Single-Serve Wine Spritzer in Plasma-Coated PET

By: Matthew H. Naitove 19. August 2014

When it comes to barrier containers, the smaller the package volume, the greater the relative surface area and the more challenging it is to achieve barrier protection. A case in point is a new 330-ml PET screw-top bottle for wine spritzers, which must retain carbonation to preserve the “spritz” as well as prevent oxygen ingress that would spoil the wine.


That was the challenge facing Amcor Rigid Plastics, Ann Arbor, Mich., in designing the bottle for Andrew Peller Ltd., Grimsby, Ont., a Canadian wine producer and marketer. Its wines are made from grapes grown in Ontario, British Columbia, and around the world. Its new skinnygrape line of ready-to-drink wine coolers are low-calorie drinks aimed largely at women. That factor determined the slender, comfortable shape of the custom PET bottles. Barrier properties are afforded by an ultrathin <100 nm) silicon oxide (SiOx) plasma coating applied to the inside of the bottle, which is clear, resistant to cracking and delamination, and does not degrade over time. This glass coating is applied using technology from KHS Plasmax GmbH in Germany (U.S. office in Waukesha, Wis.).

"Arpro" EPP Manufacturer Exceeds Sustainability Goals; Launches EPE Sheet Foam Business Here

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 14. August 2014

JSP (U.S. office in Madison Heights, Mich.), a pioneer and world leader in engineered plastic foam technologies and most widely known as the manufacturer of Arpro EPP, recently reported that it is more than meeting its ambitious Minus40% project to reduce its environmental impact by 40%. The program was launched in 2012, and by end of this year, JSP expects to have reached the 30% mark, according to Paul Compton, president and CEO Europe, Middle East and Africa.


By the end of July, JSP had achieved a 23% reduction in CO2 emissions, water use and waste; had saved 2.38-million/gal of water; and generated a 13,000 kWh/yr electricity savings through new LED lighting installed across its plants. It has also placed economizers on all boiler stacks, heat recovery on compressors and boiler feed water tanks. Currently in planning is a project that would see the recycling and re-use of CO2 to achieve up to 39% savings if installed in two Arpro plants. It would involve recycling CO2 directly from the production line, which would be captured, compressed, liquefied and stored ready for re-use.


Moreover, the company set about conducting research to reduce energy requirements of its Arpro EPP, now used widely in automotive, packaging and a range of consumer goods, which led to the development of a further improved version: Arpro 1000. This bead can be expanded on-site and according to JSP, it can provide the same molding cycle times, shrinkage and appearance characteristics as conventional molding beads. It is also possible to mold a density range from 18-60 g/l with a single grade. The intent of this development was to help redress geographic logistic penalties by significantly reducing transport costs and emissions, increasing the likelihood of material adoption regardless of location.


Meanwhile, JSP has now launched a crosslinked expanded PE sheet foam business in North America that utilizes an electron beam cross-linked method.  Compared to chemically cross-linked PE sheet, the electron beam technology produces more uniform and finer cellular structure and surface. Applications include high-performance tape medical applications, general and industrial converting solutions, flooring, and automotive components. Currently, PE sheet foam is being produced at JSP’s plant in Detroit. To accommodate future increases in demand, it is constructing a 3400 PE sheet foam manufacturing facility in Jackson, Mich., close to its existing plant that produces EPP packaging and components. 


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

Report: Packaging Still Growing

By: James Callari 13. August 2014


Some have suggested that packaging is virtually recession-proof because of its connection to food. The Great Recession proved that might not be exactly true, but the contract packaging business still seems like a good market in which to stake a claim.


The third edition of the Contract Packaging Association's  The State of the Contract Packaging Industry revealed that: 


  • Since 2008, the contract packaging industry has more than doubled in growth.
  • The most prolific industry segments served by the contract packaging industry are food and beverage, but the personal care and pharmaceutical industries are poised for extensive growth through 2018.
  • Since 2008, the contract packaging industry has moved toward a workforce of full-time employees as opposed to using temporary labor yet the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may have a major impact on companies providing employee healthcare.

To ensure the confidentiality of those who participated in the report, the Contract Packaging Association secured the services of SAI Industrial LLC, the independent research firm, which conducted the research for the two previous studies.


For questions about the study email Mary Von Qualen

Is a robotic revolution underway in China?

By: Tony Deligio 13. August 2014

China was the second largest destination for industrial robots in 2012, with sales in the People’s Republic increasing an average of 25%/year from 2005 to 2012, according to the International Federation of Robotics 2013 World Robotics report.


Guangzhou, the epicenter of much of China’s plastics processing, is planning to build two to three “robot industrial development zones”, according to a China Daily article, appropriately headlined: Guangzhou to invest in robots.


In that article, a government official stated that more than 80% of manufacturing operations in Guangzhou would be using industrial robots by 2020, reflecting a period of “explosive growth.” Yi Ming, deputy director of the Guangzhou commission of economy and trade, added that at 30% demand growth, the capital of Guangdong Province was outpacing China’s overall interest in robotics.


Western suppliers look East
As a I researched an article on robotics within plastics processing for a special Industrial Automation supplement produced by PT’s publisher, Gardner Business Media, China emerged as a recurring theme.


My interview with Helen Ke Feng, global industry segment manager, plastics and rubber, at ABB was delayed as she traveled throughout Asia, spending two weeks in the region, noting that the her biggest demand growth came from the Chinese market.


Jean-Michele Renaudeau, managing director of Sepro, said his company is closely watching China. “We are optimistic about the future of Sepro in China,” Renaudeau said, adding that since salaries have been volatile, and increasing, a one-time investment in a robot can allow Chinese processors to stabilize production cost.


Beyond that, the Chinese market, like any market, sees the repeatability benefits that robotics can bring to a process. “Even in an emerging country like China,” Renaudeau said, “you see the exact same tendencies. There is a clear trend towards more robots because automation is the key for productivity, it is the key for quality.”


Jim Swim, business manager at custom automation supplier CBW, has seen interest in his company’s systems flow both ways: U.S. shops automating to meet increased production requirements due to reshored work, and Chinese molders automating to increase quality and lower costs as labor prices increase.


“It used to be that China just had to throw a lot of labor at a project,” Swim said, “but they’ve had to evolve into more automation.” When I visited CBW, one of the cells on its production floor was going through final testing before shipment to China. Swim said CBW has sent a few cells to China over the years, with the vast majority of its projects still in the U.S., and more to come if China doesn’t automate.


“The markets that have been used for China, like packaging, that used to be so much more cost effective,” Swim explained, “are not as cost effective anymore.”


At Chinaplas earlier this year in Shanghai, I asked Werner Wittmann, founder of what is now Wittmann Battenfeld, about the Chinese automation market. Wittmann was an early mover in China, adding production there in 2005. Over the last 8 years, Wittmann said that as labor costs rise in the country, there is greater pressure to automate. Today, there’s a focus on higher automation technology, with a switch from pneumatically driven to servodriven systems.


In March, one month prior to Chinaplas, German robot manufacturer KUKA Roboter GmbH opened a brand-new, 20,000 square meter production facility in Shanghai, with an annual capacity for up to 5000 robots. At the time, Till Reuter, CEO of KUKA AG, noted:


China is the world’s largest and fastest-growing robot market. We have a longstanding partnership with many renowned Chinese customers. In order to accommodate continued growth, we have now significantly increased our capacity in Shanghai.


An expectation for reliability
KUKA’s systems, just like ABB’s, Sepro’s, CBW’s, and Wittmann’s, will be priced to reflect their value. Today, Chinese processors have little choice but to pony up, with 90% of the robots purchased in China imported in, according to Guangzhou’s Ming. The government is hoping to address that with greater domestic supply, as noted in the China Daily article, but Sepro’s Renaudeau, for one, is still optimistic about the long-term prospects for Western robotics suppliers opportunities in China.


“There is a clear demand or expectation for reliability; it's a new philosophy for the Chinese market,” Renaudeau said. “The Chinese market will be very similar to the U.S. or European markets within a few years. You cannot afford to have molding machines or robots that are not being served, with the absolute guarantee that you have a partner that will be there.”

Processor gives employees the time, resources to “go back to school” at work

By: Tony Deligio 12. August 2014

Extruder Charter NEX Films, created by the combination of Charter Films and NEX Performance Films (read the June 2014 Onsite about the company), picked up on how important training was over a decade ago as Charter Films, according to Eric Smith, general manager. Plastics processing requires consistency—same material formula run with the same machine settings and the same inspection—but that repeatability is often lacking when it comes to training.


“Historically, training was done by another operator,” Smith says, “and depending on who the trainer was and the message you received on that specific day, the consistency becomes a little bit questionable. The other thing is: how do you make sure you get the message on how to do things across to people in the correct way, because over time, things can get lost in translation between individuals.”


The University is founded
For the sake of consistency, and to make its training more regimented, then Charter Films instituted its Charter University over a decade ago. As part of the June OnSite, Jim Callari highlighted the Charter NEX University (CNU) initiative. I spoke with Smith about the program as I researched a feature on workforce development for the our upcoming September issue.


The company, which buys German-made Windmoeller & Hoelscher lines,  started CNU with a focus on the high-tech machines, according to Smith.


“The idea that you’re going to take a 400-page manual and put it in front of somebody’s who come in to operate your line and train them that way just isn’t very productive,” Smith explains. Charter NEX’s solution was to break down specific components of the machine and the process and then post training modules, consisting of images, text and videos, to the company’s internal Intranet. At the end of each module, employees complete a test based on its content, to ensure the operator has seen and absorbed the lesson.


The program has evolved from integrating new workers to showing existing employees a potential career path within the company, and what knowledge they’ll need to advance down the road of promotion.


“CNU has laid out directly what employees need to do get to that next step in their job progression,” Smith says. “So it is a really a great development tool as well, in terms of saying, ‘We want our operators and our employees to grow, and here is the path they need to follow to do that.’ The sky’s the limit based on what you can do in terms of showing proficiency in developing these skills. There really was the opportunity to have people grow as quickly as they wanted to or could demonstrate.”


Living, breathing document
An overriding goal of CNU is to be continuously adapting, Smith explains, not only updating as process technology evolves, but also adding new topics, including ones outside shopfloor machinery.


“Now CNU is beyond just the training on pieces of equipment,” Smith said, noting that there are currently modules covering everything from health benefits to an employee’s 401K. “It goes beyond just the training. You’ve got a group of people who are asking, ‘What are the next topics for this living, breathing document? What is the next module that we think will be a valuable tool for the people that work in our facilities?’”


Giving employees the time, resources to learn
Another key to the program’s success: allotting time for employees to “hit the books” during their workday, with each employee provided with the time to do this development work while they’re on their shift, according to Smith.


“Employees have the ability to sit down and work through that module in the half hour or 45 minutes it takes to go through it,” Smith says, “and all of that development occurs while they’re on their shift, which shows the commitment of the company to say, ‘This is important to us, and we will provide that time for you to be able to do that while you’re here.’”


One recurring theme that came up again and again as I spoke with processors about the “skills gap” facing the U.S. manufacturing industry, was the need to look within a company’s own walls for new talent. If it’s hard to find (or pay them if you do) qualified process techs outside your company, commit to building your own in house, like Charter NEX has.


“There can be so many questions with regards to a sophisticated piece of equipment when you have somebody who really has no blown film manufacturing experience,” Smith explains “and being able to get that direct time to ask questions and have them answered—really allowing the opportunity for that development—I think that’s pretty unique in terms of a manufacturing operation.”

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