Rotational molders are looking to become lean and efficient.
Several officials at the Association of Rotational Molders International's fall meeting and Rotoplas '05 trade show said rotomolders must continue advancing their technology to remain competitive. The industry, for instance, is not doing enough to push the envelope in materials such as polypropylene and ABS.
``In order for us to survive, we must push into newer materials,'' said Jim Throne, president of Sherwood Technologies Inc., a consulting firm in Dunedin, Fla.
Rotomolders do a few things really well, Throne said. They mold big, hollow parts and all kinds of polyethylene. But they need to do more.
Some rotomolders are learning to monitor mold and material temperature, but the sector overall is not very good at reducing cycle times, especially heating and cooling times. Rotomolders' primary competitors are blow molders and twin-sheet thermoformers.
``You, as a rotomolder, must be able to apply technologies to the process,'' Throne said. ``You've got to make the investment. We don't need to do anything to go out of business. We can sit and wait ... whine, moan and complain about competition.''
Throne said it is imperative that rotomolders improve cycle times, mount a major development program to control part dimensions through mold pressurization and review heating methods.
Automation really started as a trend at the 1999 Rotoplas show, when officials introduced technologies like machines that unscrew and reclamp molds after they come out of the oven. But at this year's show, held Sept. 18-21 in Rosemont, the overwhelming themes were international. Some officials said automation has lost steam during the economic downturn.
One machine, called Leonardo, drew a lot of attention this year. Its supplier, Persico SpA of Italy, touts it as the first commercially available, fully automatic rotational molding machine, allowing one worker to control three or four machines.
Another machine, introduced by industry veteran Horacio Lobo, also drew attention because it uses technology from Mexico. Branded as Moviplas, the unit is marketed as the ``even oven machine,'' boasting less gas consumption, plus mold sensors that provide better temperature control.
Lobo said the machine can be used to mold anything from toys to tanks, but is best for complicated geometry because of the even temperatures. Lobo developed the machine in conjunction with Ciateq AC, a research and development technology center in Querétaro, Mexico.