DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Switzerland's Netstal-Maschinen AG fired a K-show broadside against the dominant PET preform machinery supplier, Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., as Netstal rolled out a preform press with a 96-cavity mold.
Husky began to concentrate on preform molding machines 20 years ago. The Bolton, Ontario, firm claims to hold a 50 percent share of the market, with 590 machines valued at $740 million operating in 1997.
Some packaging analysts put Husky's market share much higher. But K'98, held Oct. 22-29 in Dusseldorf, proved that Husky has more competition than ever before.
Several companies besides Netstal, including three new players, introduced more modest preform molding machines: German suppliers Demag Ergotech GmbH and Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH and Chen Hsong Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong all rolled out equipment.
Netstal's PET-Line drew the most attention. Whenever Netstal cranked up its big 600-ton press in Hall 13, K visitors clogged the aisles to sneak a peek. Every 9.4 seconds, the press molded 96 preforms for carbonated water, each weighing 22.4 grams and having a wall thickness of 2.7 millimeters.
Actually, Netstal is not a newcomer to PET. The company delivered its first PET machine in 1986, said Waldemar Schmitke, general manager for PET systems.
But Schmitke said the company from Nafels, Switzerland, sold most of its preform machines to existing customers. Now, he said, Netstal is courting new clients aggressively.
``We, in the last two years, have been extremely successful in Eastern and Western Europe, Brazil and the Middle East with our 48-cavity system, and this is one additional step,'' Schmitke said. The company also offers a 32-cavity mold. Otto Hofstetter AG of Uznach, Switzerland, is the mold maker.
Netstal began targeting U.S. preform makers three years ago, said Michael Dunn, director of sales and marketing for PET systems at the firm's U.S. operation, Netstal Machinery Inc. in Devens, Mass.
``In 1998, we'll deliver about 100 preform systems worldwide,'' Dunn said at K'98.
The PET-Line running in Dusseldorf can pump out as many as 36,000 preforms an hour. The machine is based on the SynErgy platform, which Netstal introduced at K'95.
On the PET-Line machine, one centralized dryer system feeds two extruders, which are run by servo-driven electric motors. The extruders feed a single, plunger-type shooting pot. The clamp moves quickly, giving the machine fast cycle times. Preforms are ejected into a takeout device on a robot arm. The robot then moves up, to a horizontal cooling station on top of the machine.
Dunn said cooling is a key.
``Because of the high speed of such a system, the preforms are being demolded very rapidly. Once they leave the mold, they must be cooled very quickly or they will crystallize,'' he said. The sleeve each preform rests on is water-cooled. The machine also blows cool air onto the gate area of each preform.
Netstal hired Dunn this year to beef up U.S. sales. Dunn has held executive posts at blow molding machinery makers Sipa SpA, Nissei ASB Machine Co. Ltd. and Krupp Corpoplast Maschinenbau GmbH.
Husky is not resting on its laurels. Last year, at the NPE show in Chicago, Husky introduced a high-speed Index press machine, which it claimed cuts cycle times by 20-30 percent. The innovative press uses a rotating turret block, which carries four sets of cores through injection, cooling and part ejection. Because cooling takes place automatically on the revolving device, cooling time does not lengthen the molding cycle.
At NPE, Husky showed a 250-ton Index machine. The company also makes an Index with 400 tons of clamping force. At K'98, Husky dropped down to show a smaller, lower-volume version of the Index machine, with 90 tons of clamping force. The smaller machine can be equipped with two or four sets of cores (the model in Germany had two sets, running an eight-cavity mold).
Husky also is developing a recycled-content preform that uses the overmolding technique.
Officials of Chen Hsong Holdings Ltd. certainly weren't complaining about their booth location — the PET preform newcomer sat directly across from Husky, Mecca for the preform world.
Chen Hsong manufactures thousands of injection molding machines in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, but the Chen-PET machine at K marked its first preform press.
``As far as we know there's no other manufacturer in Asia making [preform presses], except for Japan,'' said company spokesman, Chi-Kin Chiang. ``We see the opportunity. Everybody drinks bottled water in China. The market is huge.''
Chiang said the company started selling the machine in Asian markets about two years ago. Chen Hsong supplies preform molds from eight to 48 cavities, and the complete system includes a takeout robot and chiller.
At K, a Chen-PET press was running a 12-cavity mold on a 17-second cycle. That cycle time sounds slow, said Chiang, but the preforms have thicker-than-normal walls.
The machine has a simple method of cooling. Preforms are water-cooled in the takeout robot. Then they are moved to a holding area where they remain for one cycle. Next, they drop onto a fully enclosed, air-cooled conveyor belt.
Demag Ergotech and Krauss-Maffei both got into the preform machine business at K'98. Demag, of Schwaig, Germany, is making presses to coinjection mold preforms with three or five layers — allowing the use of recycled content or barrier layers. The company claims that recycled content can make up nearly 40 percent of the preform's total weight.
Demag Ergotech has finished a three-year exclusive development project with blow molder Schmalbach-Lubeca AG of Ratingen, Germany, and now is selling machines to other companies.
Demag Ergotech is selling a 450-ton injection press to make the preforms, with a 48-cavity mold. Demag also works with Swiss mold maker Otto Hofstetter.
Krauss-Maffei of Munich, Germany, introduced a 192-ton PETFORM press at K, with a 24-cavity mold. The preform machine is built on the same platform as the company's standard C range of presses. Krauss-Maffei officials at K said they view preform machines as a niche market to fill out their line of machines.
One difference on the Krauss-Maffei press: a simple vertical clamp that lets preforms drop down into the robot arm for cooling and parts removal.