Major names in the polymer industry are showing interest in the patented Pushtrusion direct in-line process for molding large parts.
Molders gain another processing choice as compounding and injection molding occur in a single operation for long- or short-fiber applications or continuous-fiber reinforcements.
A unit of original equipment maker Milacron Inc. plans to make and retrofit molding machine modules under a nonexclusive equipment license from PlastiComp Inc. of LaCrescent, Minn.
Dow Automotive of Auburn Hills, Mich., will become a nonexclusive resin supplier with development capability and will use the process to complement Dow technology being transitioned from Europe.
Owens Corning of Toledo, Ohio, intends to provide product development expertise and has agreed to serve as the exclusive supplier of glass-fiber rovings to Pushtrusion molders.
The modular Pushtrusion process pulls standard, continuous-length fiber from supply creels at rates of 400-600 feet per minute, embeds the fibers into molten resin under high pressure, uses a chopper for cutting and maintains material temperature through the entrainment die. Next, the pliable mixture moves through a nozzle directly above the injection screw and into the press.
A single melt minimizes degradation, and the process eliminates the usual wear on screws and barrels from melting resin and glass-fiber pellets.
``Anything saving double-digit material costs has tremendous potential,'' said Barr Klauss, who until his recent retirement was vice president of technology for Ferromatik Milacron NA in Batavia, Ohio. ``We want to make it available to people interested in doing that.''
For replacing semi-structural steel and aluminum parts, ``pushtrusion brings a good cost equation to the materials systems,'' Gary Nieman, vice president and general manager for Owens Corning single-end rovings and continuous filament mat. Owens Corning makes applicable Type 30 single-end rovings in Amarillo, Texas. ``I think Pushtrusion is applicable globally.''
Recently, Dow Automotive has supported direct compounding processes in Europe.
``We needed this kind of product,'' Larry Shaw, global business development manager with Dow Automotive, said in referring to Pushtrusion.
In October, Dow Automotive will disclose a long-fiber-reinforced technology transfer from Europe. After two years of formulation tweaking, a domestic transportation program will make use of Dow's 8000 Series material. Production will occur in North America.
The Pushtrusion process has the potential to affect demand for other compounds such as Verton, Celstran or StaMax long-fiber pellets or Azdel long-fiber polypropylene sheet. In addition, existing metal-replacement applications using long-fiber-reinforced pellets are suitable for Pushtrusion. Examples include a Ford F150 truck's running board, a motorcycle or all-terrain-vehicle rear luggage rack, a Jaguar's integrated front end and a Mini Cooper's grille opening retainer.
Two Minnesota men, previously connected in business, are the driving forces behind the direct long-fiber thermoplastics manufacturing process.
Inventor Ronald Hawley was issued the domestic D-LFT patent in February 2001. Hawley, president of Woodshed Technologies Inc. of Winona, Minn., founded the former Polymer Composites Inc. and created the Celstran long-fiber pellets business in the 1980s.
Stephen Bowen uses his industry connections to establish the key partnerships. Bowen is president and chief executive officer of PlastiComp. Formed in April, PlastiComp is Woodshed Technologies' exclusive global sales and marketing agent and licenser. During the next year, Bowen envisions licensing as many as 10 equipment suppliers and perhaps 10 resin makers.
Bowen was president and CEO of Ticona subsidiary Celstran from 1984-99 and, more recently, managed the European operations of RTP Co. of Winona.
In coming together again, Hawley and Bowen seek to market and sell Pushtrusion in nontraditional ways. They eschew the usual corporate trappings, entanglements and overhead costs and - relying on the technology's strength - offer Pushtrusion through Owens Corning, Dow, Milacron and others with strong market positions. Bowen expects those players to become the technology's advocates and sales agents.
Hawley demonstrated Pushtrusion's simplicity for business acquaintance Bud Baechler in 2000.
``Within two minutes, I understood this will change the molding world,'' said Baechler, president of marketing communi- cations firm Mediawerks in Winona. Now, Baechler works with Bowen in spreading the word.
The technology plays into the industry drive for cost reduction, Bowen said. Creation of a compound during the molding process constitutes a fundamental industry change that can remove the compounder step from the traditional chain, he said.
Milacron, other OEMs or a PlastiComp equipment supplier can expect to sell new or retrofitted Pushtrusion-related machinery for $200,000-$500,000 as an addition to a molding press, Bowen said. A processor can use the standard molding functions without removing the Pushtrusion equipment.
Shaw said he envisions possible users eventually becoming comfortable with the necessary capital investment.
Bowen gave a Pushtrusion presentation during the Society of Plastics Engineers' automotive composites conference Sept. 9-10 in Troy, Mich.