AKRON, OHIO — Thin is in at GE Plastics, where the firm is pushing its engineering resins into consumer appliances through thin-wall injection molding technology.
Spurred on by last year's successful launch of a Black & Decker steam iron made with GE's Cycoloy polycarbonate/ABS, GE resins now are being used in thin-wall applications in tape-measure cases, cordless screwdrivers, vacuum cleaners, laundry control panels and coffee makers. These applications are expected to be commercialized in the next nine months.
GE is touting its Lexan-brand PC as a replacement for polypropylene, PVC and high-impact polystyrene in many thin-wall applications.
Processors can benefit from the switch by using as much as 40 percent less material, shortening cycle times and reducing tool requirements, said GE Plastics' market development manager Jeff Pembroke. Reducing material also reduces part thickness, and shortening cycle times increases parts-per-hour production.
At Plastics News' Akron office, Pembroke and thin-wall program leader Kurt Weiss said they were confident GE materials could expand the five percent market share consumer appliances now hold in the thin-wall market. That market is dominated by cellular phones and notebook computers, making up about 80 percent of thin-wall molding.
The U.S. consumer appliance market uses between 70 and 100 million pounds of plastics a year.
``The appliance market is really conservative and highly competitive,'' Pembroke said. ``[Appliance makers] are concerned about processing capabilities and whether they'll have to change existing tooling.''
Hamilton Beach/Proctor-Silex Inc. in Glen Allen, Va., has made the most recent move into consumer appliances. It is using GE's PC/ABS in its UltraSteam steam iron, commercialized last month.
Aesthetics played a role, as GE's PC/ABS offered a high-gloss finish Hamilton Beach preferred over PP's matte finish. PP didn't have the look Hamilton Beach wanted, Pembroke said. ``Now they're using our material and selling at the same price point.''
The equal-price claim is especially eye-catching when you consider PC/ABS sells for about $1.75 a pound, while virgin homopolymer-grade PP can be had for less than 30 cents a pound.
``Material volume reduction is big — that closes the gap right off the top,'' Pembroke said. ``Then if we cut processing time in half we make up a lot of ground. Reducing the tooling cost can be the icing on the cake.''
Weiss said a Big Three automaker plans to tool prototype instrument panels and clusters with GE materials and thin-wall technology.