With more than 9 billion of them sold last year alone, the prospect of selling high-output production systems to make single-serve coffee pods must be enough to make a machine builder’s mouth water.
Two different flavors of manufacturing technology (if you’ll permit me to pound the metaphor even harder) have been the subject of recent commercial announcements.
Milacron Holdings Corp., Cincinnati, says its coinjection systems using Kortec embedded technology are now being used to mold 100% recyclable coffee pods (read more about Keurig’s efforts in this regard here, here and here). The PP-based cups are replacing non-recyclable, thermoformed PS pods. One benefit of injection molding is the ability to mold in features that replace separately molded components such as filters. Milacron coinjection technology will be demonstrated in molding Klear Cans at the K 2016 show. Read more here.)
Meanwhile, Sacmi Imola S.C. of Italy (U.S. office in Des Moines, Iowa) has sold two of its 32-cavity CCM (continuous compression molding) systems to Mitaca of Milan, Italy, to produce PP coffee pods for Illycaffé. Cycle time of 3.2 sec is said to be half that for injection molding, allowing output of around 600 pods/min. CCM reportedly also makes lighter pods weighing just 2.15 g with improved thickness control of the pod bottom. Sacmi will demonstrate CCM processing of bottle caps at 1000/min with just 24 cavities at K 2016. (Read more here.)
As I watched the Olympics coverage the other night, a commercial came on that flashed the word, “plastics.”
While the industry is no stranger to using TV ads in the past—think “Plastics Make It Possible” campaign and TV ads discouraging plastic bag bans—it still caught my attention.
Check it out:
The ad is clearly targeted to the average consumer as the voiceover says its offerings help car owners “save money and reduce emissions.” As I’m sure advertising during the Olympics isn’t cheap so it’s interesting that ExxonMobil chose this particular ad with this specific messaging to convey to the average American consumer what type of work they do.
I found an interview on BrandChannel with ExxonMobil Media Relations Manager Alan Jeffers explaining the strategy behind the campaign. He said that the ad is a continuation of the company’s “Energy Lives Here” campaign that is trying to showcase that it’s not just about selling gasoline for the company but that it’s a “complex, high-tech industry that requires a lot of discipline, a lot of professionals, a lot of very smart, intelligent, engaging people.”
“We are going to continue with the campaign and we think now, more than ever, this kind of communication effort is important. It’s a matter of serious consequence and people want to understand it, they want to talk about it and want to learn more. They’re thirsty for information, so we just see that as a great opportunity to provide a framework into that and that appetite for information,” Jeffers said.
So the overall goal is to spread its message to consumers, not to potential customers necessarily. It shows that B2B advertising is an interesting and complex subject, especially for an industry that doesn’t always have the greatest reputation in the eyes of consumers (thanks to bag bans, trash on the street, you know that story).
Attracting the Next Generation
Another company that threw its hat in the TV advertising arena is GE and in fact, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Olympics viewers watched 98% of the GE ad on average, more than any other spot besides one from Folgers among 200 brands that spent at least $500,000 to air an ad during the Games, according to data from ISpot.tv, a company that tracks TV ad impressions.
Here’s one of the ads:
It appears GE is trying to attract younger workers with these TV ads. The company released an ad in September 2015 where a son tried to explain to his parents that his GE job is about “writing code” and not manual labor.
The LA Times quoted Andy Goldberg, the chief creative officer, as saying that the ad successfully attracted the attention of young engineers. Job applications to GE increased eightfold in the months after it was released, the company said.
Olympics As a Trade Show
And while ExxonMobil and GE focused on TV advertising during the Olympics, Dow Chemical, a sponsor of the Olympics took a different approach. Instead of spending tons of money on various advertising strategies, Dow instead took hundreds of its clients to the Olympic Games in Rio so they can see the company’s technologies up close, according to an article in Bloomberg.
The company has more than 20 projects at the game, such as the artificial turf for the hockey field (PT reported about the hockey turf during NPE2015). The Bloomberg article states that Dow is “taking as many as 450 customers on tours of facilities during the course of the games, including the field hockey stadium.”
The publication reported that Dow is on “track to meet or even beat its target of $1 billion in Olympic-related sales for the 10 years through 2020.”
“You’ve been experiencing us and you don’t even know it,’’ Louis Vega, Dow’s vice president of Olympic and sport solutions told Bloomberg. “Dow looks at the Olympics as a large trade show, so customers can see our technology on display.’’
So while ExxonMobil and GE are focusing on education for the general public, Dow went the face-to-face route with its own customers. And even though they might be different strategies, the overall message is clear whether it’s speaking to customers or clients: education about what the industry actually does.
IBM Research and Stanford chemists come up with new chemical approaches to generate biodegradable plastics.
The search for new ways to more efficiently and inexpensively create biodegradable plastics continues on many fronts as we have been reporting within the last couple of years as seen here, here and here.
Now, a long-standing collaboration between IBM Research—Almaden, San Jose, Calif. and Stanford University’s Chemistry Department has culminated in the development of a new chemical catalyst that the researchers claim can be used to produce cheaper biodegradable plastics from plants such as palm trees and beets.
The research group headed by Robert Waymouth of Stanford and James Hedrick of IBM looked for an alternative to the standard, metal-based catalysts used to make biodegradable plastics. These catalysts are difficult or expensive to remove from the final material, and do not degrade in the environment. Their new catalyst is an organic substance that reportedly lowers the energy required for the conversion from plant to plastic to take place.
The researchers crafted it by reacting common chemical ingredients—thiourea and metal alcoxide. “While many catalysts are either fast or selective, these catalysts are both. They are simple to prepare, easy to use, and can be readily adopted by anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry,” said Professor Waymouth. When a catalyst is both fast and selective, it means that it excels at accelerating and facilitating reactions and that it doesn’t alter the resulting polymer’s shape or properties once it is formed.
Not only does the new catalyst design lower the cost and environmental impact, but it is highly tunable. Weymouth noted that it can be used to generate several varieties of plastic suitable for different functions. For example, the catalyst can produce PLA for use in disposable plastic items such as tableware, cups, plates and forks; medical products such as resorbable sutures, implants and stents, as well as biomedical implants and drug-delivery systems; food packaging; and, non-woven fabrics.
Moreover, because this technique is relatively simple and the catalysts are readily modified, the researchers see further advances that can lead to a new and broadly useful class of catalysts—and likewise, new and useful biodegradable plastics, beyond what was identified in their study, “Fast and Selective Ring-Opening Polymerizations by Alkoxides and Thioureas,” which was published in the July issue of Nature Chemistry, and which was partly funded by the National Science Foundation.
IBM Research—Almaden is also the “birthplace” of several recent plastics and recycling achievements including the discoveries of: a new process to recycle plastics into nonfibers designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections; an entirely new class of plastics; a new plastic macromolecule that could help prevent deadly virus infections; and a new method for recycling CDs into non-toxic plastics for water purification and medicine.
Despite being separated geographically by only the Taiwan Strait, which at its narrowest point is just 100 miles wide, economically, Taiwan and China are growing further and further apart.
China is still Taiwan’s largest trading partner—its geographic proximity and deep cultural and historical ties help maintain that status—but it is being targeted less and less by Taiwan’s plastics and rubber machinery makers, as they seek new markets on their own and at the behest of their government.
Touring Taipei Plas last week on a press junket organized by show sponsors TAITRA (Taiwan External Trade Development Council) and TAMI (Taiwan Assn. of Machinery Industry), myself and other trade journalists from around the globe sat down with numerous leading Taiwanese equipment suppliers. Many boasted export rates above 90% but none said China was their top market.
The pivot away from China is detailed here, and apparent in the fact that China’s share of Taiwan plastics and rubber machinery exports has dropped from 30% in 2013 to 20% in 2015, with further shrinkage in the first half of 2016.
In its show-opening press conference, TAITRA and TAMI officials detailed the country’s outreach via TAITRA’s 60 overseas offices all around the globe, specifically acknowledging dignitaries on hand from Afghanistan and Malaysia. Even within the press group, you could see this strategy at work as I was joined by reporters from Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, India and Japan.
In 2014 when I attended the show, many Taiwanese suppliers noted that as they invested in new production facilities, they were doing so in Taiwan, after years of almost exclusively building up factories in China. This time around, many of those same companies acknowledged that China’s market is driven largely by cost, while Taiwanese machinery is increasingly marketed on higher technology. Because of this, more than a few said they had all but given up on selling into the mainland.
Earlier this year, Taiwan elected a new president—Tsai Ing-wen—its first female leader and only the second from the Democratic Progressive Party—a party openly opposed by the mainland. Tsai campaigned in part on a “Southward” policy, seeking greater business and cultural ties in Southeast Asia, and she offered some interesting insights into the shifting dynamics between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China in this July 21, Q&A with The Washington Post:
Q: Isn’t China your No. 1 trading partner?
A:China is still our largest trading partner; however, complementarity between our economies is decreasing. We had the ability to organize a manufacturing process, and then we moved our manufacturing capability to China to make use of their labor pool. But now the situation is very different. [Chinese] labor costs are increasing, and China has their own capability.
Q: So China has become a competitor of Taiwan?
A:They are more and more our competitors.
Breaking up, as the song says, is hard to do; it will be interesting to see how "seeing other countries" is faring for Taiwan at the next Taipei Plas in 2018.
Covestro will “shine” at K 2016 showcasing an item of luminous clothing with a TPU formable film/copper laminate as key.
Our September pre-K 2016 issue includes a feature on materials and additives and you will notice that there is no shortage of new developments in those arenas. Expect to see some pretty exciting new applications showcased by most key suppliers.
One example, is Covestro, Pittsburgh, Penn., which will showcase an item of luminous clothing that utilizes light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to make it stand out, but also can also perform key functions such as protecting pedestrians and cyclists against accidents. What makes it unusual is that the LEDs are not positioned on a panel or strip, but on a piece of soft fabric.
Central to this development is an electronic system that is responsive to movements without losing its functionality. This system comprises a flexible and formable film made from a Covestro TPU. It serves as the substrate for the printed copper circuits which are arranges in a meandering pattern and can thus also be bent and stretched.
This “intelligent” technology involves the manufacture of smart circuits using the following efficient, multi-stage process:
• First, copper films are laminated onto the TPU films.
• The printed circuits are produced in a subsequent structuring operation, which reportedly features highly-effective adhesion.
• The coated films are then shaped as required using conventional thermoforming.
According to Covestro film expert Wolfgang Stenbeck, the TPU films are resistant to standard etching and imaging processes. “Formable electronic systems can be directly laminated onto textiles, as is the case of the luminous dress,” he said.
This production technology is part of various projects funded by the EU Commission, among them STELLA and TERASEL. The objective is to product 2.4-dimensional electronic circuits cost-effectively using conventional forming processes. The freely-formed components can be integrated seamlessly into energy-efficient electronic components. They can be processed using standard PCB industry equipment and are also suitable for applications with higher currents or voltages. Compared to conventional electronic components, the smart circuits offer greater design freedom and reliability while enabling more sustainable products for a variety of industries due to the reduced use of materials. Here are some exciting applications this technology offers:
• There’s a wide range of options for smart textiles, alone. In addition to fashion items, freely-formable electronic systems are already in use in underwear, where they monitor heart rate and breathing. They assist patients with therapy and help athletes monitor their training.
• TERASEL technology also enables production of modular automotive interior components in which all functions are already integrated. It boasts reduced complexity in assembly, lower costs and shorter time to market. It is also said to clear the way for new lighting concepts in automotive interiors and buildings, where designers and architects can position LEDs exactly where they are most needed.
• In consumer electronics, smart circuits are supporting the trend toward increased miniaturization of components, as they can be incorporated directly into the outer shell of products.
• Stretchable circuit board (SCB) technology for manufacturing electronic circuits was developed earlier as part of the STELLA project. This was led by the Fraunhofer Institute for reliability and Microintegration (IZM) and the Technical University of Berlin. Coated TPU films can be stretched repeatedly up to 60%, and on a one-time basis by as much as 300%.