CHICAGO — Big new product releases came in small packages at the Plastics USA show in Chicago.
Makers of injection molding machines rolled out a slew of small-tonnage horizontal presses, while a host of new vertical machines joined the fight for the competitive insert-molding business.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. demonstrated the extremes of injection molding machine design. Next to a new drawing of its humongous, 8,800-ton press design, it unveiled a 60-ton horizontal machine, the first of the company's new S-series line of small-tonnage presses. Other S-series sizes will include 90-, 120- and 160-ton models.
Four 60-ton machines are in beta testing at the plants of regular Husky customers, said Bruce Coxhead, general manager of small-tonnage machines.
Husky is building a small machine because its customers want one, Coxhead said.
``It completes the line,'' he said, adding that the small presses contain many of the same advanced features of Husky's larger machines.
Potential customers for the S series include high-tech, medium- to low-volume molders in the medical, closure and telecommunications and electronics industries, Coxhead said.
The machines initially will be manufactured at Husky's Bolton, Ontario, headquarters, but may move to the company's new complex in Milton, Vt., he said.
Mitsubishi Injection Molding Machinery Ltd. of Tokyo also rolled out a 65-ton machine at Plastics USA.
``Customers kind of drove us to it,'' said Mark Hutar, regional sales manager for Mitsubishi's U.S. sales arm, MHI Injection Molding Machinery Inc. of Wood Dale, Ill.
Mitsubishi also plans to go even smaller — and electric — in 1999. The company will introduce a line of all-electric machines in 15-, 30- and 50-ton models, said David May, MIMM national sales manager, adding that more details will be announced in November.
``Electronics and medical are the major markets for these [small] machines, with medical being No. 1,'' May said. ``Those markets require precision for very small, intricate parts.''
Autojectors Inc. of Avilla, Ind., showed the first horizontal machine sold with its nameplate: the Indigo, which actually is made in India by Autojectors' new parent company, Milacron Inc. of Cincinnati.
``It's a pretty good fit'' into the company's offerings, said Larry Doyle, product manager for Autojectors. ``We had been strictly vertical up until the time we were purchased by Milacron and got the Indigo machines.''
Doyle said the machines, with clamping forces of 33-440 tons, were ``affordable'' but still ``up-to-date, world-class technology.''
Milacron in July announced Autojectors would sell the Indigo line. Plastics USA was the first time one of the machines — an 85-ton model — was available at a U.S. show. Milacron acquired Autojectors in June.
Toshiba Machine Co. joined the fray, too, with a new, small horizontal press.
Toshiba's new 30-ton machine ``is an extension of our regular line into smaller presses,'' said Tim Glassburn, vice president of Toshiba Machine Co. America. ``Our range now goes from 30 tons to over 4,000 tons, and the small machine has all the features our biggest press has.''
Stuffing a lot of features into small packages also may help differentiate products in the crowded vertical injection molding machine arena.
The dizzying array of new machines gave many of the competitors in the relatively small vertical market a case of vertigo.
``In 10 years, I've never seen anything like it,'' Mark Garrison, sales and marketing manager for Autojectors, said of the burgeoning vertical machine population. ``The insert market definitely is growing. I guess people are starting to take notice.''
More than a dozen companies displayed vertical machines at Plastics USA.
The sheer number of new vertical machine makers means some companies ``are overestimating what's out there'' in terms of potential business, according to George Smith, marketing director for Vertech Systems LLC of Simi Valley, Calif.
Hard numbers on the growth of the vertical segment are difficult — if not impossible — to come by.
The problem with tracking vertical machine sales is that the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. cannot get statistics, said Charles T. Sherman, president of PH Group Inc., the parent company of vertical machine maker Trueblood Inc. of Columbus, Ohio.
``It's a battle we've been fighting for years,'' Sherman said.
Vertical press makers also must prepare to fight another battle — for a growing, but still limited, customer base.
``If these companies want to survive, they have to have a design that offers something to the industry that wasn't there before,'' Vertech's Smith said. ``For most, the only innovation is to stick a computer on the same machine they built 35 years ago. They're not offering anything different, they're just offering availability.''
Vertech showed its new VIP cl 152 VVS vertical machine, with its patented ``Veer'' two-station shuttle system. The Veer feature uses mechanical arms to pull one mold into the injection unit, while pushing the other out. Other shuttle designs require operators to shift from one side of the machine to the other to place inserts into the bottom molds.
Vertical insert machinery makers are answering customers' needs for more-sophisticated part-making capabilities, said Patrice Aylward, marketing communications manager for Van Dorn Demag Corp. of Strongsville, Ohio.
``The more you can automate, the more you can consolidate,'' Aylward said. ``There's a big industry drive to consolidate components. Instead of using two different parts from two different places, companies want one part, from the same place and, hopefully, from the same machine.''
C.A. Lawton Co. of Green Bay, Wis., displayed a 10-ton vertical press with a six-station rotary table. The firm designed the package for medical markets, said Daniel Buckley, director of product development and marketing.
The company also makes 30-and 60-ton models, and is talking about a 150-ton version, he said.
``We're just waiting for a customer to say they need one,'' Buckley said, adding that Lawton's customers often are highly technical niche players that use made-to-order machinery.
Lawton offers various automation options.
``We make a lot of systems for the semiconductor industry, where the products have to be untouched by human hands,'' Buckley said.
The drive to smaller machines is not mapped out by price, he said.
``Small and cheap is going away. Small does not have to be cheap,'' he said. ``Machinery purchases are quality-driven. The key word is precision.''
Vertical machines mostly are used for insert molding, in which plastic is injected around a metal part or another plastic part.
``A lot of it is going under the hood of your car,'' said Katherine Putnam, president of Package Machinery Co. of West Springfield, Mass. ``There is a desire to make things lighter, and the less metal you use, the more weight you save.''
Her firm's Reed division is re-entering the injection molding machine market with a vertical shuttle press available in 75 and 100 tons. The new machine is aimed at high-tech markets.
``I don't think people are going to buy this machine to make screwdrivers.'' she said.
Trueblood's Sherman said the attraction of vertical machines is their ability to produce a mostly finished product, not just components.
``It's modular manufacturing,'' he said. ``When the insert molding is done, it's a completed part.''
Trueblood, which recently opened a new manufacturing facility in Columbus, is working to reduce the maze of hydraulics common to many machines.
``We reduced about 30 percent of the hoses,'' Trueblood engineer Barney Raye said of his company's latest offering. ``The machines are easier for a customer to set up, and they won't have to tear into it as much. It will reduce maintenance costs associated with leakage.''
Autojectors' latest vertical machine is a 40-ton model with a rotary table and light-curtain guarding system. The light curtain stops the machine if sensors detect anything crossing an invisible ``barrier.'' The three otherwise-open sides around the table allow for a variety of robots to be used with the machines, Garrison said.
The new offering also boasts new hydraulics and a modular design that helps Autojectors get machines ready for customers in a hurry.
``The vertical market is totally a custom market,'' Garrison said.