Stabilized HDPE 'Shade Balls' Help Reduce Water Evaporation from L.A. Reservoir

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. August 2015


To help combat California’s devastating draught, a three-year collaboration among custom color and additives masterbatch supplier Techmer PM, Clinton, Tenn., blow molder Artisan Screen Printing, Azusa, Calif.,  and engineers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), culminated to what are reportedly improved "shade balls." 


Designed to protect water quality, prevent algae growth, and slow evaporation, the four-inch plastic balls were recently placed in the L.A. Reservoir. This team resulted in solving problems associated with leaking and cracking at the seam lines and the creation of shade balls with a longer life expectancy than previous versions. The new balls are made of HDPE certified for drinking water, and a UV stabilizer and FDA-grade carbon black masterbatch from Techmer PM.


The project is estimated to protect the 3.3 billion gal of water in the reservoir for approximately ten years and annually save 300 million gal of water from evaporating. According to Techmer PM, of the 96 million shade balls used on the project, more than 89 million balls were produced by Artisan Screen Printing and include Techmer PM’s stabilized masterbatches.


Two other manufacturers of the black HDPE shade balls are Orange Products Inc., Allentown, Penn. and Glendora, California-based XavierC LLC. The idea of shade balls is said to have come from retired LADWP biologist Brian White, who was inspired by the “bird balls” used to deter birds in ponds along runways.


The black HDPE hollow shade balls are filled with water and hermetically sealed so they don’t blow away. The U.S. EPA has encouraged the country’s water managers in recent years to find ways to cover or contain their resources to prevent sunlight from reacting with chlorine and possibly creating carcinogens.


While the color of the balls may seem odd, it turns out that carbon black colorants have superior longevity over white TiO2 colorants. Reportedly, for example, there is a significant tensile strength deterioration of white shade balls within eight months versus the 10-year life expectancy of the black shade balls.

Custom Molder Partners with Another School Program

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. August 2015


An innovative custom molder for a variety of industries such as plastic packaging, beauty and cosmetics, amenities, household consumables, electronic connectors and medical measuring devices since 1982, Currier Plastics, Auburn, N.Y., is big on education partnerships.


This week, for instance, the company hosted a group of Auburn High School 9th graders that will be participating in this year’s P-Tech Auburn Pathways in Technology Program. This is a six-year program that encompasses more hands-on learning than a traditional school environment.


This P-Tech program blends academia with real-world experience and prepares the students for careers in the electrical and mechanical technology industries. Each student will be matched with a business mentor and gain professional experience during their high-school years and after six years, graduate with a New York State Regents diploma and an Associate’s Degree from Cayuga Community College.


Currier Plastics’ Diane Pisciotti, who holds the interesting title of director of talent, says, “We would love to pull candidates from this program and have already begun the process of selecting mentors…P-Tech is new and this is the first year of the grant. We will have tour guides to escort the students around our facility so they can see firsthand what opportunities lie ahead for them.”


Meanwhile, the company has also partnered with Cayuga Community College Plastics Technology program and provided engineering and molding expertise. This, in addition to donating an injection molding machine and negotiating the donation of additional equipment from some of the company’s vendors. 


Measure Pellet Moisture Online: A Second System Debuts at Fakuma Show

By: Matthew H. Naitove 25. August 2015


NPE 2012 saw the introduction of the first device for measuring the moisture content of resin pellets online and in real time. This device, the MoistureMaster has since been implemented for quality assurance in several medical molding facilities, according to the supplier, Novatec Inc., Baltimore.


In October, the second system of this sort will debut at the Fakuma 2015 show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Moretto S.p.A. of Massanzago, Italy (U.S. office in Columbus, Ohio), will show off the latest version of its Eureka system for high-volume PET drying. Called Eureka Plus, it now has been supplemented by the Moisture Meter, a unit that is mounted under the drying hopper (photo) and reportedly measures the residual moisture in the dried pellets. Not only does it provide a minute-by-minute quality-control check on the actual resin moisture, but it also communicates with the dryer to adjust the process, if necessary. Moretto emphasizes that this can prevent overdrying and avoid wasting energy.


Expect more details after the show.

Progress Continues on Novel Truck Fairing Concept Design

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. August 2015


Tightening fuel efficiency standards for larger trucks both in the U.S. and elsewhere, along with seeking a more environmentally responsible alternative to thermosets without sacrificing performance, has further prompted SABIC Innovative Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass., to come up with a novel thermoplastic roof fairing design concept that can potentially reduce fuel consumption of a heavy-duty truck by at least 3%.


Additionally, automotive general manager Scott Fallon says that the new design concept is aerodynamically optimized to deflect air by accelerating airflow through and across the top and sides of the roof fairing. This lead up to 5.9% drop in drag, which significantly improves the aerodynamic performance and fuel efficiency of the truck.


The new design concept incorporates air ducts to reduce front-end pressure and accelerate airflow both over the surface and through the fairing itself. In contrast, conventional roof fairings achieve aerodynamic efficiencies simply by maximizing airflow over smooth, closed surfaces. Fallon believes that through the improved aerodynamic performance of this one application alone, fleet operators stand to save millions of dollars in fuel costs each year and over the lifetime of the entire vehicle fleet.


A large, blue 3D printed version of the company’s aerodynamically-optimized roof fairing was displayed at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky this past March. The timing is crucial as the more stringent fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks beyond model year 2018 are expected to be in place by March 2016.


Just three years ago, the company played a key role in the development of the industry’s first injection-molded thermoplastic roof fairing, which is installed on heavy-duty trucks on the road today. SABIC worked with provider of engineered plastic systems CK Technologies, Montpelier, Ohio, and Volvo Trucks North America. This large component, molded with SABIC’s tough Cycoloy PC/ABS resin and CK Technologies’ proprietary in-mold coating technology, weighs 20-30% less than a comparable thermoset (e.g. SMC).


SABIC recognizes that a range of strategies are needed to meet new tougher efficiency targets. Says, Fallon, “Our lightweight materials can help reduce the overall weight of a truck, but those savings can be easily offset by increased payload capacity so we are finding other ways to help the industry realize fuel economy improvements. This is where thermoplastic-based solutions can be game-changing, thanks to the design freedom they deliver to create unique and intricate aerodynamic surfaces and structures like those found on our roof fairing concept.”


The company used Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation technology to evaluate and quantify the aerodynamic performance of its roof fairing concept. Specifically, CFD modeling was applied to compare a baseline day cab with dimensions and geometry representative of top aerodynamically-optimized roof fairing. The CFD data helped reveal opportunities to alter the design for improved airflow and reduced drag.


In a recent update, SABIC sources confirm that further collaboration with the industry on the performance and styling requirements of truck OEMs has led them to pursue additional enhancements to the roof fairing design concept. This includes material selection—with Cycoloy PC/ABS and Noryl GTX PPO included in the running, as well as processing and tooling options.


A preliminary 1;8 scale wind tunnel test has already taken place, with a 30% model scale test scheduled within this year. On-road testing with the EPA—in support of its rule-making initiative for Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, will take place before year’s end at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.


Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastics Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.


The Next 'Big' Thing in 3D Printing

By: Matthew H. Naitove 19. August 2015

Thermwood's developmental BAAM system with American Kuhne extruder.


Additive manufacturing (AM), better known as 3D printing, is big news these days, and the news in AM is “Big,” as in Big-Area Additive Manufacturing, or BAAM. Visitors to June’s Amerimold exposition in Rosemont, Ill., got an impression of where BAAM is headed. Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Oak Ridge, Tenn., showed off examples of its BAAM work at its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. ORNL made news this past January with its 3D printed Shelby Cobra sports car, which debuted at the North American Auto Show. At Amerimold, ORNL showed an example of its current thrust in making molds for automotive, aerospace, and other composites fabrication. It exhibited a honeycomb section of mold made from ABS with 20% chopped carbon fiber, deposited by an injection molding-type extruder mounted on a CNC gantry in a machine built by Cincinnati, Inc. Capable of dispensing up to 100 lb/hr, it was described as “FDM on steroids” by Dr. Chad Duty, ORNL group leader for deposition science & technology. FDM is fused deposition modeling, an AM method of depositing a hot, continuous filament of thermoplastic in layers to build up a part. In BAAM, the layers can be around 1/8-in. thick.


Duty estimated that a car hood mold could be built in a “couple of hours” and could then be finished with a conventional gel coat. It could then be used for room-temperature cure of epoxy/carbon fiber composites. He said ORNL is working on PPS, PSU, and PEEK tools capable of withstanding elevated-temperature autoclave molding. It has already tested PPS with 40% carbon fiber. At Amerimold, ORNL also showed off a 35-lb chair made in one piece in half an hour from ABS with 20% carbon fiber. It has been load tested to support up to 600 lb.


Besides the Cincinnati machine, ORNL has worked with a six-axis, articulated-arm robot with a material deposition head. Additional options may be available in the near future. For example, CNC router supplier Thermwood Corp., Dale, Ind., is developing a BAAM machine with a six-axis, gantry-mounted extruder from American Kuhne, Ashaway, R.I. The initial development machine, nearing completion, can make parts up to 10 x 10 ft x 5 ft high. The vertically mounted, 1.75-in. extruder can process over 100 lb/hr. After deposition, a second head on the same machine can machine the part to its final shape.


A second new effort along these lines is a collaborative effort by two firms in Ohio, that are coming at the technology from the extrusion side. Year-old Strangpresse LLC in Youngstown, an extruder builder, is working with Md Plastics of Columbiana, which is supplying special screw, barrel, and check-valve technology derived from injection molding. The goal is to build a vertical, robot-mounted extrusion head that can deposit around 100 lb/hr in a highly controlled fashion. Still in development, the system is designed to ensure highly precise and uniform volumetric deposition of melt as the head moves over a large area at high speed with sudden turns, starts, and stops. The check valve is intended to prevent drool and stringing when deposition stops. The two firms aim to collaborate with a robotics firm to develop a complete BAAM system using a six-axis robot. Expect to hear more on this project in the near future.

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