FRANKLIN, PA. - Nobody can accuse John Downie, president of Conair Franklin, of being a paper-pushing executive who never gets his hands dirty. Downie, a 33-year plastics veteran, began tinkering two years ago with a new concept to measure how well a resin dryer is working by checking resin inside the hopper. In January, he received a U.S. patent on a dryer monitor that uses a steel probe inside the hopper.
Conair Franklin plans to introduce the DM-1 Drying Monitor at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Technical Conference, May 5-10 in Indianapolis.
Downie said traditional systems measure warmed air leaving the dryer. But changes can happen on the way to the hopper, like reduced air flow from a crimped hose or a dirty filter.
Also, inside the hopper, resin content suddenly can drop when a set-up technician removes dry material from one press to prime another, or the loading system runs low. A drop in the amount of resin inside means the material is heated for a shorter amount of time. The hopper also may not be the correct size.
Some high-tech - and expensive - monitoring systems periodically sample resin from the hopper. But Downie, working with Ray Keller, lead product engineer, wanted to create a continuous, real-time monitor inside the hopper.
``The soundest engineering comes from reducing it to the simplest solution,'' Downie said in an interview April 16 in Franklin.
Conair's DM-1 measures the four key factors in drying: temperature, air flow, drying time in the hopper and dew point. The ability to measure drying time -also known as residence time - is made possible by the steel probe. The probe has six temperature devices, evenly spaced along its length, that relay temperature at each level back to the monitor.
Conair programs the volume of the hopper into the unit before it is shipped. At the molding plant, an operator enters four parameters: material bulk density, desired throughput rate, drying temperature and drying time. If conditions move beyond preset points, an alarm sounds and the monitor displays the problem.
The DM-1, which costs $2,775, is available as a built-in addition to Conair dryers or an add-on to dryers made by other firms. An optional feature prints out records.
The DM-1 netted the first patent for Downie, 53, who heads the largest unit of Pittsburgh-based Conair Group Inc.
Downie said he always wanted a better way to measure resin drying temperature, especially working with engineering resins.
He previously held injection molding management positions at Gillette Co. in Boston; GW Plastics Inc. in Bethel, Vt.; Asheville Plastics in Asheville, N.C.; and GTE Sylvania in Titusville, Pa. He also was a machinery sales representative before becoming president of Conair Franklin in 1991.
Downie said he thinks his broad experience gives him a valuable perspective now in manufacturing. He was inducted into the Plastics Pioneers Association in 1993.
``Too many of our companies in America are run by people who don't know what their customers do or want,'' he said. ``There's kind of an inner satisfaction having bought and used the equipment and now trying to make it better.''
Plastics News photo by Bill Bregar