Have You Ever Seen Faster?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 11. November 2015

Four 125-ml PP gourmet cups in just 1.55 sec: Sumitomo (SHI) Demag (U.S. office in Strongsville, Ohio) molded them at October’s Fakuma 2015 show in Germany. The parts, 83 mm diam. and 0.32 mm thick, were molded on a 200-m.t. El-Exis SP hybrid press, using 70-MFI resin. The 3.4-g parts were filled in 0.09 sec at an injection speed of 700 mm/sec. A side-entry robot removed parts in 0.3 sec with the help of only air ejection.


That’s the fastest molding cycle I can remember having seen—at a show or anywhere. Can you top it? If so, email me at

3D Printing Took Center Stage At U2 Tour

By: Heather Caliendo 10. November 2015

A custom LED-illuminated microphone for Bono, created by the Dimension 3D Printer.


3D printing lends itself to some pretty cool and interesting stories and Plastic Technology’s Lilli Sherman recently sent one my way that involves the band U2. Apparently 3D printing helped to build LED fixtures for U2's 360 Tour using a Stratasys printer. If you recall, the U2 360 tour was massive, both in stage structure and the fact the group visited stadiums from 2009-2011. So this was no small project. Here’s how 3D printing had a hand in the show:


In April 2009, Tommy Voeten, president of NY-based 1212-Studio, was asked to help illuminate the fabric roof of the stages for the tour, according to a case study from Stratasys. 1212-Studio specializes in custom design and innovation of LED illumination products for the architectural and entertainment markets. 


According to the case study, this was quite a challenge. The 360 Tour would contain three identical stages, each holding 36 orange pods, called “polyps,” on the roof. Each polyp would hold eight pieces of illuminating LED fixtures to light the roof fabric in millions of colors. A total of nearly one thousand custom fixtures had to be designed, manufactured and delivered within four weeks. Voeten used the Dimension BST 1200es 3D Printer from Stratasys to create the fixtures.


"The innovative LED illuminating fixture required proof of concept," Voeten said. "Optical and thermal simulation tools are fantastic for saving time and are incredibly accurate, but we still wanted to see the light distribution with our eyes. We wanted to hold a physical model in our hands before we started manufacturing."


The Dimension-produced functional prototype helped to demonstrate proof of concept to the other team members. Three days after the printer began creating the part, Voeten flew to the United Kingdom to meet the team for final approval. The next day, the design went into full production.


Dimension 3D Printers use FDM technology, a method of additive technology that works by putting down layers of thermoplastic materials to create a prototype.


The production of nearly one thousand U2BEs became an international venture. The units were designed in New York City, the optics also came from New York, LED electronics and drivers were custom made in the United Kingdom, and the housing was manufactured and assembled in Belgium.


The entire design for a stage LED lighting fixture, U2BE, simulation and validation were completed in eight days.


In addition, after successfully completing the LED polyp project, Voeten received a second request from U2. He was asked to build a custom LED-illuminated microphone for Bono that was to be suspended from a steel cable, enabling Bono to swing from the microphone, which was named the U2MIC. Voeten said that Bono's microphone was a much more complicated design and manufacturing challenge because of how it was going to be used on tour. He again used the Dimension 3D Printer and his team was able to print several design iterations and sections of the microphone in order to examine and optimize the pressure points and light distribution within the rings and between all the components. Voeten was so satisfied with the quality and strength of the printed FDM parts, he optimized the design so they could be used as final parts on the U2MICs.


The final illuminating ring was composed of two FDM shells that are assembled together. The simple and smooth exterior shape belies the complex interior shape, which consists of a support structure to divide pressure among the electronics and LED components without hindering the light transmission of the shell design itself. The ring design had to be strong enough to hold the pressure of a full body weight without deflecting and crushing the internal components.



"The ABSplus material did a phenomenal job with strength and finish," Voeten said. "It made all the difference. It was strong, and we could finish it to perfection."


If the rings had been manufactured with traditional Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology, it would have taken several hours per shell for the cutting, and additional work holding tools would have been necessary to fabricate the parts. This was eliminated by using the FDM process, resulting in lower part costs. "We saved thousands of dollars and weeks of tooling by eliminating CNC cutting of the parts, design time for work holding and additional tooling," said Voeten.


Besides the illuminating ring, a separate compartment was printed by the Dimension printer to hold all of the electronic parts, batteries and other components included in the microphone. For the assembly of the U2MIC units, alignment and assembly tools were printed to simplify the assembly and to increase the consistency between the custom units.

Takeaway from IHS Presentation on PP Outlook

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 10. November 2015


Imports overtake exports for North America by 2016! Just one of the comments of a session on the shape and outlook of the global PP market given at the recently-held Global Plastics Summit (GPS2015), co-hosted by IHS Chemical and SPI.  Entitled “Global PP—Asian Producers Poised to Struggle While North American Producers Embark on a Golden Age of Profitability,” it was presented by Joel Morales, IHS’s director of polyolefins.


Let’s start with some of his other comments on the North American market, including the fact that there is now a PP supply disconnect with very tight North American supply and overcapacity in Asia. Morales noted:


• 2015 total sales will be ahead of prior year by at least 5%.


• Prices have declined 32ȼ.lb from Oct. 2014 high of 93.5ȼ/lb

Suppliers have aggressively pushed for margin increases with 14 ȼ/lb through Sept., while aiming for another 6ȼ/lb in the November/December time frame.


• North American suppliers’ profitability accelerates due to tight supply and demand and improved propylene supplies.


• Both imported PP pellets and finished goods increase in the Americas. Until 2019 when new PP capacity comes on stream, we will continue to see imports of PP pellets and finished goods.


• Needed PP imports pose challenges that include: payment terms and long lead times; technical service and quality issues; debagging super sacks (1000kg) and 25kg bags (investment required); multiple material handling that leads to potential contamination issues; and commitment to North American markets vs. opportunistic approach.


• Countries from where these imports are most likely to come?

South Korea & Singapore with free trade & China redirect.

Brazil, India, and Thailand aided by 6.5% duty removal.


• Loaded-up margin PP will be challenged by HDPE, PET and even PS in next five years, says Morales.


Some key points on his global PP takeway, and the changing landscape of this market, include:


• Lack of capacity expansion in South America increases the dependence on imports from outside of North America.


• Large Chinese and Middle East capacity expansion affects global trade and puts downward pressure on regional prices in the short term.


• Europe expected to see competitive pressures from new plant expansions in the Middle East and China.




Funny Looking Robots

By: Matthew H. Naitove 10. November 2015

Automation was the name of the game at October’s Fakuma 2015 show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, but with some new twists. It was the first time I had seen this type of high-speed assembly robot—at a plastics show. They are referred to generically as “parallel” or “delta” manipulators or robots, and their specialty is super-fast pick-and-place tasks with fairly small, lightweight parts.


Shown here is a M-1iA delta robot from Fanuc Robotics (U.S. office in Rochester Hills, Mich.), which was paired with a Fanuc Roboshot injection press (sold here by Milacron LLC, Batavia, Ohio) to sort micro parts by cavity.


A larger model appeared at the Netstal booth (U.S. office in Florence, Ky.) as part of an IML automation cell from Machines Pagès of France. After a conventional robot placed four labeled containers from each shot on a conveyor belt with and camera that scanned the labels for correct placement, the aptly named “Spider” robot picked out the containers individually and placed them on a stacking fixture separated by cavity. As it was explained to me, the merit of this approach was that any improperly labeled parts could be separated individually without rejecting the whole shot.


For more on this and other exhibits at the Fakuma show, see my upcoming Close Up article in our December issue. You also can learn more about parallel/delta robots on Wikipedia, at Mecademic in Montreal, and at Adept Technology, Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.

Save the Date: Molding 2016, March 29-31

By: James Callari 10. November 2015

I was talking to a molder the other day. I won’t give you too many specifics because I’m going to write about his operation in more detail in our January issue and I don’t want to use this column as a spoiler.


Anyway, this fellow had bought into a struggling molding business around 2008 that, as he put it, “had two machines and one customer.” This particular gentleman had just sold a non-molding business for a hefty sum, and he was still fairly young and not ready for retirement, so he figured, “What the heck?” and jumped into molding.


Then along came 2009. Two machines and one customer became two machines and no customers. So this fellow had a choice: cut his losses and bail, or invest more, potentially throwing (lots of) good money after bad.


He picked the latter, and his business is thriving—to the point where he just bought a new building and lots of new presses and auxiliary equipment. A business with fewer than 10 people in 2008 has 220 now, with plans to hire 50 more by the end of next year’s first quarter.


I use this story as a backdrop to this invitation to attend Molding 2016 conference. It’s scheduled for March 29-31 at the Westin New Orleans Canal Place. If you’re a molder, as I learned from this gentleman’s inspirational story, you either move forward or you’ll fall behind. And if you don’t want to fall behind, then Molding 2016 is the place to be.


The conference is now in its 26th year, the second under the management of Gardner Business Media, parent company of Plastics Technology magazine. As I write this, my PT colleagues Matt Naitove, executive editor, and Tony Deligio, senior editor, are working feverishly on buttoning up the program details. You’ll see more of those details in print, online, via email, and in our social media offings in the weeks ahead.


One new thing we are doing with the Molding 2016 program is expand it to include virtually every aspect of a molder’s business operation: not just molding, per se, but also crucial areas such as materials conveying, drying, feeding/blending, equipment maintenance, best practices, ERP, and lots more. We’re also looking to follow sessions on topics of general interest with breakout sessions on molding for particular markets, notably Automotive and Medical. We found this formula to have worked very well in our first-ever Extrusion Conference, which wrapped up on Nov. 3, and we believe it will resonate equally well in molding.


Of course, the guts of any processing operation is the primary equipment: You can’t mold a gear with a press, but in many cases what goes on in the mold is influenced by what happens before the resin hits the screw. You might have your molding parameters set just right for making that gear—heck, you might even be a scientific molder—but if your parameters for drying your acetal or nylon aren’t right, you’ll likely be molding rejects. Or if you are dosing color into your machine and don’t get the letdown ratios just right, you could be making scrap—expensive scrap, at that.


Be on the lookout for more info from us in the weeks and months ahead. On March 29-31 in New Orleans, you will hear about the latest cutting-edge technologies at Molding 2016, as well as the best practices of your colleagues and most salient tips from your suppliers. 

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