Hot-runner makers exhibiting at K 2004 emphasized broader product offerings and expanded customer support.
Fortunately for them, demand is picking up, as hot runners become more of a mainstream product. The downside is that selling prices are falling, as they have been doing for some time. And now producers have to put up with rising steel prices too.
Plus, the supply side is getting crowded. Numerous hot-runner makers began as departments within mold-making companies. One of the latest to split off: HRSflow Hotrunner Technology in San Polo di Piave, Italy, a former Incos srl division that specializes in making large systems, with a fail-safe twin-heater feature.
The following hot-runner companies presented products at the Dusseldorf show, held Oct. 20-27.
* Mold-Masters Ltd. President Jonathon Fischer was in ebullient mood at K. In an Oct. 21 interview, he said some 30 percent of visitors to the firm's stand were new contacts - most of them European and most with existing programs to discuss.
Fischer projects significant growth for 2004. The company's Chinese factory is now on-stream, and demand in Eastern Europe also is growing substantially, he said.
Mold-Masters' Master Series, launched at NPE 2003 in Chicago, is being extended with Femto Lite small nozzles and large Flex-Series modular nozzles for large parts, especially automotive.
The 20-millimeter-diameter Femto Lite nozzle, 20 percent smaller than the existing Femto, offers a superior heat profile over the length of the nozzle, from flange to tip, making it suitable for a variety of thermoplastics, the company said. With small nozzles, temperature stability is hard to achieve because of their low thermal inertia. Mold-Masters uses an infusion coating to spread the heat along the nozzle's length.
The firm introduced several advanced developments that senior marketing manager Brett Johnson described as ``concept cars'' - used to judge consumer interest and commercial viability.
``The clear winner was the Melt-Disk Senior,'' Johnson said. The Melt-Disk provides horizontal hot-tip processing for side gating applications. It has up to eight tips, and a heating element on the disk to eliminate the potential for cold slugs when molding parts like pipettes, syringe barrels and needle lids.
``We are now focusing our resources on creating the supportive technical documents and conducting the necessary tests to fast-track this product to market,'' he said.
Mold-Masters' Merlin system, which lets customers design, order and track hot-runner systems online, is improving costs for both the company and its customers, according to Fischer. At the show Mold-Masters announced a 10 percent price savings for customers ordering systems this way.
Some 35 percent of orders are already processed through Merlin. By year-end 2005, that share could be close to 50 percent or more, Fischer said.
At its German production site near Baden-Baden, Mold-Masters is testing a new procedure for hot-half production. One cell will do roughing, final machining, gun-drilling, jig boring, surface grinding and honing. The firm plans to take the process worldwide.
* Italian supplier Thermoplay SpA of Pont St. Martin has introduced a new large hot-runner system, with nozzle diameters up to 70mm. The system features a novel way of accommodating thermal expansion: The end of the nozzle is fixed, and movement is allowed for with joints in the manifold. The result is said to be a stress-free system. Nozzle heater bands are hinged for easy removal.
The firm's sales have risen 28 percent this year so far - probably affected in part by the demise of Italian rival supplier Plasthing srl. Plasthing srl of Turin, along with U.S. arm Plasthing Hot Runner Systems Inc. in Mishawaka, Ind., was hit at the start of 2004 by financial fallout from the collapse of customer and auto supplier Loranger Manufacturing Corp.
Thermoplay is extending its international presence. With new subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and France in the past few years, the firm said it may launch a U.S. subsidiary. Alba Enterprises Inc., based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., sells Thermoplay hot-runner systems in the United States.
* Mastip Technology Ltd., is doubling the size of its headquarters plant in Auckland, New Zealand, to 40,000 square feet. But that may not be enough to meet the firm's growth plans for the next five years, which are ``pretty ambitious,'' according to Mastip. The company is in the midst of creating a global network of suppliers and support.
``We want to make it more of a team,'' said marketing manager Dolf van den Maagdenberg. ``In the past, using distributors meant we had a different image in different markets. The new network will give us better contact with the end users.''
Mastip's North American business development, sales and support is located in Menomonee Falls, Wis. It recently opened sales offices in Lyon, France, and Shanghai, China, and is planning a South American site.
Founder Bob Fill, who was acting executive director, recently left the firm.
* Synventive Molding Solution's ProtoType Series is for prototype mold makers that don't want the expense of using a full-fledged hot-runner system but need a mold having all the features of a production mold.
Mold makers traditionally have rigged up hot-runner systems in-house for prototype molds. ``Now they can get a system engineered by a hot-runner company,'' said spokesman Bart Jan Jongenotter.
The system's nozzles use external heater bands and cost as much as 40 percent less than Synventive's latest range of nozzles, which uses cast-aluminum heaters. Basic manifold shapes are possible. ``We are talking mostly about larger parts, so bores are 12-22mm,'' Jongenotter said.
Synventive is headquartered in Gravendeel, the Netherlands; its U.S. base is in Peabody, Mass.
* Hasco emphasized hot runners over its traditional mold component business. ``This is where the growth is,'' said Olaf Kollmann, sales support manager. ``Asia is exploding.''
Hasco America Inc. is headquartered in Arden, N.C.
Kollman said Hasco has developed a large number of new items. ``Eighty percent of the products on show here are new,'' he said. These included fully mounted and wired custom-made systems that facilitate installation into the mold; and a minisystem with an 8mm minimum center distance for direct gating of small parts.
* Ewikon Hotrunner Systems of America Inc. of East Dundee, Ill., is extending its HPS III-NV range with NVE types that have needle drives in the clamping plates. NVI types already available have integral drives. General Manager David Boxall said users of large manifolds have to be careful that thermal expansion in the mold doesn't put any load on the nozzle pins. ``We created a special distribution element in the manifold to stop the pin deflecting,'' he said. Pin guidance also is helped by uniform melt flow.
* Gammaflux LP's new stripped-down hot-runner controllers are aimed at users with budgets that do not stretch to the firm's top-rated, high-priced flagship model, the TTC.
Market development director Mike Brostedt said the LEC controller retains the TTC's core features, at a competitive price. The controllers handle up to 12 zones, compared with the TTC's maximum of 640 zones. They have a simplified front panel, and come pre-wired to accept an optional Network Module that converts them into high-end controllers and allows them to be linked to control 24 zones.
The LEC controllers will sell for around 30 percent less than Gammaflux's existing controller for smaller molds, the GLC. Brostedt said the GCL, which the firm will continue to sell, has sold well for control of eight to 12 zones, but it is not competitive below that. The biggest driving force for developing the LEC was the booming Asian market, he said. ``It's been designed with China in mind,'' Brostedt said. Gammaflux is in Sterling, Va.
* U.K. hot-runner controller maker PMS Systems Ltd. has taken a similar path with a revamped K-5 unit for controlling up to 30 zones. It adopted a modular approach and gave it a lower-cost case. Aim is to offer delivery of less than one week.
The HRX controller, for as many as 12 zones, also had a make-over. Without an increase in cost, the HRX has lots more features: the color touch screen is one, but the current rating across all zones was boosted from 12 to 15 amps, and current measurement was added for all zones to facilitate diagnostics in the tool.
PMS now offers touch screens on all its controllers. Based in Rotherwas, England, PMS sells in the United States through Athena Controls Inc. of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.