PITTSFIELD, MASS. — If a plastics processor wants to see a look of shock on the face of any GE Plastics employee, all he has to do is say he can't find a way to use GE's engineering resins in his business.
The GE Plastics employee then would lead the processor — possibly after putting him in a headlock — to the company's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield.
PPDC, which recently marked its 10th anniversary, allows GE Plastics to develop applications for its materials in a range of processing technologies, including injection and blow molding, extrusion and thermoforming. The 96,000-square-foot complex holds about 25 processing machines, including 14 injection presses, and employs 50.
``Our mission is fairly straightforward,'' PPDC injection molding manager Blair Souder said at GE's annual media day, held April 21 in Pittsfield. ``We want to use manufacturing technology to give products features they've never had before.''
GE, the North American leader in polycarbonate (under the Lexan brand) and ABS (Cycolac brand) production, unveiled a variety of processing projects at the event. Here's a look at some of the advances processors will be hearing about in the near future:
A trend toward larger parts in thin-wall injection molding.
GE's 1998 focus in this area is on thin-wall computer monitors made of Cycoloy-brand PC/ABS blends. The PPDC has cut monitor thickness from 3 millimeters to 2mm, mainly through sequential valve gating, which minimizes structural weakness by reducing knit lines in finished products.
Although best known for its uses in cellular phones and notebook computers, thin-wall molding is moving into such products as automotive door panels, coffee makers, crisper trays and tape-measure cases, according to thin-wall injection molding program leader Kurt Weiss.
Increased use of carbon-filled PC to limit electromagnetic and radio frequency interference in notebook computers.
The Quick Tool Introduction Program, which includes software designed to reduce the time it takes molders to qualify a new tool for injection molding.
The program will help molders get their product to market faster, according to technical program leader Tom O'Connor.
``Most molders aren't statisticians,'' he said. ``So the program asks questions about product conditions and other areas instead of a lot of technical questions.''
Improving graphics in insert mold decorations on cellular phone keypads and pagers by placing a decorated PC film insert into the molding tool's cavity and injecting resin behind the film.
Also on deck for 1998 is the use of True2Form-brand PC film for improved graphics during vacuum forming. Use of PC film in outdoor applications such as automotive taillights also is on the horizon, according to Dave Reis, film industry manager for GE Structured Products.
Increased testing and processing research at the newly opened Optical Media Development Center, which focuses on PC use in compact discs and digital versatile discs.
Future formats include individual DVDs that are two-sided, two-layered, recordable and rewritable. Current CDs can hold 650 megabytes of memory, while DVD-5s can store 4.7 gigabytes. GE is researching uses of DVD-9s and DVD-18s, which have much larger memory capacity.
In blow molding, GE is advancing spiral-flow head technology and a fully automated blow molding machine designed for engineering thermoplastics.
Spiral-flow head technology can reduce discernible weld lines, material degradation and material purge time. The new blow molding machine, with 40-pound shot capacity, was designed to use Xenoy-brand thermoplastic alloys in bumpers, but also can be used to produce large parts with most GE materials.
In sheet extrusion, GE is acquiring a machine that would allow the PPDC to coextrude sheet as wide as 6 feet, to develop ``supersize'' parts. Several GE materials, including Enduran-brand mineral-filled polybutylene terephthalate and Cycolac-brand ABS are used in sheet applications on countertops and sinks.
In thermoforming, GE is scouting for a four-station rotary for production of larger parts with high-gloss surfaces.
``We're starting to attack the low end of injection molding,'' said thermoforming program leader Paul Bristow. ``Our customers say that's where the demand is coming from.''