TECUMSEH, MICH. — Uniloy wants its customers to go to school — at “Uniloy University” in a new 15,000-square-foot laboratory with three blow molding machines and testing and prototyping equipment, at its Michigan headquarters.
Uniloy’s lab and demonstration center had been squeezed into a small area at its Tecumseh operation, which also is a major manufacturer of blow molds. Uniloy’s parent company, Milacron LLC, invested about $3.5 million to expand the lab in a new high-bay area, said Eric Hallstrom, sales manager for new business development.
Uniloy University has its own secure entry, to ensure intellectual property protection and confidentiality. A classroom has the ability to do video teleconferencing, as the lab can be used for both research and development, and training.
The Uniloy lab includes two reciprocating screw blow molders — a UR70 and a 350R — and a UMS 12E.S all-electric Uniloy/B&W series shuttle extrusion extrusion blow molder.
In addition to the production lab, the facility has an analytical lab with testing equipment and a 3-D printer.
The goal is to foster blow molding innovation, Uniloy officials said at a news conference May 22 in Tecumseh. “We’re combining prototyping, process development, testing and validation and training,” said Mike Kippnick, global product manager.
Uniloy announced a partnership with mold maker Big 3 Precision Products Inc. to bring hot-runner and coinjection technology to the injection blow molding segment, using Mold-Masters and Kortec, two other Milacron units.
Kippnick said Uniloy technicians in the lab are developing lightweight milk jugs, down from 64 grams of polyethylene to 56 grams, through a new design. Another innovation is neck-to-neck blow molding to produce two bottles on a reciprocating screw machine, then separating them using a high-speed spin trimmer.
By molding two bottles from each parison, neck-to-neck can turn out about 20,000 bottles an hour, said Marty Dailey, global commercial manager. “So we’re getting up to the rates of what a wheel can do, but at much less cost than a wheel,” he said.
Uniloy also is working on blending bioresins from Braskem SA into containers. Another project: A sustainability study of adding calcium carbonate to a gallon milk jug, which reduces virgin resin content and reduces cycle time, Kippnick said.
Uniloy originated the plastic milk jug in 1963, and polyethylene has replaced glass and paperboard. Nearly all milk jugs are made on reciprocating screw blow molders — and Uniloy dominates the market, Dailey said, selling around 5,000 recips in those 50-plus years. “Ninety-five percent of them are still running,” he said. And milk isn’t the only market.
At the news conference, Dailey outlined what’s new in reciprocating screw machines. Impact trimmers now come in from the top, vertically, instead of the old horizontal method. That means bottles can remain upright and do not have to be put on their sides for trimming.
Rotary trimming equipment runs bottles through two spinning trimmers, which peel off flash at a rate of up to 160 bottles a minute.
Uniloy offers a process that blows the bottle using sterile air and immediately caps the container. Later, when a beverage processor removes the cap to add the product, the sterile bottle gets a longer shelf life, Dailey said.
Another development in recent years is three-layer bottles blown on reciprocating screw machines, he said. That can give a middle layer of material to block out light from the product, add a barrier or use regrind. Dailey pointed out that multilayer is easier to do on continuous extrusion equipment, since the parison constantly flows out. The reciprocating screw starts and stops the extrusion process.
Turning to shuttle machines, Tim Tomlin, North American sales manager, said Uniloy presses now have “one base machine concept for all,” whether hydraulic or electric, regardless of the manufacturing location. Uniloy builds these continuous extrusion machines in Italy and the Czech Republic.
Uniloy has restructured its global sales operations to better align its global operations.
Uniloy also is making moves to become more sustainable. The Tecumseh operation has saved more than $100,000 a year by adding energy efficiency lighting, putting recycling bins at every desk and sorting scrap metal into separate grade classifications, for sale, according to Kelly Tuttle, sales and marketing coordinator.
Also at the news conference, Wolfgang Meyer, president of W. Müller USA Inc., outlined the company’s heads for extrusion blow molding. The company in Agawam, Mass., supplies the German-made heads from monolayer up to seven layers, and as many as 18 parisons.
Multilayer is “growing fastest” because it can extend shelf life for foods like fruit, salsa and barbeque sauces, Meyer said. Typically, a U.S. barrier application for food has three layers, with two 20 percent inner and outer layers sandwiching a 60 percent middle layer. If it’s regrind, he said, the middle layer must not come into contact with the product.
Four-layer blow molded containers are used for pesticides or chemicals. Fuel tanks for lawn equipment, snowmobiles and other small engines are molded with six layers to meet environmental regulations, Meyer said.