CHICAGO — Cooling is more than a matter of temperature for plastics extruders. It is also time and cash for processors who find their flow limited by the pace of removing the heat.
Now Conair (Booth S3449) says it has a nitrogen gas cooling system that can speed up processing by a minimum of 20 percent and make plastic lumber, fencing and decking systems cost competitive with wood.
"It will change everything," said Conair Vice President Conrad M. Bessemer in a June 19 interview. "There is a huge market out there just waiting."
A 1-inch-by-6-inch plastic fencing system now running at 12 feet per minute can advance to 22 feet per minute — an 80 percent jump, Bessemer said. Faster speeds mean reduced costs, and a better chance to lure customers away from traditional building materials.
"It's the first truly new thing in extrusion I've ever seen," Bessemer said.
The system on display at NPE was developed by Material Enhancement Inc. of Effingham, Ill., and licensed to Pittsburgh-based Conair.
Conventional water cooling is limited by water's freezing temperature of 32° F. Liquid nitrogen goes too far to the other extreme, dropping temperatures so rapidly the plastic fractures under the strain, said Dick Christopher, Conair's vice president of sales and marketing.
With nitrogen gas, the extruded pieces pass through a chamber where the gas has replaced the ambient air, and a controlled temperature drop runs from 35§ F to as low as -300° F.
That allows for a rapid decrease, without harming the part, Christopher said.
The technology has existed for years, used as a flash-freezing system for the food industry, he said. Aluminum processors even used the system to produce baseball bats.
The patented MEI and Conair system marks its debut in plastics.
In addition to improving speed, the nitrogen gas system is smaller, saving up to 70 percent of the space on a shop floor.
That is a major cutback for PVC piping makers who now have up to 120 feet of cooling tanks, Bessemer said.
Processors also can expand their capacities without needing to do an actual brick-and-mortar expansion, since they can use less space for existing lines, he said.
Processors also cut back on environmental concerns, with no waste water to treat and only naturally occurring nitrogen gas as an emission.
The gas system is more expensive, but with faster processing, extruders can earn back their investment in less than two months, Christopher said.
Future developments may expand the cooling program to other plastics processes, but Bessemer expects the push for machine makers now will force them to speed up other extrusion elements to bring them in line with the faster lines.
Other introductions from Conair for NPE include:
Central control options for temperature control units, which allow operators to access all information on glitches and general maintenance for machines anywhere in the system — even overseas operations linked via computer.
The Conair Model 3020 HP robot, offering a half-second take-out time and 3.5-second overall cycle.