Visitors to Krauss-Maffei Corp.'s Plastics Technology Conference picked up insights into technical things like automation and multicomponent molding, but they also heard about ``soft'' issues - training and how to think about technologies coming years into the future.
Keynote speaker Len Czuba, new president of the Society of Plastics Engineers, said successful companies make ongoing commitment to employee training. ``This investment helps them stay on top of the latest technology,'' he said.
Czuba pointed to Makuta Technics Inc. of Columbus, Ind., which specializes in micromolding. Employees are expected to take classes, attend seminars and conferences and speak at industry events.
They are encouraged to help with continuous improvement. Czuba said it all adds up to a satisfied workforce: The company has a very low turnover rate, with the average tenure for employees at 17 years.
``Build training into your budgets. Build it into your scheduling and most importantly, build it into your careers,'' said Czuba, who runs his own product development firm, Czuba Enterprises Inc. in Lombard, Ill.
Mark Bamberger, executive vice president of robot maker CBW Automation, ran through the history of automation. Robots have become fast as lightning. CBW's takeout robots, for example, can retrieve parts more quickly than the free fall of gravity.
The emphasis now has turned to using robots and vision inspection systems to make sure no bad parts slip through, Bamberger said. Other trends include robots for in-mold labeling, in-mold assembly and downstream part decoration.
Automation also can reduce labor costs. Bamberger said nothing will stop the trend toward zero defects with zero labor. ``That's not a dream and quite frankly, that's not even a request any more, especially if the customer is a large company. It's pretty much mandatory,'' he said.
Bamberger said that, in the past, plastics innovators pushed the technology forward. ``Now I think technology is actually getting ahead of us in some regards. You have to look out a little bit and you have to go find the technology,'' he said.
Bamberger said it's important to read widely - and not just trade magazines - to learn about things like nanotechnology and radio frequency identification tags. Recommended reading: MIT Technology Review and a magazine called Fast Company.
CBW is based in Fort Collins, Colo.
Conference attendees also heard about RJG Inc.'s partnership with ShapeGrabber Inc. of Ottawa, Ontario, to link ShapeGrabber's laser-scanning shape-acquisition system with RJG's eDart System for process monitoring and compare a molded part to its original computer-aided-design files.
Karl Bauer, regional account manager with RJG Inc. of Traverse City, Mich., said the technology also can give part-to-part, part-to-mold and part-over-time comparisons.
Bauer said the automated inspection system is easy to use and does not require programming or CAD experience. Files can be put on a spread sheet and saved for future use.
The equipment can be set up to examine, for example, every 10th part.
Multicomponent molding and rotating-stack molds also got a lot of attention in Florence. Hermann Plank, vice president of sales and marketing at Gram Technology Inc., explained Gram's Spin Stack system. Gram is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Unlike a traditional stack mold where the center plate is fixed, in Spin Stack, the center plate rotates on a spindle between the two hold halves. The part moves between stations, such as first shot, cooling, second shot and eject. But Spin Stack also allows for secondary, post-molding operations done right in the mold - such as in-mold assembly, painting or welding, insert molding, or molding-in a label or RFID tagging. The mold becomes the fixture, holding the part until it emerges from the mold completely finished.
``We never lose grip on our part, and you never need to re-register it,'' Plank said. The process can be used on a conventional molding machine that is equipped with the special mold.
Spin Stack is more efficient than a traditional rotary platen, said Jim Grossmann, multicomponent engineering manager for Juno Inc., a custom molder in Anoka, Minn., and a Gram licensee. Juno got into multicomponent molding eight years ago and uses both methods.
``You're able to do more-complicated parts than you are with conventional molding,'' he said.
Rotary platens - which rotate the mold between two injection units - use a limited number of platens since only half the mold face is used. With Spin Stack, Grossmann said, ``You can populate your entire surface area of your mold.''
Grossmann said tubular parts make good candidates for the process because they are left on the core as it cycles through stations. Other advantages include extra cooling time on the core, and part ejection totally separated from the molding cycle.
Grossmann presented a Juno case study comparing a four-by-four rotary platen mold to a four-by-four Spin Stack mold. The part was a contact lens case with a molded-in thermoplastic elastomer seal and a tamper-evident strip. Juno was able to use a smaller press for Spin Stack - 110 tons vs. 150 tons - and run a 33 percent faster cycle time, with 50 percent higher annual capacity.
The press with Spin Stack only needed to rotate a 60-pound center spindle. The machine with the rotary platen had to move a mold half that weighed 1,500 pounds, he said.