DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Single-site catalyst resins and other tough-to-process materials are pushing extrusion equipment to the limit.
At K'98, machinery makers shoved back.
Seven-layer blown film extruders were commonplace at the Dusseldorf show, as were high-speed, high-torque compounding extruders. Machinery makers claimed processors need the expensive new equipment to handle new materials as efficiently as possible.
``Look at the number of people running seven-layer lines here. The market is maturing very, very rapidly,'' said Dean Ward, vice president of blown film extruder and die maker Brampton Engineering Inc. of Brampton, Ontario.
``The trend in the blown film business is to run faster and faster, and to run more exotic materials like metallocenes.''
That trend creates some challenges. Single-site resins and newer sealants can be quite expensive, not to mention sticky or difficult to process. That creates the need for multilayer films that use thin layers of the new materials sandwiched between less-expensive, easier-to-process conventional resins.
High processing speeds mean dealing with hotter-than-normal film. Film makers have to find a way to cool the film before it reaches the nip at the top of the blown film tower.
Often that means making the tower higher. One alternative is to apply chilly gasses to the film bubble, cooling the film before it reaches the nip.
Another option is to use processing aids — additives that make film easier to handle, but may compromise the quality of the finished product.
Brampton trumped the numerous seven-layer lines in Halls 14 and 15 at K'98 by showing a 10-layer blown film extrusion die. Brampton had exhibited a seven-layer die in 1994, and now has some customers running nine-layer dies.
``The customer who wanted the 10-layer die has been running an eight-layer line,'' Ward said. ``He started out by thinking he needed five.''
But the unidentified company discovered it could make a film that was easier to thermoform, and only slightly more expensive, by adding a very thin extra layer of nylon on the outside.
``With multilayer film, you can add a lot of value to a product without adding a lot of cost,'' Ward said.
The Alpine American Division of Hosokawa Micron International Inc. deals with the hot-bubble problem in a variety of ways. The Natick, Mass., firm's K-series of dies are very short, making them easy to maintain, and offering several features that facilitate fast bubble cooling.
David J. Nunes, president of the Natick, Mass.-based division, said extruders need to modernize in order to make film with special properties that customers need.
``It always starts with the application,'' Nunes said. ``There is always something that a film can do better. There's always a company that thinks, `If I could make this film a little better, I can add value.'''
On the compounding front, Farrel Corp. of Ansonia, Conn., introduced a line of equipment so new that the company didn't have a chance to show it at the stand. But Farrel did have a news release on its new Advex line, which features a new rotor design for handling materials like metallocene polyethylene.
``We came up with a design to basically handle special materials,'' said sales director Michael Hotchkiss.
The new line can control mix and melt temperatures and pressurization while maintaining precise rheological properties of the processed polymer.
``Farrel 30 years ago was known for having a good, multipurpose machine,'' said Alberto Shaio, senior vice president and general manager of the plastics division. ``As the industry has become more sophisticated, we have had to respond with specialty products. The pressure is on us to match the technical advances that are going on in the resin side of the business.''
Nelson A. Hopcus, president of Berstorff Corp. in Florence, Ky., agreed the market for compounding extruders is changing fast.
``The markets are changing; the industry is changing. If you don't go out and keep up with the market change, you're going to be serving the old markets,'' he said.
Davis-Standard Corp. President Robert Ackley said the market for extrusion equipment is strong in Europe and North America. The Pawcatuck, Conn., firm just finished a record-setting quarter and expects 1998 to be a record year.
``Really, there'd be no concern about 1999 if it wasn't for the Asian crisis. The question now seems to be, when is it going to hit here?''
To date, Davis-Standard — the leading North American maker of single-screw extruders — has been able to make up for soft business in Asia by finding customers elsewhere. It has done so despite complaints about overcapacity in some of the markets that it supplies.
``So often we sell equipment when there's no need for capacity,'' but companies stimulate demand by creating new markets for plastic products, Ackley said.
``I don't think we've reached any limits to the need for plastics machinery,'' he said.