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PET resin manufacturer Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G has initiated legal proceedings against three bottling companies in Italy claiming infringement of its packaging material barrier technology patent.
The lawsuit was initiated by group subsidiary companies Cobarr and M&G Polimeri against Italian soft drinks suppliers Pepsico Beverages Italy, Acqua Minerale San Benedetto, and Iper Montebello.
M&G's alleges that packaging materials used to market the 7UP soft drinks brand infringe gas barrier claims of the group's patent EP 0964031 B1 with the corresponding Italian patent 99109316.2.
This is the second time recently that M&G has resorted to legal action to protect its intellectual property rights. Last year, its subsidiary Cobarr initiated similar proceedings in Germany where the group again alleged barrier technology patent infringement by the drinks manufacturer Red Bull Deutschland and its packaging supplier Alpla Werke Alwin Lehner.
That case continues after Alpla, based in Austria, failed in its bid earlier this year to have the judge in Germany dismiss M&G's case. The judge ordered Red Bull and Alpla to submit responses to M&G's claim by 2 June 2009. Cobarr has until 2 November 2009 to submit its response to these before an oral court hearing scheduled for 28 January 2010.
M&G, as a pioneer of many patented aspects of barrier solutions on the market, declared that if its intellectual property rights are not respected it believes it must take legal action.
"With an increasing number of barrier solutions coming on the market, M&G Group feels that it is the right time to stand its ground and protect its intellectual property rights," it stated in early June.
Commenting on the Italian case, Dario Giordano, M&G's corporate director of research and development, said: "Fundamentally, M&G believes that licensing is the most efficient way to respect another's intellectual property and I remain hopeful that in the future, those who operate or want to operate within the claims of EP 0964031 B1 or any other M&G patent will seek a proper licence."
Family-owned M&G operates PET plants in Italy, Brazil, Mexico and the US with a global capacity of 1.65 million tpa. Group sales in 2007 reached $2.8bn (€2bn), of which 90% resulted from PET resin business.
In February last year, the group sold its Italian PET bottle preform production plants, Europa Preforme in Verbania and Preforme Sud in Anagni to the Michigan, US-based blow moulder Plastipak Packaging for an undisclosed sum.
Almost a year earlier, M&G launched a 450,000 tpa South American PET plant in Suape, Brazil which it has already begun to expand to 650,000 tpa. Meanwhile, the group has future plans to build a giant 800,000 tpa PET plant in the US.
DuPont is throwing its weight behind a push for global sustainability standards. The company revealed its support for the standards as part of its recent 2009 DuPont Packaging Awards event.
“The biggest reason [for such standards] is to try to change the mindset of industry and consumers,” says William Weber, VP and general manager of DuPont Packaging and Industrial polymers. “[We need] common standards that are simple enough for consumers to make buying decisions.”
However, Julian Carroll, managing director of European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN), says there is conflict between regulators, the public and companies over what packaging go use.
“How do we measure which packaging is better?” he asked at the virtual conference. “How can companies assure themselves they are on the right track to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging?”
A CEO forum is being organised with the help of Europen to come up with harmonised principles and common definitions. In the long term, 150 CEOs will be asked to put together global standards based on common definitions.
Carroll says the lack of common standards could cause problems in the marketplace. For instance, one retail store could choose packaging it feels is most sustainable, with another could have different ideas, presenting a problem for a packaging supplier who must somehow satisfy both.
There is also the risk of unilateral action by regulators in one area that might not be compatible with laws in another.
DuPont brought the sustainability issue to its business strategy 10 years ago, according to Weber. Now the firm has a VP in charge of sustainability, Linda Fisher. Weber is responsible for sustainability in performance resins.
DuPont identifies four strategies for sustainability in packaging.
* Use reneweable resources.
* Improve end-of-life alternatives through additives and other means for composting, recycling and waste-to-energy methods.
* Reduce material use.
* Reduce general environmental impact, for examples using less energy or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainability issues were prominent among the winners of DuPont’s 2009 awards. The following are plastics related winners.
* Shampoo bottle and cap by Estee Lauder. The Aveda bottle contains 80 to 96% post-consumer recycled high density polyethylene, depending on the model. The bottle is made by Matrix Packaging. Estee Lauder also started up a bottle cap recycling program. Its caps are made of 100% recycled polypropylene moulded by Seaquist.
* Ecolean Group’s lightweight aseptic packaging cuts package weight by 50%. The use of calcium carbonate in the packaging reduces the amount of polymer needed in the structure.
* Healthy Choice frozen food trays from ConAgra contain 40% recycled PET.
* Polybag replaces corrugated packaging for multipack detergent pouches in Proctor & Gamble’s markets in Belgium and Turkey. The polyethylene bags cut weight by 80% and volume compression by 20%.
* Standup pouches replace glass for Bertolli Pasta Sauce from Unilever, reducing material use by 70%. The pouch is microwaveable and protects contents from oxygen. Pouch materials are made by Amcor.
* Prilosec Pill Pack from Proctor & Gamble doubles the number of pills on a blister card to cut waste in packaging. The cards are made by Alcan.
* Redesigned 20 liter drums from Australia-based A&C Packers have a new barrier structure and is reusable with a five-year life for agricultural chemicals. The new design aids stacking and cube efficiency by 30%. At end of life the drums are recycled into items such as drain pipes.
Sumitomo Demag will focus its Wiehe plant, in Thuringia, eastern Germany, on its electric machine range as part of a strategic initiative that sees the group investing €50m in its two German sites.
Wiehe, which up to now has made both hydraulic and electric machines of up to 210 tonne clamp force, will in future produce both the new IntElect machine as well as the Japanese SE range.
“Focusing our traditional manufacturing base at Wiehe on all electric injection moulding machines will help us be prepared for the revival of demand that will follow the current market crisis,” says Tetsuya Okamura, spokesperson for the management. “The benefits of the precision, productivity and energy efficiency of electric injection moulding machines appeal to our customers and the polymer processing community more than ever.”
The decision to invest in the Wiehe and Schwaig plants, taken despite the current market crisis, reflects Sumitomo Heavy Industries’ determination to maintain and strengthen both of the Demag plants in Germany, he added.
Wiehe was regarded as the most modern of the three injection moulding machine plants in the former East Germany when it was acquired by Mannesmann Demag in 1990. Following the deal, significant investment was ploughed into the facility to give it some of the industry’s most advanced automated machine making techniques for the Ergotech range.
As car makers look to shed weight and minimise environmental impact, interior designers are turning back to basics and to finishes that emphasise natural materials.
French automotive components supplier Faurecia, for instance, speculates that the next generation of automotive seating could come without polyurethane foam. With its Sustainable Comfort Seat concept, the company is replacing foam inside the seat with two sheets of injection moulded thermoplastic PU. The concept displays functional elements, echoing current thinking in sports shoe designs.
The twin-sheet structure is part of a seat system that can yield a 17% weight saving compared with existing designs. By taking 30mm out of the thickness, the new design also allows more leg room for rear-seat passengers.
The Faurecia seat concept uses an injection moulded long glass fibre reinforced PA structural frame in place of the conventional steel. An injection moulded head restraint replaces current foam and steel assemblies.
Faurecia introduced the seat as part of its "Light Attitude" interior concept at the end of last year and has since shown it to individual carmakers.
"The whole idea is celebrating the substrate and getting down to the essential material," says Jay Hutchins product planning manager at Faurecia's North American technical centre, close to Detroit.
Car makers have been focusing on lighter and thinner seats for some years, with most studies aimed at reducing bulk through improved urethane foams that provide the required support in a smaller package.
Faurecia's seat uses two injection moulded sheets of TPU which are designed with cavities and raised areas and vibration welded together with the outer shell to provide both support and flexibility, says Olivier Boinais, industrial design manager at the company.
The version that Faurecia is showing to potential customers leaves the inner structure visible - just as shoe maker Nike leaves the heel structure of its Air tennis shoes on show. However, it can be completely covered.
The seat is not the only manufacturing shift in the Light Attitude concept. Faurecia aims to strip away the cover material on instrument panels and door panels to showcase a compression moulded surface using natural fillers, such as hemp, flax or wood.
The Light Attitude concept intentionally exposes the natural substrate over large swathes of the interior but covers other portions in bright textiles. Traditional hard plastic trim is retained around the steering wheel, instrument cluster and heating and cooling control areas.
While Faurecia is not making predictions about when its new seat or instrument and interior panels will go into production, Hutchins believes the turmoil in the auto industry could provide the opening for new ideas.
And the French company is not alone in its thinking. The latest concept vehicle from Johnson Controls also takes the interior trim back to basics. The re3 concept, which was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, showcased door panels, instrument panels and other interior trim parts that did away with the traditional PVC, urethane or TPO skins and replaced them with a natural fibre resin blend more usually used as a substrate.
By eliminating the skins, JCI claims it can reduce part weight by up to 30% while also simplifying manufacturing.
The concept, named Fibrewood by JCI, is based on compression moulding of thermoplastics containing natural fillers such as kenaf and hemp. The process incorporates a special treatment to create a smooth surface that resists stains and fading.
Beneath the Fibrewood surface, JCI proposes replacing the standard metal cross-car support beam under the instrument panel with a hybrid system that uses both steel and structural plastic sub-structures.
The company sees the surface being very much in line with current design trends towards honesty of materials used in the car interior.
"There's a certain fashion or eco-statement that you're able to make with it. When you look at it, you might think: 'That's not very appealing. That's something I'd buy at the hardware store.' But, when you take that and add leather and chrome and other details to it, you create a whole new design aesthetic for the interior of the vehicle," says Danny Larsen, principal designer for interiors at JCI.
US-headquartered R&D/Leverage - formerly known as R&D Tool & Engineering - has invested ￡350,000 (€380,000) to create a Product Solutions Lab at its 3000m2 European facility at Sutton-in-Ashfield in the UK.
The new PSL facility, which is equipped with a Nissei ASB 70DPH single stage injection stretch blow moulding machine, provides the company with its first capability in Europe to run in-house mould trials, sampling and pilot production runs.
“With the ability to provide first-to-market samples, we can now qualify almost any product, including extreme shapes and extreme specifications in-house,” said Alan Tolley, managing director of the UK R&D/Leverage operation.
Over the last two years, the R&D/Leverage facility in the UK, which exports around 80% of its tooling to customers in mainland Europe, has doubled in size. Tolley said that sales last year grew by 22% and that the company is hopeful, even in today’s tough market, of seeing growth this year as well. This will largely be due to expansion into new markets in western and central Europe.
The investment in the PSL facility is considerable for the company. “It’s a lot of money for us as it is not a profit centre. But without it we could not become the stronger and more rounded company we want to be,” he said.
The Nissei ASB 70DPH is the most commonly-used single stage injection stretch blow moulding machine in the European marketplace, giving R&D/Leverage the opportunity to provide sampling services to the largest number of customers. Tolley said that the company will also be able to offer customers improved training support.
R&D/Leverage’s main competitors in single stage tooling manufacturing are the prime machine makers themselves – Nissei ASB and Aoki dominate the market. Tolley says the company’s key competitive edge over the Japanese OEMs is being able to deliver high specification tooling on shorter lead times. “We offer half the delivery times of our competitors,” he claimed.
While the high volume beverage sector is focused on two stage PET production techniques, single stage injection stretch blow moulding technology is widely used in the household and cosmetics sectors. It is especially suitable to production of non-round bottles and container designs without visible neck rings.
Tolley said the PSL rounds out the range of services and expertise the company is able to offer its customers, moving R&D/Leverage’s European operations in the direction that its US parent has pioneered through its Leverage industrial design unit. This has extended the company’s involvement beyond tool design and manufacturing and into full service consumer packaging design.
Located at its US headquaters in Kansas City, Leverage’s services include: upfront research, retail audits and trend and colour studies; concept development, digital prototyping and graphic design; validation and implementation.
“At the moment this is US-based but we are pushing it over here [in Europe],” said Tolley. “Part of our plan is to move away from the image of being a toolmaker. Yes, we are one. But we are also a solution provider.”
Photo by Albis Plastic GmbH Mills
Friedrichshafen, Germany — Albis Plastic GmbH took aim at recycling, health care and lighting markets at Fakuma 2018.
The Hamburg-based compounder and resin distributor showed resins, compounds and masterbatch concentrates for those end markets at the event in October, officials said in a news release.
"This comprehensive selection of products will help us make good on our promise to deliver the perfect solutions every time for our customers' specific needs," Chief Sales Officer Ian Mills said in the release.
For its own materials, Albis has expanded its Alcom Med product portfolio to include tailor-made compounds for health care applications such as pharmaceutical packaging and diagnostic applications. These products are based on a variety of different polymers and include coloring as well as a variety of fillers.
Alcom LDDC is the newest addition to Albis' Alcom Lighting product line. The material was created in response to the latest developments in vehicle interior design. The product can be used to create high-gloss lacquer surfaces that can be back-lit in any color, officials said, resulting in high-quality symbols and displays on seamless functional surfaces in any color with no discoloration.
Albis also is expanding its Altech Eco product portfolio to include a recyclate-based PET/PBT blend compound. This compound can be modified with fillers and additives, officials said. It represents a sustainable, cost-effective alternative to prime PBT and nylon 6 compounds without sacrificing mechanical properties or exceptional surface quality.
A new Easyflow series of Alfater XL also is available. It's a deep-black material with excellent flowability for thin-walled components, tools with long flow paths or complex geometries, officials said. The series offers excellent weather resistance and adheres well to filled, reinforced and unreinforced polyolefins like polypropylene.
On the resin distribution side, Albis has expanded its lighting portfolio to include Makrolon polycarbonate materials from Covestro. The portfolio includes specially developed materials with light diffusion effects, high reflection coefficients and increased thermal conductivity.
Albis also offers Ultramid deep gloss nylon resins from BASF for automobile interiors. The materials combine the chemical resistance of semicrystalline nylons with the high gloss and depth of view of amorphous plastics, officials said.
For more complex applications, Ultramid Advanced N compounds offer exceptional mechanical properties at higher temperatures, increased resistance to moisture and high dimensional stability.
Ultramid Vision is a semicrystalline nylon that allows light to pass through largely unhindered, yielding transparent yet highly durable components. Its balanced profile of properties makes it a good fit for chemically demanding environment.
In recycled materials, Albis has increased its offerings through its recent purchase of compounder Wipag Deutschland GmbH, which specialises in the manufacture of injection-mouldable carbon-fibre-based compounds. PP carbon-fibre compounds from that new unit feature excellent rigidity and low density, saving weight, cutting cost and increasing efficiency compared to highly filled fibreglass-reinforced nylons, officials said.
Wipag, with sites in Neuburg and Gardelegen, Germany, has developed eco-friendly technologies that allow waste carbon fibre, mainly from the auto industry, to be reprocessed into CFRP compounds. Wipag also uses post-industrial and post-consumer polypropylene.
Renewable content materials from Quality Circular Polymers, a joint venture between LyondellBasell and Suez, also are now part of the Albis lineup. Those products include post-consumer polyethylene and PP under the Hostalen and Moplen trade names. The materials are targeted at many applications, including cosmetics and toiletries.
In the last 18 months, Albis bought out a US joint venture partner and moved its North American headquarters from Texas to South Carolina. Albis became sole owner of Albis Barnet Polymers LLC, a JV that it had formed in 2016 with resin and fibre supplier William Barnet & Son LLC of Spartanburg, S.C.
Albis also had opened a compounding plant in Duncan, South Carolina. The acquisition of the JV included a recycling centre that Barnet had operated in Duncan. That unit, with 70 million pounds of annual capacity, recycles post-industrial nylon and polyester fibre into pellets.
Photo by Caroline Seidel Ethan Stiefel, left, and Brandon Birchmeier from Imflux at Fakuma 2018.
Friedrichshafen, Germany — Fakuma 2018 marks the first trade show where an injection press manufacturer has exhibited moulding technology from Imflux, part of consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co.
Milacron Holdings Corp. is moulding a technical part on an all-electric Elektron EVO 155 press running a four-cavity Imflux mould during the show, which opened Oct. 16. Two people from Imflux will be stationed at the machine all week to explain the process.
Six Imflux employees are attending Fakuma 2018 in Friedrichshafen in what the P&G unit considers an important trade show debut. Imflux CEO Mary Wagner is also at the show.
"It's a seamless integration of Imflux in a moulding machine," Gene Altonen, Imflux chief technology officer said in an interview at Milacron's booth 15 Oct, the day before Fakuma began.
The injection press is equipped with Imflux software and pressure sensors inside the mould and nozzle.
Imflux uses constant, low pressure to slowly fill the mould, while simultaneously packing the melt and cooling the mould. Imflux software, linked to sensors, controls the process. Traditional injection moulding uses high pressure and high temperatures, then switches over to the pack-and-hold phase.
Imflux officials say the technology can cut cycle time, reduce moulding pressure by 50%, reduce moulded-in stress and shrink variations and allow a wider range of processing windows and shrink variations inside the mould, among other benefits.
The Fakuma demonstration is designed to show off Imflux's capabilities, such as Auto Viscosity Adjust, which automatically makes adjustments for variations on viscosity.
Altonen said the four-cavity mould is intentionally ? unbalanced. And the injection press will change materials and colors during moluding, from white high density polyethylene to red polypropylene and back.
Booth visitors can randomly turn off a mould cavity, and rather than flash the mould, Imflux gives constant feedback to make the adjustment and keep moulding good parts, he said.
Photo by Caroline Seidel Small plastic wheels made on Milacron presses at Fakuma 2018.
Andy Stirn, Milacron's director of applications engineering for advanced plastics processing technologies, said the machinery manufacturer is proud to show the first Imflux-enabled injection press.
"We're introducing it as a module of our M-Powered suite of products, and it is unique in that it's integrated into the controller. It's the first time it's been integrated into a machine controller," Stirn said.
M-Powered is Milacron's Industry 4.0 technology that the company launched at NPE2018 in Orlando, Fla. M-Powered is making its European debut at Fakuma 2018.
Altonen said the two companies have worked together to interface Imflux with the Milacron press controller. He said of Imflux: "As a company, we're moving into the direction of trying to simplify the process."
Consumer products giant P&G set up Imflux as a technology company in Hamilton, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Milacron's headquarters is in nearby Blue Ash, Ohio, and its main assembly plant is not far away in Batavia, Ohio.
Imflux leaders want injection moulding press manufacturers to offer Imflux-enabled machines as a way to spread the technology through the plastics industry. Kevin Wise, the Imflux vice president and chief financial officer, said Imflux is working with several other machinery manufacturers, including Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., Wittmann Battenfeld Inc., Engel Holding GmbH and KraussMaffei Group.
In other injection press news at Fakuma, Milacron's Quantum 180 toggle press is making its European debut. Quantum presses are equipped with Milacron's Endura Touch control interface, which is available in presses with clamping forces from 125-610 tons.
The Quantum machine is outfitted with a Mold-Masters E-Multi secondary injection unit, a TempMaster M1 controller and an indexing rotary table. The press has a two-component mould from Wilhelm Weber GmbH & Co. KG and is moulding a squeegee used in showers and for home window cleaning. The body will be moulded from a polycarbonate/ABS blend, and the E-Multi will inject the flexible thermoelastomer component. The cycle time is 50 seconds.
Photo by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper/Twitter North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper meets with emergency officials as Hurricane Florence strikes the coast.
Plastics operators in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South-eastern US shut down plants as flooding and high winds from Hurricane Florence made landfall 14 Sept.
Companies such as Rowmark LLC shut down as early as 12 Sept so employees could heed evacuation warnings ahead of Florence.
A manufacturer of plastics that can be engraved for awards and signs, Rowmark has a site about 25 miles from hard-hit New Bern, North Carolina, where rising waters were waist high in a matter of minutes and people were being rescued from cars and homes.
Rowmark is closed until further notice, according to an employee who answered a phone call forwarded on 14 Sept to the company's Findlay, Ohio, location.
"The safety of our employees and their families is our primary concern," she said, adding that about 10 employees work at the small site. "All of our employees are okay. Most of them evacuated the area."
The status of many facilities near New Bern were not immediately available.
New Bern, a city of 30,000 on a river inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, was hit by 10 feet of storm surge and more than 7 inches of rain by daybreak on 14 Sept.
City of New Bern/Twitter A fiberglass decorative bear statue floats along Front Street in downtown New Bern, North Carolina. A storm surge and heavy rain have resulted in flooding throughout the community.
Hurricane Florence is expected to linger in the region, with predictions for up to 40 inches of rain in some areas.
Processors in New Bern include Carolina Technical Plastics Corp. and BSH Home Appliances Corp., an injection moulder and thermoformer, making parts of home appliances. Calls to both facilities could not be completed.
Further inland, Stephen Hasselbach Jr., the sales and business development director for CMI Plastics in Ayden, North Carolina, was keeping an eye on the thermoforming facility from afar. He said he was home watching cartoons with his daughter as well as a security system for the plant.
"So far we're doing okay," Hasselbach said. "There's a lot of wind and rain but we still have power at the facility according to the cameras. Everything looks okay so hopefully we're back up and running on Monday."
DAK Americas, which produces PET resins and polyester fibres, also shut down operations at its Cooper River and Monks Corner sites in South Carolina ahead of the hurricane.
"While we expect to resume full operations as soon as possible, we cannot determine the full impact or duration of the situation at this time," Ricky Lane, corporate communications director, said in an email Friday. "DAK Americas' primary concern is the safety of our employees, the community, and our site. We will continue to monitor this situation."
Hurricane Florence is expected to crawl near or along the coast of the Carolinas into Saturday, producing flash flooding and major river flooding. The storm's remnant is expected to linger in parts of the East into early next week.
The report identified a number of developments and trends, some presenting opportunities, others posing threats.
A recent survey of the technical injection moulding sector in the Netherlands draws a picture of a branch on the cusp of change.
A recent report from Dutch bank ABN AMRO on the technical injection moulding sector in the Netherlands explored the challenges, opportunities and trends in this industry, specifically with a view to its future commercial viability. According to this report, change is essential if the sector, which exports some 60% of its output, is to remain competitive and successful.
The Dutch technical injection moulding industry, like that of most countries in Europe, is mainly made up of small and medium-sized enterprises – an estimated 250, out of a total of 1200 companies active in the Dutch plastics industry - and producing a range of products for industries varying from consumer appliance parts and electronics to automotive components and medical devices. The majority of technical moulders are contract plastic manufacturers offering custom injection moulding services that span from a single prototype injection moulding to large series production. They have the technical knowhow and expertise to work with performance engineering plastics like PA, HMPE, PTFE, PEEK and POM.
The report identified a number of developments and trends, some presenting opportunities, others posing threats. These are not unique to the Netherlands; the situation is very similar to that in its neighbouring and other countries as well, but the focus of the present report is on the Netherlands.
The environment and sustainability, for example, are aspects that are becoming increasingly important to consider. Ever tighter regulations and legislation are being implemented regarding the use and disposal of plastic materials in an effort to combat litter – marine and otherwise – as well as to curb CO2 emissions and to fight resource depletion. Made from oil, the awareness that plastics are far too valuable to go to waste has grown, leading to more stringent rules on their re-use and recycling.
The response has been innovation: better separation and recycling technologies have been and continue to be developed to improve the quality of recyclates, research has led to the development of better materials based on renewable feedstocks of various kinds, and the push towards a circular economy, touted as the solution to the mounting problem of plastic waste and the environment by governments, industry and business, is providing the momentum needed, among other things, to establish better collection programmes and extended producer responsibility schemes.
In practical terms, however, recycling still faces a number of challenges that need to be addressed, the most important of which is the fact that plastic products tend to be made up of different types of materials – think multi-layer packaging, for example – that are impossible to separate. Promising circular solutions include Design for Disassembly, in which the end of life of the product is taken into account in the design phase; modular design, enabling parts to be upgraded as needed, thus extending product life; and product-as-a-service, where consumers pay to use a product, not to own it.
While automation has penetrated the plastics industry the degree of connectivity needed for a Smart Industry environment is still largely absent.
The push for circularity notwithstanding, technical injection moulders, have been slow to adopt the use of recyclates, citing unreliable supply and recyclate quality as the main reasons for not doing so. Demand for products made from recycled materials is likely to come from consumers. Companies like IKEA, for example, have listened to their customers - and IKEA now makes extensive use of recycled materials in a range of different products.
According to the ABN AMRO report, however, most manufacturers have assumed a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, which may end up putting them at a disadvantage in the future if they have to scramble to adapt.
The Smart Industry – Industry 4.0 – is another development that is making itself felt within this sector. While automation has penetrated the plastics industry – in fact, robots, automated resin and parts handling systems are commonplace – the degree of connectivity needed for a Smart Industry environment is still largely absent. This is largely due to the investments required in software, simulation and sensor technology; investments that require a certain scale in production, which in turn has set off a wave of consolidation in the sector. This development is also seen internationally as well, among packaging manufacturers.
It is worth noting that injection moulding is a mature production technology, in which innovation mainly consists of performance improvements, such as faster cycles, easier mould changes, more flexibility, lower energy and material consumption levels; in other words, incremental innovations, which are being driven by the large, international injection moulding machine manufacturers and mould makers. Innovative new materials and compounds are developed by the major raw material suppliers and compounders, who operate at a scale that allows for substantial investments in R&D.
Collaboration with start-ups also offers traditional technical moulders the opportunity to climb on the innovation bandwagon. According to the report, traditional injection moulders tend to be rather conservative in their approach, whereas start-up companies tend to be more forward looking.
The report found that start-ups in the plastics industry tend to be focussed on interesting new developments in recycling; new processes, such as 3D printing; and new materials (composites, materials with specific properties such as Parx Plastics antimicrobial resins). Collaboration with these new initiatives offer traditional moulders the opportunity to gain experience at an early stage with developments leading to improved material properties, enhanced processability and higher product quality, enabling moulders to stand out from the crowd and thus attract new customers. Start-ups, too, can benefit from the collaboration by taking advantage of the moulders’ technical expertise, market knowledge and sales force.
Photo by Arburg Production of a cable grommet with the help of a six-axis robot.
A key takeaway from the report is that, as a whole, the sector will need to become more focussed in order to survive in the international market. As the report writes: “Entrepreneurs ‘string’ numerous activities together as the opportunity arises and abandon these just as easily if they prove to be insufficiently profitable. Opportunism comes with entrepreneurship. But it prevents entrepreneurs from being able to differentiate themselves in the market… we expect that in the future entrepreneurs will demonstrate a far less opportunistic approach. They will have to choose. On the one hand, because of increasing investments in smart, but expensive machinery and automation, on the other because of the shortage of technically skilled personnel.“
In a few of the markets in which Dutch technical moulders are active, for example consumer goods, toys, furniture and construction products, where functionality and price are the main aspects that count, competition from abroad is massive. Activities in these areas are expected to decline, as the moulders in western Europe cannot compete on price, except if they choose to specialise, which some, accepting that they will remain small and flexible, may well do.
In other segments, customers are becoming more and more demanding, with technical moulders having to meet stringent standards and conditions regarding tracking and tracing, process control, quality control and just-in-time delivery, all of which requires investments in everything from cleanrooms to ERP and MES systems. In addition, as product life cycles shrink and new products are launched with an increasingly shorter time to market, these moulders will be required to invest more in moulds, sophisticated machinery and extensive automation and robotisation in order to keep up.
According to the analysts at ABN AMRO, the sector needs to ‘professionalise’ – without losing the positive aspects of entrepreneurship. ‘Technical moulders will need to be more selective in the opportunities they chase,’ they write.
Professionalisation will involve, for example, a more commercial approach to the market by hiring or expanding the commercial staff and investing in their technical capabilities. Also, the websites of many technical moulding companies are outdated and could be improved. Business development should be a fixed item on the company’s agenda, in order to explore and realise new commercial opportunities.
Little scope for supplier involvement
The report also distinguishes four business proposition categories available to technical injection moulders. The first, ‘build-to-print’, in which the moulder contributes nothing to the design or development of the product but simply provides the necessary production capacity, affords little scope to bind customers by offering adding value. Price/quality ratio and reliability are the deciding factors here. Once a moulder has developed the expertise needed for an application, however, the picture can change. This scenario, dubbed build-to-print+, is a growing trend in the high-tech industry: the complexity and mutual dependency is leading to single sourcing and partnership. However, in the plastics branch, far more than in other industrial sectors, big customers tend to deal with several technical moulders, thus keeping prices down, reducing dependency and spreading risk. These customers generally own the moulds, which allows them to ‘shop around’ for lower prices and better service, and to impose uncompromising margin caps.
And it is due to these margin caps that the two other propositions, known as ‘build-to-spec’, where the moulder designs the product based on the customer’s specifications; and ‘build-to-roadmap’ in which the moulder is involved even earlier, in developing the functional specifications of the product, are infrequent in the technical injection moulding sector. It has proven very difficult for the sector to leverage its technical knowhow and expertise to increase business profitability, as customers are notoriously reluctant to pay for engineering hours. However, write the authors of the report, as the scale of the technical moulding operations grows, this may be expected to change in the medium term.
In the introduction to this report, a question was asked about the future of this specialised group of Dutch small and medium sized enterprises. What was needed for their successful survival?
The authors conclude that first and foremost, in the Netherlands, the sector needs to expand the scale of its operations. Compared to, for example, Belgium or Germany, the technical moulding companies in the Netherlands tend to be smaller in size. Targeted growth is needed to finance the investments required to meet the increasingly more stringent of customers. More scale will strengthen the negotiating position towards both customers and raw material suppliers. Moulders with diverse markets and customers are better able to spread risk.
Second: start-ups are active in areas that will become the growth markets of the future. Moulders need to be part of that future and should therefore seek collaboration with knowledge centres, incubators and start-up firms.
Focus on the future – as labour shortages increase, customers will look for more supplier involvement. Technical moulders with specialist knowledge will be in demand.
Ongoing automation will impact on the number of low-level jobs, while the number of highly-skilled employees is likely to increase. The sector should anticipate these future higher wage costs, write the analysts.
It is a tall order, and one that requires a change of mindset throughout the branch, from management level down. Yet, if done right, the technical injection moulding sector presents a bright economic growth prospective.
Global plastic auto parts producer Novares plans to invest €6m to extend the capacity of its production site in the Zrenjanin Free Zone in northern Serbia.
The French group, formerly known as Mécaplast – Key Plastics, launched a plant at the site north of the capital Belgrade in 2012 and now employs a 170-strong workforce there. Its local output was originally aimed at supplying Fiat Serbia, which is located in the Kragujevac Free Zone, which now accounts for most parts production.
Today, the plant also serves the French automotive group PSA in Slovakia and Iran, Dacia – Renault in Romania and the Jaguar Land Rover group in Austria.
Rising demand has prompted the Paris-based moulded component supplier expects to add a new 3,200m2 production hall costing around €2.2m with the remains of the project investment going on new moulding machinery and other equipment.
Initially, Novares will employ a further 25 workers at Zrenjanin and expects to have 280 by 2020, according to Serb media reports.
Novares is to take advantage of additional development space in the Zrenjanin zone’s newly open East business complex. The firm’s new facility will provide it with an additional site of more than two hectares of land.
The Serb free trade zone not only enables companies to import and export freely, but exempts it from payment of taxes and customs duties and allows it free profit transfer. Resident companies are reported to be able to save up to 40% of their business costs.
Novares group is in 21 countries and operates 42 production plants, five technical centres, seven skill centres and 17 customer service units worldwide. In 2017, it attracted revenue worth around €1.2 billion.
As the digitalisation process increasingly gains ground in plastic processing, a key issue for processors everywhere is what to do about older machinery that functions perfectly well but lacks the digital power required today.
An important element of Industry 4.0 is the ability to apply digitalisation to the production environment by adding more intelligence into the existing process. While converters often assume that effective implementation can only be achieved with expensive upgrades of existing production lines, this is not necessarily the case, said Howard Forryan, Product Market Specialist at Harting UK, speaking to Plastics News Europe at the recent PDM event in Telford, UK.
Harting, a Germany-based family-owned connectivity & networks solutions company with offices and production plants around the world, has come up with a digital retrofit approach that makes it possible to “smarten” up existing processes for minimal cost over a short period of time, resulting in a fast return on investment and immediate productivity gains.
According to Forryan, digital retrofit provides four different ways to improve production processes, increase cost savings and extend the lifetime of different types of machinery: legacy machine protocol conversion; condition monitoring / energy measurement; asset management; and predictive maintenance.
“Central machine monitoring and process optimisation offer the best way to ensure that production lines and their various parts operate more effectively and economically. Many machines in well-established production lines, which may be between 15 and 30 years old, can still perform their main functional tasks successfully,” he said.
“But they are much less efficient than newer machine, as they lack the computing power, memory capacity, and the ability to communicate with their modern equivalents that are all required today.”
Injection moulding machines with the Euromap 15 protocol, for example, cannot be directly connected to a Manufacturing Execution System without expensive annual custom software licensing charges, and in many cases still require time-consuming individual programming by an operator.
“MICA Euromap 15” variant converts the legacy Euromap 15 TCP/IP machine operating communications protocol into OPC UA.
Harting has developed an edge computing device in the form of a digitally retrofittable IP67 package with Linux-based open-source software, called MICA (Modular Industrial Computing Architecture).
Specifically for injection moulding machines, the company has developed the “MICA Euromap 15” variant, which converts the legacy Euromap 15 TCP/IP machine operating communications protocol into OPC UA. In addition, it offers the potential to provide IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) web enablement and access to “Cloud” services for Big Data analysis or virtualisation, via an optional downloadable MQTT container.
As a result, the “MICA Euromap 15” provides a customisable interface to the plant MES/ERP, configurable with any specific operational software.
Forryan said that Harting UK first implemented the devices across its own in-house production injection moulding lines. Integrating IIoT/MES accessing edge computing devices directly with legacy machine allowed machine process parameters to be remotely monitored and modified more quickly via centralised factory control stations, reducing downtime and enabling manpower to be much more effectively employed. Machine operators could even monitor and affect the process of the production line from off-site, via a smartphone or suitable tablet device. “The return-on-investment payback period was 6-12 months,” he asserted.
Gary Powner, managing director at Omega Plastics (L)
UK plastics manufacturer Omega Plastics has invested in an all-electric injection moulding machine from Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, in a bid to save energy costs and the environment.
In an 18 April statement, the company, which has sites across North East England, said pressure is mounting on plastics processors to carefully consider what equipment to invest in for the future.
According to Gary Powner, managing director at Omega Plastics, the investment makes sense despite a premium of 20% compared to hydraulic machinery.
“When you then subsequently save between 40% and 70% on energy costs, it doesn’t take long to recoup the additional cost and start making further savings,” he noted.
This is Omega Plastics’ second all electric machine from Sumitomo (SHI) Demag and it will replace an older hydraulic machine at its factory in Blyth, one of three facilities the company operates.
The company bought its first Sumitomo Demag IntElect machine three years ago.
In addition to that, Omega Plastics has also invested in clean tech, all electric machinery at its factory in Hartlepool.
In June last year, it installed a new 50-tonne injection moulding machine manufactured by Fanuc at the Hartlepool site, to increase medical production by 25%.
Sumitomo (SHI) Demag has reported a significant shift in the market over the last three years as its customers move from traditional hydraulic machines to more environmentally-friendly alternatives like its Systec ‘Servo’ hydraulic option and the IntElect all-electric machine.