A Discussion on the Value of Materials Testing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 26. July 2016

The top three reasons processors should consider materials testing.


I found this brief discussion on how plastics processors can benefit from materials testing, offered to us by Americhem, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, extremely interesting. The company, a longtime global masterbatch and additives manufacturer, also made its entry into the plastics compounding business with three important acquisitions over the last four years.


The discussion features two of the company’s key research analytical scientists addressing why many processors are missing out by overlooking the value-added services from their material suppliers.


Pavan Maheswaram and Russ Howard, provide the brainpower behind Americhem’s Analytical and Physical Testing value-engineering services. Their key job: analyze raw materials and their customers’ products to assess quality and provide technical services.


“We spend most of our time developing, improving and implementing analytical testing methods, formulations and manufacturing processes,” says Maheswaram. Adds Howard, “There is a number of reasons we run tests, but we are ultimately providing technical data that customers and other Americhem experts can use to design, improve or otherwise engineer products.”


Their jobs entail doing testing for just about every business unit in the company. “We work with producers of residential and industrial carpets, vehicles and transportation equipment, architectural products, packaging, and specialty products—like nonwovens in dryer sheets. There is plenty of value to be found in taking a closer looks at the composition of your product, regardless of what that may be,” says Howard.


According to Maheswaram, the top three reasons for doing testing are:


Providing customers with documentation to serve as proof of a product’s composition or performance properties;

Troubleshooting—looking for problems or causes of problems with products or processes;

Assessing quality of certain types of products after they’ve been manufactured.


These pros conduct a broad spectrum of tests. With regards to analytical testing, says Maheswaram, thermal analysis is a core competency—whereby they look at how properties of materials change as temperature increases or decreases.


They also do a lot of spectroscopy work—seeing how light reacts with materials, when analyzing a masterbatch, as well as some microscopy when looking at particle sizes, for example. Adds Howard, “We are also focusing more on chromatography lately—separating mixtures to look at proportions of different ingredients to make sure ratios are right or to look for contamination that may have occurred during processing.”


How Long Does Testing Take?
It depends on the application and type of testing, according to these experts. They say the process could range from a few hours to perform some qualitative tests, with other tests taking much longer; generally, tests rarely take more than two weeks to perform, and almost never more than a month.


Greater Interest in Chromatography
A trend they are seeing, according to Maheswaram, is an increased interest in chromatography, as people want to better quantify and analyze the composition of various compounds. “We are also seeing interest in elemental testing super-microscopy, which requires very specialized equipment to carry out.”


Testing Challenges
Asked about testing challenges of which plastics processors should be aware, these pros say it’s important to know that testing methodologies are often proprietary. Says Howard, “If a company doesn’t have knowledge internally about how to conduct certain testing, it can be difficult to look up externally sometimes. You have to develop the tests yourself sometimes, so it isn’t as if someone can just decide one day they are going to conduct a new type of test.”


According to Maheswaram, not everyone has the same expertise. “It takes a lot of time, effort and money to establish certain testing capabilities, which is why we have people all over the world sending things to Americhem’s headquarters for testing.”


Don’t Miss Out
Asked what is the key takeaway from this discussion, Maheswaram advises not to overlook the value of testing—particularly if it is a service an “industry partner” provides at minimal cost.


“There is a lot you can learn from testing that can influence the way you design or improve your products, and you are missing out if you don’t take advantage.” Howard adds that processors should stay in touch with their material suppliers. “We are always looking for ways to expand our capabilities as we work with customers to overcome challenges, so don’t assume you know the full extent of a lab’s testing abilities. They might have changed since the last time you checked.”


For more on Americhem additives and compounds, see PT’s additives and materials database.


Car Parts Made From Agave?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. July 2016


Ford and Jose Cuervo explore development of sustainable bioplastic.


As a company that has long considered itself a leader in biomaterials development for the automotive sector, it was not surprising to hear that Ford Motor, Dearborn, Mich., teamed up with tequila giant Jose Cuervo, to develop a sustainable bioplastic using the fiber byproduct of agave plants.


The Plastics Research Group, part of Ford’s Research & Innovation Center, has been developing bioplastics for over a decade, starting in 2000. In fact, Ford now uses eight sustainable-based materials in its vehicles including soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fiber, cellulose, wood, coconut fiber, and rice hulls.


Now, researchers are testing the developmental bioplastic, for which initial assessments indicate to be very promising due to its durability and aesthetic qualities.  Its use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units, and storage bins is being explored. Said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department, “As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel efficiency.”


The growth cycle of the agave plant is a minimum seven-year process. Once harvested, the heart of the plant is roasted, before grinding and extracting its juices for distillation. Jose Cuervo uses a portion of the remaining agave fibers as compost for its farms, and local artisans make crafts and agave paper from the remnants.


Teaming up with Ford is part of the tequila maker’s broader sustainability plan to develop a new way to use its remnant fibers. Said Sonia Espinola, director of heritage for Cuervo Foundation and master tequilera, “As the world’s No.1-selling tequila, we could never have imagined the hundreds of agave plants we were cultivating as a small family business would eventually multiply to millions. This collaboration brings two great companies together to develop innovative, earth-conscious materials.”


Noting that a typical car has about 400 pounds of plastic, Ford’s Mielewski added, “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet. It is work I’m really proud of, and it could have a broad impact across numerous industries.”


According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 5-billion metric tons (over 11-trillion lbs) of agricultural biomass waste is produced each year. A byproduct of agriculture, the supply of materials is abundant and often underutilized. Yet the materials can be relatively low cost, and can help manufacturers to offset the use of glass fibers and talc for more sustainable, lightweight products.


For more on bioplastics, see PT’s Materials Database.


K 2016: Are We Seeing Something New Here?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 21. July 2016

I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, believe me. After a while, you think you know pretty much what to expect of them. But every now and then, I leave a show with a feeling that I saw something new happening there.


I remember shows in the Seventies when the microprocessor revolutionized plastics machine controls. There was one in the mid-Eighties when I scratched my head at the sudden explosion of robots everywhere. And some of you may have felt like that at shows in the early Nineties: Where did all those electric injection machines come from?


This October’s K 2016 show gives hints of possibly being one of those. Maybe it will be the next NPE or K after this one that confirms those hints. I don’t want to overstate the impact of a phenomenon that, so far, seems to have gained more traction in Europe than here. I’m talking about the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or “Industry 4.0,” or the “Internet of Things” (IoT).


I find the term, “Smart Factory,” a bit more descriptive of the concept—self-regulating production systems in which smart machines talk to each other and to plant supervisory computers and to maintenance departments, spare-parts databases, and, when necessary, to service departments of machine vendors to diagnose problems.


This has been a low-level buzz in the background of major international shows for a little while now; only a few machine builders made it part of their public agenda. But this K Show is different: Most of the major names in injection presses will be talking about it and how they are preparing for what they foresee as a coming upheaval in manufacturing. They have differing names for it, so keep your ears and eyes open for the “4.0” designation and for the OPC UA open-platform, “universal” communications protocol that will make it possible.


Two Close Up news articles in our upcoming August issue touch on the “4.0” phenomenon and OPC UA. There will be more in our September K Show news preview. (You can also read last September’s feature article on the topic.) Please don’t accuse me of falling head over heels for the latest European fad. I’m just trying to do my job of sniffing out the “next wave” before it washes over us. I could be wrong, but I think the surf’s starting to kick up.


Mercedes-Benz Turns to 3D Printing for Plastic Spare Parts

By: Heather Caliendo 20. July 2016

Marks the first time the company is offering 3D-printed spare parts.


German truck manufacturer Daimler AG says that its Mercedes-Benz trucks are using the latest 3D printing processes for plastic spare parts. Starting in September, Mercedes-Benz says that 30 genuine 3D-printed spare parts can be ordered and supplied quickly, economically, in any quantity and always in consistent quality. The available spare parts consist of plastic components. Covers, spacers, spring caps, air and cable ducts, clamps, mountings and control elements are a few examples of the spare part production.


"In keeping with our brand promise 'Trucks you can trust', we set the same benchmarks for reliability, functionality, durability and economy for spare parts from 3D production as for parts from conventional production,” said Andreas Deuschle, head of marketing & operations in the customer services & parts Mercedes-Benz trucks division. "However, 3D offers many more possibilities; this is why we shall be rapidly extending the production of 3D-printed parts."


Currently at Daimler more than 100,000 printed prototype parts are manufactured for the individual company divisions every year. Deuschle said that this prototype construction provided the company with extensive experience with the 3D printing processes.


The printed spare parts are created with 3D printers based on the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing process. For the high quality standards of Mercedes-Benz trucks, the process parameters have been optimized and determined by the Daimler research and development divisions. Every 3D spare part can be ordered by the customer using the special spare part number under which it is recorded in the order code lists and the spare parts catalogues at Mercedes-Benz trucks.


The company says that the challenge in the spare parts business lies in securing supply even for model series that are no longer produced. This means that the range also includes spare parts that have a low demand in small quantities every year. Producing them is increasingly uneconomical for suppliers—production facilities and tools often have to be retained and maintained for years. However, the company says that the 3D printing process solves these challenges. Every 3D spare part is available on demand at short notice all over the world.


The printing itself can take place within a very short time following receipt of the design definition and order, considerably speeding up the production and supply of spare parts. As spare and retrofit parts can still easily be "reprinted" even after a long time using the data stored and supplied without any complex stocking, no warehousing is required either. 


Add Dirt to Your Resin?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 20. July 2016

No, it’s not recommended, but some people do it anyway—inadvertently, through carelessness or lack of training.


I was reminded of this in reading John Bozzelli’s Injection Molding Know-How column in our upcoming August issue (read it here). John’s column is entitled, “Purging: A to Z”, and he makes the valid point that getting all the flow paths in your injection system clean so a new color or material can be introduced without contamination is a job that starts with material handling. It’s a more expansive view of purging than most people have heard before. His point is to prevent contamination throughout the system, all the way back to unloading the truck or railcar.


Thinking about that put me in mind of a lament I heard long ago from a technical-service veteran at a major polyolefin supplier: “We take elaborate procedures to guarantee the quality, consistency, and cleanliness of our materials. But we get service calls from molders who say dirt in our resin clogged up their molds or hot runners. When we investigate how they handle material at their plant, we sometimes find the culprit in the hose and coupling they use to unload a railcar or bulk truck. Believe it or not, at some point before or after unloading, untrained workers let the hose and coupling drop into the dirt. There’s your contamination.”


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