Snuffed Out: De Facto Death for Halogenated Flame Retardants

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Market forces and self-policing are pushing the market for flame-retardant (FR) additives in a different direction.


Jesse Dulek started his presentation with a question; How many in the audience liked to burn things growing up? As a product development engineer focused on FR technologies at custom compounder RTP Company, Winona, Minn., Dulek joked that his current job entailed him getting paid for trying to light things on fire, or more accurately, seeing which compounds can keep from igniting, melting or giving off smoke. In addition to running various materials through his own crucible, Dulek’s job also lets him gauge where technology is headed based on the latest promotions from the additive manufacturers he works with.   


“I don't have any suppliers pushing new bromine-free products on me,” Dulek said, “it’s always halogen free. It’s really just a matter of time before halogen free takes over.” Speaking in Denver this May at RTP’s Engineered Plastics Workshop, Dulek and his RTP colleagues walked the attendees through various changes in an array of areas including filled plastics, coloring and, for his portion, flame retardants.


Dulek noted that the 2006 European Union passage of the RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances) directive, despite not directly dictating that FRs be halogen free, has had the effect of pushing halogenated products off the market. “The halogen free world is more complicated,” Dulek said. “We are see an evolution of economics and more and more halogen-free products coming out.”


Generally speaking, halogenated FRs work by inhibiting the chemical reaction in the gas or vapor phase as either an additive or a polymeric product. Non-halogen technologies include phosphorous, hydrated minerals or melamine cyanurate, with benefits and challenges to each.


While halogenated products in general offer lower costs, better processing, greater efficiency and higher physical properties, Dulek said halogen-free alternative have their own perks. Halogen-free products are improving in terms of ease of processing and reduced costs, with more developments on the horizon as new FR standards call for low smoke, low toxicity, less corrosiveness and a lower specific gravity—attributes that further promote halogen free.  


Dulek said RoHS mostly impacted pigments, with a lessened effect on FR, specifically eliminating heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium from colorants, as well as polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers from FRs.


“There are still no global bans on use of halogens,” Dulek said, noting that RTP sees more self-policing. “If somebody doesn’t want them in there, we’re not in a position to deny them,” Dulek said. “All we can do is lay out the options. The biggest thing we need are new FR standards. In building or transportation, the standards are built around smoke, heat release, and toxicity, which drives towards halogen free.”


Despite no explicit bans, OEMs like HP, Dell and IBM have foresworn halogenated FRs, while labels like Blue Angel, White Swan, and Ecolabel specifically call out their elimination.


Pyromaniacs everywhere, take note (image courtesy King Plastic Corp.)

North American Plastics Machinery Shipments On the Rise in the First Quarter

By: Tony Deligio 16. June 2016

Shipments of primary plastics equipment in the first quarter were up 13.5% from the year-ago quarter.


Shipments of injection molding, extrusion, and blow molding equipment totaled $330.5 million in the first quarter of 2016, compared to $291.2 million in the first quarter of 2015, according to SPI’s Committee on Equipment Statistics (CES). SPI noted that the increase marked the second straight quarter that North American shipments registered a year-over-year increase. This total, however, was 15.4% lower than the $390.6 million posted in the preceding quarter, the final quarter of 2015, which on a seasonal basis is typically quite strong.


Break Down By Process
So how did the data break down along processing technology lines? The performance of injection molding equipment was quite strong, jumping 25.2% on a year-over-year basis, while single-screw extruders decreased 17.4 percent over the same time period. The shipments value of twin-screw extruders, including co-rotating and counter-rotating machines, rose 6.8 percent, while the shipments value of blow molding machines fell 63.5 percent, year over year. Auxiliary equipment was on the rise, jumping 13.6 percent year over year and down only 5.2 percent, compared to the seasonally strong fourth quarter.


On a broader basis, the total value for new orders of industrial machinery rose 21.0 percent in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the year-prior quarter, after rising 12.1 percent in the final quarter of 2015, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau.


Survey Optimism Also On the Rise
In the survey that accompanies the CES quarterly report, there was a small improvement in expectations, with 84 percent of respondents expecting market conditions to either hold steady or get better during the next 12 months.


On a geographic basis, North America is now expected to have the fastest market growth in the coming months, per the survey, but the outlook for Mexico is also strong. The sentiments for Asia, Europe, and Latin America also improved in the first quarter when compared with previous quarters, though they remain well below the levels expected for North America and Mexico.


As for the major end-markets, respondents to the first-quarter survey expect that medical, autos, and packaging will enjoy the strongest growth in demand, with expectations for all other end-markets expected to be steady-to-better in 2016.  

Transitioning From the World’s Factory to the World’s Designer

By: Tony Deligio 15. June 2016

China has long since aggregated the means and materials of production, but increasingly it’s seeking to lay claim to the creative origins of products—the design.


For the second show running, global materials and additive supplier BASF teamed with show organizer Adsale to feature the BASF Design Innovation pavilion as an official concurrent event during Chinaplas 2016 held this April in Shanghai. According to China’s CCTV, the country boasts more than 1000 design colleges generating 600,000 design graduates annually, with these grads filling design roles at Chinese and multinational OEMs. Will they source plastics in new designs?


Located at one of the primary entrances to the show grounds, the program covered three main themes—travel light, live cool and play safe—with five different forums and a chance to “meet the designer”, including well-known industrial designers Chris Lefteri of LKK and Yang Wenqing of LOE Design. Closing the design loop, major OEMs including Haier, Lenovo and Volkswagen also took part.


During an opening ceremony, Stephan Kothrade, president and chairman of greater China for BASF spelled out the importance design holds for China’s industry going forward. “Good product design plays a role in bridging the gap between creative ideas, form and functioning,” Kothrade said. “China faces many challenges, as well as opportunities, because of rapid urbanization.”


Kothrade said a goal of the pavilion and an area of emphasis for BASF going forward is to help establish China as a global creative power. He noted that BASF is investing in China in line with its own growth, recently expanding its innovation complex in Shanghai and launching a design competition that address challenges of urban living. Supporting associations include cida (Chinese Industrial Design Association) and the Ningbo Industrial Design Union.


At the show’s opening press conference, Adsale Chairman Stanley Chu referenced China’s 5th-year plan and how it calls for the country’s industry to utilize “advanced materials” and transition from being a low-cost-labor country.


“That’s why we have to focus more on automation and high technology and high productivity,” Chu said. “We can’t just rely on the low cost of labor and the low cost of land. We’ll have technology innovation on one side, and on the other side, product design.”


Andy Postlethwaite, BASF’s senior VP engineering plastics Asia Pacific, has also seen the rise of design in the region. “In the recent past, there has been a much stronger design presence in China,” Postlethwaite told Plastics Technology. “That shows a maturing of the industry.” In particular, Postlethwaite noted that BASF works with Chinese OEMs to educate them on plastics’ potential.


“What is possible with BASF materials,” is a key question the OEMs need to answer, according to Postlethwaite. “Unless you can communicate with designers what’s possible, they won’t know what materials to source.”


At Chinaplas, BASF highlighted numerous applications applying plastics where they traditionally aren’t used to help Chinese clients understand the potential for the material. Among these, an auxiliary window form, usually fabricated in steel, utilized a pultruded polyurethane. In the construction phase, this form is used for the window mount, with the PUR version offering one-quarter the weight and improved thermal performance.


Elsewhere on the stand, BASF showcased a composite utility pole. Postlethwaite noted that in disaster-prone or difficult-to-reach areas these light-weight poles are easier to transport, install and maintain. A recent installation survived a typhoon in Guangdong while steel and concrete poles failed. In both these cases, BASF partnered with a Chinese company for the product design and manufacture.


In China and elsewhere, the challenge for Randy Beavers, regional business director Asia Pacific for Eastman Chemical, is helping familiarize processors, designers and OEMs with the company’s Tritan copolyester resin. Beavers noted at Chinaplas that more than 98% of companies working with Tritan are totally new to Eastman, with a majority of time spent not with buying customers but with brandowners in the design phase.


To offer technical support to area molders, a little over one year ago, the company opened a lab in Shanghai to offer molding trials and simulations, with design engineers on hand to provide material recommendations, mold and part reviews, and design recommendations, including nitty gritty aspects like draft angles, wall thicknesses and mold pressures and temperatures.


The challenge, Beavers said, is a familiar one for companies like Eastman in China and throughout the world. “Brandowners and designers know plastics,” Beavers explained, “but they don’t know differences in plastics. We try to teach them differences in plastics.”


If China does indeed become a global creative power, Eastman, BASF and other material companies are actively working to ensure Chinese designs call for plastics. 

Time’s Running Out to Prove You're World Class

By: Tony Deligio 1. June 2016

Plastics Technology’s World-Class Processor survey will be closing soon; take the opportunity today lay your claim to the World-Class title.


From our survey respondents, 25 will be declared World-Class on the basis of various metrics including business and processing performance. Take the free and anonymous World-Class Process survey today and see if your shop can make the cut. As they were last year, winners who choose to be identified will be highlighted in our printed review of the survey in a future issue of Plastics Technology.


In addition, all survey participants will receive the complete results of the survey, helping them better benchmark their operations against those of the broader industry. If you have not yet filled out the survey, set aside some time and participate today!

Read And Watch Plastics Technology

By: Tony Deligio 11. May 2016

Plastics Technology YouTube

If a picture is worth 1000 words, how much is a video worth?


One of the favorite aspects of my job also presents one of the biggest challenges. I’m often lucky enough to see the latest plastics processing technology first hand—at shows, in our readers’ plants, etc.—and in the past, my task was to sum up some pretty complicated manufacturing processes using only static pictures and words. I worked to do so in a manner that at the very least made sense and on good days hopefully engaged readers.


At Plastics Technology, my colleagues and I still face the challenge of sharing with our readers what we see and hear, but in addition to pictures and words, we have a new storytelling tool: video. Our efforts here are just beginning, but more and more, you can expect to not only read Plastics Technology but watch it too.


As we begin this process, we have set up YouTube channel that you can subscribe to and be alerted whenever we post a new video. This week, two videos were added by my colleague Heather Caliendo who was on hand to film the landing of the Solar Impulse 2 plane in Arizona and chat with one of the pilots about the role plastics play in the revolutionary plane. If you couldn’t make it to Phoenix Goodyear Airport on the evening of May 2, Heather has you covered.


In addition to our own videos, we can use the channel to share relative useful content from the industry (an example being this taped breakdown of Guill Tools’ Bullet II die). If you have video you think would be of interest, send it our way. Also be sure to check out our sister publication, Plastics Technology México’s channel, as well as fellow Gardner Business Media Sites CompositesWorld, MoldMaking Technology, and Modern Machine Shop.

Thanks and make sure to tune in to Plastics Technology today!

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