and for the OPC UA open-platform, “universal” communications protocol that will make it possible.

 

Two Close Up news articles in our upcoming August issue touch on the “4.0” phenomenon and OPC UA. There will be more in our September K Show news preview. (You can also read last September’s feature article on the topic.) Please don’t accuse me of falling head over heels for the latest European fad. I’m just trying to do my job of sniffing out the “next wave” before it washes over us. I could be wrong, but I think the surf’s starting to kick up.

 

Mercedes-Benz Turns to 3D Printing for Plastic Spare Parts

By: Heather Caliendo 20. July 2016

Marks the first time the company is offering 3D-printed spare parts.

 

German truck manufacturer Daimler AG says that its Mercedes-Benz trucks are using the latest 3D printing processes for plastic spare parts. Starting in September, Mercedes-Benz says that 30 genuine 3D-printed spare parts can be ordered and supplied quickly, economically, in any quantity and always in consistent quality. The available spare parts consist of plastic components. Covers, spacers, spring caps, air and cable ducts, clamps, mountings and control elements are a few examples of the spare part production.

 

"In keeping with our brand promise 'Trucks you can trust', we set the same benchmarks for reliability, functionality, durability and economy for spare parts from 3D production as for parts from conventional production,” said Andreas Deuschle, head of marketing & operations in the customer services & parts Mercedes-Benz trucks division. "However, 3D offers many more possibilities; this is why we shall be rapidly extending the production of 3D-printed parts."

 

Currently at Daimler more than 100,000 printed prototype parts are manufactured for the individual company divisions every year. Deuschle said that this prototype construction provided the company with extensive experience with the 3D printing processes.

 

The printed spare parts are created with 3D printers based on the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing process. For the high quality standards of Mercedes-Benz trucks, the process parameters have been optimized and determined by the Daimler research and development divisions. Every 3D spare part can be ordered by the customer using the special spare part number under which it is recorded in the order code lists and the spare parts catalogues at Mercedes-Benz trucks.

 

The company says that the challenge in the spare parts business lies in securing supply even for model series that are no longer produced. This means that the range also includes spare parts that have a low demand in small quantities every year. Producing them is increasingly uneconomical for suppliers—production facilities and tools often have to be retained and maintained for years. However, the company says that the 3D printing process solves these challenges. Every 3D spare part is available on demand at short notice all over the world.

 

The printing itself can take place within a very short time following receipt of the design definition and order, considerably speeding up the production and supply of spare parts. As spare and retrofit parts can still easily be "reprinted" even after a long time using the data stored and supplied without any complex stocking, no warehousing is required either. 

 

Add Dirt to Your Resin?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 20. July 2016

No, it’s not recommended, but some people do it anyway—inadvertently, through carelessness or lack of training.

 

I was reminded of this in reading John Bozzelli’s Injection Molding Know-How column in our upcoming August issue (read it here). John’s column is entitled, “Purging: A to Z”, and he makes the valid point that getting all the flow paths in your injection system clean so a new color or material can be introduced without contamination is a job that starts with material handling. It’s a more expansive view of purging than most people have heard before. His point is to prevent contamination throughout the system, all the way back to unloading the truck or railcar.

 

Thinking about that put me in mind of a lament I heard long ago from a technical-service veteran at a major polyolefin supplier: “We take elaborate procedures to guarantee the quality, consistency, and cleanliness of our materials. But we get service calls from molders who say dirt in our resin clogged up their molds or hot runners. When we investigate how they handle material at their plant, we sometimes find the culprit in the hose and coupling they use to unload a railcar or bulk truck. Believe it or not, at some point before or after unloading, untrained workers let the hose and coupling drop into the dirt. There’s your contamination.”

 

NAFTA Color and Additives Concentrate Market Continues to Grow

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. July 2016

Market is expanding at rates not seen since the 1990s.

 

The latest research from Applied Market Information (AMI) Consulting (U.S. office in Wyomissing, Pa.) reveals that the NAFTA market for thermoplastic color and additive concentrates continued to have strong prospects for growth and market penetration. At the same time there are new opportunities to profit from increased customer service needs among major brands.

 

In fact, AMI’s detailed market report “Thermoplastic Concentrates in NAFTA”, indicates that in recent years, this market has seen a period of sustained growth not experienced since the 1990s, with North America increasingly a key center of innovation and global brand developments, making it an ideal place to develop new colors and property enhancing products.

 

According to AMI, the largest market for concentrates in NAFTA is still for additive types—especially mineral-based products, which account for 47% of demand. The color segment is, however, the most important in value terms in a market which now exceeds $3 billion in sales.

 

For many years, the concentrate industry in NAFTA tended to outperform the overall polymer industry as plastics processors recognized the technical and business advantages of using concentrates over compounds or other systems. Although in the future, the delta between polymer growth and the concentrate market advance will narrow, with the prospects in value-added areas such as custom color and additive materials still being very good.

 

The NAFTA market is seeing a considerable volume of new investment both from the traditional major players but also new market entrants. This will only emphasize the competitive nature of the market where there have been clear winners and losers in recent years with some players cutting back their activities and closing plants while others have sought new markets to sustain their business. AMI’s research highlights the way in which a number of new names in the industry are coming to the fore in the color segment.

 

AMI also notes that NAFTA continues to have a strong export surplus in concentrates of well over 50 million lb. This is further testament, says AMI, to the strength and size of the concentrate industry in NAFTA. The surplus is most significant in additive and color varieties, but all product types show net levels of exports.

 

The AMI report concludes that the market in NAFTA will continue to grow, albeit at levels much lower than has historically been the case because of much slower growth in the traditional volume market for concentrate in PE film and blow molding. Opportunities will arise in more specialty sectors such as glass yarn and high performance packaging and in the growing use of recycled materials that will require additive packages to modify performance.

 

Look for a special PT supplement on plastic colorants that will accompany our September issue. It offers tips and best practices on how to avoid typical challenges encountered when choosing, processing, metering and measuring color.

 

For more on color and additive concentrates, see PT’s additives database.

 




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