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Wal-Mart's Made in America Pledge and Plastics

By: Tony Deligio 27. August 2014

For the outsized influence it exerts on manufacturers the world over, there’s one important thing to remember about Wal-Mart, a basic fact stated by company President CEO Doug McMillon during that company’s second U.S. Manufacturing Summit held in Denver.

 

“We don’t make anything,” McMillon, pictured above, said. “We can’t provide value to customers on great items like these and others without having a strong collaborative relationship with you.”

 

The “you” referred to the more than 200 component part suppliers and contract manufacturers that had come to Denver for the second iteration of the summit, hailing from 42 states and Puerto Rico.

 

The “these” referred to the array of U.S. made merchandise stacked around the stage—easily recognizable brands and products as ready props to substantiate the retailer’s January 2013 pledge to source an additional $50 billion in U.S. products over the next decade.

 

It was that pledge that launched the inaugural U.S. Manufacturing Summit held in Orlando last year. The event is meant to serve as a matchmaking mixer between brand owners and U.S. manufacturers, giving the Procter & Gamble’s of the world a face and a name for a U.S. option to manufacture its various brands.

 

Setting the stage
In the minutes before the event began, workers from the Denver Convention Center and Wal-Mart representatives scurried around the auditorium stage, rearranging the product props that ranged from plastic bins and coolers to tires, TVs and light bulbs, with household names like Crest, L’Oreal, Good Year, and John Deere represented.

 

As I settled into my seat accompanied by a media handler, a Wal-Mart representative rushed past, saying aloud the instructions relayed to him on his headset: “Candles with the Old Spice and Connect 4 with the games.”

 

With every product positioned, a video, preceded by Toby Keith’s “Made In America” playing on the loudspeakers, launched the proceedings. On the large screen above the center of the stage, a camera panned across an abandoned factory, while a narrator intoned, “It’s time to get back to what America does best.”

 

Theatrical to be sure, but the summit, which also featured a exposition hall for manufacturers to pitch their skills to reshoring-inclined brand owners, was very much a practical exercise in connecting companies.

 

Michael Araten, president of K’NEX Brands, which includes injection molder, The Rodon Group, sat on a panel with Jim Stephen, executive chairman of Weber-Stephen Products LLC, maker of the iconic Weber grills.

 

Just during their brief time back stage, Araten had already pitched Rodon’s molding capabilities to an interested Stephen for wheels and other plastic elements of the company’s barbecues. Araten himself was on the lookout for new suppliers.

 

“I’m looking for toy motors and I hope I find them tomorrow,” Araten noted. Earlier in the event, a Wal-mart executive encouraged attendees to interact with people around them, noting that the person sitting next to them could supply “the key thermoplastic compound” needed for a new product.

 

Lincoln Logs, Made in the U.S.A. again
Araten also helped lay out the challenge faced by brandowners looking to reshore production that had been shipped overseas years ago. He announced that for the first time in 60 years, production of Lincoln Logs would return to the U.S., a move made possible with Wal-Mart’s help.

“I want to thank Wal-Mart for doing what it is doing here, which is connecting people,” Araten said. Without events like the one in Denver, Araten explained that K’NEX had resorted to the “pick and shovel work of little Google searches” as it tried to reshore production, with mixed results.

 

“It took us four tries to find factories that could not only do it and achieve the quality,” Araten said of Lincoln Log production, “but do it in the high volume you need to fulfill the scale of places like Wal-Mart.”

 

And that last comment is indeed part of the challenge. Wal-Mart, and its vendors, are cold-calling U.S. manufacturers at a time when many have been greatly diminished by a decade of offshoring driven in part by a lower-costs-at-all-costs mentality. To its credit, the retailer gets that and is trying to help U.S. industry regain its footing.  

 

Always low prices
“Yes we want to offer a value,” McMillon said, noting the retailer’s mentality is to run a low margin on high volume, adding that it wants its suppliers to “have a like mind about that.”

 

But, McMillon noted, that’s no longer the entire bottom line. “We want you to be able to make money, and we want you to invest in your business for the long term,” McMillon said. “We want you to innovate, to invest in R&D and create the next new item for next year or years beyond so it’s important that we have that kind of open, trustful dialogue as we do it together.”

 

On the innovation front, Wal-Mart’s U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund issued $4 million in grants to seven research and development institutions to “create new processes, ideas, and jobs that will foster America’s growing manufacturing footprint.”

 

Oregon State University has been chosen for one of the first seven grants from the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund created by Walmart and The Walmart Foundation to help accelerate manufacturing in the United States.

 

Among these was Oregon State University, which received a $590,000 grant for the development of innovations in injection molding; and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), which received a $291,202 grant to support its “Optimal Plastic Injection Molding Tooling Design and Production through Advanced Additive Manufacturing,” research project.

 

‘Stronger economy for everyone’
McMillon sees the summit in Denver, and its overall Made in the U.S.A. push of the last several years, as seizing on an important occasion. “In the U.S., we believe this window of time, these last few years and the years to come, create a great opportunity for us to lean in, do things more aggressively and differently than we would have before and convene groups like this one to create together the situation where U.S. manufacturing can grow and be successful and create an even stronger economy for everyone.”

 

To pass time in the car, my eldest daughter often counts Wal-Mart trucks. We spend a fair amount of time on the main north/south interstate by our house, and there is a Wal-Mart distribution center 25 miles north on that same highway, so on longer drives, it’s not hard for her to reach some pretty big numbers.

 

Since the summit, it’s been reassuring for me to visualize those trucks being filled with more and more U.S. made goods (many of the plastics heavy) and see more and more “Made in the U.S.A.” stickers on Wal-mart’s shelves. Hopefully it’s a trend other retailers and brand owners emulate. (Pictured below from left: Walmart U.S. Chief Merchandising & Marketing Officer Duncan Mac Naughton, Michael Araten of K’NEX and Jim Stephens of Weber Stephens). 

First-Ever Conference Planned on Conformal Cooling

By: James Callari 22. August 2014

Robert A. Beard & Associates, Inc. a well-known provider of technical, engineering and management support for plastics and Plastic Technologies, Inc. (PTI), a global leader in plastic-based package development is announcing the inaugural 2014 Conformal Cooling Conference.

 

The conference, Injection Molding Technology for Increased Efficiency and Profitability,  is aimed at helping OEMs, injection molders, and moldmakers to learn more about the advantages of conformal cooling.

 

The event will take place on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at Automation Alley, Troy, Mich. Fees are $ 495.00, which includes lunch and any conference related materials. The session will begin 8:30 AM, with registration open at 8:00 AM.

 

Beard calls conformal cooling of injection molds "a game changer in the molding industry." Typical cycle reductions of 20% - 40% can be realized, lower reject rates are accomplished because of uniform cooling and stronger parts are achieved through lower molded-in stress.

 

“This technology accelerates the speed of heat transfer and does so more evenly on curved and complex geometry than with conventional molds. This results in improved quality and increased profitability,” states Beard. Click here for an article Beard wrote on the subject in the June 2014 issue of Plastics Technology.

 

Presentations will include:

 

  • Jeff Higgins, Moldflow Corp.: The Design & Analysis of Conformal Cooling Channels.

 

  • Reiner Westoff, Contura MTC GmbH: Vacuum Brazed Conformal Cooled Molds and  Rapid Heat Rapid Cool Process.

 

  • Augustin Niavas, EOS GmbH: Direct Metal Laser Sintering DMLS.

 

  • Doug Hepler, Polyshot: Vacuum Brazed Hot Runner Manifolds and Design Guide For Conformal Cooled Molds.

 

  • Barry Sutherland, North Coast Industrial Imaging: Technologies & Techniques For Troubleshooting Conformal Cooled Molds.

 

FEA Software Predicts Material Response to Repeated Snap Fits

By: Matthew H. Naitove 22. August 2014

Designing parts with snap fits present a particular challenge because of the repeated cyclic loading and unloading. During such cycles, the viscoelastic nature of thermoplastic materials determines how the bouncing back to “normal” occurs—and how it varies with time over multiple stress-strain cycles.

 

That’s part of the challenge that faced Novo Nordisk of Copenhagen, Denmark, a world leader in insulin self-injection pens. These pens are small, but they are precision instruments with a number of complex parts that must work in perfect coordination. Some pens are durable, containing a replaceable drug cartridge, while disposable ones come pre-filled with a drug. Injection typically involves twisting a short needle onto the pen, turning a dial to the required dose, and pushing a button to deliver the medication under the skin. After a given number of doses is injected, either the cartridge is replaced (for a durable device) or the pen is discarded (if a disposable version). In either case, audible clicks occur at key stages of the procedure, reassuring patients that they are engaging the device correctly at each step. But every one of those reassuring clicks represents a challenge to the design engineers. So do the clicks the patient never hears—those that occur during assembly of the pens in production.

 

To integrity of their designs, Novo Nordisk’s Device Simulation department rely on computer simulation with Abaqus finite-element analysis (FEA) software from Simulia, an application of Dassault Systèmes of France (U.S. headquarters in Providence, R.I.). “Over a decade ago, I and my colleagues explored a number of commercial software codes,” says Torben Strøm Hansen, principal scientist in the Device R&D division of Novo Nordisk. “We chose Abaqus because it was a well-integrated solution that could model the nonlinear behavior of the fine details our designs correctly, including the high number of interfaces in contact.”

CAD model of insulin pen components. Gray and red parts snap fit onto the green part.

 

Besides modeling viscoelastic response to repeated snap fits over time, the designers had to predict the behavior of the materials in different environments, including elevated temperatures, even though the pens are assembled from different materials. And, some materials may contain carbon or glass fibers that show anisotropic behavior, which can be hard to predict. Even just sitting on a pharmacy shelf or in a consumer’s medicine cabinet, the materials are prone to creep and relaxation over time at rates that can vary with temperature.

Injection molded ratchet component from a medical device used by Novo Nordisk for a snap-fit benchmark study.

 

Hansen’s team at Novo Nordisk is now using the “parallel rheological framework” methodology available in Abaqus to model polymers’ nonlinear viscoelasticity with greater accuracy than before. The framework makes use of an arbitrary number of viscoelastic networks and an elastic equilibrium network to create a nonlinear model to predict and track changes in the internal structural networks of a polymer as it responds to repeated cyclic snap-fit loads. “Having material models incorporating time-dependent viscous behavior is very important for our work,” says Hansen. “We’re now able to simulate both creep and relaxation with Abaqus.” Since every type of polymer shows a different response to temperature, load, etc., the team continues to explore ways to identify the characteristics of different polymer networks.

 

Not only are such advanced models useful to designers in fine-tuning the latest insulin pen configuration, the data can help in manufacturing processes at the factory. “We have a process-simulating capability, through Autodesk Moldflow, for which Abaqus has an interface. This allows us to input the stress fields that result from the injection molding process right into our models. As a result, we have greater insight into our manufacturing process and are more able to design parts that have very low levels of residual stress in critical regions.”

Exploring The Processing Of HDPE-Exfoliated Graphene Nanocomposites For Fuel Tanks

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. August 2014

There were three best paper award winners just announced by the organizing committee of the SPE Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) for its

fourteenth-annual show coming up Sept. 9-11, in Novi, Mich. I will be attending this event and, judging from the roster of papers to be presented, expect to further report on emerging developments, particularly in the thermoplastic composites arena.

 

One of the three winning papers, “Processing Methods of High Density Polyethylene-Exfoliated Graphene Nanoplatelet Nanocomposites for Automotive Fuel Tank Applications, is based on a study jointly conducted by the Composite Materials and Structures Center at Michigan State University and the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center. Lead author Keith Honaker, a graduate student at Michigan State University and a 2013-2014 SPE ACCEE graduate scholarship award winner, will discuss how HDPE-exfoliated graphene (GnP) nanoplatelet composites were synthesized and tested.

 

In order to further enhance the mechanical and barrier properties of the composite, different processing techniques were explored including microlayer coextrusion and solution mixing with sonication followed by extrusion. The researchers investigated multiple modifications to the nanocomposite constituents including cryo-milling of the HDPE pellets and coating the platelets with a wax or polyolefin elastomer before extrusion.

 

Among the key results: simple melt mixing of HDPE and GnP resulted in an increase in stiffness, a decrease in Izod impact resistance, and a 50% decrease to both oxygen and fuel permeation with 5% wt. GnP. Meanwhile, microlayer coextrusion yielded a high alignement of the nanoplatelets in the direction of the flow and resulted in improved permeation resistance at low GnP concentrations, but did not result in improvement of barrier properties at concentrations above 5% wt.

 

In contrast, cryo-milling the HDPE pellets into a powder resulted in a minor decrease in mechanical properties and a 35% decrease in oxygen permeation. A wax coating on the platelets before melt extrusion resulted in an increase in both Izod impact resistance and barrier properties, but a decrease in flexural modulus. A polyolefin elastomeric coating on the GnP resulted in retaining the flexural modulus properties with only a slight improvement to Izod impact resistance and barrier properties.

 

Overall, the researchers concluded that obtaining outstanding barrier properties without affecting the mechanical properties of HDPE-GnP nanocomposites using melt mixing, extrusion and injection molding processes is very challenging. For this reason, the focus of their current research is on combining a few of these methods to create synergistic effects.

 

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

 

Polystyrene Recycling Partnership Spurred By Demand For Post-Consumer Content

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. August 2014

Here are at least two companies making significant efforts to promote the recyclability of polystyrene and trying to halt the emergence of bans particularly for EPS foam in the food-service sector.

 

With a focus on the residential recycling stream and spurred by increasing demand for post-consumer content in food-service packaging and related applications, a new facility that will process both rigid polystyrene and EPS foam is being built  by Dart Container, Mason, Mich., and Plastics Recycling, Inc., (PRI) Indianapolis, Ind. The former is a manufacturer of a broad range of quality, single-use products for the food service, retail and food packaging industries and the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups, while the latter has established itself as one of the nation’s largest and forward-thinking PS recyclers. The partnership is said to be ideal as it combines Dart’s washing technology for reclaimed PS and PRI’s recycling and compounding expertise.

 

Slated to be fully on stream within the first quarter of 2015, the facility will initially have a 25-million lb/yr capacity but is being designed to allow for growth. It will essentially boost PRI’s existing annual 60-million/lb EPS and PS recycling capacity at the Indianapolis site to 85 million/lbs. PRI’s owner Alan Shaw views the largely untapped residential recycling stream as a tremendous source for generating more of this valuable material. The facility is expected by the partners to enhance local governments’ ability to launch recycling efforts to remove rigid PS and EPS from the waste stream and generate revenue.

 

For its part, Dart Container has been strongly advocating the recyclability of PS in the last several months in an effort to convince municipalities across the country to bring the material into recycling steams instead of enacting bans restricting the use of foam in foodservice settings. By the end of 2013, the company had helped lobby legislators in New York who were considering a ban. The Big Apple ultimately decided to wait a year and test out the practicality of bringing foam products into the municipal recycling system. Although the tests are not as yet underway, Dart Container and PRI feel that the expanded operation in Indianapolis will prove a big boon as it will be the destination for recovered PS from New York City if the program gets underway.

 

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

 

 




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