With sky high resin prices, manufacturers of blenders say molders are paying more attention than ever before to precisely metering out every pellet - and that means the blender makers expect their booths to be busy during NPE 2006.
At an international trade show like NPE, lightning-fast injection molding machines and mind-boggling automation grab the attention. But this time, basic economics should drive McCormick Place visitors to those low-key blenders and feeders, methodically, precisely measuring out resin and regrind, additives and colorant.
Officials from eight companies that supply blenders for injection and blow molding said that the blender has the single biggest impact of any piece of auxiliary equipment on the accurate measurement of gold ... er, resin ... before it goes into the machine. They all said customers are looking for ways to cut resin costs, many by putting in more regrind - which could require improved blending capability.
``Almost every quotation I do includes one regrind station,'' said John Collins, general manager for the Colormax blender line at K-Tron Process Group.
And resin isn't the only material that is more costly in these post-Katrina, post-Rita days. Also pricey are colors and additives - materials also metered out through the blender.
``When you put in extra color, it's like painting a wall twice, said B. Patrick Smith of Maguire Products Inc. ``The color doesn't change; the hue doesn't change.'' Adding more color means spending more money for no reason.
Smith, Maguire's vice president of marketing and sales, called the blender ``the gateway to the process.''
``Every single ingredient that enters the processing machine is weighed, measured, dosed and blended by the blender,'' he said. Maguire will exhibit at Booth N5507.
Of course, as several auxiliary suppliers pointed out, the whopping resin bills have a big downside: Molders are squeezed. More spent on material leaves less cash to invest in machinery. ``It's kind of neutralized it, because it's a double-edged sword,'' said Keith Larson, sales and marketing manager of Colortronic Inc. (Booth N5026).
But Larson said blender makers have a good story to tell. ``The biggest thing is to really pay attention and look at the material savings vs. the investment,'' he said, adding that a gravimetric blender can pay for itself in a year.
Smith of Maguire said high resin prices have spurred interest in blenders. ``The bottom line is that people that get it are making these investments to get better control over their process,'' Smith said. At NPE, Maguire will introduce what it calls the world's largest gravimetric blender, the MaxiBatch HT, which can run up to 10,000 pounds of material an hour. Its batch size is 66 pounds.
Blenders are now mostly gravimetric, sometimes known as the ``weigh blender.'' For the most part, that old gravimetric vs. volumetric argument is a thing of the past. The news now is that blenders are much more precise than models a decade ago.
That has led to some upgrading to new blenders - especially, manufacturers agreed, when companies want to boost the percentage of regrind to offset use of the more-expensive virgin resin.
Regrind can have dramatically lower bulk density - defined as the weight per volume of a material - than virgin resin, and the blender has to be able to compensate for that, said Gary Hovis, commercial manager for blenders at Conair Group Inc. (Booth S2649).
Hovis said companies that are running more regrind could find it's time for new blenders. ``If they're in a situation where they're going to be adding some regrind that's a lighter-density material, that blender that they bought 10 years ago may not be capable of handling the lighter-density material,'' he said.
Proof that every pellet counts is Conair's TrueBlend gravimetric batch blender. A main design change was made to eliminate pellets from leaking out of the unit. Spilling pellets on the floor has always been a housekeeping issue. Now it's a matter of economics, as processors try to eliminate any wasted material.
Steve Watson, systems engineer at Motan Inc. (Booth S1138) said the need to mold quality parts is the reason people are buying new blenders. He cites automotive customers, which demand a precise percent of color or additive.
``That's what's driving the decision to buy blenders, rather than higher resin costs,'' Watson said.
At NPE 2006, Motan will introduce an IntelliBlend function on its Gravicolor batch blender that automatically replaces shortages of materials with virgin and color masterbatch.
For example, Watson said, IntelliBlend could assume that regrind is precolored material, so when the regrind runs out, it will automatically switch to all virgin and boost the amount of color additive. ``So when it runs out, it keeps running,'' he said.
Dri-Air Industries Inc. (Booth N5561) will introduce the PD-III, which does it all in one unit - drying, blending and conveying of three different components. The equipment has individual temperature controls for each material, ``so you eliminate the waste of the pre-mixed batches that may or may not be used in the future,'' said Manny Salinas, regional sales manager.
Dri-Air's volumetric mixing augers, placed under each hopper, dispense the material into a common take-off box and convey the material to the feed throat.
``When you have to throw away scrap or regrind because the color wasn't right, or the color wasn't dried properly, then you feel the pain,'' Salinas said.
Stephen Buckley, vice president of marketing at Atlanta-based Process Control Corp. (Booth S2926), has been giving a presentation called ``Blending for Profit.'' Buckley said resin prices have joined with brutal global competition to raise awareness about blending technology.
``People are starting to think about it; if there's something else out there that's better, let's take a look at it,'' he said. ``For an American company to stay in America, they need to do what they can, and material cost, that's a big part of it.''
Owners and executives are making the decision to invest in new blenders. People on the shop floor often are content to ``just crank up the knob and put out more'' as long as the press is making an acceptable product, Buckley said.
K-Tron Process Group (Booth S1117) will introduce its Colormax Multi Weigh gravimetric blender at the Powder and Bulk Solids show May 9-11, and again at NPE 2006 in Chicago. The blender, which can feed up to four materials, uses K-Tron's highly accurate Posimax feeder.
Accuracy counts, said Kathy Hunter, director for global marketing. ``You don't have to overfeed the material. Better accuracy is going to save you money,'' she said.
Powder handling capability, through new dosing devices, touch-screen controllers and full Ethernet connectivity are three new trends in blenders, said David Preusse, president of Wittmann Inc. (Booth S2549), which partners with Maguire for its blenders.
Comet Automation Systems Inc. (Booth S3051) is poised to make some waves at NPE 2006. President Tom Rajkovich said Comet and Italian blender maker Doteco srl will announce an agreement where Comet will sell Doteco's batch blenders for injection and blow molding in the United States. (The deal does not cover Doteco's blenders for extrusion equipment).
According to Rajkovich, Comet will supply its central loading systems. ``So we're going to kind-of cross market this stuff.''
Comet plans to have at least one Doteco unit on its NPE booth.
NPE-goers also will see some new feeders, as these traditionally volumetric devices also move to gravimetrics. Feeders are one area where molders need to upgrade - another example of ``cranking it up'' and using too much material, blender officials said.
Smith said Maguire will come out with a gravimetric feeder. ``We are modifying our current volumetric feeder so that it is a gravimetric feeder,'' he said. ``The key element to the gravimetric is it is self-regulating.''
Motan will introduce the loss-in-weight Minicolor G, with the G for gravimetric. The feeder will be a loss-in-weight system.