YORK, PA. — When, in 2007, Weatherchem Corp. landed a client that would boost business by 25 percent, the company had to expand — but carefully and within its existing 45,000-square-foot facility.
Robert Rodgers, technical engineering manager at the Twinsburg, Ohio-based injection molder, said it was a unique opportunity to get in on the all-electric press trend.
"It can be really hard to justify a new machine," Rodgers said. "Especially a new kind of machine. But we were growing. And from the standpoint of growing, [the Engel machines] were more attractive because we were growing and we were able to do it more sustainably than we originally thought possible."
Sustainability and green manufacturing were only some of the buzzwords tossed around as Austrian press maker Engel and its partners highlighted the abilities of their electric presses and other packaging trends April 24-25 at the company's North American headquarters in York.
Making the move from hydraulic to electric has not been as popular in the United States as is has in Europe and South America, said Christoph Steger, vice president of Engel Austria GmbH's packaging unit. But he said the projected 60 percent energy savings and 80 percent water cooling savings make an attractive argument for those in the market for new presses that are proving themselves more every day.
"Two years ago, this wasn't something people thought you could do on an electric press," said Joachim Kragl, Engel North America's director of advanced molding systems and processing, holding up a bright green 12-liter pail fresh off the Engel e-motion 2440/420 T US with an optimized thermally balanced cooling and air delivery system mold by Top Grade Molds of Mississauga, Ontario.
"And we're running at 10.2 seconds right now," Kragl said. "That's pushing the envelope. The kind of pail was the last frontier for electric presses."
The difference between a traditional hydraulic press and an optimized all-electric press is like the difference between driving a Yaris and a Formula 1 race car, Steger said, but getting a new trend rolling can be slow at first.
"Generally, but especially here in the U.S., no one wants to be first. This is not exclusive to injection molding. We see it with all the new technology in our portfolio," he said.
Of the energy savings, Weatherchem's Rodgers said: "That's real. And that couldn't be more attractive. There is no getting around the kind of energy usage we see in plastics. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our customers and to society to use it well."
Weatherchem is now a part of Mold-Rite Plastics LLC.
The continuing green trend extends from manufacturing processes to products themselves.
John Fleischer, Universal Dynamics Inc.'s vice president of sales and marketing, addressed the growing push from consumers for biodegradable plastics and industry's slow but steady response.
"Bioresin is not something that's fading away," he said. "It's predicted to grow at a 15 percent rate for the foreseeable future," he said.
While the advantages of PLA are many — from the composting and cogeneration disposal options to the fact that it can be run on existing equipment — there is a learning curve, especially when it comes to material handling and transport, Fleischer said.
"Reducing energy consumption is going to become a way of life," he said. "HIPS, ABS, PET, styrene, PP, these could all be replaced with PLA and to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars saved per year by processors."
But processors must take the plunge and learn about PLA's drying characteristics and get ahead of potential conveyance issues first.
Lightweighting is also a trend that shows no signs of disappearing. Trexel Inc's MuCell technology adds nitrogen bubbles to plastic. The foaming result, said Brent Strawbridge, Trexel's vice president of North American sales, is a lighter part that meets sustainability goals, is more dimensionally stable, made at a lower cost without affecting the product's recyclability.
But ever-decreasing weights does more than keep customers and environmentalists happy. Constant mold and process refinements put money back in processor's pockets, said Johannes Strassner, chief sales officer at Swiss mold-maker Schöttli AG.
One Schöttli customer was churning out 614 million 2.2 gram standard cap closures per year with a 4.5 second cycle time. After a series of generational refinements, it is now making 790 million standard cap closures functionally identical to the old ones, but weighing in at 1.7 grams each on a 3.5 second cycle on the same 96-cavity system running 8,000 hours per year — at a $473,000 savings in resin costs.
"We are forced by our customer more and more to optimize energy consumption for the mold," Strassner said. "We are seeing with this drive to increase efficiency, findings from one operation help us to optimize many other functions. Saving time, saving money, saving energy, wherever we can this is where things are going."