SPE Auto Innovation Awards Winners Span Nine Categories

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. December 2016

The 2016 interior category winner was also the grand award winner.


The winners of the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division’s 2016 Automotive Innovation Awards spanned nine categories, including the winner of the interior category, which also garnered the “grand award”.


A panel of Blue Ribbon judges, which I again had the fortune to be on, voted for this year’s most innovative uses of plastics in automotive parts.


As in previous years, these nine winners as well as several of the other final nominees presented applications that were unique and often times represented a “first”, either as a metal replacement or as an improved plastic replacement.


It is interesting to see that this year, thermoplastics weighed-in in eight of the awards, with thermosets featured in one, with ‘composites’ popping up often.


Let’s take a look at the 2016 “grand award winner”, the second consecutive year in which the body interior category received that honor, as well as the winners of the body exterior and materials categories. I will follow up with a blog on the winners of the other six categories, and in subsequent blog posts, I’ll highlight some of the other finalists in each of those categories that I’m certain you’ll find merit attention for their innovations.


Body Interior & Grand Award Winner: Composite Suspensions for Upper and Lower Backs. Characterized as a “perfect position seat” suspension system, thanks to integrated composite designs, they are featured in Ford’s 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan. This system, for which 83 patents have been filed, is said to deliver tuned suspension to optimize occupant comfort by cradling the upper back and providing side-torso support, which flexes to accommodate various occupant sizes.

Special attachment features facilitate assembly and service time. This design is also said to create a robust dynamic crash-energy management system for rear-impact protection. Molded-in color is used for Class A surfaces and craftsmanship. Moreover, this system reduced seat weight by 8% and cost by 15% despite adding more features.


Materials used include BASF’s Ultramid B3ZG7 OSI and  B3EG3 nylons, Advanced Composites’ ADX 5017 TPO; and DuPont Automotive’s Delrin 100 POM. Tier I suppliers/processors were Leggett & Platt Inc. and Magna International/Summit Plastics Molding & Century Plastics.


Body Exterior: Structural Front-End Module with Active Grille Shutter. This part, featured in Ford’s 2016 Ford SuperDuty pickup, is an all-composite design without metallic reinforcement that is reportedly the first active grille shutter (AGS)-capable, injection-molded LFT-PP front-end module bolster used on a heavy-duty platform.

Replacing steel and plastic/metal hybrids at a 3 lb and $3 savings per vehicle, this design offers part consolidation with locating features that aid fit and finish, improve air flow, and meet structural requirements for part deflections of <1mm on this 8500-lb class vehicle. Shape Corp. is the Tier I supplier and Celanese’s Celstran 40-20 long-fiber thermoplastics (LFT) PP are the material.


Materials: Vacuum Brake Tubes. Featured in GM’s 2016 Chevy Silverado & Sierra pickups, this required a high-performance thermoplastic for vacuum brake tubing that could replace reinforced rubber. The OEM and Tier I supplier Cooper Standard looked for a material that had a broad temperature performance (-40 to 150 C), chemical resistance, burst strength to 60 bar minimum and flexural strength to 50 N minimum.

The material also had to resist vacuum collapse after 2 hr @ 150 C and provide retention after 336 hr @ 150 C. The design was changed to use a smaller diameter and thinner wall to simplify engine/undercarriage routing and eliminate heat shields plus allow quick connects. DSM Engineering Plastics developed Arnitel CM622, a thermoplastics polyester elastomer (TPC-ET) with high thermal oxidative stability. It is 30% lighter, less costly, and eliminates brackets. 

Video: Peter Neumann's Exit Interview

By: Tony Deligio 19. December 2016

After 35 years (and 12 K Shows), Dr. Peter Neumann stepped down as chairman of injection molding machinery and automation supplier, Engel, on Dec. 1.


Plastics Technology sat down with Neumann (above, second from right) at his last K as the boss of Engel to discuss what's changed during his tenure; what advice he had for his nephew (above, middle) who's taking the reins; and what he'll do in retirement.


Starting at the company in 1982 in procurement, where he learned about all the technologies that go into a press, Neumann moved through sales and into the executive suite. During his time, the company and the industry expanded its reach globally, specifically into Asia, where Engel has multiple manufacturing sites. It also expanded technologically, from the 8-bit microprocessors of the '80s to the Cloud-backed onboard supercomputers of today's machines. 


So what's next? Neumann said he plans on visiting countries apart from those where Engel has offices or customers, as well as sailing, sking, and, go figure, jogging. Weather permitting, his plans for the morning of Dec. 1, his first post-Engel? A morning run. 


SPI Rebrands as Plastics Industry Association

By: Heather Caliendo 16. December 2016

SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association is now the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS).


“To continue to drive the industry forward for decades to come, our board of directors made a decision to evolve our purpose-driven organization,” says Bill Carteaux, PLASTICS’ president and CEO. “We’re not a society; we’re an association that helps to shape the future of the industry. Our new identity as the Plastics Industry Association reflects the way forward.”


PLASTICS also unveiled a new logo, which represents the six facets of the plastics industry supply chain, including brand owners, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers, moldmakers, processors and recyclers. Moving forward, the plastics industry is looking to grow and support sustainability and find ways to make recycling easier, hence the association also added its new, and first-ever tagline: “Better Industry. Better World.”


“Our member-driven organization will continue to help the industry grow while promoting new technology through our trade shows and conferences,” says Jim Murphy, chair of PLASTICS’ Board of Directors and president and CEO of Davis Standard, LLC. “At the same time, we’re going to work to evolve the way people think about plastics.” 


Check out video below from Bill Carteaux explaining the change. 


11th Hour Extension to Proposed Lockout/Tagout Rule Changes

By: Tony Deligio 15. December 2016

Deadline extended from Jan. 1 to Jan. 4, 2017 as stakeholders weigh the potential impact on injection machine maintenance and mold changes.


On Monday, Dec. 12, the Plastics Industry Assn. (PLASTICS; formerly SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association) reported that OSHA had extended a deadline for affected parties to give feedback—including requesting hearings—on changes to lockout/tagout standards for injection molding machines.


Back in November, Plastics Technology reported on the proposed changes to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) Part 62 Plastic Molding Safety Standard R408.16234, designed to help it meet OSHA’s General Industry Safety Standard Part 85 “The Control of Hazardous Energy Sources”.


This latest move, according to PLASTICS:


…would remove “unexpected” from the term “unexpected energization” in the existing general industry standard for the control of hazardous energy, lockout/tagout (LOTO; 29 CFR 1910.147). The standard applies to and establishes requirements during servicing and maintenance operations “in which the unexpected energization or startup of the machines or equipment, or the release of stored energy could cause injury to employees.”


According to PLASTICS, the rub, in part, lies in the fact that:


OSHA’s proposal would expand the applications in which lockout is required, and would present challenges in demonstrating the efficacy of automated controls that could eliminate the potential for unexpected energization and therefore eliminate the need for LOTO.


Molders I’ve spoken with on the topic are understandably reluctant to be quoted on the record regarding these changes, fearful in part of an unexpected safety inspection at their plants. I did receive some input via email from an injection molding professional whose résumé includes time on the shop floor at an injection molding operation in Michigan.


That individual noted that his company had discussions about what it would take to perform a complete lockout/tagout on an injection molding machine during mold changeovers. The biggest issue then and now was impact on downtime—specifically downtime related to barrel heating not physical tool changeover.


If a molder locks out power on a press, power to barrel heats is also interrupted. Many molders use the time it takes to change tooling to allow the barrel temperatures to “soak to the new material set points”, my contact wrote, adding:


Essentially, the new rule means that all that time for barrel heats, mold heats, and the machine’s oil temperature to stabilize will have to be completed in series and not in parallel with the physical mold change. 


He went further noting that, estimates of this adding an hour to each mold change could be conservative depending on the material being run and the strictness of the rule interpretation.


If one must lockout a machine when performing a changeover, does this at some point mean the machine must be locked out anytime a person needs to put a body part into the clamping area? If this is the case, we are looking at needing to lockout the machine anytime the parting line of the mold needs to be cleaned or a runner gets stuck, or any of the 100s of other different scenarios that happen each day that require worker interaction in the clamping area. 


My source said that newer machines have proven, reliable means to prevent the clamps from moving when the operator or non-operator doors are open, but older machines are “the real issue,” specifically the “30-year-old machines that still use limit switches to verify the door is closed.”


These switches can be “tricked” into thinking the doors to the clamp are closed, in ill-guided, but nonetheless, real-world attempts to limit downtime.


You might ask yourself, ‘Who in their right mind would tie back a door limit switch? that can’t be possible.’ Well it has happened, and people have made bad decisions and paid a horrible price for them. “To err is human” but a person’s punishment for the error should not have to be the ultimate one.   


In its Dec. 6, 2016 email newsletter, MIOSHA reported that the 41st death of a Michigan worker for the year occurred on Nov. 30. There were 29 MIOSHA-related deaths in 2015, with the fewest back in 2009—24. As MIOSHA said in the article, and every party in this current discussion can agree, “Every life is precious. Our mutual goal must be that every employee goes home at the end of their shift every day.”


Do you have questions/feedback/information regarding this topic? Please log in and comment or send it my way:


Will Oil Price Fluctuations Continue to Be a Key Driver In PE Pricing?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 13. December 2016

Oil prices just rallied above the $50/bbl mark; this, while PE prices continued to decline this month.


Within the last four to five years, crude oil prices have been one of the key drivers influencing PE pricing. Plunging oil prices this year helped keep PE prices relatively stable until September when suppliers successfully implemented a 5ȼ/lb increase; this owing to tightened supply at the time.


In fact, the September PE price was the highest since January 2015, when crude oil first dropped to $45/bbl from $90/bbl. Also that month, domestic commodity PE film processors followed suit by announcing price hikes of 6%.


At that time, I spoke with Mike Burns, Resin Technology, Inc.'s (RTi) v.p. of client services for PE, and he cautioned on likely competition from imported finished PE goods that could emerge following this action. Burns emphasized the influence of the plastic bag market on overall PE pricing by noting these key factors:           


Nearly 40% of PE sold is used for film applications: retail bags, garbage bags, food packaging, construction, medical supplies, etc.


Cost to produce a retail bag, grocery bag or can liner in China/Southeast Asia and deliver to a North American city is 25ȼ/lb over the cost of resin.


Cost to produce a retail bag, grocery bag or can liner in North America and deliver to a North American city is also 25ȼ/lb over the cost of resin.


Note: In 2015 and 2016, the average cost to produce and deliver PE pellet derived from oil/naphtha was near 45ȼ/lb; for that same time frame North America’s average cost to produce and deliver PE pellet from shale gas was 30ȼ/lb).


North American PE suppliers need to keep film production in North America.


When the price delta exceeds 10%, retailers call China/Southeast Asia.


Although Burns, and other industry pros, initially thought PE suppliers would aim to hold on to that 5ȼ/lb margin gain through year’s end, by the October-November time frame, things were looking quite different. Industry dynamics, including suppliers’ growing inventories, sluggish export demand, some softness in domestic demand, and lower prices abroad hampered that aim.


Burns had noted that “something had to give”.  He pointed out that PE contract prices were now 5ȼ above what they should be. At the same time, spot prices were as much as 10ȼ/lb lower vs. a more typical 5-7ȼ less than contract prices. Ditto for export prices which were 15ȼ lower vs. a more typical 7-10ȼ less than contract prices.


By early November, PE suppliers offered price concessions of 3 cents/lb, and some signaled further drops for December on the order of 2-5ȼ/lb, with 2-3ȼ, a more realistic expectation, ventured Burns. Speaking with Burns on December 1, regarding what might happen in January, he noted that if crude oil prices moved up to an expected $50/bbl, that may stop any further PE decreases, but will not result in increases. Only if oil prices rise beyond $55/bbl, will shale gas prices also move up, as will PE prices, he ventured.


Which bring us to Monday, Dec. 12, when nearly a dozen non-OPEC producers agreed to reduce their crude oil output in support of OPEC’s efforts to prop up prices. Prices jumped to $53.95/bbl, with some analysts talking about a $60/bbl or more emerging.


However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook stated that the resurgence of U.S. shale will undermine the OPEC-fueled price rally, putting a cap on oil prices at about $50/bbl through 2017. The EIA also is doubtful on how much OPEC will actually follow through on its deal.


“The extent to which the announced plans will be carried out and actually reduce supply below levels that would have occurred in their absence remains uncertain.” The agency ventures that an above $50/bbl rally will simply serve to revive U.S. shale drilling, which will “encourage a return to supply growth in U.S. tight oil more quickly than expected.”


Back to RTI’s Burns, whose 2017 forecast is based on RTi’s naphtha resin cost model; namely, naphtha has a close10:1 ratio with oil—it moves very close to oil price movements. Every $2/bbl change in oil prices equals approximately 1ȼ/lb in the cost to make a pellet from naphtha. As such, every $10/bbl price movement above or below $50/bbl will increase or decrease the PE price 4-5ȼ/lb.


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