Officials of MGV Enterprises LLC said high resin prices and harsh economic demands placed on molders mean the time is ripe for the IntelliMold process, which is back on the market and owned by its creator, Milko Gergov.
IntelliMold monitors and controls the injection molding process by looking at it from the material's point of view - using transducers to constantly measure melt pressure at the nozzle and the last point of fill. Then IntelliMold instantly makes adjustments to the molding machine's processing variables and the screw velocity. An option brings in temperature measurement, to go with pressure.
The result, according to MGV President Gergov, is a self-compensating molding process that can eliminate bad parts.
``We're actually matching the nonlinear behavior of the material with the nonlinear behavior of the machine, in real time,'' he said.
Gergov, a native of Bulgaria who came to the U.S. in the late 1970s, sold IntelliMold to Textron Automotive Co. Inc. in 2000.
Plastics operations specialists at Textron coveted the closed-loop system, which makes adjustments every 2 milliseconds, to improve the company's sprawling molding operations by cutting scrap and cycle times.
Textron also wanted to license IntelliMold to processors outside of automotive. But in 2001, Collins & Aikman Corp. gobbled up Textron's plastic trim division. Gergov said that move effectively ended plans to market his invention throughout the plastics industry.
Collins & Aikman accepted Gergov's offer to buy back IntelliMold in early 2005. The giant automotive supplier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of that year.
Now Gergov has beefed up his marketing efforts by hiring Steve Schroeder, former president of equipment remanufacturer Epco Machinery LLC in Fremont, Ohio.
Now, ``[Gergov] wants to take it out to the public again,'' said Schroeder, who is vice president of sales, marketing and operations at MGV Enterprises, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
``There's no lock now on the type of customer it has to be. ... Now the time has come for this type of process even more, because of the economics and issues like just-in-time [and quality demands].
``The cost of materials is going up. People are being squeezed for pricing. So now they can't just be squirt-and-ship or shoot-and-ship.''
Profit margins are tough in injection molding. That puts a premium on superefficient production. But a decade ago, when IntelliMold first came out, it may have been ahead of its time, Gergov and Schroeder said.
Gergov developed his technology in the early 1990s, using his experience in engineering and complex mathematical calculations. In his work a decade earlier, when he helped set up turnkey aluminum and plastics plants, Gergov saw too many examples of companies spending big money on new machinery and tooling, but still generating too much scrap. The aluminum industry took special care to check the material before it was cast into the final products.
Gergov decided plastics needed that same level of performance. He started his own company in 1992. Soon after that, he patented his process.
IntelliMold won some interest early on, but Gergov said resin was relatively inexpensive then, and China was not a major factor yet. Fast-forward to 2007.
``The industry now is in the stage where you cannot afford any control which tells you that you can change your process [on the] next shot. You need to know, almost in milliseconds, if you're good or not, to prevent losses,'' Gergov said, in a voice that has retained its Bulgarian accent.
``Any information you're going to get that says, `I'm going to take a part and go to the lab and do analysis, then come back and change something' - that is a big loser. You cannot afford to run production anymore like this. You need a real-time indication of what's going on within your process.''
One big difference with the new version of IntelliMold is, the system has gone from using counterpressure to using melt-pressure control, thanks to today's faster computer processing and improved transducer technology, Schroeder said.
When he makes presentations, Gergov compares IntelliMold to a car's cruise control, which takes constant readings of all variables, from hills to head winds, and adjusts the speed. He also talks about a teeter-totter, with a big kid on one end and a small kid on the other end: IntelliMold keeps adjusting the fulcrum to keep everything in balance.
According to MGV Enterprises, IntelliMold self-compensates for a range of variables including hydraulic oil temperature; wear of the screw, barrel and check ring; changes in valves; material residence time in the barrel; hot/cold zones in the mold; temperature fluctuations in the hot runner; percent of regrind; and variations in melt index of the resin.
Also, machine starts are much faster and easier. Gergov talks about the ``golden-finger people'' - a reference to processing experts that input the data and ramp the process up with their finger on the controller. There aren't too many of these people around, he said, and they generate scrap parts until the press gets going. Once parameters are set, IntelliMold takes over.
MGV is promoting IntelliMold to machinery manufacturers and plastics processors in North America, Europe and Asia. Processors can buy kits that plug into existing machines. Schroeder said MGV is talking to major machinery makers about building IntelliMold into their press controllers and offering it as a standard option on new machines.
The company also has licensed two mold-tryout shops, in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and Schroeder said MGV is talking to others.
Injection molding is a big market, but IntelliMold also can be used for extrusion, blow molding and die casting. Users pay a one-time fee. There are no licensing fees.
If Gergov has his way, the plastics industry - even the golden-fingered gurus - will learn to think like the molten resin.