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Ten Intriguing Injection Molding Technologies of 2015

By: Matthew H. Naitove 5. January 2016

I know I’m leaving myself wide open on this one. I was asked, “What are the 10 most interesting injection molding technologies of 2015?” I should have pleaded eggnog hangover and politely declined.
 

Trying to answer that one is a trap on several levels: First, how do you pin a technology, which takes time to develop and commercialize, to a particular year? And then, what’s “most interesting”? I assume that will depend on your interests: Are you a custom molder, or captive? What markets do you serve—automotive, medical, packaging, you-name-it? Do you operate large machines or small?

 

With those caveats, here are some things that interested me in 2015. I couldn’t really limit it to 10, so some are areas of technology rather than a particular new development. And I call them technologies of 2015 because they were introduced commercially this past year, featured in major trade shows this year (or at least U.S. trade shows), or they simply came to my attention in that time frame. If you don’t like my selections, send me yours at mnaitove@ptonline.com.

 

Here are my picks, in no particular order:

 

Robots: Lots of interesting things appeared in the robot category this past year. NPE2015 in Orlando saw some hints from Star Automation of how onboard vision could make robots smarter and more versatile. Robots equipped to weigh parts are another interesting idea, floated by AGS at NPE and by Wittmann Battenfeld at Fakuma 2015 in Germany. NPE also showed off a “new concept” robot system from Yushin that had two arms and a third sliding, rotating gripper, for a total of 16 servo axes. And in the fast-evolving area of injection molded composites, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag demonstrated an “ovenless” approach to preheating thermoplastic prepregs using heated robot grippers at the fall Fakuma 2015 show in Germany. Also at Fakuma, more robot makers, like Hekuma, joined the movement toward “collaborative robots” that can work safely alongside people. And an entirely new category (for plastics) of robots—so-called Delta, “parallel,” or “spider” robots—made an appearance for high-speed pick-and-place applications. At NPE, Sailor Automation showed a robot that “learns” how to control vibration over a few cycles; and Engel introduced at Fakuma enhanced robot vibration control that responds to external forces in the molding process. For details, see our March NPE preview and June post-show report, as well as our December Fakuma news highlights.

Liquid Silicone Rubber: LSR continues to attract new technology. NPE saw a jaw-dropping demonstration of nine-color, eight-durometer molding by LSR specialist Silcotech on a single-barrel Arburg machine. Also shown at NPE were an auxiliary injector for LSR from MGS Mfg., a micro LSR injector from Kipe Molds, and a spiral-grooved plunger for LSR injection from Nissei America. See the June NPE report and May Close Up on the show.

Silcotech LSR coinjection mold

In-Mold Labeling: Again, NPE highlighted several interesting developments: a technique from Beck Automation that rearranges the cores on a deep-draw stadium-cup mold to greatly reduce the opening stroke; a technique demonstrated by Sumitomo Demag that produces a full-wrap label plus features that are injected through the label to project beyond the outer wall of the cup; partially precut labels from CBW Automation that avoid the limitations of fully precut labels or die cutting at the molding station. Fakuma 2015 demonstrated an unusually flexible and versatile IML system from Beck Automation that can quickly change the number of cavities, container size, label type, and gating method (see October Starting Up).

In-mold label (IML) fins

Coinjection: At NPE, Husky showcased its entry into the promising field of barrier coinjected food and beverage containers (see March Close Up). And Milacron marshalled technologies from its Mold-Masters, Kortec (now Milacron Co-Injection Systems), and other brands to push its Klear Can retortable PP/EVOH container closer to commercialization (see December Starting Up).

 

Mold Temperature Control: Closing one of the remaining gaps in injection process control, Engel showed its electronic water-flow monitoring and closed-loop control system at NPE, and Wittmann exhibited its version at the last two Fakuma shows (see Dec. ’14 Close Up). At NPE, Single showed off its “poor man’s variotherm” a less expensive, “passive” form of heat/cool molding (see February Close Up). An entirely new maker of mold temperature controllers offers a different approach to “passive” variotherm and standard cooling control (May Close Up). Also at NPE, Roctool used variotherm molding with its induction heating technology to push the boundaries of in-mold decorating capabilities without labels or secondary processes.

 

Melt-Temperature Control: Shining light on the long-standing “mystery” of melt temperature inside the barrel, Md Plastics offered a new type of nozzle sensor that provides a wide range of data about the state of the melt during processing; and Futaba introduced infrared melt-temperature sensors that are immune to influence by surrounding steel of the nozzle or mold. For details, see October Close Up and Keeping Up.

 

3D Printed Mold Cavities: At several recent shows, including NPE and Fakuma, companies such as Milacron, Toshiba, Boy Machines, and Hasco showed how 3D printed plastic cavity inserts offer potential for quick-turn molds that can produce up to 500 parts. See July NPE report and December Starting Up.

 

Biopolymer Molding: I was intrigued to find a processor that has built a business entirely on molding plant-based biopolymers for disposable packaging. See August Close Up.

 

Clamp Force Optimization: Just introduced by Engel at Fakuma 2015 is a system for automatic optimization of clamp force to maximize part quality while extending mold life and minimizing energy consumption.

 

Self-Cleaning Mold: High-volume PET preform molders can save hundreds of hours of mold-maintenance downtime, using a technique from Husky that’s dazzling in its simplicity. See May NPE Close Up.

All-Electric Drive Impacts Milk-Jug Blow Molding

By: Matthew H. Naitove 28. December 2015

As you may have noticed in our recent show coverage, most of the new models of shuttle, injection-blow, and PET stretch-blow machines at K 2013 in Dusseldorf and NPE2015 in Orlando were all-electric, hybrid, or servohydraulic driven. Now the revolution has come to reciprocating-screw extrusion blow presses for HDPE and PP milk jugs, detergent bottles, and other high-volume products.

 

As reported in a Close Up story in our upcoming January issue, a new nameplate in blow molding machines, Velocity Equipment Solutions, is bringing to market what are billed as the world’s first all-electric reciprocating-screw machines that are demonstrating 50% energy savings and 75% reduction in maintenance cost, as well as the quietness, cleanliness, and tighter precision and repeatability that servo drives have established in injection molding. According to VES president Tom Blaszkow, these claims are based on real-world experience at its first customer, Nampak Plastics Europe, a leading molder of dairy bottles in the U.K.

 

It’s not every day that you encounter a new maker of blow molding machines. Based in New Castle, Pa., VES was formed in 2010 from the equipment division of Portola Packaging (now part of Silgan). Up to now, VES has been involved mainly in rebuilding and upgrading other makes of reciprocating-screw presses. Now it’s shifting resources to focus on building its new line of machines. It will be interesting to see what influence this newcomer may have on the overall reciprocating-screw blow molding market.

 

Reciprocating screw blow molding machine

The ‘Next Big Thing’ in Offshoring?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 16. December 2015

According to David Kelly, president of custom injection molder NPI/Medical in Ansonia, Conn., the medical-device business is less likely than other molding jobs to go offshore, because of OEMs’ concerns about protecting intellectual property (“I.P.”) and the difficulties of inspecting, certifying, and validating medical quality standard overseas.

“Medical OEMs aren’t comfortable going farther afield than Mexico,” says Kelly (pictured), though I have heard rumblings from two customers lately about going to Brazil or Argentina. South America could be the next big ‘offshoring’ destination.”

 

For more on NPI/Medical, look for the "On-Site" feature in our January 2016 issue.

Where Was 3D Printing at the Fakuma Show?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 12. November 2015

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, appeared in various guises throughout October’s Fakuma 2015 show in Friedrichshafen, Germany:

 

 •  Arburg (U.S. office in Rocky Hill, Conn.) brought three of its Freeformer machines, the first to use standard molding pellets, to Fakuma. Two of them formed part of “Industry 4.0” exhibits of “personalized manufacturing” in which the Freeformers applied individualized decoration to injection molded parts. One new wrinkle was an automated cell in which a Freeformer was tended by a Kuka robot instead of a human operator.

 

Arburg officials noted in a Q&A session with the press that its 3-axis Freeformer model is meeting current demands of the market and there is little push from customers so far to commercialize a more expensive 5-axis version. More immediate development priorities, the officials said, were nitrided components to resist wear, a larger build envelope, and printing of high-temperature resins.

 

 •  While Arburg is the first plastics machinery company to offer its own 3D printer, Boy Machines (U.S. office in Exton, Pa.) announced at the show that it is offering a turnkey package with a Stratasys 3D printer for making plastic cavity inserts. Such tool inserts (which also appeared at multiple exhibits at NPE2015 in Orlando) are typically made of ABS and are said to last for up to 500 shots. Because there is no internal cooling for the inserts, Boy blew cold air over the mold face between cycles.

 

3D-printed ABS mold inserts were also shown at Fakuma by Hasco (U.S. office in Fletcher, N.C.) as prototyping accessories for its quick-change mold bases.

 

 •  Boy Machines showed another application of 3D printing in end-of-arm tooling for a sprue picker. KraussMaffei (U.S. office in Florence, Ky.) also showed 3D-printed EOAT on articulated six-axis and Cartesian three-axis robots, as well as a servo sprue picker, in three molding cells. KM noted that 3D printing allows the customer to make its own EOAT, to make it fast and lightweight and with optimized conformity to the shape of the part to be handled. (For more on 3D-printed EOAT, see Aug. ’14 Close Up.)

Have You Ever Seen Faster?

By: Matthew H. Naitove 11. November 2015

Four 125-ml PP gourmet cups in just 1.55 sec: Sumitomo (SHI) Demag (U.S. office in Strongsville, Ohio) molded them at October’s Fakuma 2015 show in Germany. The parts, 83 mm diam. and 0.32 mm thick, were molded on a 200-m.t. El-Exis SP hybrid press, using 70-MFI resin. The 3.4-g parts were filled in 0.09 sec at an injection speed of 700 mm/sec. A side-entry robot removed parts in 0.3 sec with the help of only air ejection.

 

That’s the fastest molding cycle I can remember having seen—at a show or anywhere. Can you top it? If so, email me at mnaitove@ptonline.com.




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