Innovative Materials Open Up New Markets for Injection Molding

By: Tony Deligio 27. January 2016

Light-emitting diodes, bipolar car battery plates, advanced medical components—new opportunities in these applications and more are coming to injection molding thanks to advances in materials.


Those material developments will be a key component of the upcoming Molding 2016 Conference & Exhibit (March 29-31; New Orleans), with presentations spanning everything from liquid silicone rubber (LSR) and recycled resins to polycarbonate, conductive plastics and copolyester. End markets discussed will range from consumer goods and electrical/electronic to medical and automotive.


Plastics In a New Light
So varied and numerous are the opportunities for molded plastics in next-generation LED lighting that Molding boasts three different presentations on the topic covering materials from LSR and polycarbonate to specialized compounds. Presenting companies in New Orleans will include LSR equipment manufacturer Elmet, plastics manufacturer Covestro, and specialty compounder PolyOne.


Elmet’s Kurt Manigatter will focus on high-power LEDs and materials used for encapsulating semiconductor chips therein, which are subjected to high temperatures and UV radiation. Manigatter will discuss how Elmet developed a highly integrated injection molding process for the production of combined LED primary and secondary optics.


Covestro’s Terry Davis will discuss the new challenges created by LED lighting and how polycarbonate (PC) is meeting those demands thanks to its inherent impact resistance, flame retardance and dimensional stability. In particular, Davis will address how a new series of PCs offers lower radiation absorption in certain wavelengths and discuss a post-molding infusion process to further mitigate the potential for yellowing. Davis will also look at the challenge for injection molding thick optics, since many LED applications require dimensions outside common guidelines. Specifically, he will explain a technique for multi-layer molding of thick-walled lenses that improves quality without negative impact to cycle times.


PolyOne’s Eduardo Alvarez will talk about how despite the market potential for LED lighting, the technology’s price premium could inhibit its growth. One potential solution: swapping out more expensive materials with plastics. To that end, PolyOne has created a polymer conversion roadmap that it says will not only make the lighting more affordable but also lower its weight and improve design freedom. Lenses have been the starting point for conversion, with acrylic or PC replacing glass in luminaire designs. Alvarez will look at how engineered polymers are tackling three additional luminaire components.


Rethinking Car Batteries
The light-weighting push in the automotive industry has extended to all components and systems within vehicles and thanks to conductive plastics it could soon touch the lead-acid battery. Doug Bathauer of Integral Technologies will discuss how his company has applied injection molded electrically conductive hybrid plastics in a polymer-based bipolar plate that he says can not only improve the performance of lead-acid batteries, but also cut battery weight and size by more than 50%. 


Simulation, Recycled Plastics and High-Cavitation Medical Applications
Other material-centric presentations at Molding 2016 will include an examination of simulating the molding of LSR in a demanding application featuring Matt Proske of Sigmasoft and Oliver Franssen of Momentive. The speakers note that the evolution of advanced simulation technologies allows “detailed process analysis and helps engineers to push the limits.”


Grant Gilmore of resin recycler Butler-MacDonald is hoping to convince molders who might have had mixed experiences with recycled plastics to take another look. Gilmore will present on how the reprocessing industry has leveraged new technology and processes that “allow molders to recover high purity pellets or regrind from materials that many think are not recyclable…the technology exists now that can allow you to realize the return of material that rivals the quality of prime resin.”


Finally, Steven Givens and Tom Meehan of Eastman Chemical Company will present a detailed case study covering the validation of the company’s Tritan copolyester in high-precision multi-cavity hot runner medical molds. Working with Milacron, Prestige Mold and Pres-Tek Plastics, Eastman has designed, built and run a 32-cavity valve-gated hot runner mold to process standard flow, high flow and high temperature medical grades of Tritan without modification to the tool.


Is there a new material answer to a gnawing injection molding problem you’re facing? Register today for Molding 2016 and see how the latest polymer tech could help your business. (Image courtesy PolyOne).

China Reimagines Its Manufacturing Industry

By: Tony Deligio 26. January 2016

Nearly 40 years ago, China’s “Open Door” policy revolutionized the country’s economy, particularly industry—Can “Made In China 2025” keep “the world’s factory” humming?


Since liberalizing its markets in 1978 via the ‘open door’ policy of Deng Xiaoping, China’s manufacturing sector has been key to the country’s emergence as the second largest economy in the world. In recent years, however, China’s manufacturing sector has faced challenges on two fronts: lower cost countries undercutting it, particularly on labor, and higher-cost countries using high technology to nullify the “China cost.’ All the while, China’s service sector continues to grow with speculation that those jobs will hold more appeal to younger laborers than factory work.


There has been near double digit growth in wages for urban employees since 2004, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, with the national average annual wage reaching 56,339 yuan in 2014 (around $8600). In the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, the average monthly pay of 2030 yuan ($310) outstrips both Shanghai (2020 yuan) and Beijing (1720 yuan). As the China Labour Bulletin stated:


Wages for Chinese factory workers are now significantly higher than for factory workers in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. This has led to many low-cost labor-intensive industries such as garments, toy and shoe manufacturing to transfer some production to these cheaper locations.


The impact of rising wages, and other negative forces on manufacturing, was felt acutely throughout 2015. The Caixin Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures the performance of the manufacturing sector and is derived from a survey of 430 industrial companies, marked 10 straight months of contraction last December.


The Government Steps In
Appreciating the importance of manufacturing to the country’s economy, China’s government has worked in recent years to develop a blueprint for a new manufacturing sector in the country, most recently revealed last March as Made in China 2025. Per Chinese Premier Li Keqiang:


“We will implement the Made in China 2025 strategy, and seek innovation-driven development, apply smart technologies, strengthen foundations, pursue green development and redouble our efforts to upgrade China from a manufacturer of quantity to one of quality.”


Specifically, the plan includes a stated goal of raising domestic content of core components and materials to 40% by 2020 and 70% by 2025. In addition, it calls for the creation of manufacturing innovation centers—15 by 2020 and 40 by 2025—and it seeks to strengthen intellectual property rights protection for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).


When announced, the plan identified 10 “priority sectors”, several of which touch on plastics.


  • New advanced information technology
  • Automated machine tools & robotics
  • Aerospace and aeronautical equipment
  • Maritime equipment and high-tech shipping
  • Modern rail transport equipment
  • New-energy vehicles and equipment
  • Power equipment
  • Agricultural equipment
  • New materials
  • Biopharma and advanced medical products


Made in China 2025 augments and replaces a 15-year plan issued in 2006 which called for “indigenous innovation” and identified seven “strategic emerging industries” (SEI). Under this plan, SEI-related industries were to account for 8% of the economy by 2015 and 15% by 2020.


The State Council issued the “Made in China 2025” plan on May 19, 2015, replacing the SEI plan and formally identifying “nine tasks” as priorities to making the proposal a reality:


  • Improving manufacturing innovation
  • Integrating technology and industry
  • Strengthening the industrial base
  • Fostering Chinese brands
  • Enforcing green manufacturing
  • Promoting breakthroughs in 10 key sectors
  • Advancing restructuring of the manufacturing sector
  • Promoting service-oriented manufacturing and manufacturing-related service industries
  • Internationalizing manufacturing


Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. noted that despite the initiative’s name, Made In China 2025 holds opportunities for non-Chinese multinational companies (MNC) as well.


“First, there will be greater investment and attention to the 10 industries, and MNCs that align themselves with these sectors and the general goals of this plan can benefit from its focus…It’s a guarantee that MNCs will be needed to provide critical components, technology, and management for this plan is to work.”


KraussMaffei, Chinaplas and Made in China 2025
Twice in the same week I came across references to Made in China 2025. The first, in my colleague Matt Naitove’s article on the acquisition of German plastics machinery giant, KraussMaffei by state-owned Chinese chemical company, ChemChina. In a release for that move, Jianxin Ren, Chairman of ChemChina, is quoted as saying:


We are investing in [KraussMaffei’s] strong management team and its technological expertise, which we believe will benefit our Chinese subsidiaries and position the chemical machinery business of ChemChina, which build and sell equipment for the rubber and chemical industry, to become a pioneer in achieving the “Made in China 2025” program which aims to enhance Chinese industry.


The next instance came in a release from Adsale, the organizer of the Chinaplas show, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year in Shanghai. In this instance, the release acknowledged initiatives of other manufacturing leaders, including Germany’s Industrie 4.0 push, painting China’s plans in the same light.


The world’s leading manufacturing countries have launched national strategic plans to meet the challenges in the new era and to strengthen their industrial competitiveness…China also launched the Made in China 2025 strategic plan recently to boost its industrial growth, with the aim to comprehensively upgrade Chinese manufacturing industries.


Whether or not you believe in a government’s ability to centrally plan for progress, it is clear that manufacturing, and therefore plastics, are very much a part of China’s plans going forward, to 2025 and beyond.

Made In China 2025

Make Your Machine Time Count

By: Tony Deligio 20. January 2016

At the end of the day, injection molders are ultimately only selling one thing: machine time.


Getting and keeping injection molding machines running, despite all the other services processors typically offer, often means the difference between boom or bust for molders. With that in mind, Plastics Technology has created an entire session at its Molding 2016 Conference & Exhibits (Westin New Orleans; March 29-31) devoted to ‘Establishing & Maintaining a Robust Process’.


Eight speakers from leading custom molders, machinery suppliers, OEMs, consultancies and plasticating component manufacturers will address how to create, maintain and repeat a robust molding process, replacing downtime and scrap with on-time deliveries and profits.


Joachim Kragl, director Advanced Injection Molding Systems & Processing at Engel, will walk attendees through the latest developments for the company’s iQ control package, including the most recent advances which allow the system to automatically adjust clamp pressure to compensate for viscosity changes in the material and create for consistent parts without tinkering with back pressure.


Robert Gattshall (author of this Plastics Technology article on scientific molding) will present on process development and establishing effective process limits, including defect and variation thresholds, while asking which process outputs should be monitored. In addition, Gattshall will speak to a problem shops with a mixed machine stable face: the lack of standards across machine manufacturers and machine-to-machine variation.


As important as melt temperature is to the molding process, its true measurement has remained illusive if not completely indiscernible. Two papers at Molding 2016 will directly address the “mystery of melt temperature.” Michael F. Durina, inventor and president Md Plastics Inc., will talk about the development of an inductive electromagnetic melt temperature sensor that is actually located with the machine barrel and nozzle. This new technology relays data on melt temperature, viscosity and equipment condition in real time.


In addition to Durina, Mark Berry of PPD Tech LLC and Yasuo Ishiwata, of Futaba Corp. of America will discuss use of a fiber-optic infrared sensor to measure true melt temperature. In addition, the paper will discuss how the technology can help find the ideal cooling time by measuring key parameters while the part is in the cavity.


Tessy Plastics Virginia, whose innovative integration of process and production monitoring for a paperless plant was highlighted in this Plastics Technology article, will also present at Molding. Doug Jobe, Tessy’s director of operations, will discuss how his company’s real-time process monitoring is helping it grow into Industry 4.0.


Scott Rogers, technical director of Noble Plastics, will present a paper entitled “The Value of Predictive Inspection.” Specifically, Rogers will share a method whereby dimensional inspection of molded parts can be predicted and how this method can be used to enhance mold design, part design, and production capability.


Suhas Kulkarni, author of this two-part series on how to optimize pack and hold times for hot-runner and valve-gated molds, will conclude the session with a discussion of Design of Experiments as a means to process simulation. Founder of consulting and training firm FIMMTECH and author of Robust Process Development and Scientific Molding, Kulkarni will discuss how out-of-spec parts can lead molders to change one parameter, without accounting for how that alteration can have knock-on effects with other specifications. His solution: A Design of Experiments simulation that’s done after actual data are collected and analyzed from a set of molder-led experiments. “Simulation is now based on actual data and not on initial flow simulations typically done at the part and mold design stage,” Kulkarni notes.


Register now and save for Molding 2016! Make the machine time you sell count.

Engel IQ Clamp Control

Robots as a Remedy to Shopfloor Tedium

By: Tony Deligio 13. January 2016

In any industry, at any company, there are jobs that while being 100% necessary are nonetheless menial, and that tediousness can generate high turnover.


Manufacturing in general, and plastics specifically, has its share of these tasks, which oftentimes fall to temporary employees, but as U.S. companies more aggressively automate their shop floors the need to ask people to do the boring (and at times potentially dangerous) work might be going away.


In our February issue, myself and Plastics Technology Executive Editor Matt Naitove look at a new concept in automation: the cobot (a combination of words collaborative and robot). Over the course of our interviews and in the subsequent story, a theme appeared where these so-called cobots were often tasked with the more tedious and repetitive work in a plant precisely because they wouldn’t get bored (with that boredom upping the chances for mistakes and/or injury).


For the article, I spoke with Michael Engler and Jim Hanke of Riverside, Calif.-based custom molder AMA Plastics. Hanke only recently joined AMA as its VP of operations, after Engler was promoted to president, and he was hired in part for his expertise in automation.


Hanke recalled a program at his previous employer where he and his automation crew were able to create cells for a sanding and buffing operation that cut down workers required from around 140 to 15, with half of those jobs that were obviated being temps and the other half regular employees. “I redeployed most of our own people,” Hanke said, “and I was able to move our people into better more key positions—move them up into the assembly operations, move them up into the lead operations—stuff like that, and it allowed them to get a better role.”


Engler noted that the automation can help molders like AMA fast track more promising hires sooner. “I think most people that are doing a perfunctory task don’t feel threatened when they lose that work to a robot,” Engler said. “We really try to redeploy people. In our industry if someone comes through the door and they function at a higher level; have common sense; have some mechanical aptitude; it really doesn’t take them long to move into a different role.”


Robots are nearly always viewed on a plant floor with suspicion—if a person can be replaced in one job by automation couldn’t robots adapt to replace them in all roles—but the promise of cobots holds out a less threatening, more cooperative future.


In researching the article, the most official definition of cobots and collaborative automation I could find came from Germany’s Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (IFA):


“Collaborative industrial robots are complex machines which work hand in hand with human beings. In a shared work process, they support and relieve the human operator.”


Hand in EOAT towards a more efficient (less boring) future. 


Emerging Technologies in the Spotlight

By: Tony Deligio 13. January 2016

Smart packaging, additive manufacturing, Industry 4.0, completely reimagining the injection molding machine—those are just some of the topics to be tackled in the Emerging Technologies session at Molding 2016. 


A fundamental portion of the Molding Conference since its inception 26 years ago, emerging technology presentations will once again be front and center in New Orleans this March, with that session set to kick off the two-and-a-half-day forum on the morning of March 29.


Speakers in the session represent industry leading suppliers and manufacturers, including molders Proto Labs and Nypro, and injection molding machine suppliers Milacron, Arburg, and Engel. Also featured in the session will be RocTool, purveyor of cutting edge conductive tooling technology and Xtrude2Fill, a new machinery supplier with a press that turns traditional molding principles on their head.


Rounding out the first session of the first day will be Thomas Blaige—the chairman, CEO and managing partner of the eponymous plastics, packaging and chemicals investment bank, Thomas Blaige & Company LLC. The desire to add complementary technologies often plays a key role in molding mergers and acquisitions, and Blaige will discuss the global consolidation in molding, which has seen the majority of the top 50 injection molding companies in 2001 undergoing a change in ownership or being eliminated over the past 15 years.


Nypro’s Martin Johnson will address the leading edge of packaging technologies, discussing hybrid rigid/flexible materials, embedded smart codes and new materials and substrates that communicate product freshness or temperature directly to the consumer.


Proto Labs, the publicly traded proponent of rapid manufacturing, will be represented by Jeff Schipper who will discuss recent advances in manufacturing technologies that allow “iterative design and development.” Exploiting these, Schipper notes, allows processors to speed time to market via additive manufacturing and other quick-turn technologies. Learn how to “manage the volatility of demand and reduce inventory costs with on-demand manufacturing,” Schipper promises.


A veteran of household molding/manufacturing names like Flextronics, Capsonic and Courtesy, Rick Fitzpatrick will discuss how his experience with traditional injection molding processes—high press and high shear—lead him to his new venture, Xtrude2Fill. The patented machines minimize pressure and shear, allowing the injection molding process and machine to be simplified and downsized.


As chief technology officer at one of the plastics industry’s most diversified equipment suppliers, Milacron, Bruce Catoen brings a unique perspective to his presentation on the prospect of smart factories. Catoen will address two-way communications between equipment, enhanced intelligence, predictive maintenance, remote monitoring and process optimization to see how molders can increase their OEE [Overall equipment effectiveness].


Arburg’s Juergen Giesow, whose career in molding began in 1983, will address the difficulty molders tasked with lightweighting face when they must create parts that use less material but still maintain functional strength. Giesow’s talk will address Arbug’s new solution to that particular problem, the Profoam physical foaming process, as well as lightweight thermoplastic composites.


Engel’s Joachim Kragl will address what he calls “one of the remaining gaps in injection molding process control.” In particular, Kragl will discuss automatic water-flow monitoring and control in individual cooling circuits, a technology gaining traction in Europe but as of yet without a foothold in North America, leaving a key influencer of part dimensions and quality neglected.


Mathieu Boulanger, CEO of RocTool, the provider of injection molding, composite and induction equipment, will introduce what he calls “high-definition plastics” at Molding 2016. Boulanger will review an analysis of the primary resin families and how the technology helped achieve high-end surface finishes without secondary operations while improving functional properties like weld-line strength.

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