R&D/Leverage wants to give some “CPR” to the injection blow molding process — as R&D officials introduced what they called a greatly improved mold design at an open house.
CPR stands for “consistent process research.” The mold-making and product development firm has six patents covering the technology.
Major innovations create thermal separation and isolation between the mold cavity and key components like the neck inserts and the manifold nozzle. R&D/ Lev- erage also significantly reduced the number of water lines.
About 75 customers and people from partner companies attended the open house Sept. 15 at R&D Leverage's headquarters in Lee's Summit. Besides learning about CPR, they heard officials outline R&D's diversification strategy and explain the creation of new 20-ounce bottles for Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
On a plant tour, they saw a Uniloy Milacron model 78 blow molding machine equipped with a six-cavity CPR mold. The line made three different-shaped bottles from three different preforms out of the same tool.
“This technology has certainly been exciting to work on,” said Bruce Wardlow, product development director.
Wardlow said R&D/Leverage wanted to improve on injection blow molding, which he said has been considered a “black art” for too long.
“We've spent quite a bit of time researching the shortcomings of the IBM tooling, while trying to inject some new life into this 50-year-old technology,” he said.
Injection blow molding, which dates to the 1940s, produces bottles for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal-care items and household products. The machine injection molds a series of preforms, which while still hot, are transferred to a blowing station, then to an ejection station. The process produces bottles with precise dimensional accuracy that do not need trimming, since no flash is produced, unlike extrusion blow molding. The molded-in bottle necks are very precise.
But Wardlow said the process has remained tricky, especially during setup and changeover when the machine has to be started up again. He said different levels of thermal expansion between different parts of the system can cause problems. The injection-mold cavity is designed with the neck insert, and the manifold nozzle, and sometimes a gate insert, mounted into a machined pocket in the injection cavity, he said.
“The tight alignment between the nozzle and the mold cavity creates a significant heat sink at the nozzle,” Wardlow said.
To start up a tool, technicians often have to use blow torches to heat up the nozzles.
Another problem is the mold cavity blocks are aligned on the die-sets using key stocks, which can lead to parting line errors, he said.
Also, there are too many water channels in the traditional design. Side plates are used to route the cooling water into the injection cavities, which are sandwiched together, requiring multiple O-rings — all of which can cause water leaks, according to Wardlow. He displayed a slide with so many water lines it looked like spaghetti.
Wardlow outlined the patented CPR mold design.
First, the injection cavity is no longer located on the die-set with keyways. R&D/Leverage uses precision dowels, which deliver “pristine parting lines,” he said.
Also, there are no water lines going into the mold cavity. Instead, water runs through the die-sets, through one “in” line and one “out” line. Wardlow said that makes for easy connections.
“There's an absence of water lines in the injection cavity, so the temperature of the injection cavities are maintained by the preform temperature,” he said.
Thermally isolating the nozzle from the mold cavity separates heat from the cavity from the nozzle. “The nozzles don't require any torching,” Wardlow said. The nozzle tip is made from a low heat-conductive material, and there also is an air gap between the inner nozzle and the outer body.
Other patents cover areas including parison cavity temperature control, independently spaced injection cavities and neck inserts that are directly coupled to die-sets.
R&D/Leverage sets itself apart by tying in product design — Leverage Integrated Design — with its mold-making expertise.
Leverage's creative director, Corwyn Strout, said consumers today — especially young people — are looking at the environmental impact of products. These consumers use social media.
“They're not just looking at these products, but what they stand for,” he said. “They have something to say. They have a voice and they want to be heard,” Strout said.
At the open house, Tamara Christensen, Leverage research director, and Patrick George, Dr. Pepper Snapple's director of engineering, recapped the development of the new “Legacy” bottle, which replaced the 15-year-old “Splash Bottle” for 7UP, Sunkist soda, Canada Dry ginger ale and many other soft drink flavors. (Plastics News ran a page 1 story on the bottle in the June 20 issue). George said Dr. Pepper Snapple tried to develop a new 7UP bottle internally, but the company decided to bring in R&D/Leverage, one of its mold suppliers.
Christensen said the firm used an integrated team of designers, engineering and the soft drink company, with a strong focus on consumers. “We actually began with consumer research rather than letting the designers start designing — the old approach. We started to look at consumers,” she said.
Ultimately, the team narrowed it down to a few concept designs, then R&D/Leverage used stereolithography to make prototype bottles to bring back to consumers. Besides winning consumers' favor, the bottles had to run on production lines and fit into vending machines.
The entire process took just 28 weeks. George said the Legacy bottle has boosted sales since it was launched in April.
R&D is known for its bottle preform molds. “We're the largest tool shop in America that serves the rigid packaging industry,” said Mike Stiles, national account manager. But about 10 years ago, officials decided to expand into molds for other markets, such as health care, and home and personal care. R&D also makes tooling for the CD/DVD market. Those markets require precision machining to very close tolerances, which R&D already had in place with the packaging molds.
R&D/Leverage also had made tooling for liquid silicone rubber since 2006, Stiles said.
CEO Todd Riley said the broad customer base helped R&D/ Leverage continue to grow even during the recession. He said that this year, the company should have high-single-digit sales growth in the United States and double-digit growth in the United Kingdom, where R&D has a facility at Sutton-in-Ashfield, England.
R&D/Leverage, which employs 330, does not release sales data.
“We went through some tough times when the industry changed in the 1999-2000 era and we realized at that particular time we had all our eggs in one basket. And we have a lot of equipment that is obviously very technical equipment, tight-tolerance equipment,” Riley said.