LOS ANGELES (April 18, 1:05 p.m. EDT) — Speakers at Plastics Encounter used two words to sum up the future of machine controls and production monitoring: open architecture.
"We feel very strongly that the industry needs open architecture" linking all devices in a factory, said G. Frederick Humbert III, executive vice president of sales and marketing at American MSI Corp.
American MSI makes hot-runner controllers in Moorpark, Calif. In the early 1980s, the company incorporated a personal computer into its controls. Last summer, American MSI expanded into plantwide monitoring and networking business by introducing the Cell-Net System, which provides a central access point for monitoring all types of machinery, including auxiliary machines, in an injection molding plant.
Today, it's a PC world.
"You have this ubiquitous landscape, where everywhere you go, you see the influence of PCs," Humbert said. But factories still lag behind. "Why can't we experience the same level of connectivity? ... Most of the equipment on the factory floor really can't communicate at all."
One result, Humbert said, is that molders have "an untapped wealth of information" from machines they can't access.
Ron Sparer, the top controls official at Milacron Inc., agreed. Running on Windows NT, Milacron's Xtreem system allows technicians in a remote location to diagnose molding problems and change machine settings.
"If any of you have ever struggled to get this information out of a non-PC-based machine, you know this is unbelievable," he said.
But the flow of information is either feast or famine. When open-architecture systems become the norm, sorting through the data will be the biggest challenge, he said.
"Now everybody's complaining that they're drowning in e-mails, or they're drowning in documents."
Sparer said molders will have to able to connect data systems.
"Being able to communicate information quickly and seamlessly is the key to staying competitive," he said.
Milacron's Plastics Technologies Group is based in Batavia, Ohio.
Other speakers at the technology session discussed IntelliMold and MuCell technologies.
Last year, Textron Automotive Co. Inc. began to license IntelliMold for injection molding. Developed by Milko Guergov, the process uses transducers to monitor and control melt pressure and temperature inside the mold, and adjusts the injection press in a closed-loop process.
But at first, Textron officials were skeptical of Guergov's claims, according to Jerry Mosingo, executive vice president of manufacturing at Textron Automotive Trim. After an automaker told Textron about IntelliMold, Mosingo assembled top molding experts from his company. They visited Guergov's firm M&C Technologies in Ann Arbor, Mich.
What got their attention was seeing a perfectly molded part that Textron had experience trouble molding.
Troy, Mich.-based Textron ended up buying M&C.
"IntelliMold is the only technology that actually monitors and adjusts the melt inside the mold, in real time, every cycle," Mosingo said.
Robert Alvarez of custom molder United Plastics Group Inc. in Westmont, Ill., praised the MuCell microcellular-molding process from Trexel Inc.
MuCell's tiny bubbles mean the plastic flows into the mold, with lower molding pressure than traditional molding, and reduced part warpage.
"In the three years that I've worked with this, I've been able to mold parts that were not moldable," he said.
Michael Wolcott, a Washington State University official, outlined the booming market for wood/plastic composites, used now mainly in decking for construction.
New players are coming into the market. Ten new factories started operating in 2000 to make wood/plastic composites, said Wolcott, research director of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory at the school in Pullman, Wash.
The material, which combines plastic and waste wood, is moving into several new markets, such as windows, doors and exterior siding.