This week, Plastics News takes a look at a hot issue — hybrid vs. all-electric injection presses. It's shaping up to be the type of classic debate that comes every few decades, when a major new technology threatens to cause a revolution in an industry.
The people who buy injection molding machines have to sort through claims made by suppliers with vested interests. Machinery makers always spin their technology to highlight strong points. The difference now is that all-electric technology and the attendant terms like ball screws, roller screws and belts are all so new to the world of plastics processing. Some processors will always seek the newest technology. But there are plenty of others — including many Europeans — who say hybrid and hydraulic presses are very good and proven, so why change?
There's no doubt about it — all-electric injection molding machines are here to stay in North America. Much of the credit certainly must go to Milacron Inc.'s public relations and advertising machine, but even so, the all-electric movement is more than a form of “mass hypnotism,” as Husky's Robert Schad famously put it.
All-electric presses use energy only when motion is called for, while traditional presses powered by hydraulic fluid consume energy even when the pump is idling. Our story package addresses some of the nitty-gritty technical issues, including special considerations in the market for larger-tonnage machines.
Hydraulic technology has made major advances in recent years. Schad points out that cheap energy made it easy for machinery manufacturers to go into idle themselves on the energy savings issue. That isn't the case now. “There's a lot of energy savings you can do on the hydraulic machines. We haven't even worked on it very much, especially on the hydromechanicals,” said Schad, who remains firmly in the hybrid press camp.
Energy costs were a major reason Japan has embraced all-electric machines. News reports from the 1999 International Plastics Fair in Tokyo said all-electric presses outnumbered hydraulics — a first.
In North America, NPE '94 was the ground breaker. After selling small Fanuc all-electrics for a number of years, Milacron came out with its first all-electrics produced in-house, sold under the Elektra name. Milacron, the largest U.S. plastics machinery maker, announced a major push for the technology. Several Japanese companies and German press maker Battenfeld also showed small all-electrics.
Milacron made bold predictions of market-share gains. Not all of them have — or will — come true. In the seven years since then, Milacron has redesigned the press and renamed it the PowerLine.
Now comes K 2001 in Dusseldorf, Germany, in late October, and three weeks before that, Plastics USA in Chicago. Major trade shows always present technology of the future. Now there's an electric twist — with a lot riding on the outcome.