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Three Themes at Fakuma Show

By: Matthew H. Naitove 22. October 2014

 

Some people call it the “mini K show.” The Fakuma exhibition in Friedrichshafen, Germany, used to be considered a local plastics trade fair for Germany machinery exhibitors to reach an audience in southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. But the show has grown continuously in importance, and Fakuma 2014 attracted nearly 46,000 visitors from 117 countries and 1772 exhibitors from 36 nations. It was my first time at Fakuma, where the press corps included editors from as far away as Hong Kong and Singapore.

 

It’s still predominantly an injection molding show, and that’s what I’ll focus on here. Among the new products introduced at Fakuma, three categories stood out because they were highlighted by multiple exhibitors. (In my business, if we see something three or more times, we’re tempted to call it a trend.)

 

1. Servo-hydraulics are the new standard. If you ask me, the future of hydraulics in injection molding—and I do think it has a future for a long while to come—is using pumps with variable-speed servo or frequency drives. When I offered that prediction, officials from Arburg agreed that “there is a clear trend toward servo hydraulics for energy savings and noise reduction.” Confirming that trend, several machine builders introduced presses with servo hydraulics standard instead of an option that used to cost around 10% additional but provided energy savings nearly equivalent to those of an all-electric machine. Examples:

 •  Wittmann Battenfeld (U.S. office in Torrington, Conn.) introduced the SmartPower series that will replace the conventional hydraulic HM series in sizes from 25 to 120 metric tons at no extra cost. They reportedly cost about 20% less than an all-electric for equivalent energy consumption.

 •  Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Plastics Machinery (U.S. office in Strongsville, Ohio) brought out the System Servo series. They do cost a bit more than standard Systec models, but Sumitomo says 60-70% of those machines are being sold with servo pumps anyway.

 •  KraussMaffei (U.S. office in Florence, Ky.) has revised and upgraded its CX Series in smaller sizes (35 to 160 m.t.) with servohydraulics now standard. A company official said, candidly, that there is no increase in list price, but discounts might be less than before.

 •  Haitian of China (U.S. representative is Absolute Haitian in Worcester, Mass.) has new smaller models of its servo-hydraulic, two-platen Jupiter II series, starting at 450 m.t.

 •  Engel (U.S. office in York, Pa.) still offers servo hydraulics as an option, but it’s one that 70% of its hydraulic machine customers purchase.

 •  Boy Machines (U.S. office in Exton, Pa.) already makes servo hydraulics standard on all its machines except its very smallest XS model (10 m.t.). Boy sees no further advantage in—and therefore does not offer—all-electrics.

             Wittmann Battenfeld WS80 Engel e-pic

 

2. Sprue pickers go servo. Servo-powered sprue pickers were a hot button at Fakuma, promising more speed and precision than pneumatics with lower energy consumption.

 •  Wittmann Battenfeld introduced the WS80 servo picker with a rotary axis and two linear axes. It’s designed to operate within the machine guards.

 •  KraussMaffei showed off its new SPX10 servo picker, also with a rotary axis and telescoping vertical arm. It operates within the machine envelope.

 •  Engel introduced the servo-driven e-pic, which is distinctive for its horizontal traverse and toggle-type articulated vertical arm (similar to some Japanese designs I’ve seen) and a further telescoping action.

 •  While not new, Arburg (U.S. office in Newington, Conn.,) showed its two-year-old swiveling servo picker.

 •  Sepro (U.S. office in Pittsburgh) showed its S3 swiveling servo picker, which also appeared at Fakuma 2013 and K 2013.

 •  Boy operated its year-old swiveling sprue picker—a pneumatic model.

 

3. Mold cooling gets more attention. Injection machine suppliers are now addressing mold cooling as a process variable that has received far less attention than other sources of quality and productivity fluctuations.

 •  Engel introduced the e-flomo water manifold that automatically monitors water pressure and temperature and adjusts water-flow valves to compensate for filter clogging and system pressure variations.

 •  Wittmann Battenfeld showed its new ultrasonic flow monitor for Tempro plus D series TCUs that now operates at higher temperatures (160-180 C) and measures flow rates down to 0.5 liter/min with ± 5% accuracy. Also new is the Flowcon plus water regulator, which controls either temperature or flow rate for each individual water circuit. It’s aimed particularly at non-heated water (up to 100 C) and measures flow in a noncontact manner from 1 to 15 l/min. Wittmann says more than half of its mold-temperature controllers are now sold with a flow-regulation device.

 •  KraussMaffei operated an all-electric AX machine with a flow-monitoring system integrated into the MC6 machine controller to document the mold heat balancing for quality records.

Taiwan Plastics Machinery Sector Balances Cost/Technology

By: Tony Deligio 22. October 2014

Despite that business and geographical predicament, the industry is thriving. Taiwan’s 400-plus plastics and rubber machinery companies generated $1.2 billion in sales in 2013, with the sector ranked fifth globally behind only Germany, Japan, Italy, and China, according to TAMI, the country’s machinery association (for perspective, Germany’s plastics and rubber machinery makers hauled in $8.2 billion in 2013).

 

In the opening ceremony for last month’s Taipei Plas, Shih-Chao Cho, Taiwan’s vice minister of economic affairs, lauded the sector, calling manufacturing a “bedrock” of the Taiwanese economy. In more recent years, the island nation sought greater recognition for its tech sector, aided by government backing. To wit: one Metro stop down from the Nangang Exhibition Center that hosts Taipei Plas is Taiwan’s Nangang Software Park, the home of technology giants like IBM, Sony, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard.

 

That same government hasn’t forgotten the manufacturing revolution that converted Taiwan from an agricultural economy in the not-too-distant past, however. That acknowledgement came in no small part from the presence of the economic minister, as well as the vice president of Taiwan, who attended the previous Taipei Plas in 2012, when he was the country’s premier.

 

Between a Low-Cost Rock and Technology Hard Place
“Taiwan is caught between technology advances of the west and the low-cost challenge of China,” Vice Minister Cho said in his address. “Most Taiwanese companies are small-to-medium enterprises, which can be a challenge in some ways, but it also means they’re more flexible.”

 

On the show floor, Taiwanese machine exhibitors displayed higher technology machines, but with an emphasis on economical versions of every day processes versus the money-is-no-object conceptual machines sometimes occupying Western company’s booths at shows like K.

 

So in Taipei, show visitors saw a lot of two-component machines for multimaterial headlamps and high-speed hybrids for inmold-labeled packaging. Not new to the world, or the region for that matter, but perhaps new to many local processors.

 

Harrison Wei of injection molding machine manufacturer Jon Wai laid out an example of how a company like his can step up with a more advanced machine than might be found out of China (or currently being used in Taiwan), but one that does not break the customer’s bank. “To face the competition from China,” Wei said, “we need more value added.”

 

To that end, the company showed three machines at the show, including high-speed units for IML and closures, the latter being a 16-cavity closure system running a 3.5-second cycle. Plenty of production, but nowhere near the output a molder might generate from the 96-cavities-and-up closure systems that rain down caps every couple seconds at other shows.  

 

Asked about the technology/output disparity, Wei relayed a story in which a customer had initially considered a competitive high-technology machine from a well-known brand, but upon realizing the total cost would be two-and-a-half-times higher and cover one machine and one mold, versus one machine and three molds, the client opted for Jon Wai.

 

“It was for an ice cream application,” Wei recalls, “they only needed for five months out of the year.”

 

Film Extruders Step Up
Taiwanese extrusion equipment manufacturer Avita Machinery Co. Ltd. is also working to thread the cost/quality needled. “Our position is in middle,” Avita’s Allen Tsai explained at Taipei Plas. “We don’t want to go too low—our machines can’t compete in low price—and I don’t want to leave our quality to meet their price. We want to go up in quality not price.”

 

Tsai said that in many instances, roughly comparable equipment from China can be 20% lower in price, forcing company’s like his to offer other enticements. At the show, Avita ran an ABA-style coextrusion line (pictured below), creating three layers, including a thicker inner layer for lower cost materials, from two extruders by splitting the melt stream in the die. Coextrusion is increasingly replacing monolayer output in Asia, according to Tsai, thanks to greater efficiencies, with a 20-µm stretch film now capable of being thinned out to 12 µm.  

 

“This extruder represents a trend in blown film,” Tsai said. “Our customers want lower production costs.” Acknowledging higher technology, however, Avita equipped the line at the show with automatic gauge measurement and gravimetric blending. At shows in the west, systems ranging up to 11 layers, or much, much higher if you consider so-called micro-layer films. Three layers might seem more quaint than novel, but again, consider the market.

 

“We believe multilayer film will grow by double digits,” Tsai said, acknowledging the higher technology niche his company, and country, are trying to occupy. 

So What’s a Plastics Pioneer?

By: James Callari 21. October 2014

 

This past weekend my wife and I made the five-hour trek from New Jersey to York, Maine to attend the meeting of the Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA), of which I am a member. (Full disclosure: I and fellow PPA inductee and Plastics Technology Executive Editor Matt Naitove make up the group’s publicity committee.)

 

Anyway, during the drive up in what was tantamount to a monsoon, I started to think about the first time I made that trip. It was four years ago, when I received my PPA induction pin. I reflected on the impressions I had of the PPA before I had become a member, and how much they have changed since.

 

Like any story, it’s best to start at the beginning. My timeline might be off a bit, but around the summer of 2011 I received a phone call from extrusion industry veteran Al Hodge. I’ve known Al for more than 20 years, so it wasn’t an extraordinary circumstance to receive a call from him. But I was surprised at what he wanted to talk about.

 

“How would you feel about becoming a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association?” Al asked. My first response was “Huh?” Now, I had heard of the PPA in my nearly 30 years in plastics, but didn’t envision myself as a fit.

 

As Al talked a bit about the group a variety of thoughts raced through my head. “Why would I, a 51 (at the time) year-old guy, join a ‘club’ of, well, ummm, much older people?” I don’t think I actually said that to Al, but I might have, as sometimes the filter between my brain and mouth malfunctions, However I put it, Al chuckled a bit, filled me in on some of what the PPA gets involved in, and I said yes. I think it was Al and Tim Womer who nominated me.

 

Shortly thereafter I received a very thick book in the mail, about as thick as the yellow pages used to be. It was The Who’s Who of the Plastics Pioneers Association Inc., the PPA's membership roster. I leafed through it, saw the names of members active, inactive, and no longer with us. I thought “Wow, this is an impressive group of people.” Many, in fact, have been inducted in the Plastics Hall of Fame.

 

So then, since I’d now become honored about the appointment as opposed to befuddled about it, I felt a little bragging was in order. I called a couple of friends in the industry, "young" old timers like me, and filled them in. Well, the jokes were relentless. Here’s one of the more tame ones: “Congrats. Every time you go to a meeting the average age will drop to 85.”

 

Undaunted, I fueled up and made the 300-mile journey to York to get my pin. There were a few other people inducted with me. I don’t remember all of them, but one was my friend Rick Shaffer, who used to run Netstal and before that Demag. Rick’s got a great sense of humor. “I used to think being inducted to the PPA was a great honor,” he said before a group of people, including me, at the cocktail reception. I knew the punch line was coming, and Rick delivered, chuckling, “Then I saw Jim Callari’s name on the list.”

 

Then I started attending meetings. I listened mostly at first, and quickly had an epiphany: These people do important stuff, the kind of stuff that's dedicated not only to preserving this great industry's past, but teeing up its future. They award scholarships; early this year they set up an endowment program with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. They continue to award scholarships to individual students. As I reported in an editorial about a year ago, through the efforts of PPA long-timers Harry Greenwald and Glenn and Patsy Beall, the group established a virtual museum at Syracuse University.

 

But like many associations in this industry, PPA’s membership is starting to dwindle a bit. Many of the founding fathers of the industry that comprised the PPA membership roster since it was formed in 1944 have either passed away, retired, or are no longer involved. The “face” of the PPA is beginning to change: now that many of the entrepreneurs that made this industry great are gone, the newer (and potential) members are in positions within their company (be it sales, marketing, engineering, general management) that they say make it difficult for them to get involved in these kind of associations.

 

The way I look it, that’s a situation that cannot be allowed to perpetuate. This industry is in dire need of young blood, and work that the PPA does has helped keep such blood pursue careers in plastics. Case in point: in Maine over the weekend the group was introduced to Michael Magaletta, a U-Mass Lowell student with a 3.99 GPA who will graduate next May with a BS in plastics engineering. Michael was the first recipient of the PPA’s scholarship endowment, and after school will begin his professional career with a very well-known consumer products company based in New England. Michael spoke briefly, and said he would have had more difficulty in achieving in goal without the PPA's support. Michael wasn't alone; in Maine the group announced that it awarded scholarships to nine other students outside the U-Mass endowment program, and had increased its donation to the Plastivan program.

 

I'm off my soap box now, but promise me if Al Hodge, Tim Womer or anyone else from the PPA calls you and asks you about joining, don't say "Huh," forget about what you think you know about the organization, and consider getting involved.

Some Highlights From Global Plastics Summit 2014

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. October 2014

Early this month, I was at the very interesting and exceptionally well-attended 2014 Global Plastics Summit (GPS) hosted by IHS and SPI in Chicago, which addressed the industry’s challenges and opportunities. In addition to the informative commodity resin analyses and outlooks presented by top IHS pros, presenters included resin producers, processors and manufacturers and, there was a focus across key markets including, packaging, automotive, healthcare and medical. Here are some highlights:

 

• IHS sees continued good economic growth in 2015. North American gas supply is plentiful and low cost and a continued wide disparity between oil and gas prices is projected.

 

• Will converters benefit yet from shale gas development? This will take some time to trickle down from lower energy costs, but productivity is up in end-use plastic markets. IHS and SPI cite wages, productivity growth and lower energy costs as key drivers for competitiveness.

 

• Planned new ethylene capacity is now about a year behind and planned 2017 new PE capacity is not likely to show up until 2018, according to Nova Chemical’s Chris Bezaire, senior v.p, PE business. At that point, he says converters will have greater supply options, redundancy, more price leverage, less supply disruptions. He also noted that Nova is very concerned about PE demand destruction and was a reluctant follower of the September PE price hike.

 

• Also concerned about opportunity destruction due to high commodity resin prices were speakers representing leading North American flexible packaging and rigid packaging manufacturers Bemis Company and BWAY Corp., respectively. They addressed growth opportunities and threats for plastics, noting that cost is a key driver in material selection, but also noted that supply availability is crucial, citing tight supplies.

 

They described pricing of commodity resins, particularly PE, to be “irrational” over the last two years, and called for more public education to overcome negative perception of plastics. Bemis sees lots of opportunity for both metal and paper replacement in the food packaging arena. BWAY sees a “good news story” in terms of the conversion that has taken place in the consumer rigid packaging market, and a “bad news story” which is the return to alternative packaging due to higher resin prices.

 

•  Among some of the IHS experts’ resin pricing outlooks are:

 

PE

• Demand growth of 4.4%/yr or 1.2 times that of GDP.

• Most of the planned PE capacity will materialize, but with delays.

• There has not been one reduction in PE contract prices in the past 2 years, which is unprecedented, and it may go to 3 years.

• Flat prices are projected for remainder of the year, with “roughly” flat prices through 2015.

 

PP

•World PP capacity is more than adequate but North America will continue to have a “sellers” market because of tight supplies till 2017, when planned on-purpose propylene plants will start to make an impact.

• North America’s dependence on PP imports is growing—double in 2014 to that of 2008. Imported Asian pellets and finished goods like BOPP will continue as new PP capacity is not likely to be on stream until after 2017.

• PP prices are projected to stay high until capacity expansions come to fruition.

 

PET

• World PET capacity is long and will continue long, making suppliers’ resin margins short or non-existent.

• America is “getting healthy” and this is killing the PET carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market, while PET water bottles use under half of the PET of CSD bottles, driving operating rates to under 75%.

• In 2014, virgin PET suppliers lost volume to RPET, PET imports and APET sheet imports.

• Significant new PET North American capacity coming on stream next year may have to be exported unless there is a dramatic domestic demand increase.

• PET prices are projected to be relatively flat for 2015.

 

PVC

•  Global PVC construction market is expanding. In the Americas, it’s a healthy 3.8%.

• Low-cost feedstocks, along with construction market demand, are key drivers to PVC’s upsurge in the U.S.

• PVC prices are likely to be higher in the coming years.

• Supply/demand balance to improve; 3%/yr growth in demand projected.

 

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

 

 

IKEA’s Sustainabilty Efforts Will Soon Become Yours

By: Tony Deligio 15. October 2014

If you want a good example, peruse furniture maker IKEA’s 2013 sustainability report. The company has stated a number of sustainability goals for its operations and projects, including a 2015 plan for all its “main home furnishing materials” to be made from renewable, recyclable or recycled materials.

 

Home furnishing materials, including packaging, were composed by 91 and 98 percent renewable, recyclable or recycled materials in 2012 and 2013, respectively, showing how close the company already is to the 2015 marker.  

 

How is it getting there? Here are a couple of examples that directly involved suppliers of plastics goods, as well as packaging:

 

By setting our own goals for sustainability, we can have a positive influence on our suppliers too. Until recently we used thousands of tonnes of plastic shrink film, which was difficult to recycle. We challenged our shrink film suppliers to find a solution, and with our support they did. New types of film now in use are not only strong but also use less plastics and can be recycled to be used again as a raw material.

 

And another, this time directly related to a product:

 

The KAJUTA table lamp uses 75% less material than its predecessor, TALLVIK. It contains 35% reused or recycled materials, is 100% recyclable and easily stackable making it more efficient to transport.

 

These efforts extend to closing the loop on various material streams, including plastics:

 

One effort focused on polyethylene plastic wrapping which was collected from stores, recycled and used as a raw material to make desk pads. We discovered that recycled wrapping is a viable raw materials that costs less than buying virgin or recycled material from other sources. We also learned about practicalities such as keeping the material clean in store and at our supplier, as well as improving the efficiency of collecting and transporting the wrapping…further pilot recycling projects are underway with other materials including polypropylene and corrugated cardboard.

 

The ultimate goal, by the end of fiscal year 2020, the company has said it hopes to see a fourfold increase in “sales from products and solutions for a more sustainable life at home.”

 

That’s real money, and reflects real opportunities for plastics processors who can help IKEA and like-minded companies achieve such goals. Has your shop been asked to help an OEM or retailer get greener?




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