ANTEC comes a bit early in 2012 – in the first week of April – being co-located again with NPE, this time in Florida. Luckily for those of us fighting the early-spring blahs, we can look forward to Orlando’s average high temperature for April 1st of about 78°F (26°C). And we can expect to see and hear about a lot of new technologies and products, some of them literally hot off the presses in the NPE exhibition halls.
This article attempts to preview the large number of ANTEC paper presentations and events, plus a sampling of NPE events and new product releases. (Note that all information below was current as of press time in early January.)
New Tech Forum: Major Medical
A good example of the depth of knowledge probed at ANTEC is “Polymer Applications in Health,” a New Technology Forum scheduled for the morning of April 3rd. According to moderators Sadhan Jana, Prithu Mukhopadhyay, and Len Czuba, the forum’s purpose is to display “polymer applications in health research, highlighting materials and processes that are far from commercialization, but rich in science and novel concepts.”
The forum’s six presentations will cover drug delivery, resorbable materials, orthopedics, implants, devices, and tissue engineering for grafting and implants. The sessions’ titles, authors, and detailed abstracts are posted at www.antec.ws; but here is a quick preview of the talks:
The final scheduled talk will cover the FDA and medical device biomaterials, offering examples of bioabsorbable and nano-scaled materials used in cardiovascular devices, while clarifying what the phrase “FDA-approved material” means for these applications.
High-Flying Plenary Speech
Aerospace will be the industry focus at the Monday, April 2nd, plenary speech by Frank Doerner, Vice President, Materials, Processes & Structures Technologies for Boeing Research & Technology. Doerner’s talk, “Polymer Composites for Aerospace Applications – Past, Present and Future,” will cover one of the composite industry’s biggest growth areas: aerospace, an area that historically has driven major developments in material science, from wood to new metal alloys to polymer composites.
“Production of primary structural composites utilizing carbon-reinforced polymer matrices began in defense applications in the late 1960s,” notes the plenary speech’s abstract. But unlike now, these applications were small parts mainly for small fighter aircraft. “The commercial airline demand for more affordable, fuel-efficient, longer-range aircraft has driven commercial airframe manufacturers to utilize significantly more polymer composite materials for primary structure.”
Doerner will relate the successful launch of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the advanced uses of composites, which make up about 50% of airframe weight. “Future commercial airplane designs will likely continue to utilize large amounts of polymer composites for performance improvements.” But there’s still a “gap” between composites technology and its implementation that must be bridged, and bridging this is critical for future success. “This presentation will explore some of the issues involved with transitioning new composites technology into current and future aerospace products.”
Technical Papers & Presentations: More Choices Than Ever
As a variety of industry experts innovative in the uses, types, and processing of polymeric materials each year, we’re seeing more variety in the scope and span of ANTEC technical papers. Not only are well over 500 papers being scheduled for presentation, “The quality of the papers is the highest that I have ever seen,” says ANTEC 2012-13 Technical Program Chair Mark Spalding. This article can’t possibly summarize the full range of paper topics, but the sections below give a rough sampling (with apologies to the 90% of authors whose papers are not mentioned).
Managing the Real World
Laying down some big-picture groundwork are sessions by SPE Marketing and Management Division authors and experts. For example, in his paper, Roger F. Jones of Franklin International will propose globalized business strategies to answer continuing weak domestic growth. “Less-developed countries can offer business opportunities that are currently lacking in the US and EU,” he notes.
Sustainability is a key concept that’s now tied in with business growth. Bonnie Bachman and Shristy Bashyal of the Missouri University of Science and Technology will trace the waves of evolution of green business concepts and relate them to current needs of the plastics industry. And researchers from 3M Co. will focus on low-density plastics’ roles in lightweighting automobiles to meet future fuel economy standards. (Also related to sustainability at ANTEC is a special three-hour session for the new SPE Non-Halogen Flame Retardant Technologies Special Interest Group (SIG), in which five speakers will cover the types, testing, and specific application areas’ uses of alternative flame retardants.)
Looking to better define the concept of innovation are Bachman and Stephen Bozzone of iRobot Corp. As an often misused magical buzzword, “innovation” really “is people implementing ideas to create value,” the authors state – which is “easy to understand yet vastly more challenging to do well.” Marketing and Management is also sponsoring a panel discussion session on “Innovation in the Plastics Industry,” with expert panelists Jones, Bachman, Robert Eller of Robert Eller Associates, Peter Mooney of Plastics Custom Research Services, Steve Maguire of Maguire Products, and Maggie Baumann of G.H. Associates as moderator.
Molding & Extrusion
Improvements for turning pellets into parts can be both hands-on (better tooling and machines) and hands-off (process data management and simulation). Regarding the latter, an Injection Molding Division paper by Alan Hickok of Progressive Components and Shaun Ruck of AST Technology GmbH will cover the use of “on-board” mold-based monitoring to allow “transparency and control of capacity, modifications, and maintenance of the mold to deliver better overall performance and cost.”
In blow molding, process and part optimization often go hand-in-hand. As just one example, a paper by Sumit Mukherjee of Plastic Technologies Inc. will discuss the use of Virtual Prototyping™ software in single-stage pre-form blow molding of round and oval PET containers. This process simulation interrelates variables including sidewall thickness distribution, molding temperature, and the mechanical properties of the container.
Simulation and optimization are likewise important in extrusion. After decades of use, film dies are still being optimized, using better and better computational methods. Addressing flow-channel design optimization are researchers from The Japan Steel Works, Ltd. in Hiroshima, Japan. They combined two conventional die designs to create more uniform flow rates at the die exit. Meanwhile, Dow Chemical Co. and ESTECO researchers will report on the use of 3-D finite-element optimization to improve flow uniformity in a film die by adjusting its geometry. “This knowledge can be used to redirect the optimization towards more practical solutions through the use of geometric constraints.” In other words, the resulting die designs will still be practical to fabricate!
Looking downstream in film extrusion, a two-part paper will compare water-quench and air-quench methods for blown film, presented by researchers from Brampton Engineering Inc., Kuraray America, and DuPont. The researchers compared resulting film properties such as water vapor- and oxygen-transmission rates, crystallinity, and thermoformability.
In terms of compounding extruder technology, co-rotating fully intermeshing twin-screw extruders are a mature 50 years old, but they “continue to evolve,” notes Coperion researchers Paul Andersen and Frank Lechner. Recent advancements include higher-torque designs allowing increased RPMs, and breakthroughs in feeding difficult low-bulk-density materials. The company’s new extruders will also be highlighted at its NPE booth, says Andersen. “This new generation of extruders has the highest throughput rate/machine size (diameter) available in the U.S., and provides a broader operating window which permits optimization of product quality and economics.” (Other Coperion technologies to be presented at NPE focus on separating fragments, fines, and angel hair from pellets; the indirect heating or cooling of pellets or free-flowing bulk materials, and “plug-and-play” compounding using skid-mounted modular systems.)
Studying incidents of plastic part failure is always enlightening, and several papers in the Failure Analysis and Prevention SIG group will do just that. For example:
Recently, more polymers are being used in photovoltaic modules, and thus their durability and long-term aging performance in PV is of great interest. Researchers from Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and DelSolar Co. Ltd. studied polymer laminates from PV module designs (made from multiple polymers), exposing them to “damp heat” (85°C, 85% RH) and UV light – with the revelation that damp heat is particularly damaging. Moisture’s effects on the service life of polymer-laminated PVs will also be addressed in a paper by researchers from Japan in the “Engineering Properties and Structure” track of the conference.
Resins & Reinforcements
Engineering resins are being improved in very specific ways, as shown by papers submitted for the Thermoforming, Product Design and Development, Thermoplastic Materials & Foams, and Thermoplastic Elastomers groups.
Liquid crystal polymer and thermoforming are usually not associated with each other, but Ticona Engineering Polymers authors will present on a thermoformable LCP. They’ll compare its properties with those of injection-molded LCP and cover its sheet extrusion processing conditions. Ticona authors will also speak about a new high-flow, high-strength polyoxymethylene copolymer for metal-replacement injection molding applications. The POM reportedly has the mechanical properties of a POM homopolymer, with the chemical and thermal stability of a copolymer.
High-flow thermoplastic polyesters will be the focus of SABIC Innovative Plastics’ R.R. Gallucci. The high-flow materials are created using an extrusion melt reaction with a primary alkyl amine, the author reports, providing “a low-cost, fast option to make a wide variety of high-flow resins from one starting material.” Other SABIC paper authors will speak on glass-filled PBT compounds that offer better high-gloss surface aesthetics.
Regarding TPEs, Dow Chemical researchers will report on “The Science of Formulating Olefin Block Copolymers,” focusing on creating the right property balance for using the company’s OBCs in soft compound applications. In another talk, Dow speakers will discuss how to select olefin elastomers for replacing flexible PVC.
Among the many Composites Division papers, two papers about fiber reinforcement will discuss the importance of fiber sizing and length. PPG Industries Fiber Glass researchers will cover the sizing of glass fibers in engineering applications, while Korean researchers will team up to present on the properties of thermoplastic composites containing carbon fibers integrated with various length distributions and dispersion methods.
A number of new biopolymer and bio-related developments are scheduled to be presented by ANTEC authors, making this field ever-harder to get a grasp of. Polymer reinforcements can be bio-based too, as will be discussed by Sam McCord of MCG BioComposites, LLC. Compounds incorporating flax, wheat, and corn-cob fibers may allow bioplastic makers “to produce the goods and components needed across the complete product landscape,” he states.
More ways being developed for toughening the most talked-about bioresin, PLA. Mirel Bioplastics (Metabolix, Inc.) researchers will speak on the use of sister bioresin PHA for toughening brittle PLA. Meanwhile, presenters from Imerys Talc will talk about the use of talc as a filler for increasing a PLA compound’s stiffness and resistance to thermal effects.
The heavily used bioresin thermoplastic starch (TPS) also benefits from blending with other materials. For blow-molded bottles, G.J. Anderson of Teknor Apex Co. will speak on how HDPE and TPS were mixed in an extruder, resulting “in fine droplets of TPS dispersed throughout” the blend, reducing the bottle’s greenhouse gas impact without affecting its performance or appearance.
Another study was done on TPS blended with PC/ABS, to be presented by researchers at Taiwan-based Industrial Technology Research Institute and CoreTech System (Moldex3D) Co., Ltd. Here, mold-flow analysis was used to compare the bio-blend’s performance in molding a mobile phone case, compared with the use of a standard PC/ABS material.
New or less-heard-of bioplastics will also be presented at ANTEC. Interfacial Solutions LLC speakers will talk about the company’s deTerra® biobased polymers. These are created using a reactive extrusion process to “hyperbranch” the biopolymers, which reportedly provide properties like flame retardance and other engineering properties. Meanwhile, author Liz Gershon of Kureha America Inc. is scheduled to present on the company’s Kuredux® biodegradable polyester resin, which reportedly provides a number of properties that allow its use in PET bottle applications, without contaminating the recycling stream.
Speaking of recycling, there’s been more interest lately in ways for recovering waste plastic by converting them into fuels or energy. Dr. Moinuddin Sarker of Natural State Research Inc. will speak about a thermal degradation process that uses a stainless steel reactor to convert a mixed stream of conventional commodity plastics into liquid fuel. He reports that it takes about 5-6 hours to produce a hydrocarbon mixture of C3-C28 liquids (including commercial fuel types such as gasoline), plus some C1-C4 light gases, all depending on the temperature profiles used.
Related processes may be useful for reclaiming waste engineering polymers which are not normally recycled. Some researchers are still looking at the direct reuse of recovered engineering polymers like nylon, which can be challenging. Elodie Gaouyat of Cray Valley HSC will speak on the use of a reactive compatibilizer/chain-extender in recycled PA66 contaminated by PA6. Here, 2% of an SMA copolymer reportedly improves the nylon blend’s impact and temperature properties, potentially making it suitable for automotive uses.
Other Polymer Modifiers and Additives Division papers will discuss how polyamide properties can be enhanced by electron-beam crosslinking. A paper by authors at E-Beam Services and TechnoCompound GmbH will argue that radiation-crosslinked PA can stand in for more expensive engineering polymers in different applications; another E-Beam paper will discuss electron beam irradiation’s uses by citing three case studies.
Digital decorating is the focus of a number of Decorating and Assembly Division papers. Presenters from ITW Trans Tech will address the marketing, sustainability, and product traceability benefits of digital decorating that can create unique visual messages “certain to pack a punch with near-photographic quality images.” Darlene Putz of Innovative Digital Systems will provide an overview of digital decoration’s advantages, such as inventory reduction (using on-demand printing), product personalization, and the green benefits of digital printing. Rory Wolf of Enercon will zero in on digital UV techniques, specifically a “new class of atmospheric surface activation systems,” plus ways to improve and/or control factors related to optimizing the decoration of polymer surfaces. And Abdullah Ekin of Bayer MaterialScience LLC will discuss the latest UV coating trends, including both 100% solids UV formulations and waterborne UV systems.
NPE2012: A World of Its Own
The NPE exhibition space within two giant buildings of the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) will comprise every imaginable organization, product, and machine related to the industry. SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association is expecting to sell out all the expo space to about 2,000 exhibiting companies, covering over 93,000 m3 – more area than at NPE2009 in Chicago.
NPE offers multiple events of its own beginning on April 1 (which organizers are calling “Super Sunday”). Panel discussions, technical sessions, and networking events are scheduled for that 14-hour day, along with an opening gala and awards ceremony.
All week the show floor will include multi-exhibitor market and emerging technology pavilions focusing on nanotechnology, sustainability, automation, moldmaking, and various plastic materials and production emphases. And various interactive “Plastics in Sports” displays will include demonstrations showing how plastics make sports safer and more enjoyable.
The second International Design Competition is another highlight of NPE week. All product entries from 18 end-use market categories will be on display, and visitors will be able to vote for their favorites.
NPE: New Product Exposé
Even months before the event, many NPE-exhibiting companies already were ready to reveal the new technologies they’ll be presenting at their booths; below provides just a sampling suggesting the wide range of products on display.
Connectivity between People & Processes
New technologies can better connect people with processes, aiding in process control and decision-making on the production floor. Covering the first need, Wittmann Battenfeld will show how tablet computers and smart phones can be used to control injection molding equipment and monitor machine performance (even receiving alerts via emails from the machine). The company will demonstrate this connectivity using five operating machinery work cells at NPE.
Focusing more on the human element are training firms such Routsis Training. Company chief Andy Routsis says he’ll be presenting RightStart™, a customizable plastics production workforce training program that incorporates a company’s own procedures and documents into the training itself. (The Routsis booth will also be distributing a free 90-page injection molding pocket reference guide.)
Tooling & Equipment
The OCCC’s vast spaces will allow more equipment and machinery to be displayed than ever at an NPE. Conair reportedly is taking advantage of this by displaying more than a dozen new products for material handling, resin drying, heat transfer, blending, scrap reclaim, and extrusion. “You can use these technologies to solve problems, cut waste, save energy, and improve process yield,” says Conair’s Dori Raybuck. For example, the company’s material handling systems reportedly foster plant-wide control of up to 500 loaders and pumps; its new dryers support temperature data-trend analysis; and its new mold-temperature controllers use superheated water instead of oil.
Handling purgings is the focus of Maguire Products, Inc. with its enhanced Purging Recovery System™ (PRS), which turns purgings into regrind. In two stages, the system first slices hard purging chunks into small pieces, and then reduces those into uniform regrind. At NPE, the company says it will demonstrate how the system can quickly pay for itself. “PRS systems now in use by injection molders who make multiple color changes consistently recover purgings at a rate of 125 pounds per hour, or 1,000 pounds [455 kg] per eight-hour shift,” says Maguire’s Pat Smith. “If the polymer is worth one dollar per pound, the PRS pays for itself in only 30 shifts.”
As for tooling, Synventive Molding Solutions is displaying its eGate electric valve gate hot runner system, which is said to precisely control each valve pin’s position, speed, acceleration and stroke. Controlling up to 64 valves individually helps eliminate flow lines on multi-gated parts and quickly resolves imbalance issues, the company says. The system’s other advantages over traditional valve gates include greater flow rate control and improved repeatability, with process monitoring that shows pin positions in real time.
Bubbled-up New Concepts for Resin
Offering an alternative way for reducing the density of plastic in parts, 3M will be showcasing its Glass Bubbles additives, particularly the new iM17K injection molding grade for polypropylene. When used as a filler, the hollow glass microspheres are said to not only reduce part weight, but improve dimensional stability, processing, and surface appearance, while reducing overall costs.
Unlike irregularly shaped standard filler particles, the glass bubbles “roll easily over one another, like mini ball bearings,” says the company. They’re available with crush strengths from 250 to 30,000 psi. More about glass microspheres can be learned at 3M’s ANTEC technical paper session on the subject, which will discuss how rigorous processing affects glass-bubble survival. This kind of extra depth offered by ANTEC sessions is what will make ANTEC@NPE2012 a particularly valuable event.
The Top-Six ANTEC Paper Topic Groups Are…
Out of the 35 division, SIG, and student categories of ANTEC papers, the number of papers that each category drew may or may not be surprising, considering SPE’s wide variety of members. Below are just the top half-dozen, which combined, include over 50% of the more than 550 total papers:
1.) & 2.) The Injection Molding and Composites divisions are essentially tied as the top topics in terms of their number of papers, with each attracting almost 12% of all papers.
3.) Engineering Properties and Structure papers are numerous in 2012, with around 10% of all papers.
4.) Extrusion Division papers: 8.5%
5.) Thermoplastic Materials & Foams: 6%
6.) Bioplastics SIG papers: nearly 6%; though if Plastics Environmental Division papers are added in with Bioplastics, the percentage jumps to nearly 8% (not to mention a number of sustainability-related papers that were categorized under other divisions and SIGs).
Of course, quality is more important than quantity, and SPE’s paper review/revision process ensures that the quality is strong across all divisions and SIGs.
Orlando: Too Much to Do & See?
As if the world’s largest plastics conference and the Western Hemisphere’s largest plastics exposition weren’t enough, you can pile on all of the other places of interest for which Orlando is well known.
The co-located 2012 ANTEC/NPE will held be at the Orange County Convention Center, April 1-5 (April 2-4 for ANTEC). The area also boasts attractions like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld (for all of which discount tickets are available at www.hello-usa.com/tickets/spi11/, when ordered by March 11). And of course there’s plenty of golfing in the area.