Two days before K 2004 kicked off in Germany, Netstal-Maschinen AG announced a big piece of news when its top official, Bernhard Merki, revealed at Nova-Pack Europe that the Swiss injection press maker has built a 192-cavity PET preform machine.
Until now, Netstal's biggest offering in its PET-Line series had been a machine sporting 144 cavities.
Netstal held back the 192-cavity news from its pre-K news conference in June, saying it did not want to tip off competitors about its plans months before K. So Merki made the announcement as the first speaker at Nova-Pack Europe, held Oct. 18-19 in Neuss.
During the Oct. 20-27 K show in nearby Dusseldorf, Netstal is running the first 192-cavity preform press at its headquarters factory in NÃ¤fels, Switzerland. The company is flying select customers to NÃ¤fels.
A press of that size is aimed at large-production markets like the United States - and Merki said the first one was sold to a U.S. customer, which he declined to identify.
The machine, officially called the PET-Line 192 N, has a clamping force of 660 tons. It can mold 81,000 preforms an hour with a maximum thread size of 30 millimeters, the standard for soft drink and water bottles, Netstal said.
K show visitors are seeing a 96-cavity PET-Line press, with 350 tons of clamping force. Netstal said that machine can crank out 40,500 preforms an hour of both 30mm and 38mm, with 38mm as the maximum thread size.
Netstal's preform presses use an electric screw drive, with a new feature called intrusion. Intrusion means that the screw keeps turning even as it moves forward to feed a shooting pot; it does not stop to become a fixed plunger.
``It gives much higher plasticizing capacity with the same screw,'' said Waldemar Schmitke, Netstal's general manager of PET systems. ``That is a big advantage.''
In his Nova-Pack presentation, Merki also discussed a Netstal technology called ``melt to preform'' or MTP - in which a molder would build a PET resin reactor right in the plant, feeding liquid PET directly to a bank of injection presses.
Netstal machines are running on a pilot line at resin maker Uhde Inventa Fischer, the former Ems Chemie operation in the city of Ems, Switzerland.
That is the only installation to date.
Attaching what is in effect a chemical plant to injection molding machines proved to be a hot-button issue at Nova-Pack. One resin company official asked how many PET preform plants are actually huge enough to require that type of setup.
He also said the PET plant within a molding plant would be capable of only a fraction of the output of a big resin complex.
Merki agreed that the technology probably will be limited to only a few installations over the next few years. He said it could happen in China.
``There are now a few hot contacts we are working on,'' Merki said.
``It's possible that we [will] see some of the first installations in Asia, because their chance to start a greenfield is higher than it is, for example, in Europe or the United States.''
Merki added that a preform plant could use both the MTP and traditional preform molding, from dry PET resin.
Merki said the technology of making PET in-house is well-known in the textile industry.