Some proven ways to in-line compound and compression mold long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics are gravitating to North America from Europe, and other domestic manufacturing concepts are making progress. One of the techniques, extrusion compression molding, has existed in Europe for years, but the process has drawn new attention as a way to maintain fiber length, improve impact strength and reduce cycle times.
The field of LFRT machinery players includes new teams, technology transfer and start-up programs. Here's a rundown:
Interest is growing in specialized in-line compounding systems from Engel Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH of Schwertberg, Austria.
"We are dealing with major Tier 1s" on development of automotive programs expected to mature next year, Jim Moran, sales manager for the Engel Machinery Inc. unit in York, Pa., said in a telephone interview. There is "a high degree of interest, and we are involved."
Engel manufactures the machines in Austria for in-line compounding of long fibers, mostly glass and natural fibers, for automotive applications in Europe. Engel is known best for its injection molding machines.
Georg Steinbichler, a member of Engel's research and development staff in Austria, will make presentations on the processing of long-fiber glass at the company's NPE Booth S2583 at 4 p.m. June 19, 3:30 p.m. June 21 and 1:30 p.m. June 22.
Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co. makes melt compression molding work cells among products at its Eppingen, Germany, plant and has found a receptive market in Europe.
Last year, Dieffenbacher supplied a full-scale MCM cell — its first in North America — to Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. of Troy, Mich., for use in a laboratory.
Dieffenbacher is in negotiations with others to use the technologies, said Manfred Bruemmer, general sales manager of the firm's North America unit in Windsor, Ontario.
"We create a kind of carrier material that goes on-line to the compression molding press," he said.
Dieffenbacher North America employs 80 in the Windsor plant, which opened two years ago and manufactures other lines.
In March, C.A. Lawton Co.'s plastics machinery division in Green Bay, Wis., and Composite Technologies Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, began collaborating on equipment and technology using a low-cost process to compression mold glass-reinforced PP or nylon.
Lawton acquired processing patents, equipment manufacturing rights and engineering knowledge from Germany's Kannegiesser KMH Kunststofftechnik GmbH in August and transferred the technology to its Wisconsin site.
CTC developed and patented similar technology but primarily compounds recycled thermoplastics and compression molds products. Lawton will manufacture the equipment for this team.
Running masterbatches or blends through the Lawton-CTC-Kannegiesser-type process cuts user costs and improves part performance, said Daniel Bellerud, director of marketing and sales with the Lawton division.
Composite Products Inc. of Winona, Minn., compounds material, molds parts and also licenses its specialized manufacturing technology for in-house processing.
CPI and Mecaplast SAM of Monaco are forming a joint venture to compression mold parts for European automakers at a plant in Villers-Bretonneux, France. Production begins by year's end.
"The combination of good polymer chemistry with long-fiber chemistry is getting higher engineering value in composites," said Richard Enochs, CPI chief executive officer.
CPI employs 50 and uses methodology for direct in-line compounding of LFRT and part formation, mostly for automotive applications. Generally, CPI utilizes PP, up to 15 percent recycled content, and half-inch chopped fiber.
"We make a bulk molding compound and go right into the press with it," Enochs said. "We are a compounder and molder but not a material supplier."
CPI has licensed the technology to AB Volvo's Olofstrom, Sweden, plant and Modern Tool & Die Inc.'s industrial plastics division in Valley City, Ohio, both for automotive applications.
Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Ala., is helping Joel Dyksterhouse of Polycomp Inc. in Alanson, Mich., commercialize and scale up a patented low-cost process for hot-melt impregnation of continuous reinforcing fibers and thermoplastic polymers. The process is called direct reinforcement fabrication technology.
The institute has operated a DRIFT pilot line for a year and has ordered a Lawton extrusion compression press that is scheduled to be running by midsummer, George Husman, vice president with the institute's engineering division, said during a May 22 interview in Long Beach, Calif.
"We haven't proven that we can do [the process] with short cycle times, and that is what we are trying to do in Birmingham," Husman said.
The institute and Polycomp presented a technical paper about DRIFT at the May conference of the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering in Long Beach.