Solvay Aims to Fast-Track its Position in Additive Manufacturing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 23. November 2016


The combination of Sinterline technology and MMI Technyl Design is shaping the future of 3D printed functional automotive parts.


Last month, we reported on several materials-related news items announced by Solvay Engineering Plastics and Solvay Specialty Chemicals at K 2016. Among them was a 3D printed functional plenum chamber of an air intake manifold showcased by Solvay Engineering Polymers and designed for the Polimotor 2 racing car project. It is produced with the company’s Sinterline Technyl nylon 6 powder on an SLS machine.


The company has announced that it is strengthening its Sinterline Technyl nylon 6 offer for additive manufacturing of functional parts with the predictive simulation platform MMI Technyl Design. Having had a proven track record in injection molding technologies, the MMI Technyl Design platform now offers a step towards the design optimization of 3D printed technical parts.



In fact, the first time this predictive simulation tool was applied by Solvay was for the functional 3D printed Sinterline plenum chamber for the Polimotor 2 all-plastic engine project. The aim is to develop an engine weighing 138-148 lb) about 90 lb less than today’s standard production engine, thereby lowering fuel consumption and CO2 emisssions.


Said Matti Hotzberg, designer and leader of the Polimotor projects, “The plenum fabricated with Sinterline Technyl PA6 technology could easily perform without failure under real operating conditions. Integrating the 3D printed part with predictive simulation demonstrated all the additional benefits we could obtain to further reduce weight.”


The MMI Technyl Design tool coupled with a good understanding for the parameters of Sinterline materials and SLS printing processes showed the plenum’s original design could be up to 30% lighter than originally thought possible. Added Sinterline program leader Dominique Giannotta, “The successful validation of part performance modeling for PA6 3D printing will help boost the technology and change the traditional landscape of manufacturing. Enthusiastic feedback from major automotive industry players confirms their interest to accelerate this development in order to offer them a combined service in the near future.”

SABIC Aims to Develop Next-Generation PP

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 22. November 2016


New pilot plant to start up production by the end of first quarter 2017.


In the last couple of years, we have been witnessing an evolution of SABIC’s polyolefins business, which started with major production of vanilla-type PE and PP in Saudi Arabia as well as at three European locations.


But the company has had its sights on developing specialty polyolefins and that has included the recent launch of metallocene-based polyolefin elastomer and plastomer (POE/POP) copolymers, the result of the formation of its 2015 joint venture with Korea’s SK Global Chemical.


The latest investment is toward the development of next-generation PP. It should be noted that while SABIC does not produce polyolefins in the U.S., it did open a specialty PP compounding operation at its Bay St. Louis, Miss., facility in 2012.


The plant produces SABIC PP compounds and Stamax long-glass PP pellets, both primarily for automotive applications. And, as we reported last month during K 2016, SABIC officials confirmed they are evaluating in conjunction with an ExxonMobil affiliate, the building of a petrochemical and derivatives complex, including polyolefins, either in Texas of Louisiana.


Back to the latest move: the new pilot plant for the development of next-generation PP, will be brought on stream in Sittard-Geleen, the Netherlands, by the end of March, 2017.  Using gas-phase polymerization technology, this plant will support the production of “superior materials that meet the needs of the different industries like automotive, pipe, appliances and advanced packaging,” according to SABIC officials.


In particular, the company is aiming to develop grades with improved stiffness/impact and flow properties. A key focus will be impact grades of PP, as well as random copolymers and homopolymers. SABIC also plans to experiment on advanced catalysts at this plant, which will complement pilot plants used by the company at other strategic locations.


This pilot plant is the latest in a series of SABIC investments at the Brightlands Chemelot R&D manufacturing campus in Sittard-Geleen. The company opened a new R&D facility there this past May.


Lina Prada, global PP technology director, says the pilot plant is a further demonstration of SABIC’s commitment to invest in innovation. “When it starts up next year, we will have considerably more capacity to develop new PP materials for commercialization in our current European assets in Geleen and Gelsenkirchen, Germany.”


SABIC is taking a fast-track approach to construction and installation of the pilot plant. It has contracted the work to Zeton, a designer and builder of pilot and demonstration-scale plants with facilities in Enschede, the Netherlands and Burlington, Ont.


Zeton has developed a skid-mounted system that accelerates implementation times and allows full design flexibility. Installation will begin next month after Zeton has built and tested the plant in Enschede before partially disassembling it into around 15 modules for delivery to Geleen.


The Universal Setup and the Six Key Process Variables

By: Matthew H. Naitove 21. November 2016

One setup sheet for one mold on any machine.


Scientific molding expert and Plastics Technology columnist John Bozzelli is offering a three-day seminar, Dec. 6-8, in Troy, Mich. to help molders create a “true 24/7 process.” The seminar concentrates on a scientific process optimization with at-the-press instruction. Hydraulic and cavity pressures will be measured to prove out the strategy, according to Bozzelli.


Attendees will learn the key "Plastic" variables and define them to establish a Universal Setup Sheet. This setup sheet is intended to work for a given mold on any press, across different barrel sizes, and on electric or hydraulic machinery.


“One setup sheet per mold saves time and assures consistency by keeping the plastic variables constant, not the machine conditions,” Bozzelli says. Attendees will also learn the six key process variables that must be monitored to assure consistent production.    


Attendees will see how to make their process accommodate most viscosity changes, including those that come with changes to the material lot, resin color, and process temperature. In this way, molders can detect process changes as they occur, not after hours of production. They can also document the process so that it can be duplicated on other machines. Using glass mold videos of plastic filling various cavities, attendees will see the effects of drag, flow, in-mold decorating, splay, sinks and more.


The seminar will take place at the INCOE Hot Runner Research Center in Troy, MI. Register here.


Canon Virginia Graduates First Class of Apprentices

By: Heather Caliendo 18. November 2016

President Obama declared this week National Apprentice Week and in honor of that, employers across the country will host open houses to highlight the significant value of apprenticeships in our economy.


During this week, Canon Virginia Inc. (CVI, Newport News,Virgina) announced the graduation of the first two apprentices from the Canon Tool and Die Apprentice Program, fully accredited by the Virginia Apprenticeship Council. This program allowed Canon to expand technical capabilities for tooling and machining by training employees and developing their technical skills. Graduates will receive a certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills and a Journeyman’s card.


In partnership with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Thomas Nelson Community College Workforce Development Center, and New Horizons Regional Education Center, the four-year program consists of 8000 on-the-job training hours and instructor lead courses delivered by The Center for Apprenticeship and Adult Training at New Horizons. The Virginia DOL played an active role in verifying and approving the Canon curriculum.


Canon Virginia says the company expanded its tool making capabilities 10 years ago, and a skills gap in the workforce was quickly identified. With the growth and expansion of the tool shop, recruitment of talented tool makers and machinists became a top priority to meet growing business demands.


"In an extremely competitive market, establishing a sustainable apprenticeship program is the key to our continued
growth. Inspiring young people to learn a skilled trade and give them a path forward is what motivates me every day," says Scott Blankenship, Director of the Tool Manufacturing Division.


By developing an apprenticeship program, Canon looks to train employees to meet the need and fill the gap in this skilled trade. The company believes that this program has created new career opportunities benefiting current employees and sparking an interest in a new generation of toolmakers and machinists.


One unique aspect of the program is a mentorship component whereby apprentices are partnered with senior toolmakers and machinists. The one-to-one coaching allows apprentices to shadow and learn valuable skills from their mentors that cannot be taught in a classroom environment.


Last year, the apprentices were tasked with an important assignment to design and machine a yo-yo tool used during NPE 2015. “It was a rewarding experience to apply what we’ve learned in the classroom to an actual project used for a tradeshow. We had a unique opportunity to demonstrate our skills and all that we’ve learned throughout the program,” says Jason Rowe, Toolmaker Apprentice Graduate. During the tradeshow, the popular toy was molded in the Canon booth and handed out to attendees.


Sounds like an impressive program and we hope to see more companies in plastics adopt this type of approach in order to help fill the skills gap. If you have, please share your story with us.


MIT Makes Strides in Future of PHA-Based Biopolymers

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 17. November 2016

Researchers identify key enzyme that can be tweaked to make it more industrially useful.


Biopolymers like PLA and PHA are here to stay and expected to continue to evolve. The latter, polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs, are linear polyesters produced in nature by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids. Produced by the bacteria to store carbon and energy, PHA can be combined with a large number of different monomers to produce biodegradable plastics with varying properties.


PHAs generally have had more of an uphill battle in terms of commercial advancement, with companies such as Metabolix, Woburn, Mass., recently exiting the business with its sale to Korea’s food and bioengineering conglomerate CJ CheigJedang. In the last couple of years, Metabolix had shifted its focus to promoting it amorphous PHA (a-PHA) for use as a performance additive for PVC and PLA.


In contrast, MHG, Bainbridge, Ga., became the world’s largest producer of PHA biopolymer with the startup of its first commercial-scale fermenter last year. Initial capacity for Nodax PHA is 30 million/lb/yr, though at full production, the plant is capable of twice that volume. The company’s PHA-based resins, which include hybrids such as PHA/PLA, have been targeted for use in such articles as: bottles for beverage, personal care and household products; food packaging and service items such as cups, lids, containers and utensils; bags for shopping, trash collection and composting; agricultural mulch and fishing lures; healthcare bandages, tubes and syringes.


Now MIT chemists have determined the structure and mechanism of the PHA synthase enzyme, present in nearly all bacteria which use it to produce large polymers that store carbon when food is scarce. The bacterium Cupriavidus necator can store up to 85% of its dry weight as these polymers.


And the key is that the PHA synthase enzyme produces different types of polymers depending on the starting material, usually one or more of the numerous variants of a molecule called hydroxyalkyl-coenzyme A, where the term alkyl refers to a variable chemical group that helps determine the polymers’ properties. Some of these materials form rigid plastics, while others create softer and more flexible plastics or ones that have elastic properties, which are more similar to rubber—all very similar to petroleum-based thermoplastics but with biodegrability.


The MIT team notes that PHA synthase is of great interest to chemists and chemical engineers because it can string together up to 30,000 monomers, in a precisely controlled way. “What nature can do in this case and many others is make huge polymers, bigger than what humans can make…and, they have uniform molecular weight, which makes the properties of these polymers distinct,” says JoAnne Stubbe, the Novartis emeritus professor of chemistry and a professor emeritus of biology, who along with MIT professor of chemistry Catherine Drennan, are the senior authors of the study, published in last month’s Journal of Biological Chemistry.  


It appears that these two, along with other chemists, have aimed to identify the PHA enzyme’s structure for over 20 years, but it had, until now, proven elusive because of the difficulty in crystallizing the protein. Crystallization is a key step to performing X-ray crystallography, which reveals the atomic and molecular structure of the protein.


Crystals at hand, the MIT researchers collected and analyzed the resulting crystallographic data to come up with the structure. The analysis revealed that PHA synthase is made up of two identical subunits, which form what is known as a dimer. Each of them has an active site in which the polymerization occurs—this debunked an earlier proposal that the active site is located at the dimer interface.


Also key in this analysis is that the enzyme has two openings—one, where the starting materials enter, and another that allows the growing polymer chain to exit. Says Stubbe, “The coenzyme A part of the substrate has to come back out because you have to put in another monomer…there are a lot of gymnastics that are going on, which I think makes it fascinating.”


The next step, according to Drennan, is to try to solve structures of the enzyme while it is bound to substrates and products, which ought to result in more information critical to understanding how it works. “This is the beginning of a new era of studying these systems where we now have this framework, and with every experiment we do, we’re going to be learning more.”


While the structural information that resulted from this work will have little impact on the cost of producing PHA polymers, the researchers see potential for the production of new and improved materials with unique properties. 


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