This year’s show will be unusually well populated by blow molding systems providers—more than 20 of them, plus suppliers of components and tooling. Not all of them would talk about their exhibits ahead of time, but those who did make it clear that there will be something at the show for almost all blow molders of packaging and industrial parts. What’s more, this show includes two new features: a dedicated Bottle Zone of 65,000 ft2 and 80+ exhibitors in the South Hall, and a Bottle Zone Technical Forum covering topics from materials and additives to blow molding techniques, preform and closure manufacturing, filling and inspection, and downstream packaging and recycling.
All-electric machines continue to make inroads, as indicated by several new models on display. Bekum is introducing the electric EBlow 407DL (double-sided, long-stroke) shuttle machine, to be shown with a multi-layer, spiral-mandrel extrusion head, special quick-mold-change upgrade (15 min without tools), and a very compact layout. This U.S.-built machine has the company’s patented C-frame clamp (22.4 tons) and is aimed at cost-efficient production of smaller bottles. Due to modular design, it is also available in a hydraulic HyBlow version, two of which, with 16 cavities and three layers, have already been installed.
Kautex Machines is molding three-layer personal-care bottles on a KBB40D double-side shuttle, one of its latest series of all-electric machines. This unit has been sold to Amcor, which has representatives at the Kautex booth.
At NPE, Kautex is molding a 600-ml, flat oval bottle in 2 × 5 cavities. Leak testing is performed inside the machine, and continuous weight checking of the bottles feeds back to adjust the process automatically. The quick-mold-change features of the KBB are demonstrated twice a day.
The bottles use the three-layer ReCo process, whereby color is added only to the outer layer; the inner layer is virgin material; and the middle layer uses regrind or PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic.
Kautex is also showing off the second generation of its “virtual machine,” a training tool that enables exact simulation of production on a KBS, KBB, or KCC series machine. In keeping with the Industry 4.0 “smart factory” trend, Kautex is also presenting remote diagnostics, called Kautex Remote Service.
Milacron will exhibit one of the third generation of its all-electric shuttle machines in the booth of its representative, FGH Systems. From this M-Series, introduced in late 2016, FGH will have the M12.52ED, a double-sided press with 12-metric-ton clamp, and 520-mm shuttle stroke. At the show, it will be equipped with a 4 × 100-mm extrusion head producing 14-oz personal-care bottles in eight cavities. FGH designed and built the mold and conversion package to accept existing “blow-and-drop” molds for in-machine deflashing.
Hesta of Germany is showing off its newest and largest all-electric shuttle, the double-station Hesta900. It has a 900-mm mold stroke, opening stroke of 240 mm, and 44-ton clamp. Dry-cycle time is 3.3 sec. It can handle up to 16 cavities per side and makes containers up to 5 L (10 L optional). Hydraulic and hybrid versions are also available. Jackson Machinery is a representative for Hesta in the U.S. and Canada.
Electric servo drives are also penetrating injection-blow molding. Pet All Manufacturing in Canada will display one of its new range of CanMold injection-blow machines, an all-electric IBM 300/700 (also available in hydraulic and hybrid versions). Besides saving energy, it is said to be faster than hydraulic models and is suited to clean rooms. This 88-ton, three-station machine is aimed at small containers (2 oz to 1 L) for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics with very high neck tolerances.
Milacron is exhibiting in its own booth a Uniloy IBS 85 (81 tons) injection-blow system that is available in electric, hydraulic, and hybrid versions. The news here is that this machine is equipped to mold three-layer barrier containers. Up to now, Milacron’s Kortec co-injection technology has been used on injection molding machines to produce barrier preforms and the Klear Can for food. An injection-blow machine outfitted with Kortec hot-runner co-injection technology and a Mold-Masters E-Multi electric servo-driven secondary injection unit (to deliver the barrier layer) is a new variation. The IBS 85 will mold a 7.5-g, four-cavity pill bottle in 12 sec.
Jomar Corp., which has experimented with all-electric drive, has concluded that most cost-effective energy-saving option is its IntelliDrive Series with a servo-hydraulic pump for the injection unit and VFD-controlled pump on the clamps. Jomar will be running the IntelliDrive Model 85S (72 tons) that was first introduced at K 2016, but the IntelliDrive system has been extended to its two largest machines, 135 and 175 tons—in fact, the conventional hydraulic version of the Model 175 has been discontinued. Intellidrive machines reportedly save up to 50% in energy consumption and use 40% less tower water, at only 10-15% higher cost than standard IBM presses.
Jomar also has upgraded the clamp with a closed-loop system that shortens dry-cycle times. Improved control is said to allow faster closing without “slamming,” which preserves both molds and seals. And Jomar is preparing its machines for Industry 4.0. They are now being outfitted for remote monitoring and diagnostics by Jomar’s service personnel. The machine at the show will be collecting data on machine operations for display in a “dashboard,” either locally or remotely via internet. That data will help identify problems and ultimately even predict them, Jomar says.
MORE PACKAGING & INDUSTRIAL MACHINES
Besides standard shuttles, there will be a number of other styles of machines at the show. For example, Rocheleau Tool & Die will bring out its largest reciprocating-screw extrusion machine yet, the RS-90. It has a 90-mm extruder capable of more than 750 lb/hr of HDPE and can produce six-cavity gallon jugs or up to 16 cavities of smaller items. Its hydraulics have variable-frequency drive. The clamp has extra-thick, nickel-plated platens 16 in. tall × 48 in. wide. Options include parison programming, pull-up or ram-down neck calibration for handleware, or spin trimming for non-handled bottles.
The RS-90 can be integrated in line with Rocheleau’s new VT-3 automated deflasher. The VT-3 transfers parts upright to the punch station. It can accept up to a triple-station nest and punch die.
SACMI of Italy will exhibit its unique high-volume, rotary compression-blow forming (CBF) system. This machine continuously extrudes “hockey-puck” blanks that are sliced off and placed in compression molds to produce preforms, which are then blown into finished bottles. CBF produces a precision-molded neck, as does injection-blow, but without any gate mark on the bottle and reportedly with greatly reduced melt stresses, more uniform bottle weights between cavities, and substantial energy savings.
Wilmington Machinery will be talking about its all-electric wheel-type and reciprocating-screw machines. And Graham Engineering will display a modular clamp station for its Revolution MVP wheel-type blow molder (also shown at NPE2015).
For industrial parts, Graham will also show for the first time its Mini Hercules accumulator-head machine. This small-shot system (2.5, 5, or 8 lb) has a small footprint (15 × 11 ft × 15 ft high). It was previewed at NPE2015, and the first several units are now in the field. Graham’s XSL Navigator touchscreen control has been adapted for this machine like others in the company’s line. The Mini Hercules comes with single or dual heads and bottom or side discharge. Graham’s spiral-flow diverter head is said to allow for color and material changes in 1 hr. The diverter head also provides continuous internal cleaning during production, so there is no need to disassemble the head for cleaning.
Another industrial machine at NPE comes from S.T. Blow Moulding of Italy, which is exhibiting its ASPI 400 accumulator-head model with variable-frequency-driven hydraulic pumps. The ASPI series was developed for 3D suction blow molding of complex parts like automotive ducts and appliance piping; but a main feature of this model is said to be its versatility for both 3D and conventional 2D molding. It has a 40-ton clamp and 4 L accumulator head (6.5 lb max. shot weight).
The ASPI 400 machine being shown has a 70-mm extruder capable of up to 375 lb/hr of HDPE or 286 lb/hr of nylon 6 with the same screw. The platens (35 x 43 in.) reportedly can accommodate larger molds than most parison suction machines. A new heater control is said to reduce power consumption during startup. A new controller has a 21-in. multi-touch screen.
This machine is also said to be ready for Industry 4.0. It has the OPC-UA standard communication protocol. Predictive-maintenance tools are available to schedule “on-demand” maintenance steps and prevent unexpected downtime. A new web application allows remotely monitoring the machine’s production, maintenance and quality data. And using the new ST app, one can check production data anywhere and anytime from remote devices (tablets or smartphones).
FOAM BLOW MOLDING ADVANCES
W. Muller USA will be talking about the first commercial success for its foam blow molding technology. This technology, which was announced at NPE2015, utilizes a special head with two small vertical extruders for the solid inner and outer skins of the three-layer structure; the blow molding machine’s main extruder provides the center foam layer. A special feature of this process is that nitrogen gas is injected into the head, rather than the extruder barrel.
Muller’s news is that it has sold its first foam coextrusion head; the customer is Cimplast S.A.C.I. in Paraguay, which plans to use the head to mold 20 L agrochemical containers. Advantages of the foam-core process are not only lightweighting but also faster cycles, according to Muller.
PLENTY OF NEW PET SYSTEMS
PET stretch-blow systems will probably be the largest single category of blow molding machines at the show. In one-stage injection-stretch-blow (ISBM) systems, Pet All Manufacturing is exhibiting for the first time its new ISBM-180E all-electric unit. The four-station rotary unit has a 15-ton clamp and handles six to 10 cavities for containers from 10 to 100 ml.
Pet All is also showing the new CPSB-1000 LLE all-electric reheat stretch-blow (RSBM) machine from Chum Power in Taiwan. This linear unit molds containers of 10-20 L.
KHS Group has developed a new version of its high-output InnoPET Blowmax rotary RSBM system to meet rising demand for single-serve beverage bottles in the 250- to 800-ml size range. The system is more compact, but its small mold carriers process up to 2500 bottles/hr per station. Its modular design allows to be integrated in line with other KHS systems, such as the Innosept Asbofill unit for hygienic filling of sensitive products.
At NPE, KHS plans to show off its Factor 100 PET bottle that debuted last fall at the Drinktec show in Germany. At 5 g, it’s said to be the lightest known half-liter PET bottle for still water.
The company will also tout its preferential-heating technology for oval containers and for wide necks (up to 70 mm), both of which are said to be gaining in market importance. A third area of development on show is FreshSafe PET, which provides barrier protection for sensitive juices and carbonated soft drinks by covering the inside of the bottle with a wafer-thin layer of silicon oxide (glass). The coating is applied by KHS’s Plasmax machine.
SIDE S.A. of Spain will present its new generation of linear RSBM machines. They employ ABB variable-frequency drives, improved heating controls (Siemens), reduced mechanical movements to minimize wear, and easier access to the preform loader. These machines include the model 2006e, which takes up to six cavities for products from 250 ml to 3 L and output up to 10,000 bph. Model 2003eG is a two-cavity unit for up to 10 L containers and outputs from 2200 to 2600 bph.
SIDE will also feature its T-handle technology (also shown at NPE2015), which produces PET jugs with a pinched handle up to 36 mm deep through compression molding in the tool. It reportedly can make PET handleware competitive with HDPE, owing to higher throughputs for PET.
1Blow of France, which supplies extremely compact RSBM systems, will highlight its next-generation Model 4LO for makers of custom PET bottles. This all-electric system is labeled “O” for “oval” bottles and runs up to four cavities and bottles up to 2.5 L. It is distinguished by its ability to accommodate all five of the company’s Key Technology Kits—for preferential and offset-neck heating; neck orientation for flip-top caps (without requiring a tab or notch in the preform neck); heat setting; base inversion for hot filling (allows for base push-up in the blow mold in two or more increments and for diaphragm bases); and Sure Grip—using a multistage mold insert system that imparts a deeper grip into the bottle than can be produced in standard stretch-blow systems, the company claims.
And Terekas UAB of Lithuania will present the newest version of its highly versatile FlexBlow RSBM system. The FlexBlow 2 WM is able to produce both wide-mouth (110-mm) and narrow-neck (18-mm) containers. It can mold up to 73-mm necks in two cavities and wider necks in one cavity. Bottles from 1.5 to 3 L can be molded at 700 to 750/hr. Changing the bottle format, including molds, neck, and gripper parts, and fine-tuning the machine settings afterwards, reportedly takes no longer than 30 min. Changing just the mold requires loosening four bolts and takes only 5 min.
A number of upgrades on this model include new control functions such as an integrated operator manual and troubleshooting guide, and reporting of machine production and efficiency statistics for performance tracking. The challenge of automatically loading preforms with a wide range of neck diameters is addressed by a dual preform loading system. Adjustable feeding slides allow loading preforms with very small support rings (down to 0.8 mm), suitable for cosmetics jars. Inversed preforms with a body wider than the neck can also be handled by the feeding system. And both air and water cooling are now available to cool the neck inside the oven
Another new feature is customized preform grippers made by 3D printing. This allows for very precise detailing for custom designs and allows for quick changes, too. One FlexBlow customer ordered grippers for five different neck sizes, so Terekas color-coded the grippers in anodized aluminum.
With single-serve containers raising shelf-life demands, packagers are seeking the barrier with the best cost-performance for PET bottles. Multilayer seems to have the upper hand, but monolayer, coating, and oxygen-scavenger technologies have all won niches.
In a first for stretch-blow molding, Chicago-based Pechiney Plastic Packaging, Inc. (PPPI) is launching a family of polypropylene barrier food containers that are claimed to be as clear as multi-layer PET bottles.
Careful choices of machines, tools and operators are critical to tame the process to produce high-quality bottles consistently.