Manufacturing Innovation Hub To Strengthen U.S. Leadership In Next-Generation Composites

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 12. January 2015

Last Friday, President Obama and Vice President Biden visited the Clinton, Tenn.-based Techmer PM LLC manufacturing site, and after touring a portion of the facility, the President made a major announcement about the creation of a $250-million manufacturing innovation hub aimed at strengthening U.S. leadership in next-generation composite materials.


The Knoxville, Tenn.-based Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) is a consortium of the Department of Energy (DOE) and 122 company partners and members, including Techmer ES (Engineered Solutions), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Techmer PM.


IACMI, which is part of a larger plan to boost manufacturing, foster innovation, and create jobs for the middle class, will focus on cutting-edge research on advanced composites, such as carbon fiber compounds, which Techmer ES has developed. This composite was recently used to bring to life an additive manufacturing (or, 3D printing) project with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).


“Our successful work with Oak Ridge National Laboratory was the genesis for the President’s visit and a prime example of composite materials advances achieved through a transformative technical partnership,” said chairman and CEO of Techmer PM John Manuck. Techmer ES partnered with ORNL, contributing its high-performance materials expertise to help the DOE laboratory develop a large-scale additive manufacturing system. Techmer ES created a unique carbon fiber-based thermoplastic formula to help further ORNL’s progress in building an additive manufacturing system that is 200 to 500 times faster and can print components ten times large than what was previously possible. This is the BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine, developed by ORNL and Cincinnati Inc., that was used to produce the “Strati”, the world’s first 3D-printed car that was designed by Local Motors and made its debut at IMTS 2014. It extrudes hot thermoplastic to build parts layer-by-layer, similar to an FDM machine.  


Following a further upgrade to BAAM, ORNL and Techmer ES developed the first full-size 3D printed electric car. The fully-functioning Shelby Cobra 289 FIA was unveiled during last Friday’s tour. The 1400-lb vehicle contains 500 lbs of 3D printed parts (the body of the vehicle) made from Electrafil J-1200/CF/20, a 20% carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS formulated by Techmer ES. The material was also used for the tooling, according to Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer PM, “From a new carbon fiber technology to the exciting frontier of large-part additive manufacturing—3D printing—our working relationship with the National Lab has been a model of cooperation and innovation,” he said. 


The vehicle is now at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit—Jan. 12-25.


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



Polymer Technology Innovations To Star At 'NPE2015 Startup Garage'

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 12. January 2015

SPI is expanding its NPE2015 Startup Garage, the program it developed in partnership with the new-venture tracking firm Startup.Directory to provide startups with prominently located exhibit stations at the upcoming show this March.


There are already twelve such startups exhibiting with innovations in bioplastics, recycling, 3D printing, polymerization, resin processing, and antimicrobial polymers. Three of these have developments in the burgeoning field of graphenes—two-dimensional carbon-atom nanostructures that can be used to formulate plastics composites with dramatically enhanced properties.


 Originally the plan called for the selection of a limited number of startups by the partners, but with these twelve already on board and additional demand from the marketplace, SPI will expand Startup Garage space and accept more applications. Brad Williams, SPI’s director of trade show sales & marketing, noted that there has been an enthusiastic response by new companies doing exciting things at the forefront of polymer technology. “While some of these startups propose new ways to address pressing issues involving renewable resources and waste reduction, others offer enhancements of plastics manufacture and product performance. The quality of the exhibitors so far has led us to extend the call for more.” Here are the current twelve startups and their technologies:


Aguas Pristinas S.A. Patented zero-waste beverage container and packaging system, with products designed to be recovered for re-use in other forms. One example, is roofing products derived from bottles. (web address not yet available).


Biobent Polymers. “Bio-composite” polymers with up to 40% renewable content from soy or other renewable agricultural products.


cycleWood Solutions Inc. Compostable and sustainable resins produced from lignin in tree byproducts generated during papermakeing, LDPE-like film grades are 100% compostable. Injection molding grades are available in either compostable or sustainable (blended with polyolefins) versions.


Formlabs, Inc. 3D printing systems for engineers, designers, and artists. One system uses SLA (stereolithography) to produce high-resolution prototypes. The company also develops materials for 3D printing and 3D-printing software.


Garmor Inc. Graphene priced for high-volume plastics applications. The company also has developed methods for incorporating graphene into plastics and shares this information with customers.


iQLPE LLC. Development of polymer materials and manufacturing processes for polymer suppliers, converters, and end users. Solutions highlighted at the show will include semiconductor packaging, film and laminate extrusion, and structural polymers.


Plastics EQ Corp. Web marketplace where companies post offers of and requests for recycled plastics online. The company integrates the full-sales cycle, including paperwork, payment/collection, freight management, credit check, etc.


Productfast Automation. Technology for monitoring a manufacturing operation that replaces the Andon light system with wireless audio and visual effects.


Smart E2 Solutions, LLC. System for producing fuel products from non-recyclable plastics. About a gallon of fuel is produced from 8 to 10 lb. of unwashed, unsorted waste plastic at a cost of less than $1.


TiFiber Inc. Antimicrobial polymers that exhibit broad-spectrum activity against bacterial species, including drug-resistant strains such as MRSA. Among potential applications are medical devices and disposables, synthetic textiles, and consumer goods.

Zzyzx Polymers. New “mechanochemical” process for compatibilizing, encapsulating, and fully dispersing materials into plastics, with a pilot plant established in Pennsylvania. To be highlighted at the show: graphene conductive PP; HIPS; and a polycarbonate-like PP.


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



Highlights Of Interior Applications' Finalists of SPE Auto Innovation Awards

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 7. January 2015

In our January 2015 issue, I reported on the award winners of the eight categories of the 2014 SPE Automotive Innovation Awards and noted that just about all other finalists are newsworthy. Here are three innovations in the interior applications category that grabbed my attention.


Door-Trim Local Reinforcement With Tapes: This is featured in the 2014 Ford Transit Courier B460 van and was produced by Turkey’s Fompak Automotive Plastics and Interiors. The injection molded part is produced using Celstran CFR-TP PP-GF 70-13 glass/PP tapes from Celanese. To improve mechanical properties in select locations on this door-trim panel, unidirectional glass/PP tapes were added locally late in this program. While contributing less than 1% to part mass, the tapes improved impact, stiffness and strength by a factor of five without need to change tooling. Tapes are inserted into the tool via automatic fixation and held in place prior to ovemolding via magnet or glue. The technique can be applied to either injection or compression molding and is very universal, so it can be transferred to other OEMs, vehicle lines and systems. Also notable are that crack propagation during crash tests is stopped and there is a reduction fuel consumption resulting from weight savings compared to the previous use of glass-fiber reinforced PP or nylon which increased weight by about 20%.

Instrument Panel (IP) Top Storage Bin and Device Dock: This is featured in the 2015 Ford Figo subcompact car and was injection molded by Mitchell Plastics, Kitchner, Ont., using SABIC’s Cycoloy LG8002 PC/ABS, Celanese’s Celcon UV90Z POM, and BASF’s Ultramic A3WG7 Nylon 6. This personal electronic device docking with spring clutch provides IP storage as well as charging capability and is a new feature for improved utility and customer satisfaction. This patent-pending device also facilitates hands-free phone usage for reduced driver distraction when having a conversation, listening to music, or using satellite navigation. The application can be translated to other vehicle lines.

Temperature Averaging Discharge Air Sensor: This is featured in the 2014 Ford Fusion mid-size car and was injection molded by Germany’s TDK-EPC AG, using Bergamid A70H nylon 66 and B70G30 nylon 6 GF30 from PolyOne Th. Bermann GmbH. This all-plastic air sensor performs the averaging of duct-air temperature without use of a metal plate. By using an optimized “Christmas tree” mounting system, a wide range of duct wall thicknesses can be accommodated without need of a rubber O-ring, saving cost of about 12% and weight of about 38%. Since it directly measures air temperature, the patent-pending system offers faster sensor response time, which in turn translates to improved fuel savings. It also incorporates a poka-yoke feature to ensure proper installation, and can be transferred to other vehicle lines.


Lower Prices for Recycled Resins: A Mixed Blessing?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 7. January 2015

As reported this month by Contributing Editor Debbie Galante Block, prices for recycled resins are down sharply across the board, as a result of plunging oil prices and the resulting decline in prices of chemical feedstocks and virgin resins. Good news for resin buyers? Yes, in the short term. But, as Debbie’s sources note, a prolonged slump in recycle prices is apt to depress efforts at collecting plastic waste for recycling.  The year 2014 proved to be a “so-so” year for recycled material markets, with maybe a bit of a bright spot in PP. While recycled resin prices were up and down, the oil-price slide at the end of the year almost immediately affected recycled resin pricing as well. While that may be good news for processors, who can now get virgin materials for the same prices as recycled materials, the environmentally conscious resin buyer may suffer in the end, as lower prices affect enthusiasm for collecting materials to be recycled. As one recycler puts it, “Why recycle HDPE if virgin prices are equal?”


In the case of recycled PP, the return to earth of formerly stratospheric prices is a source of optimism for at least one recycler. “Natural bales were at 57¢, now they are at 35¢. That’s only in five weeks,” this source commented.”I think it will be a healthier market, once there is a price adjustment. I like it when prices are more realistic.”


Much of the growth in recycled PP is coming from Walmart’s call for recycled materials in its products. Much R-PP is generated from yogurt containers, apple-juice bottles, etc. Because of Walmart’s interest, “We are able to spark growth in collection,” says one reprocessor. “That’s how the cap and lid market was developed. It’s exciting to see the whole supply chain working for a common goal and seeing results.”

Tea Leaves Point to Growth, Greater Connectivity in Manufacturing in 2015

By: Tony Deligio 6. January 2015

Apart from college football bowl games and resolutions, few things are as synonymous with the New Year as predictions. Below I’ve linked to some prognostications for the manufacturing sector over the coming year, many of which foreshadow similar story lines.


Back in September, I wrote about the ARC Advisory Group’s efforts to map manufacturing’s future through 2050, let alone the next 12 months, where the concept of broader connectivity and “information-driven” manufacturing were key elements.


On Dec. 5, International Data Corp. (IDC) released its worldwide manufacturing predictions for 2015, which pointed to the data-driven factory foretold by ARC. Simon Ellis, practice director IDC Manufacturing Insights, talked about “ubiquitous connectivity and data-driven insights” in the report, which included some specific forecasts.


  • By 2017, manufacturers will actively channel 25% of their IT budgets through industry clouds that enable seamless and flexible collaboration models.
  • In 2015, product quality, including compliance, will underpin two thirds of all IT application investments across the manufacturing organization.
  • In 2015, 65% of companies with more than 10 plants will enable the factory floor to make better decisions through investments in operational intelligence.
  • Investments that enable digitally executed manufacturing will increase 50% by the end of 2017, as manufacturers seek to be more agile in the marketplace.


Laura D. Reilly of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute had six predictions for manufacturing in 2015, with two specifically focused on technology bettering plant floor output. In addition to ongoing reshoring, a manufacturing boom, increased capital investment, and sector growth that would outstrip GDP’s, Reilly talked about big data and predictive maintenance.


Big data will drive big efficiency: Sensor technologies will drive the concept of connected factories, and will fuel the introduction of mobility-based manufacturing. Web browsers will be used as dashboards to control equipment, identify snags, and make quick decisions that would have previously taken entire teams of people to handle. As connected factories go online, myriad amounts of data will be collected. But 2015 will see that data put to use in a smarter way that makes things operate more efficiently.


Increased investments in predictive maintenance technologies: The proliferation of better and cheaper sensor technologies combined with the trend of connected factories will allow for greater opportunity to implement predictive maintenance technologies that will cut downtime and boost bottom lines.


Boom…Renaissance…Bounce Back
In terms of manufacturing’s predicted performance in 2015, the forecasts are downright rosy. For her part, Reilly sees a “manufacturing boom” in the U.S. saying the sector can “reasonably expect between 4% and 5% growth” with “a new wave of domestic manufacturing” launching in 2015. As part of this wave, Reilly also forecasts the “replacement of aging legacy equipment and investment in new capital equipment that performs better, more efficiently and more reliably.”


Plastics Technology’s Jim Callari and Steve Kline recently tackled the capital spending outlook for plastics (full article here).


PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) sees a “bounce back” for the U.S. in 2015. While China slows and Europe adopts quantitative easing, India is expected to turn the corner and sub-Saharan Africa’s expansion will outpace global growth.


In our main scenario we are projecting the US economy to grow by more than 3% in 2015, the fastest growth rate since 2005. We still expect China to make the biggest contribution to global growth in 2015. However, its projected growth rate of 7.2% would be its slowest since 1990 and its high debt levels pose some downside risks to that main scenario.


Daniel J. Meckstroth, vice president and chief economist as well as council director of the MAPI Purchasing Council, is calling for an acceleration in manufacturing’s growth in 2015, fueled by housing (and subsequently appliances), as well as automotive. Meckstroth, who believes manufacturing growth will outpace that of the overall economy, forecasts that in 2015:


  • Auto sales will increase 3%
  • Housing starts will jump 29%
  • Manufacturing production will grow 4%


The quote, “Never make predictions, especially about the future,” which is attributed to baseball great Casey Stengel, is sage advice, and while it is impossible to know everything that will happen over the next 12 months (I mean, who saw the polar vortex coming last year), manufacturing is starting the year from a very good place. 

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