At the National Design Engineering Show in Chicago, In-mold Graphic Solutions touted its Zynicast graphics as a very durable, molded-in alternative to those press-on decals that give safety warnings on products such as lawnmowers, all-terrain vehicles and now a new market - packaging for toys.
A robot places the graphic label into the injection mold, where it becomes part of the finished plastic part. The graphic is held on to the mold surface by static electricity, which is applied by end-of-arm tooling on the robot.
But Bob Travis wants to make it clear: This is not in-mold labeling of the type used on food packaging. Zynicast also is not like the top-end preforms used to decorate cell phone covers or to applique molding on automotive instrument panels.
``You can do cell phones and IPs, but what else? What about all the other injection molders in the marketplace?'' Travis, In-mold vice president, said at the Feb. 23-26 show.
The division of Romo Inc. does not use the term in-mold labeling, preferring ``in-mold graphics'' and ``in-mold decoration.'' Small and midsize molders can use the products for relatively short product runs.
Romo is a 50-year-old manufacturer of pressure-sensitive labels based in De Pere, Wis.
``That's our bread and butter,'' Travis said of the rub-on labels. But about five years ago, Romo was approached by outdoor furniture molder Bemis Manufacturing Co. to make a good-looking graphic for a Bemis table.
Travis, a 17-year veteran of Romo, said the company tried off-the-shelf materials and inks, but the results were unsatisfactory. So Romo developed its own materials and coatings that can hold up under rough, outdoor use. Zynicast is ultraviolet-light resistant for seven to 10 years, abrasion resistant and solvent resistant.
After the Bemis project, Romo officials decided to expand into other markets. ``We started looking at who cares about [durability]. Well it's the [original equipment manufacturer],'' Travis said. Romo already had customers for its pressure-sensitive warning labels - which require a worker to rub the decals onto the plastic parts.
Durability is a big issue to makers of products like ATVs and riding mowers; they face liability if the labels peel off.
Romo had an exhibit at NPE 2003. Injection presses were demonstrating the in-mold technology at booths of two other companies: injection press company Dima Inc./Dongshin Hydraulics Co. Ltd., and robot maker Sailor USA Inc. Response was so positive, Travis said, that Romo decided to set up In-mold Graphic Solutions as a separate division.
Automation robot-loading is a key selling point - especially to companies that employ people just to rub on traditional decals all day.
The company developed its own decorative films, with a substrate targeted to the resin the customer is molding, so the parts can be recycled. The most popular film is a blend of polypropylene and polyethylene, Travis said.
In-mold Graphic Solutions is touting several applications. Innovative Technologies Inc., a custom injection molder in West Des Moines, Iowa, uses robotic placement of Zynicast warning and caution labels into molds to make ATV fenders for Arctic Cat. The fender weighs 2.7 pounds. The molder put the system into production in just two weeks.
Cascade Engineering Inc. used Zynicast to mold individualized barcode labels into trash carts for Rochester, N.Y., saving the city $200,000 a year.
In-mold Graphic Solutions has developed two other products, Rezilyte for furniture, toys and consumer products; and Rezimark, a new dry-erase coating the company is targeting at storage containers and office products.
Rezilyte has replaced pressure-sensitive labels, pad printing and hand-painting on some injection molded tote packaging for the Mega Bloks toys. The Montreal-based toymaker had been molding the parts, then shipping them to China for the additional steps. Now the company is doing its own decorating processes.