Robert Schad of Athena Automation, left, and Gianfranco Zoppas of Sipa Zoppas Industries seal the deal with a handshake. (Sipa SpA photo)
VAUGHAN, ONTARIO (UPDATED Dec. 21, 1:50 p.m. ET) — Italian blow molding machinery maker Sipa SpA is teaming with Athena Automation Ltd. — founded by Robert Schad of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. fame — to build a line of automated PET preform injection and blow molding equipment.
Sipa and Athena Automation announced the partnership Dec. 18.
Athena Automation has been working for three years on a platform. Schad said the Athena injection molding machine is a hybrid that combines hydraulic and electric power.
Athena Automation, based in Vaughan, Ontario, near Toronto Pearson International Airport, is working with Sipa on the PET preform machine. But Schad said the company will do direct sales of the press to other end markets, including medical, packaging and technical parts.
“We can very quickly customize it for specific markets,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s a basic, simple platform which could be for custom molding. We have all kind of options, like an integrated robot within the machine.”
Schad said Athena Automation currently has presses with clamping forces of 150 and 300 tons. The complete line will be 100-400 tons, he said.
Athena Automation and Sipa will create a global product line and service organization. Sipa, based in Vittorio Veneto, Italy, is part of Zoppas Industries Group.
Sipa and Athena have been fine-tuning the system for several months. Sipa’s general manager, Enrico Gribaudo, said the Italian machinery company is working well with Schad’s company.
“He’s an inventor, so he’s always bringing new ideas. And we wanted to bring more innovation to the market,” Gribaudo said by phone from Italy. “It’s going to be a breakthrough in the industry.”
In 2005, Schad retired from Husky, a maker of injection presses, robots and hot runners that he founded in 1953. He spent more time at Earth Rangers, his program to teach schoolchildren about environmental responsibility. Shareholders — including Schad, a major stockholder — sold Husky in late 2007.
Gribaudo worked at Husky for 15 years, in Italy and Asia.
“Everybody in the industry knows Robert and I had the chance and opportunity to work with him for several years,” he said. “We like the platform that they put in place, and it was a perfect fit with our plan that [we] have on the preform system. So we thought to work together. And it’s been so far a fantastic journey.”
Sipa will handle the sales, service and integration of all Athena PET preform machines worldwide, on an exclusive basis. Gribaudo said the injection press and blow molding machine will be able to produce many different PET containers, including traditional beverage bottles, wide-mouth containers and cosmetics packaging.
Gribaudo said Sipa and Athena will come out with the first preform machine, a 48-cavity system, next summer, followed by higher-cavity models. The injection press is part of a two-step system, which means it will mold the preforms separately from the Sipa blow molding machine. But the two machines can be linked together inline, in what Gribaudo said the trade calls a “1½-step system,” where the injection press feeds blow molding machines
Cooling technology is one big feature of the Athena preform injection molding machine. “We’re bringing the coldest preforms to the market,” Gribaudo said. A novel clamp design is very fast. The press is energy-efficient and simple to use, he said.
Colder preforms resist scratching and marring during the trip to the blow molder — either in a box or conveyed directly to the blow molding step, Gribaudo said. It also means the method of moving the preforms to the Sipa machine can be simpler and shorter than traditional systems, he said.
“This provides the most efficient cooling design to the preforms,” he said.
Athena said other features include fast cycles, improved accuracy, increased uptime and a smaller footprint. A mold change can be done in one hour.
At NPE2012, Sipa introduced the XForm preform injection molding press, and the companies said the Athena machines are a complement to XForm.
Schad said Athena Automation is looking at expansion.
“We have a very nice, basic building and we have lots of land around it,” he said.
At 84 years old, Schad remains energetic.
“I’m very active,” he said. “I’ve got to have something to do.”