Packaging | 8 MINUTE READ

BLOW MOLDING AT NPE: New Packaging & Industrial Machines

Several new wheels, a reciprocating-screw system for industrial parts, and a host of new PET machines debuted in Orlando.


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There was no shortage of newsworthy blow molding exhibits at NPE2015, whether your interests are in packaging or industrial products and in shuttle, wheel, accumulator-head, reciprocating-screw, injection-blow, or stretch-blow processes. This report focuses on show news not covered previously in our March to May issues.

As noted in our March NPE preview, all-electric machines made a strong showing in Orlando, with new shuttles from Bekum and Kautex. Another, shown for the first time in North America, came from Plastiblow of Italy (see April Keeping Up). In injection-blow molding, Uniloy Milacron enhanced the energy efficiency of its IBS-199-3 by converting it from fully hydraulic to hybrid, with an electric screw and servo-driven pump. It now also utilizes a standardized Mold-Masters hot-runner system, whereas in the past, each injection-blow hot runner tended to be unique.

There was plenty of news in wheel machines at the show. Graham Engineering showed off its new Revolution MVP (modular, variable-pitch) system, which offers unusual flexibility for a wheel machine, which no longer applies only to dedicated, high-output applications. The variable pitch allows for different size bottles. Modular clamps allow for 16 to 26 stations and the ability to remove a clamp in a few hours for maintenance or repairs. Quick mold change takes just 5 min per station, or 60 min for a 12-station wheel, vs. 8-10 hr in the past.

R&B Plastics Machinery brought out its new Max Series mechanical wheel with higher cavitation (16 stations, and up to four parisons) and higher output. Previously, the company offered four to eight stations. Output ranges from 6720 bottles/hr with a single parison to 26,880 bph with four parisons. Older units produced up to 10,500 bottles/hr. The new model can mold 7200 gallon jugs/hr with two parisons versus four on older units. The cam-operated machine uses hydraulics only for parison programming. Other features include quick mold change and adaptability to IML and multi layers.

Several new and improved wheel machines from Wilmington Machinery were reported in April Keeping Up. The company’s newest model is the VSR (variable-speed rotary), a reportedly unique version of a wheel (still in development) that provides a calibrated neck with a semi-continuous motion, rather than indexing. The wheel slows to match the parison speed on closing and then speeds up to pull away from the head and insert the blow pin. Aimed at the HIC market, it comes with six to 12 stations, and a 12-station model can also run as four or six stations. It can even run two different bottles in six stations each. It cuts parisons like a shuttle and can run multilayer products. A new foam-core process for bottles was unveiled by W. Müller (see Starting Up).

Also in development is Wilmington’s new inline reciprocating-screw extrusion system. Although known for wheels, the company has built some reciprocating machines in the past. Unlike typical reciprocating-screwmachines for dairy and other high-volume packaging, this is aimed at medium-volume production (up to 800 parts/hr) for thick-wall industrial and agricultural containers.

According to Russ La Belle, company founder and president, this development is in response to interest from molders of under-hood automotive parts like windshield-washer fluid reservoirs and radiator overflow chambers, as well as lawnmower fuel tanks. It is a single-parison machine for high part-to-part consistency. It will have an extruder capable of a 3-lb shot and a row of three to seven individual clamps of 7.5 to 30 tons each with needle blowing (an animation of the machine can be viewed here). It can run with only a few clamps for short runs. Wilmington has patented three-layer technology for industrial reciprocating screws. IML and view stripe are options.

Graham Engineering also has a new industrial machine, the Mini Hercules with 2.5-, 5-, or 8-lb accumulator head. The 50-ton clamp has 40 x 40 in. platens, and the 75- or 90-mm extruder puts out 205 to 450 lb/hr. The company’s spiral-channel accumulator head is said to allow 1-hr color change, vs. 8 hr or more for competing heads.

While Graham sees a market for smaller accumulator-head machines, Rikutec is building what it calls “the world’s largest blow molder” with 726-lb head and 660-ton clamp, for parts of up to 10,000 L (see April Starting Up). North American blow molders at the show also got a look at a 3D suction blow molding machine from S.T. Soffiaggio Technica SRL of Italy (April Keeping Up).

New downstream auxiliaries for extrusion blow molding were shown by Proco Machinery (see Keeping Up section).

NPE presented a wide variety of new PET (and PP) stretch-blow machines, especially for low- to medium-volume production. One of them was 1Blow, a four-year-old French company that has sold 30 machines, six of them in North America. It’s highly compact reheat stretch-blow machines come with on to four cavities for containers from 200 cc to 12 L, necks from 18 to 52 mm, and production rates of 1000 to 8000 bottles/hr.

The machine was designed to be as simple, efficient, and cost-effective as possible for this volume range. Most comparable machines use linear motions, which involve wasted movement for back-and-forth actions. Rotary movements are more efficient, the company says, but are not practical for fewer than eight cavities.

1Blow’s solution is a “near-rotary” system that uses rotary motions for nine of its 11 movements. The only linear motions are preform infeed through the oven to the mold and takeoff after blowing. The machines reportedly achieve outputs around 2000 bph per cavity, which is said to be comparable to high-volume rotaries and well above the 1600 bph/cavity maximum for similar-size linear machines, according to David Batten, U.S./Canada sales manager.

Maintenance is simplified by the absence of a trouble-prone rotary union to supply utilities to the molds, which are stationary. Special features include “intelligent stretch rods” that sense the length of the mold so their travel cannot be set incorrectly. This all-electric machine recovers braking energy for use within the system and also recovers high-pressure air for energy savings. These and other standard features are either not available on competing machines or are options costing a total of $40,000, Batten says. 1Blow options include neck orientation, preferential and offset heating, heat setting, base inversion (a diaphragm base that absorbs vacuum after hot filling), and “Sure Grip,” a very deep pinch grip that reportedly cannot be produced by standard stretch-blowing.

The 1Blow machine has proved itself suitable for difficult applications, such as bottles with offset necks, printer toner containers with oriented necks compression formed in the mold, and a bottle that is barely wider than the preform, which requires highly controlled stretching before the mold touches and freezes the bottle sidewalls.

Two new 1Blow models in development will be able to blow two 5 L containers and one part up to 30 L.

Another name less well known by North American processors is Side of Barcelona, Spain. It produces all-electric, linear reheat machines for outputs of 1200 bph and up. One of its newest developments is the “T” handle, a deeply pinched handle that is compression molded during blowing. It is designed for 1 L to 5 L containers in one to four cavities for water, edible oils, juices, detergent, personal-care products, and household chemicals.

Side says the T-handle can make PET competitive with HDPE handleware because of higher outputs (up to 4400 bph), lower resin cost, and around 25% lower density. Consumer appeal of the clear PET bottle is another benefit.

The T-handle uses a standard preform and can pinch up to 36 mm deep to allow a strong grip. The compression molded wall inside the handle grip area can be as thin as 10 mm. The first application in North America arrived last year—a 3 L canola oil bottle weighing 90 g made for Richardson Oilseed in Canada by IntraPac of Canada. Since then, Side has developed a 2.5 L T-handle bottle weighing only 54 g.

Another name in low- to medium-volume linear machines is W. Amsler Equipment of Canada. One of two new models is the L43 four-cavity convertible machine capable of running 3 L (up from 2 L before) or 5 L in two cavities. The other new model is the L32x, a three-cavity machine for up to 8 L (vs. 5 L before) and up to 70-mm necks. Both new units offer preferential heating and neck orientation.

The company also has upgraded its existing equipment: The model L32 now can mold necks 63 mm wide, up from 48 mm before. All machines now can mold hot-fill containers. Formerly optional features now standard include air recovery, automatic oven monitoring and adjustment, and servo stretch rods. New troubleshooting screens offer photos, verbal alarms, indication of preform temperatures and which sensors are active, as well as troubleshooting tips, such as what to check first.

Among the large contingent of Chinese machinery suppliers at the show was Tech-Long Packaging Machinery Co., which now has an office in Commerce, Calif. It showed the G5 model of rotary stretch-blow molder. This machine offers outputs up to 2400 bph/cavity with six to 32 cavities. It reportedly reduces energy use by 10-15% compared with previous machines and enhances compressed-air recovery by 40-55%. Improvements in speed result from use of servo motors instead of pneumatic stretch rods; an integrated gripper system for bottle discharge from the molds; and a new PLC with 15-in. touchscreen.

In one-stage injection-stretch-blow machines (ISBM), Aoki Laboratory America showed significant improvements in cycle speeds, thanks largely to new PET preform designs. For example, a model SBIII-500-150 molded a 120 cc pharmaceutical packer bottle weighing 16.6 g in 10 cavities with a cycle time of 8.9 sec, down from 12.1 sec previously. Production was upped from 2975 to 4044 bph. The same model machine molded a 750 cc flange-neck jar with only a thin (1 mm) injection molded flange and blow molded threads. The 32.4 g jar was molded in six cavities in 8.7 sec, down from 8.9 sec at K 2013.

Another K 2013 demonstration was a 20 cc hotel amenity bottle using “dual pillar” technology—alternating thin and thick areas around the bottle circumference to provide squeezability as well as rigidity—molded on a SBIII-150N-12 machine in 14 cavities. At NPE, the 2.6 g container was molded in 6.3 sec, down from 7.7 sec, upping production from 6545 to 8000 bph.

Also demonstrated at NPE was the ability to mold an ultra-thin (0.1 mm) oval PP bottle from a PET mold. Such a lightweight container could be used as a baby bottle liner, I.V. bag, or fit inside a carboard sleeve for retail display. On a model SBIII-250LL-50S, the 6.4 g container was molded in 6 cavities in 7.7 sec (2805 bph).

Energy-saving servo-driven hydraulic pumps were the theme of ISBM exhibits by Nissei ASB Machine Co. One example was the ASB-12M, a 13.7-metric-ton model introduced at K 2013 for bottles or jars up to 2.5 L with up to 83-mm necks.

The ASB-70DPH v4 is newly equipped with three servo pumps, cutting energy consumption by 40% from the first v4 models. Similarly, addition of servo pumps to the ASB-70DPW v4 reduces energy use by 35-50%, depending on the container. Other changes from the v3 design include a revised injection clamp, change in the blowing clamp from a toggle to direct hydraulic, and increased daylight for tall bottles.

As reported in March, SIPA of Italy showed a hybrid 80-ton, four station ISBM machine from its Automa acquisition.

For high-volume production, show goers got a look at the Combox blow-fill-cap machine from Serac of France (U.S. office in Carol Stream, Ill.). In 2013, this specialist in fillingcapping machines came out with its own linear reheat stretch-blow system that can mold bottles up to 8 L and produce up to 18,000 bph. Later that same year, Serac integrated is SBL (Serac Blow Linear) machine with its filler-capper in the Combox system.

There was also interesting news in PET bottle quality monitoring and control from Agr International (see Keeping Up).