Pushed by both rising environmental concerns about plastics and global cost pressures, Japanese injection press maker Nissei Plastic Industrial Co. Ltd. is making serious efforts to expand its business beyond traditional oil-based plastics and also look at alliances or partnerships to reduce manufacturing costs.
Rising concerns about petrochemical-based plastics, for example, have pushed the company to develop an injection press that uses paper pulp and starch to mold CD jewel boxes and other packaging that typically have been made from plastic.
Nissei, one of Japan's largest injection press suppliers, is also looking seriously at business partnerships with firms outside Japan that could help it reduce manufacturing costs, said President Hozumi Yoda, during a Nov. 8 interview at the International Plastics Fair held Nov. 7-11 in Tokyo.
Yoda declined to say much about the possible partnerships, noting it's a sensitive topic, but he said he has become increasingly convinced during the last year it will be a ``necessary'' step for the company.
Nissei has reacted more cautiously than some Japanese rivals in setting up factories in lower-cost locations, waiting until earlier this year to announce its plans to build its first press factory in China. Yoda said that project has now been delayed at least six months by the slowing economy but is still proceeding.
It's not clear how Nissei's partnership would compare with its domestic rival Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd., which attracted much attention earlier this year when it purchased German press maker Demag Plastics Group. That was the first major merger between a Japanese and European press supplier.
Yoda's comments suggest Nissei may have different goals in mind, but some industry executives believe more global links in the industry are inevitable, as customers want a worldwide product platform.
Both Nissei's green-technology developments and the talk of business alliances, while in the early stage, suggest the scope of environmental and economic changes facing the industry.
For example, Yoda said that 10-15 percent of Nissei's business in three years could come from technology outside traditional petrochemical plastics, such as paper molding, an effort to combine carbon nanotube technology with plastics, or developments with bio-based plastics.
But he also cautioned that it's very hard to predict how that market will develop, depending on government regulations and new technology developments from petrochemical plastics.
The company unveiled its latest technology offerings at the fair, which is Japan's largest.
The pulp injection molding machine, or PIM, is a joint project of Nissei, Japanese firm Daiho Industrial Co. Ltd. and the University of Tokyo. The PIM technology was first developed by Daiho in 1998, but the three partners have worked together for the past three years to improve it and put it to practical use, Nissei said.
PIM products have less than 40 percent of the carbon footprint of both oil-based PP and bio-based polylactic acid, and much less than other types of plastics, Nissei said. The company said PIM is biodegradable, can be recycled and is marketing it as an ``eco-friendly substitute for petroleum-based plastics.''
Nissei also showed a hybrid press to mold carbon nanotube materials, including molding couplings for automotive fuel tanks in a two-cavity mold.
The nanotube couplings were being made on a machine using the company's previously developed hybrid X pump system, which combines servomotor drive technology and hydraulic drive technology and can cut energy use by 55 percent compared with traditional Nissei hydraulics, the company said.
The company also showed a hybrid machine for molding liquid silicone rubber, a compact 7- ton molding machine with the X pump and a hybrid vertical injection machine using the X pump technology.