There are award winners, and there are award winners who make thermoformed honeycomb packages for bees.
The Thermoforming Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers named winners for its 2004 parts competition Sept. 20 in Indianapolis. The event, held during the division's annual thermoforming conference, regularly gives prizes to new and unusual applications.
But even if attendees thought they had seen it all before, this year proved to be an exception. The contest's Most Innovative Packaging System award was handed to Shepherd Thermoforming & Packaging Inc. of Brampton, Ontario, for a plastic beehive system.
``It's a new way to package the honey and the comb from bees,'' explained Billy Tate, Shepherd general manager. ``It takes the effort out of having to harvest the honey for consumer uses. Everything stays in the comb.''
The new package was the brainchild of a fledgling company, St. Williams, Ontario-based Bee-O-Sphere Technologies. The idea was to help improve technology in the beekeeping industry, where keepers have scraped the comb honey from wooden frames for more than a century, said Ian Bigham, a company founder and chief engineer.
Bee-O-Sphere worked with Shepherd to devise a vacuum formed plastic frame, joining two pieces made from clear, amorphous PET resin. The food-grade material allows bees to see the comb inside the manufactured hive and has enough space for each bee to go back and forth from the frame to the outside.
It also was the only material that bees seemed to accept, Tate said. ``We couldn't use anything else and have bees attracted to it.''
Bee-O-Sphere sends the rectangular frames, with 128 individual combs that can be filled with honey, to beekeepers in North America. Once the bees do their work, the beekeepers sell the complete comb in the plastic frame to natural-food stores and processors.
``The comb is untouched by human hands,'' Bigham said. ``It allows beekeepers to tap into the natural-food market. Comb honey sells for about four times [the price] of extracted honey. It's a premium product.''
The first production runs for the thermoformed beehives were earlier this year and the product now is being shipped as far away as Europe, Bigham said. The Bee-O-Sphere package won a DuPont Award earlier this year. It has kept Shepherd busy: The company already is preparing new packages to send before the spring harvest, Tate said.
Other award winners also showed ingenuity both in process and product. Amros Industries Inc., a thermoformer in Cleveland, came up with special cups that hold fusion powder for high-amperage electrical wire, said company principal Gregory Shteyngarts.
Ten cups formed between two sheets hold the powder. The top sheet folds over the bottom one, creating a compact means to carry and transport the clamshell package. The product won the Industrial Award.
Amros has built 11 different-sized, multicavity molds for the fusion-powder trays, Shteyngarts said. ``It eliminates the cardboard box. The product can be perfectly located in it.''
The firm also just agreed to buy a 65,000-square-foot building in Cleveland and plans to move from its smaller, leased facility in about three months, he said.
Growth also was on the mind of another award winner, Wise Industries Inc. of Old Hickory, Tenn. The cut-sheet thermoformer has started an extrusion division and has developed special polypropylene-based foams to pick up some niche business, said Dan Roberts, general manager.
The company showcased its new technology by making bedliners for the 2005 Chevrolet SSR sports-truck roadster.
The all-plastic bedliner has a side wall and floor composed of a PP carpet mixed with low-density, extruded thermoplastic olefin foam. The walls are thermoformed and the floor compression molded to create a lightweight part that has stiffness and durability, he said.
Pressure-sensitive Velcro strips are mounted to the side walls, holding them in place against the inside sheet metal of the truck bed. ``If you remove the bedliner, you have to pull it from the Velcro,'' he said. ``It can handle gravel and really abusive applications.''
The product, a winner of the division's Automotive Award, has been installed on more than 22,000 SSR roadsters this year, Roberts said.
It also has opened the door for Wise to move into original-equipment parts, he said. Until now, the company strictly has formed aftermarket parts.
Speaking of the novel, Specialty Manufacturing Inc. of San Diego, Calif., helped develop one of the medical industry's first gantry-free nuclear camera platforms, making the enclosure in a pressure forming process, said engineering manager Jack Schrieffer.
The diagnostic equipment, made for Philips Medical Systems, features a camera platform with an articulating, robotic arm that moves at differing angles. Working with a Philips division in the Seattle area, Specialty Manufacturing used molded undercuts formed in openings to reduce the need for screws to hold together parts.
``It's close to a snap-fit, where the parts fit together easily,'' Schrieffer said. ``It reduces assembly time, and you don't have to fidget as much putting together the pieces. The fastener count went way down.''
A total of 12 parts feature molded-in color and textures, after Philips insisted on high aesthetics for the sophisticated equipment, Schrieffer said. The product won the Multi-Part Assembly Award.
The camera platform uses an acrylic/PVC material.
Specialty Manufacturing was a two-time winner. The company also won in the roll-fed category for its integrated tray for medical devices used in the treatment of osteoporosis.
Another medical-related product, a power generator for cardiac surgical devices, won the People's Choice Award. The product presented some challenges for thermoformer Freetech Plastics Inc. of Fremont, Calif.
The panel itself is not flat and includes complicated contours and undercuts that must allow a power cord to wrap around it, said Jack Stritch, Freetech director of business development. The panels also had to match, while featuring differing shapes and grooves.
``We worked closely with mechanical engineers to ensure that what they wanted could actually be formed in a way that did not add considerable cost,'' Stritch said. ``We had to be very conscious of that.''
Both the top, liquid-crystal-display unit and the connection components had to fit with the rest of the heart-defibrillator unit. Meanwhile, the finished product needed to look striking, a selling point in the market, he said.
The power generator was the company's first big foray into industrial design, Stritch said. Freetech decided to use ABS regrind to keep as much resin as possible from heading to the landfill.
``We gave examples of products we had already done,'' Stritch said. ``But the way we machined and assembled this one was different. It certainly took a lot of time, and I'm sure that came through in the competition.''
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Other winners were:
* Consumer Entertainment: Johnson Outdoors Inc., Racine, Wis., for a two-person bass boat.
* Twin-Sheet: Durakon Industries Inc., Lapeer, Mich., for a running board on the 2005 Chevrolet SSR sports-truck roadster.
* Electronic Enclosure: Profile Plastics Corp., Lake Bluff, Ill., for a medical monitor enclosure.
* Industrial: Gage Industries Inc., Lake Oswego, Ore., for a silicon-wafer shipping box.
* Point-of-Purchase: Productive Plastics Inc., Mount Laurel, N.J., for a self-service kiosk.
* Consumer Packaging: Prent Corp., Janesville, Wis., for an ornament package.
* Consumer Housewares: PBM Plastics Inc., Newport News, Va., for a squeeze-bottle liner.
* Food Container: Plastic Ingenuity Inc., Cross Plains, Wis., for a casserole base and lid.