DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY (Nov. 27, 3:40 p.m. EST) — European molders may be slow to embrace all-electric injection press technology, but they got plenty of sales pitches at K 2001 in Germany.
Several Japanese press makers, led by Fanuc Ltd., continued to push the technology in Europe.
Three European companies introduced their first all-electric presses: Switzerland-based Netstal-Maschinen AG and two Italian companies, Negri Bossi SpA and MIR SpA.
Ferromatik Milacron Europe weighed in with a new lower-priced model, while Battenfeld GmbH and Engel Vertriebsgessellschaft mbH also molded parts on the machines.
In hybrid-press news, Arburg GmbH + Co. showed its first hybrid press — the Allrounder A — which combines electric and hydraulic power.
The high-voltage message was aimed largely at Europe, even though K is a global event. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dampened attendance of U.S. molders, where all-electrics account for one in four injection presses sold. Japan is already saturated with all-electrics, with about 75 percent market penetration. The technology is still rare in developing nations.
That left a European audience — and a tough sales job. All-electric machines consume less energy than machines driven by hydraulic fluid, and proponents say they are more accurate and precise, running cleanly and quietly. But they cost more.
Ferromatik Milacron Europe began to remove that barrier at K 2001, with its Elektra Evolution press.
For years, the European unit of Milacron Inc. has marketed all-electric presses built at its factory in Malterdingen, Germany. Those original machines, the Elektra Classic series, are high-end presses with a price tag to match.
“In most cases, the price was the most important reason we didn't sell here,” said Gerold Schley, manager of purchasing, machining and logistics. He was project leader of the new Elektra Evolution series, which ranges in clamping force tonnage from 33-170 tons.
The development team, using Milacron employees from Europe and the United States, began in mid-2000. But the thrust was a machine for Europe, Schley said, taking a break at the show in the Ferromatik Milacron booth. Lights flashed overhead running on along a high arch, symbolizing a lightning bolt.
“The whole project was cost-driven,” Schley said. The Evolution cuts the price premium to about 20 percent more than comparable hydraulic machines. Milacron said the price of all-electrics can run as high as 40-50 percent more than hydraulics.
To get the price down, Ferromatik Milacron reduced the number of parts. At K, Schley walked through the changes on the two Evolutions, a 55-ton press and a 121-tonner. First, designers replaced gear boxes with ball screws to convert rotary motion from the electric motor into linear movement for running the press.
Second, each press has four servoelectric motors, one for each axis of motion.
The company also placed the electrical cabinet inside the machine base, reducing the costs from the old method of using a freestanding cabinet.
“We believe that in Europe the all-electric machines will become more and more important,” said Michael Koch, managing director of Ferromatik Milacron.
Ferromatik's parent company, Milacron Inc., has not decided whether to market the Evolution in the United States, where Milacron sells Roboshot small-tonnage all-electric presses through a longstanding agreement with Fanuc.
Fanuc is by far the all-electric leader in Europe, with about a 75 percent market share, according to the company. Since entering the market with Milacron in 1984, Fanuc has sold 1,020 out of a total 1,300-1,400 all-electric injection molding machines running in Europe. Over the same period, North American molders have purchased 2,740 of the all-electric Fanucs.
Fanuc officials want to expand beyond their core European market of mobile telephone cases.
“In order to stabilize ourselves, we want to penetrate into automotive companies, medical and packaging,” said David Owen, general manager of the Mitsui Machine Tool Europe GmbH in Sheffield, England.
Since 1995, Mitsui Machine Tool Europe has been the sole distributor of Fanuc Roboshot machines in Europe. Milacron used to sell Fanucs in Europe, but the agreement ended after Milacron bought the Ferromatik business, which had its own all-electric machine. Milacron is the sole U.S. distributor of Fanucs.
In Dusseldorf, Fanuc showcased the Roboshot iA series and the Supershot 1000I, which uses an exotic new linear motor.
In one new feature, Owen said, Fanuc presses can analyze resin viscosity and print out a full report showing the relationships between temperature and pressure, said Masao Kamiguchi, senior vice general manager of Rotoshot at Fanuc in Oshino, Japan. The process takes about 20 minutes. The molder can check viscosity variations between different batches of resin, and adjust the molding cycle accordingly.
Fanuc also is pioneering linear motor drive, with the Supershot. Traditional all-electric machines, like the Roboshot, use ball screw drive. Linear drive can boost injection speed dramatically, to a radically fast 2,000 millimeters, the company claims.
All the technology, the bells and whistles, should help Fanuc maintain its European edge. Even so, Owen said: “It's tough for a Japanese company to sell into a Germany-speaking region.”
Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. was taking up the challenge, with its first-ever booth at a K show. “But we have a long history in Europe,” said Shoji Yonezawa, general manager of USA and Europe. Before 1992, the company was blocked from direct sales to Europe by its technology licensing agreement with Swiss press maker Netstal-Maschinen AG. But when that deal ended in 1992, Sumitomo set up a sales and service center in the Netherlands, near Amsterdam.
Yonezawa said Sumitomo got a foothold in Europe by selling to Japanese transplants like TDK and JVC. Those companies have since moved molding out of western Europe, but Yonezawa said Sumitomo still focuses on its strongest niche: presses to mold small, precision parts such as connectors.
At K, Sumitomo showed two small all-electrics, with clamping forces of 30 and 50 tons. Both have direct drive, which eliminates the need for belts.
When it comes to selling all-electrics in Europe, Ube Industries Ltd. thinks a Japanese automotive transplant offers Ube's best chance, said Makoto Nakamura, general manager of machinery at Ube Europe GmbH in Dusseldorf. He declined to identify potential customers.
Ube already sells traditional injection presses out of Dusseldorf. Ube plans to set up offices in the United Kingdom and France to push electrics, as well as Ube's Dieprest low-pressure technology for molding a fabric sheet to a substrate, he said.
Getting a few Ube electrics into Europe is very important, Nakamura said. “We find, once customers go with electric, they never go back,” he said.
Yosuke Sudo, the Netherlands-based representative for Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd., said press makers have to change their marketing pitch in the Old World. Europeans already know the energy-savings benefit — but electricity costs are not that high in Europe. “But they still don't know about the machine's accuracy and cleanliness, for clean-room molding and for precision of shot weight,” Sudo said.
One of Taiwan's largest press makers, Victor Taichung Machinery Works Co. Ltd., will expand its all-electric range higher, with presses of 143 tons, 198 tons and 275 tons, said Export Manager Martin Li.
Although Taiwanese machines are associated with a low price, that was not the main message at K. “If you provide a low price with low quality you will sell one machine, but nothing more,” Li said.
Helmut Eschwey, a high-profile German advocate of all-electric machines, said charging more for all-electric machines is justified. Eschwey is chairman of SMS Plastics Technology. An SMS unit, Battenfeld, introduced its first all-electric back in 1992.
“We used to say, if only we can bring the price of an electric machine down to a hydraulic machine, then the market will switch. We don't say that anymore, because we have seen the great advantages of electric machines, which clearly justify a premium,” Eschwey said at K 2001.
Meanwhile at K, Arburg debuted the hybrid Allrounder A. Spokesman Christoph Schumacher said an all-electric Arburg is coming. “We will start with this Allrounder A ready to sell in the second half of next year,” he said. “And after this one comes out, we will have all of the elements to build an all-electric machine,” he said.
Engel's managing director, Peter Neumann, predicted all-electrics will capture 20 percent of the market for smaller presses, from 50-300 tons, during the next three to five years. Engel has dubbed its all-electric tie-barless machines the Victory, with pre-engineered modules to reduce costs.
Harold Faig, Milacron's group vice president of plastics technologies, said all the activity at K 2001 validated all-electric molding. “It's here to stay, and now there's going to be a continuing evolution of it,” Faig said.