A Birthday for the Web; A Survey for Our Readers

By: Tony Deligio 10. December 2014

Slipped my calendar too, but whether or not people marked the occasion, the global digital consortium launched by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 to help share information continues to turn entire industries on their heads, including the worlds of publishing and manufacturing that Plastics Technology straddles.


To better understand the web’s influence, as well as how our readers seek, consume and share information vital to their day-to-day jobs, Plastics Technology’s publisher, Gardner Business Media Inc., is once again undertaking its annual Media Usage Survey. Sent to readers across Gardner’s publication portfolio, the survey, which is entering its fifth year, is the largest study exploring media usage and buyer behavior in discrete parts manufacturing.


A Growing Web
The Pew Research Center marked the Web’s 25th birthday with a survey of its own. The most striking finding was the mass adoption of the Internet, rising from 14% of American adults in 1995 to 87% this year, with higher usage of 97% among young adults (age 18-29) and people with college degrees.


In last year’s media usage survey, Gardner’s poll of manufacturing professionals reflected different engagement trends when it comes to seeking job-related information. Asked how they preferred to receive trade publication content, 58% chose a print magazine, followed by digital magazines (20%), email newsletters (14%), and websites (8%). Of those respondents, 93% had purchasing influence, whether that was approving, recommending or specifying a purchase, and 60% were 50 years or older.


Staying Power
A quarter century is a momentous anniversary for the Web, but it also highlights the relative infancy of the medium. The first magazine is believed to have been published  351 years ago in Germany; 121 years ago in November, what some consider the first trade magazine, Billboard, was launched. June marked the 86th birthday of Modern Machine Shop, sister publication to Plastics Technology, and the periodical that launched Gardner.


Help us shape the next century of media usage in manufacturing; take the survey today and let us know about your about consumption habits so we can better serve you in the years to come. 

Mexico’s Auto Market Accelerates, Brings Plastics Along for the Ride

By: Tony Deligio 3. December 2014

That’s understandable when you consider the explosion of activity in the sector in recent months and read related coverage. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported the country’s ascension in the global ranks of vehicle production as it overcame a Latin American competitor: “Mexico's Auto Industry Overtakes Brazil's.”


Mexico's export-driven production of cars and light trucks jumped 7.5% in the first seven months of 2014 to nearly 1.86 million vehicles, compared to the same period a year earlier.


That story noted how Honda and Mazda started up assembly plants this year, with a new Audi site to come online in in 2015, while a joint Nissan and Daimler facility is in the works. A September report from Forbes was more to the point:  “America's Car Capital Will Soon Be ... Mexico”.


That article cited Mexico’s free trade agreements (FTA) with 44 countries as a major impetus for its boom (the vast majority of the country’s vehicle production is exported beyond Mexico’s shores), and it noted recent investment announcements by Infiniti in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, as well as BMW and a massive Hyundai-Kia factory in the works.


By 2020, Mexico should be number six [in auto production] behind China, the U.S., Japan, India and Germany with an annual production of 4.7 million vehicles.


This summer, Kia and BMW announced plans for $1 billion plants in Mexico, and in September, Forbes reported that Toyota was looking to add a full assembly plant in Mexico, its first in the country.


A McClatchy report also cited Mexico’s openness to trade as a key driver, but it placed the number of FTAs at 45:


There’s another key factor. President Enrique Pena Nieto, in announcing in August that the South Korean automaker Kia would build a $1 billion plant outside Monterrey, noted that Mexico has free-trade agreements with 45 nations. The United States, in contrast, has free-trade accords in force with only 20 countries. Brazil has only eight free-trade agreements.

Regardless of what prompted the OEMs to set up assembly plants, where they go, their suppliers follow, and where their suppliers go, they need to install new machines.


“We see market growth, especially in automotive and packaging,” Imre Szerdahelyi, head of corporate communications and marketing at KraussMaffei told Plastics Technology. In addition to a Netstal machine running a closure at its stand, the company exhibited an automotive component applying its FiberForm technology.


Mold component supplier DME noted that overall business was down slightly, although the fourth quarter seemed to be finishing strong, with automotive leading the way.


For injection molding machine supplier Haitian, which is represented in Mexico by China Plastic Machinery, automotive takes up the majority of its sales in terms of dollar value. José Antonio Barroso, general manager of China Plastic Machinery noted that when Japanese car makers come to Mexico, for instance, they arrive with 20 to 25 suppliers, and set up a manufacturing campus, to his company’s benefit.


“Fortunately, all machines were sold during exhibition,” Barroso said following Plastimagen. “Right now, the market is really hot.” In response to the market’s success, Barroso said Haitian will be increasing machinery inventory in country for immediate delivery.


For Japanese injection molding machine supplier JSW, automotive represents the biggest growth market, followed by containers, according to Charles Greenwell, Western Regional Sales Manager. Bill Hricsina, international business manager for auxiliaries supplier Conair called automotive “huge” for his company, with additional growth in medical and packaging.


WittmannBattenfeld showed its faith in the market with the show’s largest booth, covering approximately 450 square meters and featuring its full slate of offerings, including auxiliaries, robots and injection molding machines. Matt McCabe, international key account manager, sees a big push for automation in the sector, with automotive customers targeting larger machines like its Macro line that can be complemented by bigger robots. German OEMs, and their suppliers, are boosting the Austrian headquartered equipment supplier, according to McCabe, with his company anticipating 5 to 7 years of “steady, continued growth” in the country.


Guillermo Fasterling, general manager of injection molding machine supplier Arburg’s Mexican operation said that automotive makes up 50% of the German company’s business in country, with Mexico showing growth of 10 to 20% over the last three to four years. “Mexico’s automotive industry has seen very strong growth,” Fasterling said.


At Japanese injection molding machine supplier Nissei, the goal in the coming year is to sell more machines into the automotive sector, according to Patricia Murakami. To that end, the company showed an 80-ton hybrid press molding a seat-belt cover from ABS at Plastimagen. “Our main market was housewares,” Murakami said, “but for last three years, automotive and mobile phone accessories are growing faster.”

Nissan Aguascalientes

Are Fillers and Pigments Impacting Your Processing Parameters?

By: Tony Deligio 25. November 2014

Wylie Royce, officer & director of resin and additive supplier Royce Associates, East Rutherford, N.J., laid out how the impact of fillers and additives has grown in recent years with a “then and now” breakdown of how recipes, and processes, have changed:


Then: Loadings of 20%—mostly pigments—in commodity resins with melt-flow rates of 12-13 and 20-40 second cycles. The parts were heavy gauge with huge gates and processed with low shear under normal mixing. Let-down ratios up to 10%, with dry color used.


Now: Loadings of 80% for dyes and pigments in specialty resins, with cycle times of 4 seconds in tools utilizing hot runners making thin-gauge parts, under intensive mixing and high shear.


“The processing window keeps getting narrower and narrower, as demands get higher and higher,” Royce said, speaking at SPI’s recent Equipment and Moldmaker’s Leadership Summit.


Here, as in life, you can follow the money to the source of the problem: by displacing resin with fillers, the costs of the part can be lowered, and, often times, despite the impact on processing, additives can boost functionality in finished parts. In this new world where loadings can reach 80%, Royce offered some advice to processors dealing with dramatically altered recipes.


  • Feeders: “Variations of 5% or more in a feeder can become very costly as prices escalate with heavy loads,” Royce said. “Adding only one or two pellets per 200-300 natural pellets requires much more accurate feeding since each pellet difference means greater color variation.”
  • Wall Thickness: If the wall thickness of a part or the gauge of a sheet is reduced in half, the amount of colorant required to achieve the same color and opacity doubles.
  • Part Weight: If part weight is reduced and the pigment is doubled, this could contribute to longer cycle times or warping.
  • Sheet Extrusion: Noting that an extruder is a basically just a “pump,” Royce said processors need to be aware that they have mixing limitations and actually are more prone to visible color streaks than injection molding.
  • Blow Molding: Blow molding, especially extrusion blow molding, has the same limitations as sheet extrusion.
  • Loading Levels: Resins heavily loaded with pigments will have a lower flow even with the addition of melt enhancers.
  • Carbon Black: Carbon black pigment reduces flow very quickly as the percent rises in the finished product.
  • Dyes: Dyes act differently than pigments, melting, acting like oil, and taking melt flow “through the roof,” according to Royce.


“The real savings in using a higher loaded concentrate are not as straight forward as they would first appear,” Royce said. “Normal parameters, such as melt flow (MFR) can be dramatically affected by additives—don't just go by the resin manufacturer’s listed MFR. Always test a new tool or product with the concentrate that is going to be used. Don't test with natural resin; colors and additives can dramatically change processes.”

Bag Bans Embolden Activists

By: Tony Deligio 18. November 2014

“Activists don't like plastics, period,” Michael Westerfield said. “They don’t like quick-service restaurants, and they certainly don't like packaging or anything single use. They'll pick us off one at a time. They were targeting plastic bags first, now they'll go after foam.”


Westerfield, corporate director of recycling programs, at packaging and food-service product manufacturer Dart Container Corp., shared his first-hand insights into the emboldened activists zeal for new bans at SPI’s recent Equipment and Moldmakers Leadership Summit (Oct. 26-28; Tucson).


Dart manufactures a number of items that are increasingly in the regulatory cross hairs, including cups made from coated paperboard, foam, HIPS (they acquired the iconic Solo brand), and PET, as well as portion containers and PS clamshells.


Westerfield recounted a recent conversation with a representative of a non-governmental organization seeking to restrict plastics use who stated plainly that a ban on foam the group was now pursuing, much like the plastic bag ban it had already helped push through, was “largely symbolic but a good fundraiser.”


In a slide, Westerfield shared an e-mail promotion he had recently received, which read “The Bag is Banned—What Should We Tackle Next?”—reinforcing the search for a new plastics public enemy No. 1.


Dart, like many manufacturers of EPS foam, has been proactive in its response to calls for bans, stepping up its recycling efforts [read about ACH Foam’s EPS recycling initiative]. “For us, recycling is key to the long-term viability of foam,” Westerfield said, “so we’ve invested heavily in it.”


Since foam is 95% air, the first step in reclaiming it is densification, reducing the volume it takes up as it’s repurposed. Dart is working with machinery suppliers on improving densification technologies, and Westerfield acknowledged that more work will be required at municipal recycling facilities (MRFs), many of which were built to sort aluminum, paper, and glass and struggle with foam and other plastics.


Post-Ban Perspective
Westerfield was followed by Mark Daniels, senior vice president of sustainability and environmental policy, at bag manufacturer Hilex Poly. Daniels and his company provided a post-ban perspective.


As background, Daniels laid out the numerous steps Hilex Poly has taken to reduce the impact of its product. In 2005, the company opened what Daniels called the first and largest cradle-to-cradle recycling facility for reprocessing bags and wraps. The company recently doubled the capacity of that recycling to more than 25 million lb/year.


Hilex has delivered approximately 34,000 recycling containers to retailers, collecting more than 1 billion lb of post-consumer bags. Daniels pointed out that studies show that around 75% of bags are reused, with an additional 10% recycled, adding up to a diversion rate of 85%.  


Hilex Poly has 22 manufacturing facilities throughout U.S., Canada, and Mexico, running 340 extruders 24/7, while the broader bag-making sector boasts 380 facilities throughout the U.S., with more than 30,000 employees. According to Daniels, that figure has grown as leading retailers like Wal-Mart and Walgreens reshore some bag making to secure bags with recycled content.


A Not-So-Green Replacement
Recyclable PE “t-shirt” bags made by U.S.-based companies like Hilex Poly are increasingly being replaced with non-recyclable woven PP bags imported from countries including China. According to Daniels, more than 2 billion woven PP bags have been imported over the past few years as bans and fees took hold, resulting in enough bags for each family in the U.S. to have more than 20 each.


All this to displace a product that Daniels points out takes up 4 tenths of 1 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, is derived from suddenly abundant and domestically sourced natural gas and can carry 17-18 lb while only weighing 5g.


During his presentation, Daniels alluded to a new referendum seeking to overturn the bag ban, which at the time had 100,000 of the 500,000 signatures required. Whether or not that effort is successful, it seems the plastics industry will be fighting a multi-front war going forward.

Robot Sales Maintain Record Pace

By: Tony Deligio 17. November 2014

Some 21,235 robots valued at $1.2 billion were ordered from North American companies in the first nine months of 2014, an increase of 35% in units and 22% in dollars over the same period in 2013. The totals for the first three quarters of 2014 established a new high watermark for the industry, surpassing previous highs only recently reached, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) Ann Arbor, Mich.

Topping 2013 numbers is all the more impressive when you consider that robot sales globally last year were “by far the highest level ever recorded for one year”, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Frankfurt, Germany which summed up the industry’s performance succinctly in the report’s title: “2013: The highest number of industrial robots ever sold.”


Gardner Business Media, Inc., publisher of Plastics Technology tackled the broader industrial automation segment in this special supplement.


The RIA reported that shipments to North American customers through September totaled 18,490 robots valued at $1.1 billion, also breaking the previous record set in 2013 by five percent in units and two percent in dollars.

RIA said that automotive is leading the way, with orders in that sector up 48% year to date over 2013. Other strong segments cited were electronics, food & consumer goods, and metals, which all posted double-digit growth in the first nine months of the year.

The IFR report noted that the rubber and plastics industry has increased robot installations in every year going back to 2009, more than doubling from about 5,800 units to 12,200 units in 2013. The IFR also noted, however, that this performance is still far below the peak years of 2006 and 2007, which neared 15,000 units.


China became the biggest robot market in 2013 according to IFR, with a share of 20% of the total supply. Japan, China, the U.S., Korea and Germany accounted for about 70% of the total robot sales in 2013. Growth in the U.S. has been outpacing many other regions, according to the IFR, with annual sales increasing by an average of 18% per year between 2010 and 2013. The report links this growth in the U.S. to “the necessary modernization of the domestic production facilities.”


That modernization is apparent in the most recently released data from SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). In the second quarter, CES also saw an uptick in robotics demand—the auxiliary equipment segment, which includes robotics, temperature control, materials handling, and more, had record levels of new bookings in the second quarter. The total of $108.0 million represented a 21 percent spike compared with the second quarter of 2013.


Robots and Jobs
Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA pointed out in its most recent report that the rising demand for robots in the U.S. can be linked to employment, just not in the way you might think:


“It’s also interesting to note that as robot sales boom, U.S. unemployment continues to fall, and is currently at its lowest level since July of 2008, further evidence that robotics helps save and create jobs.”

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