Passing of a True Pioneer in Plastics

By: Tony Deligio 11. August 2015

I pretty much knew I was missing my flight when I turned my rental car out of Blackwell Plastics’ factory in Houston’s Third Ward that late afternoon in February 2010, but after such a great tour, I really didn’t care. 


My host that day was L.D. Blackwell, whose enthusiasm for plastics, after 71 years working in it, and life, with 85 years under his belt, was infectious. My other guide, Jeff Applegate, who was then president of Blackwell but has since left the company, knew my schedule and had been gently nudging L.D. to wrap up his tour but to no avail. I learned today that L.D. passed away on August 9 at the age of 89.


Over the decades, many part designs crossed over L.D.’s desk, with many of those coming from would-be inventors hoping the new, emerging material class of plastics could help make their napkin-sketch doodle a mass-produced reality. All those parts and products had a story, and L.D. shared many of them with me that day, retelling the development of everything from the first weed eater to an innovative wine opener (one of which I still have) and even components on the first heart bypass pump (the University of Houston medical center’s sprawling campus is just minutes from Blackwell).


The inventor that jumpstarted it all for L.D. was his father, L.A. Blackwell, whose concept of a slip cork insert for fishing became the father and son team’s first product, with L.D. deciding early on to switch it from wood to plastic while he was still a teenager. The only interruption in his plastics manufacturing career—a two year stint in the Air Force during World War II.


I wound up meeting L.D. and learning Blackwell’s story almost by accident. Attending the Society of Plastics Engineers annual Polyolefin Conference in Houston that year, I struck up a conversation with Applegate over lunch, who convinced me to take an afternoon to visit Blackwell, largely on the basis of his description of L.D.


I pulled into the rental car return at George Bush Intercontinental Airport around the time my plane backed away from its gate, thinking less about my missed flight and more about the incredible history just shared with me. Despite the extra night in Houston, I’m grateful I got the chance to tell L.D.’s story and know he will be missed in plastics and the Houston community (pictured below, L.D. in he and his father's shop, photo courtesy Blackwell Plastics.) 

L.D. Blackwell

Involved in Extrusion? We've Got You Covered With New Conference

By: James Callari 11. August 2015


If your company is involved in extrusion—be it film, sheet, pipe, profile, tubing, or compounding, or some combination thereof—The Extrusion 2015 Conference is for you. Developed by Plastics Technology Magazine, more than 60 presenters at this inaugural event will give you unprecedented access to new technology, tips and techniques, and best practices aimed at helping you boost efficiencies at your operation.


There will also be an opportunity to network not only with presenters, but with the more than 30 suppliers to the extrusion processing market who are exhibiting at this event.


Here are some quick links to provide you with more information about this event:


  • Click here to download a PDF of the complete agenda listing all the speakers, topics, and time slots. Note that the mornings of each day are devoted to general extrusion topics; while the afternoons will feature three concurrent breakout sessions.


  • Click here for information on pricing details. Register before Oct. 2 and receive a $100 discount. Take note of special pricing for companies sending three or more people.



  • And don’t forget to register at the hotel. Rooms are filling up fast. We’ve negotiated a special rate with the conference hotel: The Omni Charlotte. Click here to begin that process.


We look forward to having you join us at The Extrusion 2015 Conference…the one and only conference you’ll need to attend this year.

Development of New Type of Carbon Fiber for Thermoplastics Gets Funding

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 10. August 2015


“Thermoplastic fiber composites as a new type of material class offer several new opportunities for the application and processing of carbon fiber materials. They enable, for example, shorter cycle times, weldability, reparability and reuse, thereby offering the customer cost and processing benefits,” states a recent press release from Germany’s SGL Carbon SE (U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.)


Although this is not entirely new to most of you, what is new is that the SGL Group,‘The Carbon Company’, one of the globe’s leading suppliers of carbon fiber, is now receiving funds (about $1.1-million) from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for the development of a new type of customized carbon fiber for thermoplastic applications, with automotive in the limelight.


The research project linked to this funding, called MAI CaFeE (Carbon Fiber with Enhanced Elongation), was initialized in April and will run until June 2017.  MAI stands for Munich, Augsburg and Incolstadt—one of the fifteen technology networks in the Germany-wide BMBF Leading-Edge Cluster funding program which supports promising projects for carbon fiber composites.


As implied by its name, this project’s goal is to develop a carbon fiber with “significantly increased elongation” as well as an optimized surface structure adapted to the existing sizing systems. Development advances derived from the MAI polymer project, one of SGL’s existing projects in the “leading-edge cluster MAI Carbon, are serving as a basis for the recently funded MAI CaFeE research project.


Perhaps more importantly, the MAI CaFeE research project is also being supported by two project partners: the University of Augsburg and the BMW Group. For example, the Chair for Experimental Physics II at the University of Augsburg will assist in analyzing the structure and properties of the new fiber as it is being developed by SGL. To guarantee a timely test in an environment close to the final application--automotive, the newly developed carbon fiber will be tested by the BMW Group.


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


Materials Matter Says Latest Survey on How Auto Engineers Plan to Meet CAFE Standards

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 5. August 2015


Results of the recently released WardsAuto survey, now in its fifth year and sponsored by DuPont Automotive, show that lightweighting and engine efficiency once again top the list of strategies the auto industry is using to meet 2025 CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, and materials are key.

However, the results also strongly indicate that all technologies are getting more emphasis as the mid-term review deadline looms.


The mid-term review by the EPA and NHTSA in 2016-2017 is designed to determine technology readiness and ability to implement at acceptable cost, with a final decision due April 2018. The light-duty vehicle CAFÉ and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions rate standards require, on an average industry fleet-wide basis, 163 g/miles of CO2 in model year 2025, which would be equivalent to 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100km) if this level were achieved solely through improvements in fuel efficiency.


Transmission technologies, new to this year’s survey, and electrification form the second tier of strategies, according to the nearly 900 respondents in the automotive design and engineering community. Says Jeff Sternberg, DuPont Automotive technology director, “Lightweighting is a universal approach because it can be applied to every system and every component and it amplifies the impact of the other strategies. Electrification, which saw one of the largest increases in mention this year, is fast becoming another universal strategy. Light electrification, such as start/stop, regenerative braking systems and transmission and engine controls, is expanding across the light vehicle fleet.”


With the mid-term review around the corner, 86% of the respondents say they expect the standards to strengthen or remain the same. At the same time, 87% say low gas prices in combination with low sales of fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles will impact programs to meet CAFÉ regulations. Notes Sternberg, “The responses might suggest that the industry is backing off technologies that lower emission and improve fuel economy…but, it’s important to remember the global automotive industry has to navigate emissions regulations throughout the world, so we still need to run full-steam ahead. That said, the current market dynamic is certain to spark some likely debate during the mid-term reviews.”


Meanwhile, materials matter! This year once again, survey respondents point to aluminum and multi-material solutions as the materials that can best help them meet CAFÉ standards. Engineering plastics and advanced high-strength steel comprise the second tier. Respondents continue to express “moderate confidence” that today’s material are sufficient to meet the future standards.


Says Sternberg, “We’re pretty bullish on the impact that material can have on lightweighting and new solutions continue to be introduced. But materials alone are not enough when it comes to reducing vehicle weight in the 10-15% range. Those big opportunities require fundamental changes in design, manufacturing and assembly as well. These more ‘disruptive technology’ developments are taking longer, but the work is moving forward. High-volume adoption by 2025 may be optimistic for some of them, as we are just a little more than two vehicle model cycles away, but I’m confident we will see an impact.”


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


PE Film Market Analysis: Geomembrane Liners

By: James Callari 5. August 2015


In 2014, approximately 400.7 million lb  of PE resins were consumed in the production of geomembrane lining systems. With an average annual growth rate of 3.4%, total PE resin consumption for this market is expected to reach 442.8 million lb by 2017.


These are among the conclusions of the most recent study of the PE Film market conducted by Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo.


According to Mastio, geomembrane liners are typically divided into four major groups :


Waste containment: Waste containment applications include hazardous, industrial, and municipal waste. Hazardous landfills, landfill caps, chemical ponds, wastewater lagoons, and solid waste landfills are the most common applications for waste containment geomembrane lining systems. Toxic pollutants in household garbage come from chemicals in cleaning products, paints, oils, insecticides, solvents and other products. The PE liner layer protects surrounding soil and groundwater from toxic chemicals.


Liquid containment: Liquid containment applications include lining systems for aquaculture markets, such as potable water, recreational containment, water conveyance, earth dams, and lining tanks and ponds. The liquid containment market is growing steadily due to international reconstruction of water reservoirs requiring lining systems and floating covers.


Mining applications: Mining, also known as heap leach mining, utilizes synthetic liners to contain chemicals used in extracting minerals such as gold, silver, and copper from ores. The leaching process requires a liner to contain the ore which has been sprayed with cyanide or other chemicals to extract the minerals. The chemical extract is then drained into a holding pond where the minerals are removed from the solution by an electrolytic process. Blast hole liners are used for lining blast holes in the mining industry. As the liner is lowered into a blast hole, the pointed shape of the lower end tends to center the liner in the hole. Upon reaching the bottom of the hole the weighted pocket sags to one side of  the hole and allows later added explosive material to be received at the very bottom of the hole.


Specialty/other applications: These consist of decorative pond liners, tunnels and irrigation canals, cutoff walls, dams, vapor barriers, highway construction, and additional temporary and lightweight lining applications.


Geomembrane lining systems typically have a minimum thickness of 20 mils and a maximum of 120 mils, Mastio says. However, custom liners can range in thickness from 4 mils to 300 mils. The most common gauge for geomembrane liners is 60. Due to the thickness of this product, geomembrane liners are typically referred to as sheet rather than film.


Most geomembrane liners must be over 20-mils thick to insure longevity. Only a small portion of geomembrane liners are less than 20 mils and are recommended for specialty applications, such as water barriers for potable water and non-potable water. 


Geomembrane liner dimensions vary according to the application and the gauge, states Mastio. Geomembrane liner widths range from 15 ft to 34.5 ft  with a typical width of 22 to 23 ft. Liner length varies according to the gauge and weight of the liner. The dimensions of a typical 60-mil geomembrane liner are 23-ft-wide by 500-ft-long totaling an area of 11,500 ft².


Geomembrane liners are extruded and shipped in rolls, Mastio notes. Roll weights vary from 2500 lb up to 7500 lb depending upon liner dimensions and thickness. The roll weight for a typical 60-mil, 23-ft-wide by 500-ft long liner is approximately 3400 to 3900 lb, with a core weight ranging from 40 to 70 lb. Geomembrane liner rolls are shipped on flatbed trailer trucks. Rolls that are shipped overseas are transported in open or closed top containers. Typically, up to 12 full rolls can be shipped per truckload or container.


Geomembrane liners are specifically designed for prolonged exposure to elements in which they are intended. HDPE resin is the most common PE material used in the production of geomembrane liners.



According to the Mastio research, geomembrane liners are typically made from materials such as HDPE, LLDPE, PVC, chlorosulfinated PE, chlorinated PE , and PP, which are designed primarily for containment, water treatment, and protection. Several critical properties, such as flexibility, high strength, durability, puncture resistance, UV stability, and chemical resistance are expected of a high quality lining system.



During 2014, the most common process utilized in the production of geomembrane liners was blown film extrusion, accounting for 72.7% of PE resin consumption. Sheet extrusion accounted for the rest,

Blown film extrusion requires very large dies to manufacture geomembrane liners, normally 86 in. dia. A roll width of 22.5-ft can be produced with a 1:1 blow-up ratio. Widths up to 48 ft. can be achieved by increasing the blow-up ratio, but the increased widths decrease the number of rolls that can be placed on a flatbed truck, increasing transportation costs.


Both monolayer and coextruded structures are produced for geomembrane liners. In 2014, multi-layer coextruded PE film  accounted for 52% of the market. Usually these are two- or three-layer structures.

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