PolymerOhio helps firms access simulation software

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AKRON, OHIO (Sept. 13, 2 p.m. ET) — Leaders of PolymerOhio Inc. want to bring computer simulation to small and midsize companies through the Polymer Portal program.

Plastics processors can rent the simulation programs on a “pay-per-use” basis through PolymerOhio, a business networking trade group in Westlake, Ohio. The goal is to provide access at an affordable price — including training for existing employees, said Richard Markham, PolymerOhio’s vice president of productivity initiatives.

Users sign up and purchase programs at www.polymerportal.org. The portal uses cloud computing — software runs through computers at the Ohio Supercomputer Center, guaranteeing superfast processing — which allows users to run the programs on their regular computers instead of investing in high-powered machines, Mark­ham said.

“You can get it by the day, by the week or by the month,” Markham said during a visit to Plastics News offices in Akron. “They need a way to use the software when they need it.”

Programs vary in price, but cost about $200 per day and about $2,500 for four weeks, making them an affordable alternative to simulation software that can cost up to $30,000, he said.

So far, Polymer Portal is offering Moldex3D mold-filling simulation for injection molding and, for compounding, Ludovic software for co-rotating, twin-screw extruders.

As of mid-September, PolymerOhio also is offering supply-chain planning software from Avercast LLC Rexburg, Idaho.

Moldex3D is from CoreTech Systems Co. of Hsinchu City, Taiwan. Ludovic is made by Sciences Computer Consultants in Saint-Étienne, France.

By predicting how a polymer will process in a given mold or die with specific processing parameters, simulation software can save considerable time and expense — before steel is cut. That can boost productivity, speed up product and process development, and help solve problems.

“It keeps you from designing things that just won’t work,” he said.

For example, Markham said, a custom molder can use mold-filling simulation to help develop a quote for a new customer and mold. The computer program can pinpoint the needed cycle time, a key variable on part quoting. A one-day software rental could be the answer.

Markham said smaller processors face barriers to getting into simulation and modeling.

“Small businesses just have not had the ability to do that. It’s just too expensive,” Markham said. “Big companies have been using simulation for decades.”

The global economy is making it more important than ever to do fast, accurate modeling, he said.

As an example, Markham said consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. is always developing new products and packaging, so it can justify major investments in simulation products. Small companies don’t have that economy of scale; they may only need simulation a few times a year.

Another obstacle: Who’s going to run it? Owners of small and midsize companies often worry they will have to hire new people to handle the simulation software. But PolymerOhio offers two-day courses of classroom training at the Ohio Supercomputer Center in Columbus, Ohio. Markham said PolymerOhio plans to add online training and webinars, to allow remote training of current employees.

The other partner of Polymer Portal is the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the near future, PolymerOhio plans to add at least three more simulation software offerings. Future pay-per-use software will include:

• Compuplast International Inc.’s Virtual Extrusion Laboratory (VEL), which simulates a range of extrusion processes, such as sheet, blown and cast film, profiles, pipe, extrusion blow molding and die design.

• Polymer Predictor, for estimating polymer properties before the actual polymer is made.

• Structural finite element analysis for part design from Autodesk Inc.

Daniel McWilliams, Polymer­Ohio’s vice president of programs, described Ludovic simulation for co-rotating, twin-screw extruders, which have segmented screws. Ludovic takes into account all variables, such as screw speed, the material’s residence time in the screw and barrel and feeders to blend in additives, McWilliams said. The software lets a user plug in various types of screw segments and mixing blocks.

Polymer Portal currently is designed for use by Ohio plastics processors. But later this year, PolymerOhio plans to roll it out nationally, Markham said.

Staff reporter Jessica Holbrook contributed to this report.