C.A. Lawton Co. and Composite Technologies Corp. have agreed to collaborate on equipment and technology for molding long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics, particularly for automotive structural applications. The low-cost process already is used in Europe, typically using glass-reinforced polypropylene or nylon for certain interior parts.
Although U.S. processors are not using the technique yet, proponents say it offers significant advantages in fiber integrity, part strength and costs.
Lawton's plastics machinery division in Green Bay, Wis., acquired LFRT processing patents, equipment manufacturing rights and engineering knowledge from a German firm in August. Kannegiesser KMH Kunststofftechnik GmbH exited the plastics business to concentrate on other equipment markets.
CTC in Dayton, Ohio, had developed and patented similar LFRT technology. CTC compounds recycled thermoplastics and compression molds products such as basketball backboards, industrial trash-bin lids and snowboards.
Lawton and CTC recognized the potential for legal conflict, took several months to work through their relationship and reached an agreement March 17.
"The potential for this process and the equipment that drives the process is in its infancy in North America," Daniel Bellerud, director of marketing and sales with the Lawton division, said in a telephone interview. "The primary application will be economic replacement of more expensive materials."
LFRT exhibits tremendous strength and can replace metal or glass mats in some structural panels at significantly lower costs, according to Rick Sofia, CTC vice president and general manager.
"An automotive company can take 40 percent of the weight out" using LFRT instead of metal. Material-handling pallets or totes and heavy-truck steps are among other end uses.
Under the agreement, Lawton will manufacture, market and sell the plasticators and extrusion compression presses and integrate the automated systems. CTC will provide processing expertise, conduct trials with prospects and supply the largely recycled raw materials. CTC processes about 1 million pounds of recycled plastics monthly and has long-term sources for the scrap.
Lawton is building its first twin-screw reciprocating plasticator, which it plans to exhibit at NPE 2000 this June in Chicago. Trials at customer locations will begin in July.
The Kannegiesser technology is installed at automotive plants of Johnson Controls Inc. in France and Germany, and Ruttgers Group in Koengen, Germany.
Lawton was founded in 1879 and established its plastics machinery division in 1935. The division has 75 of the firm's 300 employees. Other operations include a pattern shop, foundry and machine shop.
CTC was established in 1994, had 1999 sales of about $9.8 million and is a subsidiary of MTC International in Dayton.
CTC employs 65 and operates 11 compression molding presses with clamping forces up to 3,100 tons.
The operation also has 16 plasticators and technology for in-mold graphics, metal inserts and gas-assisted processing.