A new cellulosic version of FibreTuff will help Innovative Plastics and Molding open new markets for injection molding wood-plastic composites, IPM founder Robert Joyce said.
The cellulose FibreTuff has good heat resistance and low moisture content, so it does not have to be dried as long as regular FibreTuff. It also delivers a whiter pellet than regular FibreTuff and competing biopolymers, he said.
Joyce spelled out new developments at his 8-year-old Toledo company during a recent interview. One of his early products was a wood-plastic decorative baluster spindle — the long, vertical parts that support a railing — made using gas-assisted injection molding. He said that product shows how FibreTuff has good melt strength and flow.
Another key: creating a “resin-rich surface” that hides the wood fibers.
But in the years since, Joyce has worked with molders and compounders to develop new applications. He decided not to work on decking or other construction products, which are typically made by extrusion. Instead, Innovative Plastics and Molding concentrates on injection molding, where the natural look and green nature of wood-plastic bioresins can differentiate the technology.
“There's a lot of low-hanging fruit” for wood-plastic composites injection molding, Joyce said.
Applications are shaking loose. Joyce said almost a million pounds of FibreTuff have gone into molded products in the last 11/2 years.
A toll compounder that Joyce said does not want to be identified is making the FibreTuff material.
Amplas Compounding Inc. in Sterling Heights, Mich., does the custom compounding, coloring and pelletizing to create tailored blends for specific end-use applications. Richard Gall, Amplas general manager, said he likes the new cellulose FibreTuff. “I feel it's going to be a superior product for coloring and matching colors, plus it's going to give you more overall better physical properties to the end user,” he said.
FibreTuff is being distributed by another company, Jamplast Inc. in Ellisville, Mo. “We're trying get the material into the durables product, where we're using the woodflour for the aesthetics,” Jamplast President John Moisson Jr. said. “Cellulose is more of a heat-resistant material.”
Polypropylene-based FibreTuff can be mixed with PP, polyethylene or nylon. “It's got some compatibilizer and coupling agents that will give it better adhesion, as well as heat-deflection temperature. It makes it more of an alloy composite,” he said.
This summer, Joyce said, FibreTuff became a certified “biopreferred” product, in the category of intermediate resin, under the Department of Agriculture. That means a company using FibreTuff can use the certification.
“That's a key thing for helping sell to state and local governments. Once they see that biopreferred label, then that should [create] preferential status in purchasing that product,” Joyce said.
IPM is promoting FibreTuff's use in several markets, including furniture, automotive, packaging and caps and closures. For automotive, for example, a thin FibreTuff component can be insert molded onto a substrate such as an interior car panel. For furniture, the bioresin could be molded over a wood hardboard to produce a seat.
Joyce also said sheets of FibreTuff could be thermoformed into microwave food packaging or drink cups.
Some FibreTuff customers are working on projects they can't say much about because the products are not commercial. Doyle Shamrock Industries, an injection molder and mold builder in Holland, Ohio, makes consumer products such as cleaning supplies.
“We're working on some products with the material, but we're not at liberty to disclose the details,” President Michael Doyle said.
Another custom molder, Illinois Valley Plastics Inc. of Washington, Ill., is molding parts out of FibreTuff. One promising application: single-use plugs and other masking parts used during painting in the manufacturing process of a producer of heavy equipment, according to Jim Mechowski, sales manager.
The parts get discarded, so Mechowski said it makes sense to use FibreTuff compounded with recycled plastic. Currently, IVP molds the parts from virgin resin. “Why am I throwing virgin polymer material in the trash can 30 days after it's molded?” he said. “Why use virgin plastic when you can use recycled?”
IVP has worked with Illinois State University to do material and property testing of FibreTuff with recycled plastic.
Multiject LLC of Rochester, Mich., also is sampling FibreTuff on some parts, President Jack Elder said. He declined to give details.
Joyce said molders are using their expertise and technology to bring the polymer to the surface, so the fibers are not exposed to moisture. That improves properties such as weatherability and flexural strength, he said.
Two technologies that can impart a resin-rich surface are RocTool, which uses induction to rapidly heat the mold surface and then quickly cool it with water, and Single-brand equipment, which cycles between hot and cold water or oil to change the mold temperature.
Joyce said the fast mold heating brings the resin to the surface.
His years of working with biopolymers has made Joyce an authority. He will speak at the Society of Plastics Engineers' TPO Automotive Engineered Polyolefins Conference, which runs Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Troy, Mich. He spoke in May at the International Biocomposites Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and in June at the Forest Products Society's International Convention in Washington.