Snuffed Out: De Facto Death for Halogenated Flame Retardants

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Market forces and self-policing are pushing the market for flame-retardant (FR) additives in a different direction.


Jesse Dulek started his presentation with a question; How many in the audience liked to burn things growing up? As a product development engineer focused on FR technologies at custom compounder RTP Company, Winona, Minn., Dulek joked that his current job entailed him getting paid for trying to light things on fire, or more accurately, seeing which compounds can keep from igniting, melting or giving off smoke. In addition to running various materials through his own crucible, Dulek’s job also lets him gauge where technology is headed based on the latest promotions from the additive manufacturers he works with.   


“I don't have any suppliers pushing new bromine-free products on me,” Dulek said, “it’s always halogen free. It’s really just a matter of time before halogen free takes over.” Speaking in Denver this May at RTP’s Engineered Plastics Workshop, Dulek and his RTP colleagues walked the attendees through various changes in an array of areas including filled plastics, coloring and, for his portion, flame retardants.


Dulek noted that the 2006 European Union passage of the RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances) directive, despite not directly dictating that FRs be halogen free, has had the effect of pushing halogenated products off the market. “The halogen free world is more complicated,” Dulek said. “We are see an evolution of economics and more and more halogen-free products coming out.”


Generally speaking, halogenated FRs work by inhibiting the chemical reaction in the gas or vapor phase as either an additive or a polymeric product. Non-halogen technologies include phosphorous, hydrated minerals or melamine cyanurate, with benefits and challenges to each.


While halogenated products in general offer lower costs, better processing, greater efficiency and higher physical properties, Dulek said halogen-free alternative have their own perks. Halogen-free products are improving in terms of ease of processing and reduced costs, with more developments on the horizon as new FR standards call for low smoke, low toxicity, less corrosiveness and a lower specific gravity—attributes that further promote halogen free.  


Dulek said RoHS mostly impacted pigments, with a lessened effect on FR, specifically eliminating heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium from colorants, as well as polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers from FRs.


“There are still no global bans on use of halogens,” Dulek said, noting that RTP sees more self-policing. “If somebody doesn’t want them in there, we’re not in a position to deny them,” Dulek said. “All we can do is lay out the options. The biggest thing we need are new FR standards. In building or transportation, the standards are built around smoke, heat release, and toxicity, which drives towards halogen free.”


Despite no explicit bans, OEMs like HP, Dell and IBM have foresworn halogenated FRs, while labels like Blue Angel, White Swan, and Ecolabel specifically call out their elimination.


Pyromaniacs everywhere, take note (image courtesy King Plastic Corp.)

North American Plastics Machinery Shipments On the Rise in the First Quarter

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Shipments of primary plastics equipment in the first quarter were up 13.5% from the year-ago quarter.


Shipments of injection molding, extrusion, and blow molding equipment totaled $330.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, compared to $291.2 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). SPI noted that the increase marked the second straight quarter that North American shipments registered a year-over-year increase. This total, however, was 15.4% lower than the $390.6 million posted in the preceding quarter, the final quarter of 2015, which on a seasonal basis is typically quite strong.


Break Down By Process
So how did the data break down along processing technology lines? The performance of injection molding equipment was quite strong, jumping 25.2% on a year-over-year basis, while single-screw extruders decreased 17.4 percent over the same time period. The shipments value of twin-screw extruders, including co-rotating and counter-rotating machines, rose 6.8 percent, while the shipments value of blow molding machines fell 63.5 percent, year over year. Auxiliary equipment was on the rise, jumping 13.6 percent year over year and down only 5.2 percent, compared to the seasonally strong fourth quarter.


On a broader basis, the total value for new orders of industrial machinery rose 21.0 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the year-prior quarter, after rising 12.1 percent in the final quarter of 2015, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau.


Survey Optimism Also On the Rise
In the survey that accompanies the CES quarterly report, there was a small improvement in expectations, with 84 percent of respondents expecting market conditions to either hold steady or get better during the next 12 months.


On a geographic basis, North America is now expected to have the fastest market growth in the coming months, per the survey, but the outlook for Mexico is also strong. The sentiments for Asia, Europe, and Latin America also improved in the first quarter when compared with previous quarters, though they remain well below the levels expected for North America and Mexico.


As for the major end-markets, respondents to the first-quarter survey expect that medical, autos, and packaging will enjoy the strongest growth in demand, with expectations for all other end-markets expected to be steady-to-better in 2016.  

Transitioning From the World’s Factory to the World’s Designer

By: Tony Deligio 15. June 2016

China has long since aggregated the means and materials of production, but increasingly it’s seeking to lay claim to the creative origins of products—the design.


For the second show running, global materials and additive supplier BASF teamed with show organizer Adsale to feature the BASF Design Innovation pavilion as an official concurrent event during Chinaplas 2016 held this April in Shanghai. According to China’s CCTV, the country boasts more than 1000 design colleges generating 600,000 design graduates annually, with these grads filling design roles at Chinese and multinational OEMs. Will they source plastics in new designs?


Located at one of the primary entrances to the show grounds, the program covered three main themes—travel light, live cool and play safe—with five different forums and a chance to “meet the designer”, including well-known industrial designers Chris Lefteri of LKK and Yang Wenqing of LOE Design. Closing the design loop, major OEMs including Haier, Lenovo and Volkswagen also took part.


During an opening ceremony, Stephan Kothrade, president and chairman of greater China for BASF spelled out the importance design holds for China’s industry going forward. “Good product design plays a role in bridging the gap between creative ideas, form and functioning,” Kothrade said. “China faces many challenges, as well as opportunities, because of rapid urbanization.”


Kothrade said a goal of the pavilion and an area of emphasis for BASF going forward is to help establish China as a global creative power. He noted that BASF is investing in China in line with its own growth, recently expanding its innovation complex in Shanghai and launching a design competition that address challenges of urban living. Supporting associations include cida (Chinese Industrial Design Association) and the Ningbo Industrial Design Union.


At the show’s opening press conference, Adsale Chairman Stanley Chu referenced China’s 5th-year plan and how it calls for the country’s industry to utilize “advanced materials” and transition from being a low-cost-labor country.


“That’s why we have to focus more on automation and high technology and high productivity,” Chu said. “We can’t just rely on the low cost of labor and the low cost of land. We’ll have technology innovation on one side, and on the other side, product design.”


Andy Postlethwaite, BASF’s senior VP engineering plastics Asia Pacific, has also seen the rise of design in the region. “In the recent past, there has been a much stronger design presence in China,” Postlethwaite told Plastics Technology. “That shows a maturing of the industry.” In particular, Postlethwaite noted that BASF works with Chinese OEMs to educate them on plastics’ potential.


“What is possible with BASF materials,” is a key question the OEMs need to answer, according to Postlethwaite. “Unless you can communicate with designers what’s possible, they won’t know what materials to source.”


At Chinaplas, BASF highlighted numerous applications applying plastics where they traditionally aren’t used to help Chinese clients understand the potential for the material. Among these, an auxiliary window form, usually fabricated in steel, utilized a pultruded polyurethane. In the construction phase, this form is used for the window mount, with the PUR version offering one-quarter the weight and improved thermal performance.


Elsewhere on the stand, BASF showcased a composite utility pole. Postlethwaite noted that in disaster-prone or difficult-to-reach areas these light-weight poles are easier to transport, install and maintain. A recent installation survived a typhoon in Guangdong while steel and concrete poles failed. In both these cases, BASF partnered with a Chinese company for the product design and manufacture.


In China and elsewhere, the challenge for Randy Beavers, regional business director Asia Pacific for Eastman Chemical, is helping familiarize processors, designers and OEMs with the company’s Tritan copolyester resin. Beavers noted at Chinaplas that more than 98% of companies working with Tritan are totally new to Eastman, with a majority of time spent not with buying customers but with brandowners in the design phase.


To offer technical support to area molders, a little over one year ago, the company opened a lab in Shanghai to offer molding trials and simulations, with design engineers on hand to provide material recommendations, mold and part reviews, and design recommendations, including nitty gritty aspects like draft angles, wall thicknesses and mold pressures and temperatures.


The challenge, Beavers said, is a familiar one for companies like Eastman in China and throughout the world. “Brandowners and designers know plastics,” Beavers explained, “but they don’t know differences in plastics. We try to teach them differences in plastics.”


If China does indeed become a global creative power, Eastman, BASF and other material companies are actively working to ensure Chinese designs call for plastics. 

The 5 M’s of Molding—Part 4: Machine

By: Garrett MacKenzie 14. June 2016

Match your mold and material to the press to assure that your process control is not limited by poorly functioning machinery.


Machinery/Auxilliary Equipment: The molding standard you set is highly dependent upon the machinery and auxiliary equipment you have available to you. Failure to properly assess the capabilities of your equipment will result in a poorly functioning production system. The following components strongly affect a facility’s scrap, downtime and productivity:


  1. Press: Molding machine capabilities are crucial to the design of any manufacturing system. Press tonnage and screw design (such as general purpose vs. nylon) are key factors in process consistency. Match your mold and material to the press to assure that your process control is not limited due to poorly functioning machinery. Also utilize your process data to further assess process control and machine problems.
  2. Robot: Robotics systems are a valuable asset for establishing production and quality systems. When evaluating the production system, always review potential fixes through robot improvements, end of arm tooling or programming changes.
  3. Automation: Other sources of automation should also be reviewed. For instance, if a quality concern keeps repeating itself, look for solutions through automation development. Involve everyone on your production team to fully assess what failures exist within the production system and utilize your engineers to develop working solutions. Better equip your operators and personnel to remove problematic conditions from the production equation.


Preventative maintenance is a key measurable in the Machinery/Equipment category. Unscheduled downtime seriously impedes production efficiencies due to the nature of unexpected system failures and the resulting unprepared approach towards resolution. Scheduled maintenance events are by far the best way to prevent poor performance. Here are some of the areas where preventative maintenance can prevent unscheduled break downs. Each of these components should have their own maintenance log to help establish what concerns are and what frequency of inspection needs to be:


  1. Molding machine: Press breakdowns can be avoided with a regular inspection system in place. Here are some of the primary inspections and a recommended frequency for performing them:
  • Hydraulic Fluid- Quarterly: Fluid samples should be taken and sent to a screener to evaluate metal content and viscosity break down.
  • Hoses- Weekly: Inspect hoses for signs of wear, rubbing or blistering.
  • Screw- Bi-Annually: Remove screw for inspection. Measure flights and shank to determine whether wear is becoming an issue. Also measure the metering zone of the barrel to verify condition.
  • Electrical-Weekly: Look for unsafe conditions and integrity of connectors.
  • Heater Bands- Monthly: Verify that all bands are in working condition


  1. Tooling- It is important to note that a simple 10-minute inspection of every mold per shift can identify problems and prevent hours of down time due to dry slides, pins, etc. Keep detailed records of mold repairs and use them to develop preventative maintenance events and timing. In a short-run shop, simple teardown and cleaning should occur after every run. In cases where molds run for extended periods of time, regular inspection should occur and molds should be torn down and cleaned bi-weekly. In all cases, cleaning frequencies should be developed based on mold history to prevent breakage through intervention and care.


Garrett MacKenzie is the owner and editor of Mackenzie started in plastics at the age of 19 as an operator, eventually moving up through the ranks to engineering and management over a 29-year timeframe. He currently works as a plastic injection consultant in engineering and training capacities. He can be contacted at


Next week, Part 5 in The Five “Ms” of Molding: Method

Read Part 1, Man

Read Part 2, Mold

Read Part 3, Material

Startup Turns Recycled Plastic into 3D Printing Filament

By: Heather Caliendo 13. June 2016

Plenty of companies are taking advantage 3D printing’s disruptive nature in the manufacturing space, but I came across an Amsterdam-based startup that is taking the disruptive concept even further.


Reflow converts recyclable plastic into 3D printing filament using open source technology. Reflow filament is made from recycled PET bottles collected in developing regions, and revenues from the filament go back to the waste collectors who gather these bottles, which the company claims can increase their income by up to 20 times.


Jasper Middendorp, Reflow CEO, visited recycling centers in Nairobi, Kenya last year and saw how the waste collection, trade and recycling systems work. He saw that waste collectors collect plastic all day and receive very little money for it. They may earn 10-15 cents per kilogram and, for many, that’s their family’s only income stream. Meanwhile, a kilogram of 3D print filament costs around $30.


“That’s a huge disparity, and the reason for the focus on plastic recycling and 3D printing,” he told Plastics Technology. “Reflow is looking to leverage the exponential growth in the 3D printing market to create value from the waste plastic being collected and to flow that value back into waste picker communities and local manufacturing in developing regions.”


The company has a big task ahead: it aims to turn the growth of 3D printing into income for more than 40 million waste collectors worldwide that collect waste for a living, earning less than $2 a day. But the company believes the impact it will have on these communities and on the environment is significant: every kg of filament sold results in the removal of 120 bottles from the streets and $3 additional income for waste collectors. The company’s aim is to sell 5000 kg of filament in the first three years. If they achieve this goal, waste collectors’ incomes will increase by $200,000 and 6 million plastic bottles will be removed from the street.


Currently, Reflow’s material comes from waste collectors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania who pick plastic bottles by the road or at designated locations (bars, hotels etc.) and bring them to a satellite collection point or central facility. The plastic is weighed, examined and the waste collector is paid.


Reflow filament is suitable for all 3D FDM printers that are capable of printing in a range of 435°F-455°F, although a heated bed is recommended. Reflow filament can be used in any application where other ABS, PLA and PET filaments are used.


Reflow’s partner techfortrade, a UK-based charity, has developed an open source extruder that they set up at its partner location, STICLab in Dar es Salaam. The extruder can create 0.5 to 1 kg of filament per hour directly from plastic flakes. It was designed to fit the niche between the cheap home extruders that lack consistency for consumer production and the expensive industrial machines with high throughput. Middendorp said that they are in the process of improving on this second-generation extruder to a full production model over the next 6 to 9 months so that they will be able to fulfill purchase orders for the filament by the beginning of 2017.


Middendorp said that the company has some big technical and impact challenges in the coming months, but adds, “We are ready for them, and any others that come up.”


“On the technical side, there is work to be done with the extruder to make sure it reliably produces high quality filament. It’s very important for us to make a filament whose quality is as good as filament made from virgin plastic. We know no one wants to print with a sub-par filament, regardless of its ethical and sustainable elements,” he said. “We are also working on finding a reliable, continuous source of plastic, building relationships with waste collectors and tracking and tracing the money paid out to collectors in order to measure our impact.”


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