BATAVIA, OHIO (June 19, 10:55 a.m. EDT) — There is a “pent-up demand for new machinery” in the U.S. market, but plastics processors need stable resin prices so more companies can pull the capital-investment trigger, according to the top executive at Milacron Inc.
“We are watching this very closely. It's very important for the entire industry, for oil and resin prices to stabilize,” said Ronald Brown, Milacron's chairman, president and chief executive officer.
Brown, at a pre-NPE news conference, outlined two key economic indicators that normally would point to robust machine-buying activity. Capacity utilization — the rate of machines in use at U.S. plastics and rubber factories — hit 90.8 percent in April.
“This is the highest level since the mid-90s. And traditionally, when it's at that rate, that's when we see, historically, increases in ordering for capital equipment,” he said. “But the resin prices, the oil prices, are still having a dampening effect on that.”
Plastics part production also is growing, Brown said.
Brown said the tight capacity, and the need to replace aging machinery, shows “the need is there.” But he added: “It's a question of, when can that customer base begin buying new equipment? Can they afford it? Do they have their own profitability and cash flow in order to justify doing that?
“For the industry to spend, they need to be profitable, as an industry. And that is the limiting factor at this point in time,” Brown said
Milacron leaders outlined their plans for NPE 2006 for injection molding machines, extruders, blow molding machines and mold components during a May 17 news conference at the company's U.S. assembly factory in Batavia.
Milacron is showing 10 machines at its booth this week, including an injection press featuring a double-turning stack mold with two rotating cubes doing in-mold assembly. Milacron also is rolling out its new global controller, the Mosaic, which the company plans to expand across all its machinery lines.
Karlheinz Bourdon, president of Milacron's global plastics machinery, said the highest growth rates for machinery will continue to be Asia and Eastern Europe. “But in all places of the world, you'll see growth,” he said.
“North America seems to be what I would call in a strong recovery mode. And that continues,” Bourdon said.
All-electric injection presses are one of the bright spots. They accounted for about 40 percent of the U.S. market for injection presses in 2005, measured by units, up from about 30 percent the year before.
Bourdon said Milacron, in the first quarter of 2006, saw a 40 percent increase in new business and orders for all-electrics, in unit volume, from the first quarter of 2005. Measured by dollar value, orders for all-electrics grew by 33 percent, he said.
“This is a very strong sign that our product strategy with all-electrics is really paying off now,” he said. “We have been investing in that technology, as one of the first companies, and that goes back more than 20 years.”
U.S. sales of multimaterial injection mold-ing presses also show solid growth, Bourdon said.
NPE is the largest plastics trade show in North America — the most important region for the Cincinnati-based company. Milacron's North American machinery business generated nearly half of the total company 2005 sales of $809 million.
Although sales have been increasing for Milacron the last several years — and orders have grown, including a strong 11 percent gain in the first quarter of 2006 — Milacron has not turned a profit since 2000. But the amount of red ink has steadily declined each year, and in 2005, Milacron lost $14.1 million, down from a $51.8 million loss in 2004.
At the pre-NPE news conference, Brown said the company has cut costs and become more efficient, although some “noncash” items, such as pension costs, are masking the improved bottom line. At the same time, Milacron is developing new technology, as 30 new products are planned for this year.
Meanwhile, Bourdon pointed out, Milacron is positioned to be a global player, with factories in the United States, Europe, India and China.
“Our general strategy is to invest in the sales and service organizations in the emerging markets, because we want to be part of the growth that takes place in these regions of the world,” Bourdon said.
Taking the global approach, the new Mosaic controller is designed to be easy to use, everywhere around the world. Milacron engineers in the United States, Germany and India designed the controller to use both a touch screen and manual buttons.
“The look and feel should always be the same,” Bourdon said. Any screen can be reached from any other screen in two touches.
The Mosaic is now standard on all new Milacron injection presses, and as a no-cost option on the company's twin-screw extruders. Milacron now is offering the controller as an option, for an additional cost, on its single-screw extruders. According to Bourdon, Milacron will extend the Mosaic across the entire machinery offering, including blow molding, within the next few years.
Milacron is running 10 machines at its NPE booth this week. Its injection technology news includes:
* A two-platen Cincinnati Milacron-brand Maxima MG press with 1,100 tons of clamping force, molding a polycarbonate side-panel window for a sport utility vehicle, overmolded with a black-PC frame. Milacron is using a mold from Exatec LLC, a joint venture of GE Plastics and Bayer MaterialScience LLC that produces coatings for PC automotive glazing.
Milacron mounts the secondary injection unit, piggyback style, on an injection sled directly above the primary injection unit. The sled is mounted to the stationary platen, so it maintains good solid alignment.
“There is no impact whatsoever on the compact size of the press, while we're able to eliminate the need for two holes and any effect on platen stiffness,” said Ronald Hertzer, director of technology.
The process shown at NPE this week is not a turning-stack mold, but Hertzer said Milacron can offer rotary tooling to mold the window glazing.
The press uses the coining process, filling the mold as it is nearly closed, then applying full tonnage to apply compression in the mold. Coining avoids molded-in stresses that could hurt the optical qualities of the window, but to make sure, a robot moves the part to an inspection area that uses Avalon vision inspection. Hertzer said an infrared light reveals any molded-in stress. Software compares each window to the parameters, and the system automatically rejects bad parts.
The Maxima also has a Staubli magnetic mold-clamping system, and a tie-rod puller, for quick mold changes.
* A 275-ton Ferromatik Milacron K-Tec press that is molding a two-part lid, doing in-mold assembly and labeling the lid — all in a single injection molding machine, using an exotic Foboha twin-cube stack-turning mold.
Milacron first showed the crowd-wowing technology at the K 2004 show in Germany, where the company molded a two-part lid for chewing tobacco.
In Chicago, the application is a bit more mainstream: disc-top closures with two colors, typically used for shampoo, shower gel or body lotion.
Each of the two rotating cubes will have four, 48-cavity mold faces — so the press gives double the cavitation of a conventional press, with no additional clamping force.
The body of the lid is molded on one turning cube, the flip-up disc on the other. The stack cubes then index to align the mold faces for assembly. The disc is forced into the cap body during part ejection. The finished part is then indexed 90 degrees to the outside for removal of finished closures by a Foboha unscrewing device.
Benefits include double the number of cavities on one press; simultaneous operations so that labels, inserts and part removal have no influence on cycle time; and reduced cooling time since the parts cool in the cube.
The secondary injection unit is mounted on a 40-degree angle on top of the moving platen, where it rests on a carriage mounted to a linear guide, which is supported by the stationary platen. The nozzle stays in direct contact with the mold, so no additional injection-unit movement has to be factored into cycle time.
Ferromatik Milacron and Foboha GmbH Formenbau have collaborated on more than 110 stack turning molds since 1998, according to Robert Hare, general manager of Ferromatik Milacron U.S.A. “We believe we are the technological leader in turning stack and multicomponent molding,” Hare said.
Hare declined to identify customers, but he said that most of these superhigh-output systems are in the United States. Custom molders own more of the turning stack systems than proprietary-product companies, he said.
* A 550-ton all-electric Powerline NT press running a fully automated cell produces a fully assembled flowerpot/base combi-nation, complete with an RFID label (radio-frequency-identification). The same product normally requires two injection presses and downstream labor.
Milacron put the two molds, for the pot and the base, in a single machine, with a D-M-E sequential valve-gate hot runner. The application demonstrates the new Mosaic control's standard setup, which permits sequential injection.
After molding, a robot moves both parts to a conveyor, where the label is applied and the parts are assembled together.
Andy Stirn, the Powerline product manager, said the flowerpot is an example of a commodity part that could be molded in cheap-labor countries, bolstered with automation to remove hand-assembly.
The Powerline NT at NPE 2006 introduces a direct-drive injection unit with a single roller-screw actuator — five times faster than a ball screw, the company claims. Milacron said that reduces noise and inertia. A direct, rack-and-pinion drive powers the toggle clamp.
* A 110-ton, Roboshot S2000iB all-electric press is molding medical fluid separators using Priamus in-mold cavity temperature sensors to control the timing of the coining process — which is used to put the diaphragm on the part. The ultrathin wall section is created by an electric cylinder triggered by the cavity sensor, which immediately detects when the melt flow hits the sensor position.
According to Milacron, since the actuation has to happen before the end of fill, you can't use pressure, screw position or cavity pressure to get the melt front location inside the cavity.
Features of the new S2000iB model includes injection acceleration from zero to 300 millimeters a second in less than 30 milliseconds, artificial intelligence and wider tie-bar spacing.
A new moving-platen design produces a more-equal pressure distribution across the mold face.
The S2000iB is being introduced to North America with 110-ton models at the booths of Milacron, Moldflow Corp. (Booth S1470) and Staubli Corp. (Booth S1485), and a 55-ton model at Universal Dynamics Inc. (Booth S2249).
* The sixth generation of Milacron's Magna hydraulic toggle press, a new version of the MT that combines a small footprint with a fast lock-over-clamp, new easy-service hydraulics and a bolt-on secondary injection unit. The press is using a spinning stack mold to make a polypropylene perfume cap with a thermoplastic elastomer soft-touch area.
The bolt-on injection unit is positioned vertically, in an L shape.
* Uniloy Milacron is showing what it calls the first multilayer reciprocating blow molding machine — for an unusual application of milk or soy-based beverages with a six-month shelf life without refrigeration.
The three-layer bottles are targeted to consumers in developing countries that have limited access to refrigeration, said Richard Smith, marketing and sales director for reciprocating-screw technologies. At NPE 2006, Uniloy is molding Euro-standard, nonhandled bottles on the first such press, called the UMR2000-3L.
The bottles weigh 28-32 grams each, or just under an ounce to about 1.13 ounces, and have a 43mm neck finish.
Key to the long shelf life is the inner barrier layer that does not allow light to get inside, and a sterile production environment. The machine uses sterile air to blow the bottles in an enclosed, pressurized clamping area.
A proprietary mechanical sealing method in the blowing cycle seals the containers, entrapping the sterile air inside the bottle until filling. A patented mechanical volume evacuation system eliminates the need for a typical vacuum system.
Milacron will show three extruders:
* A TPI-155-26 parallel twin-screw extruder for running rigid profiles, flexible PVC pelletizing or wood-flour composites. The extruder, with a 115mm screw diameter, can pump out 2,000 pounds of PVC pipe and sheet an hour, 1,600 pounds of profiles, 1,815 pounds of siding and 2,200 pounds for PVC pelletizing.
TPI extruders have a length-to-diameter ratio of 26-1 or 33-1, covering a wide spectrum of applications.
* A TC-86 conical twin-screw extruder that boasts high-volume, low-shear homogenous melts, especially with high-fiber loading, natural fiber blends and sensitive materials. The large-diameter screws run from 176mm tapering to 86mm, with a L-D ratio of 27-1. An optimized surface area in the feed zone gives faster, more uniform heat transmission from the screw to the material.
The tapered design also allows for a larger feed zone, for fluffy material with light bulk density, like wood flour, and compresses the material during processing so it gets completely wetted out, the company said.
* A single-screw Akron Milacron PAK 350 extruder, offering “plug-and-play” installation, with custom configurations for specific applications.
In news about parts and service, Milacron's ServTek unit is demonstrating the principle of Barr Inc.'s ET and VBET injection screws, using a medium that simulates plastic pellets. Milacron partnered with Barr last year, to manufacture and sell the screws in the United States. The screws are available on new injection presses or as an aftermarket on any brand of machine, ServTek said.