Engel’s Liquid-Metal Technology Could Be a Hit

By: Matthew H. Naitove 14. July 2016

A technology leader in plastics, the Austrian firm’s collaboration with innovative metal molding firm Liquidmetal is drawing “overwhelming interest.”


At a recent press conference reviewing business trends in 2016, Dr. Peter Neumann, CEO of Engel Austria (U.S. office in York, Pa.) noted the “overwhelming interest” in its new Liquidmetal injection molding technology at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. This technology utilizes amorphous zirconium alloys developed by Liquidmetal Technologies, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Engel, as its exclusive machinery partner, developed a special 180-ton press modified from its e-motion all-electric platform (see Aug. ’15 Close Up for details).


Engel executives said the market interest is coming especially from medical and consumer electronics that require molding of “very precise, thin, detailed, sophisticated” parts. They noted the good corrosion resistance of the material as one advantage. Other benefits are said to include a unique combination of hardness and elasticity, as well as relatively low specific weight. Engel sources see it as an alternative to powder injection molding (PIM), though they caution that it is aimed at “premium markets” and is a “niche of a niche.” For it to move ahead, they see a need to identify suitable moldmakers.


Petoskey Plastics Assists With Flint Water-Bottle Recycling Efforts

By: Heather Caliendo 13. July 2016

Petoskey has donated recycling bags to help recover used water bottles. 


The water crisis in Flint, Mich., forced many residents to avoid drinking tap water and millions of bottles of donated water were flown in. Petoskey Plastics, Petoskey, Mich., wanted to also offer its assistance to the people of Flint, but, its efforts focused more on the environmentally-friendly disposal of the bottles once they’re empty. Petoskey has donated recycling bags to help some of Flint’s bottled water users store empty bottles and move them to recycling collection points.


Jason Keiswetter, Petoskey Plastics executive director of marketing, research & development, said Schupan Recycling—one of several companies involved in water bottle recycling efforts around Flint—had an existing business relationship with his company and asked it to get involved in supplying recycling bags when bottled water usage soared. Keiswetter said Petoskey Plastics had furnished about 13 pallets filled with the bags—about 70,000 bags in all—for the Flint users.


Keiswetter said the bags are distributed to bottled water users through recycling stations. Once bags are returned with empty bottles, Schupan gathers and bales the bags, with Keiswetter noting that Petoskey Plastics then purchases them back to be re-purposed into new plastic products.


China’s Appetite for Advanced Molding Technology

By: Matthew H. Naitove 13. July 2016

Do automation and advanced molding technologies still offer U.S. molders safe harbor against low-cost competition?


At its recent pre-K press conference at its headquarters in Schwertberg, Austria, Engel (U.S. office in York, Pa.) reviewed its business outlook as well as its new technology to be presented at the K 2016 fair in Dusseldorf this October (see Close Up story in August).


In reviewing the machinery business, Engel CEO Dr. Peter Neumann made some interesting, and possibly unsettling, observations about technology trends in China. I say “unsettling,” because they challenge assumptions that automation and advanced technology offer U.S. molders safe harbors against competition from low-cost manufacturers in China and elsewhere in Asia.


For one thing, Neumann said his company sees rising demand for automated molding systems and integrated technologies in China. Why is there such a demand in a region notorious for its low labor costs? Although labor costs are rising in China, Neumann said the main reason is the increasing emphasis on high quality in Chinese manufacturing. Automation is rightfully seen as the key to maintaining stable processes and consistent quality.


Second, Neumann said China is active on one of the forefronts of integrated molding automation, known as “Industry 4.0.” This generally refers to a trend for machines to gain intelligence and self-awareness of their own condition and productivity and the ability to communicate their status to other machines and operators. (See our Sept. ’15 feature on the subject.)


I myself have seen more enthusiasm for Industry 4.0 among European machinery OEMs than here in the U.S. So I was surprised to hear Neumann say that the second most active country in the world for developing Industry 4.0 is, you guessed it, China. Again, the reason is probably the Chinese national focus on boosting its reputation for quality in manufacturing.


Third, Engel executives indicated that one of the new, emerging areas of molding technology—high-strength, lightweight composites—is not the exclusive preserve of European, North American, and Japanese molders—at least not for long.


“Similar to Europe, research institutes and material producers in Asia are pushing ahead with innovative composite technologies,” said Dr. Stefan Engleder, chief technical officer. He referred specifically to Korea, and he added that lightweight design is not only a major innovation for automotive manufacturing. The consumer electronics industry is also closely investigating composite materials in order to make their products lighter and thinner. “Thermoplastic fabrics, will, for example, replace magnesium frames in laptops,” Engleder said.


Incidentally, Neumann will be retiring from Engel after the K Show (his 10th at the company), and Engleder will assume the role of CEO.


NASA 3D Prints Plastic Design Tool in Space

By: Heather Caliendo 13. July 2016


NASA challenges students to upload and print a part astronauts can use on the 3D printer orbiting earth in International Space Station.


The space agency has established its Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), which is a permanent feature in the International Space Station (ISS) to begin additional testing of 3D printing technology in orbit, since when a part breaks or a tool is misplaced in space, it is difficult and cost-prohibitive to send up a replacement.


Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF can easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future. The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS and the AMF printer can work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace-grade composites.


NASA also has a focus on getting the next generation of engineers engaged in space. For instance, there’s the Future Engineers Space Tool design competition, which challenged students to create a device that astronauts could use in space. The catch was that it must upload electronically and print on the new 3D printer that was going to be installed on the orbiting laboratory.


In January 2015, NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation announced that Robert Hillan's design, a multi-purpose precision maintenance tool, was selected out of hundreds of entries to be printed on the station.


Hillan's design features multiple tools on one plastic prototype compact unit, including different sized wrenches, drives to attach sockets, a precision measuring tool for wire gauges and a single-edged wire stripper. After the new manufacturing facility was installed on the station in March, NASA uploaded Hillan's design to be printed.


Hillan was invited to watch his tool come off the printer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Hillan watched as the NASA astronauts displayed the finished tool from the AMF. The Marshall Center is located just a few miles from where Hillan is a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.


"I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to design something for fabrication on the space station," Hillan said. "I have always had a passion for space exploration, and space travel in general. I designed the tool to adapt to different situations, and as a result I hope to see variants of the tool being used in the future, hopefully when it can be created using stronger materials."


Not only did Hillan get to watch his tool being made, he also got to spend a few minutes chatting with astronauts on the station. While talking to Hillan, astronaut Tim Kopra complimented his design and said, “One thing that often times comes up with prototyping with 3D printing is there’s a plastic version. But even this plastic version I think would work up to a certain torque value. So well done, I think it’s really cool.”


"When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That's the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn't anticipated and do it on short notice,” Kopra added.


The space station's 3D printer started operations in 2014 and built nearly two dozen sample designs that were returned to the Marshall Center for further testing. Now with the newly installed AMF, NASA is continuing 3D printing development that will prove helpful on the journey to Mars.


"When a part breaks or a tool is misplaced, it is difficult and cost-prohibitive to send up a replacement part," said Niki Werkheiser, NASA's 3D Printer program manager at Marshall. "With this technology, we can build what is needed on demand instead of waiting for resupply. We may even be able to build entire structures using materials we find on Mars."


"When I won the competition, I started seeing problems I face as new opportunities to create and learn," Hillan said. "Since then I have tried to seize every opportunity that presents itself. I love finding solutions to problems, and I want to apply that mentality as I pursue my engineering degree and someday launch my own company."


Here’s the video of Hillan’s exchange with the astronauts. You can see the 3D-printed tool float in space!



Expanding Global Middle Class Equals Growing Energy Demand

By: Tony Deligio 13. July 2016

There is a clear correlation between economic growth and energy use, or put more mathematically—total people times higher living standards equals greater energy needs.


Larry Gros, ExxonMobil Chemical’s global polymer products and applications technology manager, shared those insights and more at injection molding machine and automation supplier Engel’s first ever North American Trend.Scaut Automotive event, held in Livonia, Mich., at the end of June (read more here and here).


Gros presented ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy to 2040—an exhaustive review of what types of energy would see what level of demand from all over the world. From 2014 to 2040, the energy and chemical company sees global energy demand rising by 25%, noting that:


All the world’s energy sources will be needed to meet rising demand to 2040, but there will be a marked shift toward cleaner fuels, particularly natural gas.


While other energy sources make gains, Gros noted that oil will remain the top energy source for transport and for chemical production, with natural gas demand growing more than any other source.


Other key themes explored by Gros included the fact that energy is fundamental to living standards, and because of this, developing nations—which will lead in growth of GDP and living standards over the forecast window—will also lead in growth of energy demand over that time.


In the U.S., per capita energy consumption equates to 7 equivalent oil gallons per day, while globally, the average is only 1.7 gallons per day. “We will quickly see issues if rest of world grows into U.S. levels of consumption,” Gros noted, adding that, “as technology advances, it will improve efficiency and mitigate energy consumption growth.”


Developing World Develops
In 2014, more than half the world’s global GDP of $72 trillion could be attributed to advanced OECD countries, but the fastest growth rates were occurring outside those states, in nations like Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. ExxonMobil forecasts that by 2040, global GDP will more than double to $150 trillion, with all countries making gains, but the fastest rates experienced outside the OECD.


In fact, by 2040, Gros said developing countries will officially account for more than half of global GDP, with China and India expanding at rates of 5% and 5.5%, while the OECD at large grows at a rate of 2% over the forecast period. The greatest growth on a demographic basis, will occur within the middle class, which is forecast to more than double to five billion people by 2030, with the majority of that growth once again coming in India and China. By 2040, 85% of the world’s population will live in urban centers in OECD countries, as the globe adds the equivalent of 30 Chicago's during this period.


Efficiency Gains Allow OECD to Do More With Less
Even though overall energy demand will expand by 25% across the globe by 2040, it will be flat in OECD countries, as efficiency gains allow these countries to do more with less. Meanwhile, the 1.2 billion people without access to electricity today will finally start to join the global energy market. As they do, Gros said oil and gas will remain the world’s primary fuels through 2040, but sources of energy will shift. Particularly for coal, which will see its share of demand drop from 26% to 20%, while renewable sources, natural gas and nuclear grow.


Emissions to Flatten, Decline
In terms of emissions, Gros said ExxonMobil is predicting that global carbon dioxide output will peak at 2030, and begin to decline afterwards, with emissions falling 20% in OECD countries through 2040.


Fuel Standards Globalize
Transportation remains a key driver for energy demand, and Gros noted that the advent of stricter fuel standards globally will have a huge impact. “In 2008, only four countries had mandatory fuel economy standards, while some others had voluntary ones,” Gros said. “In 2014, many more adopted regulations, and now about 90% of light duty demand is in countries with standards or developing standards.”


Gros said global demand for light duty vehicles will peak in 2020, but added that there will not be fewer cars—with a global fleet of 1.7 billion by 2040—just that tomorrow’s cars will be more efficient (he also said China will surpass the U.S. in 2025 as the country with the most vehicles). Part of that efficiency will come from resins. Gros explained that without plastics, current vehicles would be about 10% heavier, adding that that 10% weight reduction leads to about a 7% improvement in fuel economy.


Instead of electric vehicles, Gros and ExxonMobil expect to see a big jump in hybrid vehicles, with those accounting for one quarter of the global fleet by 2040. 


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