Additive Manufacturing Is the New ‘Normal’

By: Matthew H. Naitove 4. December 2014

Normal founder Nikki Kaufman, wearing her product.


Leaders of large and small businesses are constantly asking the question of how to attract young talent to careers in industry: How do we make manufacturing ‘cool’ again?


Nikki Kaufman has found an answer. Her brand-new company, which launched just last July, has a cool, intriguing name, Normal. It’s located in the hip, artsy Chelsea district of Manhattan’s West Side. Her company makes a product desired by almost any user of a smart phone or digital music player. And Normal makes the product better, faster, and cheaper than anyone else in the world by using the newest, “greenest,” and, some might say, coolest industrial technology—3D printing.


Kaufman, 29, started her company out of a quest for earphones that aren’t uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. She tried dozens of commercial earbuds without success and considered having a custom pair made. But she learned that would involve a visit to a doctor’s office, would take three to six weeks, and cost up to $2000. She decided she could do better on her own.


Last summer, Kaufman launched her brainchild based on the idea of making custom earbuds with a personalized fit in as little as 48 hr and for $199, including shipping and tax. And all you need is a free iTunes or Android app that walks you through steps of photographing your ears, choosing among several color options, and ordering the earphones.


And about her company’s name: “What is a normal ear shape? There’s no such thing. Everyone’s is different,” Kaufman explains. “Even your left and right ears can differ by up to 20%.”


Kaufman in front of two of her 10 Stratasts 3D printers.


Normal has joined the small handful of companies today (apart from service bureaus) whose business model is based on making proprietary products with additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it’s commonly known. Standing in the store, you probably won’t immediately notice (this reporter didn’t) that you’re also in the factory area. Set flush into the walls are eight Fortus 250mc 3D printers from Stratasys, Ltd., Eden Prairie, Minn. There are two more of these printers on another floor, along with two Stratasys smoothing stations, two paint booths, two cleaning stations, and one laser cutter.


The 3D printers use the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, which extrudes fine molten strands of thermoplastic—ABS, in this case—in thin layers according to a “sliced” CAD model of the part.


FDM is used to produce the earpiece that fits your ear cavity. Seven colors are available. It is soft-touch coated and assembled with a handful of purchased components, including an injection molded and UV-coated ABS/PC “inner cabinet,” the 14-mm audio speaker, CNC anodized aluminum “outer cabinet,” a brass tube, coaxial connector, and 360° rotating CNC anodized aluminum cable housing.


Normal has another use for FDM—to make tools like jigs and fixtures for its own internal manufacturing needs. That’s in line with what Stratasys CEO David Reis sees as the main near-term market opportunity for FDM—jigs, fixtures, and molds, also referred to as “augmented manufacturing”—rather than “direct digital manufacturing” (DDM) of end products, as Normal is doing.


(More details on Normal’s use of FDM will appear in a special supplement on Additive Manufacturing to accompany the February issues of Plastics Technology, MoldMaking Technology, and Modern Machine Shop magazines.)

Mexico’s Auto Market Accelerates, Brings Plastics Along for the Ride

By: Tony Deligio 3. December 2014

That’s understandable when you consider the explosion of activity in the sector in recent months and read related coverage. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported the country’s ascension in the global ranks of vehicle production as it overcame a Latin American competitor: “Mexico's Auto Industry Overtakes Brazil's.”


Mexico's export-driven production of cars and light trucks jumped 7.5% in the first seven months of 2014 to nearly 1.86 million vehicles, compared to the same period a year earlier.


That story noted how Honda and Mazda started up assembly plants this year, with a new Audi site to come online in in 2015, while a joint Nissan and Daimler facility is in the works. A September report from Forbes was more to the point:  “America's Car Capital Will Soon Be ... Mexico”.


That article cited Mexico’s free trade agreements (FTA) with 44 countries as a major impetus for its boom (the vast majority of the country’s vehicle production is exported beyond Mexico’s shores), and it noted recent investment announcements by Infiniti in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, as well as BMW and a massive Hyundai-Kia factory in the works.


By 2020, Mexico should be number six [in auto production] behind China, the U.S., Japan, India and Germany with an annual production of 4.7 million vehicles.


This summer, Kia and BMW announced plans for $1 billion plants in Mexico, and in September, Forbes reported that Toyota was looking to add a full assembly plant in Mexico, its first in the country.


A McClatchy report also cited Mexico’s openness to trade as a key driver, but it placed the number of FTAs at 45:


There’s another key factor. President Enrique Pena Nieto, in announcing in August that the South Korean automaker Kia would build a $1 billion plant outside Monterrey, noted that Mexico has free-trade agreements with 45 nations. The United States, in contrast, has free-trade accords in force with only 20 countries. Brazil has only eight free-trade agreements.

Regardless of what prompted the OEMs to set up assembly plants, where they go, their suppliers follow, and where their suppliers go, they need to install new machines.


“We see market growth, especially in automotive and packaging,” Imre Szerdahelyi, head of corporate communications and marketing at KraussMaffei told Plastics Technology. In addition to a Netstal machine running a closure at its stand, the company exhibited an automotive component applying its FiberForm technology.


Mold component supplier DME noted that overall business was down slightly, although the fourth quarter seemed to be finishing strong, with automotive leading the way.


For injection molding machine supplier Haitian, which is represented in Mexico by China Plastic Machinery, automotive takes up the majority of its sales in terms of dollar value. José Antonio Barroso, general manager of China Plastic Machinery noted that when Japanese car makers come to Mexico, for instance, they arrive with 20 to 25 suppliers, and set up a manufacturing campus, to his company’s benefit.


“Fortunately, all machines were sold during exhibition,” Barroso said following Plastimagen. “Right now, the market is really hot.” In response to the market’s success, Barroso said Haitian will be increasing machinery inventory in country for immediate delivery.


For Japanese injection molding machine supplier JSW, automotive represents the biggest growth market, followed by containers, according to Charles Greenwell, Western Regional Sales Manager. Bill Hricsina, international business manager for auxiliaries supplier Conair called automotive “huge” for his company, with additional growth in medical and packaging.


WittmannBattenfeld showed its faith in the market with the show’s largest booth, covering approximately 450 square meters and featuring its full slate of offerings, including auxiliaries, robots and injection molding machines. Matt McCabe, international key account manager, sees a big push for automation in the sector, with automotive customers targeting larger machines like its Macro line that can be complemented by bigger robots. German OEMs, and their suppliers, are boosting the Austrian headquartered equipment supplier, according to McCabe, with his company anticipating 5 to 7 years of “steady, continued growth” in the country.


Guillermo Fasterling, general manager of injection molding machine supplier Arburg’s Mexican operation said that automotive makes up 50% of the German company’s business in country, with Mexico showing growth of 10 to 20% over the last three to four years. “Mexico’s automotive industry has seen very strong growth,” Fasterling said.


At Japanese injection molding machine supplier Nissei, the goal in the coming year is to sell more machines into the automotive sector, according to Patricia Murakami. To that end, the company showed an 80-ton hybrid press molding a seat-belt cover from ABS at Plastimagen. “Our main market was housewares,” Murakami said, “but for last three years, automotive and mobile phone accessories are growing faster.”

Nissan Aguascalientes

Amcor Wins Race for Hot-Fill PET with Metal Lug Closure

By: Matthew H. Naitove 3. December 2014

Amcor Rigid Plastics, Ann Arbor, Mich., claims to be the first to achieve a hotly pursued goal of using metal lug closures on hot-fill PET jars and bottles. The company recently launched a stock 24-oz PET jar with 63-mm neck opening designed for pasta sauces. It’s designed for easy conversion from glass because it uses the same type of capping machinery as hot-fill glass jars with metal lug closures, saving the need for new investment to utilize plastic. According to Bunlim Ly, Amcor senior marketing manager, metal lug closures are also less costly than some alternatives available for capping hot-fill PET containers. For consumers, the benefit of using familiar metal lug closures is the “pop” of the tamper-evident indicator button on the closure when the hermetic seal is broken. Consumers associate that “pop” with freshness and quality, Ly notes. He said Amcor’s next targets for hot-fill PET with metal lug closures will be 82-mm salsa jars and 38-mm bottles for hot-fill juice and tea beverages.


The “enabling technology” for this development is a patent-pending system Amcor calls A-PEX. It involves special engineering of the PET container and slight modification of the lug closure. Ly calls it a breakthrough technology because it’s the first to overcome obstacles of deformation of the PET container neck to achieve proper sealing necessary for the “pop” on first opening the container. Ly says the A-PEX63 containers are within the industry average range in weight—neither extra-heavy nor extra-light—and meet the industry average for opening torque. The pasta-sauce jar is made by reheat stretch-blow molding using a blow-trim process whereby a “dome” of extra material is cut off the neck of the container after blowing.

'Green' Alternative To EPS Underway At Findland's VTT Tech Research Center

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 2. December 2014

With an aim to develop both an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective alternative to expandable polystyrene (EPS) for light packaging and insulation is Findland’s VTT Technical Research Center. VTT cites that the annual production volume of EPS is now around 12-million lbs, with most of the material ending up in either landfills or being burned which results in the release of hazardous compounds.


VTT has developed an alternative based on PLA, a bioplastic made from renewable materials with the help of lactic acid. Researchers have been investigating methods of foaming bioplastics to make beads that are further refined into products such as insulation sheets using typical EPS manufacturing processes.


According to research team leader Antti Ojala, the expansion of the bioplastic by foaming is carried out with consideration for the environment using CO2. The density and heat insulation properties of the new biomaterial have been demonstrated to be similar to those of polystyrene.

VTT is now planning to bring its developmental work closer to industrial processing—moving from laboratory work to factory testing. As such, VTT is actively looking to partner in furthering this development with companies operating in the field. According to Ojala, PLA products similar to PS already exist, but are too high in cost. In that vain,VTT will be looking for new and more efficient production methods to enable the manufacturing of ‘affordable’ products.


VTT is also developing a process for PLA based on extrusion foaming with the aim of replacing PS in traffic and packaging applications.


Interested parties can contact research team leader Ojala at:


Do note that at NatureWorks' Innovation Takes Root conference in April of this year, a PLA bead foam called Zealofoam was displayed by its developer, New Zealand's The Biopolymer Network and one of its sharedolders Scion.  


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





Are Fillers and Pigments Impacting Your Processing Parameters?

By: Tony Deligio 25. November 2014

Wylie Royce, officer & director of resin and additive supplier Royce Associates, East Rutherford, N.J., laid out how the impact of fillers and additives has grown in recent years with a “then and now” breakdown of how recipes, and processes, have changed:


Then: Loadings of 20%—mostly pigments—in commodity resins with melt-flow rates of 12-13 and 20-40 second cycles. The parts were heavy gauge with huge gates and processed with low shear under normal mixing. Let-down ratios up to 10%, with dry color used.


Now: Loadings of 80% for dyes and pigments in specialty resins, with cycle times of 4 seconds in tools utilizing hot runners making thin-gauge parts, under intensive mixing and high shear.


“The processing window keeps getting narrower and narrower, as demands get higher and higher,” Royce said, speaking at SPI’s recent Equipment and Moldmaker’s Leadership Summit.


Here, as in life, you can follow the money to the source of the problem: by displacing resin with fillers, the costs of the part can be lowered, and, often times, despite the impact on processing, additives can boost functionality in finished parts. In this new world where loadings can reach 80%, Royce offered some advice to processors dealing with dramatically altered recipes.


  • Feeders: “Variations of 5% or more in a feeder can become very costly as prices escalate with heavy loads,” Royce said. “Adding only one or two pellets per 200-300 natural pellets requires much more accurate feeding since each pellet difference means greater color variation.”
  • Wall Thickness: If the wall thickness of a part or the gauge of a sheet is reduced in half, the amount of colorant required to achieve the same color and opacity doubles.
  • Part Weight: If part weight is reduced and the pigment is doubled, this could contribute to longer cycle times or warping.
  • Sheet Extrusion: Noting that an extruder is a basically just a “pump,” Royce said processors need to be aware that they have mixing limitations and actually are more prone to visible color streaks than injection molding.
  • Blow Molding: Blow molding, especially extrusion blow molding, has the same limitations as sheet extrusion.
  • Loading Levels: Resins heavily loaded with pigments will have a lower flow even with the addition of melt enhancers.
  • Carbon Black: Carbon black pigment reduces flow very quickly as the percent rises in the finished product.
  • Dyes: Dyes act differently than pigments, melting, acting like oil, and taking melt flow “through the roof,” according to Royce.


“The real savings in using a higher loaded concentrate are not as straight forward as they would first appear,” Royce said. “Normal parameters, such as melt flow (MFR) can be dramatically affected by additives—don't just go by the resin manufacturer’s listed MFR. Always test a new tool or product with the concentrate that is going to be used. Don't test with natural resin; colors and additives can dramatically change processes.”

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