DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Japan's charge into all-electric injection molding machines, once largely limited to the Japanese home market, went global at K'98.
Six Japanese press makers exhibited all-electric presses. One is a newcomer. Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. showed its first all-electric injection molding machine at the Oct. 22-29 Dusseldorf show. With Toshiba in the fold, every major Japanese injection press supplier now offers an all-electric press.
Most of the others have produced electrics for years, but limited marketing to their home markets in Asia. Now they are starting to push the technology worldwide — and that means more competition for the leading non-Japanese electric-press advocate, U.S. equipment giant Milacron Inc.
All-electric presses are more expensive than hydraulic machines. So why the emphasis on electrics? In Japan, the answer boils down to three words: high energy costs. Japanese machinery executives at K claimed their all-electric machines consume anywhere from 60-80 percent less energy than hydraulics. All-electric machines use motors that run on demand, only when power is needed. Pumps on hydraulic presses run all the time.
Fire insurance issues also help crack the electric whip in Japan. Insurance companies and fire regulations in large cities have set limits on the amount of hydraulic oil a factory can use, according to Mitsumasa Kato, export manager at Toyo Machinery & Metal Co. Ltd. of Osaka. More than half of Toyo's all-electric machine sales go to molders in those big cities, Kato said.
But energy savings remain the big selling point. Hideo Tanaka, general manager of Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd., pointed to Toshiba's new all-electric EC line at K and said: ``That machine, compared to a hydraulic machine, uses 80 percent less energy.''
Toshiba initially will offer EC presses in clamping forces from 60-250 tons. Tim Glassburn, vice president of the company's U.S. operation, Toshiba Machine Co. America, said Toshiba's North American kickoff will happen at Western Plastics Expo, Jan. 12-14 in Long Beach, Calif.
Electric drives already have swept through metalworking machines, which used to be hydraulic. Now some bullish plastics machinery officials think the same thing will happen with injection molding machines. Toshiba plastics engineers adopted the alternating-current, ball-screw technology already used by Toshiba's machine tool group.
``We feel that it's a real trend. We don't want to use hydraulic oil and want to use less electric,'' said Makoto Nakamura, machinery sales manager at Ube Europe GmbH in Dusseldorf.
Like Toshiba, Ube is a newcomer to all-electrics. Ube has specialized in large-tonnage toggle-clamp injection presses. But just two months before the K show, Ube and another Japanese company, Niigata Engineering Co. Ltd., rocked the electric world by announcing a partnership to make large all-electric presses. Ube and Niigata are based in Tokyo.
Niigata, which began making all-electric presses in the mid-1980s, recently started a U.S. marketing campaign.
Together, Niigata and Ube are working on an all-electric press of unprecedented size — 950 tons of clamping force. In February, the companies will introduce a 720-ton press.
Worldwide, Ube and Niigata expect to sell 30 of these big-tonnage all-electrics a year, Nakamura said. The presses go on sale next April.
Moving to larger sizes will help expand electrics beyond their current niche markets, such as medical molding. Ube envisions them molding car parts: At K, Nakamura said Ube is pitching large electrics to Ford Motor Co.
``We are talking,'' he said, adding that Ford had not placed an order yet.
Nakamura also said Ube has no plans to manufacture all-electric machines at its U.S. factory in Ann Arbor, Mich. Instead, Ube will make clamping units at its main plant in Ube, Japan. Niigata will build electrical systems and injection units in the city of Niigata. Both companies will do final assembly.
The Ube/Niigata machines use alternating-current servo motors.
Fanuc Ltd., Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd., Japan Steel Works Ltd. and Toyo Machinery & Metal Co. Ltd. also have made all-electrics for more than 10 years. Fanuc gained early exposure to North America through its alliance with Milacron, which has sold Fanuc's Roboshot machines since 1987.
Fanuc claims to have sold 7,500 Roboshots worldwide since 1984 — 4,600 in Japan, 1,000 in other Asian nations, 1,470 in North America and 430 in Europe.
``We believe we must introduce this machine in Europe,'' said Joe Hori, director of Fanuc's European distributor, Mitsui Machine Tool Europe GmbH in Neuss, Germany. Milacron sold Roboshots in Europe until 1995, when the agreement was terminated after Milacron bought the Ferromatik business in Malterdingen, Germany, Hori said. Ferromatik has its own all-electric press.
The cost of electric drives has driven up the price of all-electric presses. But Fanuc and Toshiba, both part of much larger Japanese companies, gain a cost advantage because they can make their own servo motors.
Nissei President Tsukasa Yoda claims Nissei developed its electric press in 1983—a year before Fanuc. But because demand was strong for its flagship hydraulic machines, Nissei did not actively market the machines outside of Asia until 1996, when it introduced the Elject ES machines. The company offers Elject ES machines in clamping forces from 20-360 tons.
Nissei's booth at the K show was proof the firm believes in the technology: four of the seven injection molding machines were all-electric. They included a 40-ton machine for molding compact discs on a 31/2-second cycle, and what Nissei claims is the world's smallest all-electric press, with just 7 tons of clamping force. Nissei now mounts the whole tiny system, machine and auxiliary equipment, on a mobile cart.
Toyo also showed its first all-electric CD machine at K. Toyo developed the machine in a partnership with Sony Disc Technology Co., but Toyo now is free to sell the press, called the ST50disc, to other customers.
Kato said about 30 percent of Toyo's total sales come from all-electric presses. ``We anticipate maybe in two years or so, that maybe 50 percent will be electric,'' he said.
Toyo, like several of its Japanese competitors, is trying to take its electric presses global. After years of selling the machines only in Japan, Toyo has broadened its horizons, to Southeast Asia, Europe and, beginning Oct. 1, the United States.
Although Toyo does not make its own electric motors, Shinya Komatani, assistant export manager, said competition among motor suppliers is driving down the price.
Speed was another K'98 trend. Japan Steel Works has made its AC-driven, J-EL electric presses for about 10 years. In Dusseldorf, the company showed the year-old, J-ELII.
Yasuo Takayama, group manager, said the new model is faster than the earlier machine. Although all-electric presses offer superior repeatability, Takayama said, their relatively slow speed, compared with hydraulic models, has been a handicap when selling electrics into key markets, such as electrical connectors.