Back in the 1980s, all-electric injection molding machines first came on the scene.
It took some time before the technology was perfected, costs became competitive, and injection molders became convinced of the advantages of leaving hydraulic technology behind.
Today, all-electric presses hold nearly 50 percent of the U.S. market, and a much larger share of the market in Japan.
Now the blow molding machinery market may be poised for a similar changeover. Several major blow molding equipment suppliers featured their first all-electric machines at K 2007, held Oct. 24-31 in Dusseldorf, and executives lauded the technology.
``This is our direction for the future. That's what this machine represents,'' said Gary Carr, national sales director for Bekum America Corp., the Williamston, Mich.-based arm of Berlin's Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH.
Bekum used K 2007 to introduce its EBlow machine, which it touted for energy savings, shorter production cycle times, high precision, reliability and low-maintenance requirements.
Pharmaceutical customers like the idea of all-electric machines because of their cleanliness, Carr said. But general-purpose blow molders can appreciate that the machine can attain energy-savings of up to 25 percent over hydraulic machines.
Nissei ASB Machine Co. Ltd. also introduced its first commercial all-electric blow molding machine at K 2007. The injection stretch blow molding machine has shown a dramatic reduction of electricity consumption - up to 60 percent, according to Jamie Pace, vice president and general manager at Nissei ASB Co., the Nagano, Japan-based company's Atlanta-based unit that handles U.S. and Canadian sales.
Nissei ASB introduced all-electric technology last year on a prototype machine. Kota Aoki, director and general manager of the parent company, said the current machine is about 50 percent more expensive than a comparable hydraulic machine - a price premium that he believes will come down very soon.
``We want to have another year, and we will reduce the cost of this machine,'' Aoki said. He expects that when the cost is about 20 percent more than hydraulic models - which is the company's goal in 2008 - sales will take off.
``This is exactly what was done in injection molding machines,'' Aoki said. But he predicted that it will take a little longer before all-electrics win close to a majority of the blow molding market. ``The life cycle of this type of machine is longer,'' so blow molders are replaced less frequently, he said.
Techne SpA also introduced an all-electric machine at K 2007 - a long-stroke, all-electric extrusion blow machine designed to deliver high productivity along with energy savings of 35 percent compared with hydraulic equipment.
The machine, dubbed Advance, uses a new shuttle motion, and features a modular design that can handle between one and four shuttles. The flexible machine is capable of production with as few as four and as many as 40 cavities. In the United States, the Bologna, Italy-based company is represented by Techne North America Inc. of Aurora, Ontario.
Uniloy Milacron launched a hybrid blow molding machine at K 2007 - the UMS 16HS - which it said provides energy savings of as much as 22 percent. The firm said it achieved the efficiency by replacing all drive units, except the clamp, with electrical technology. Opting for electric drives also makes the machine more suitable for clean-room production and helps reduce noise.
The electrical drives also provide faster machine movements, while an optimized mold cooler and two-post cooling stations help deliver an output of around 180 pieces an hour.
Chris Smith, editor of European Plastics News, a sister publication to Plastics News, contributed to this report.