LOSSBURG, GERMANY — Once again at Arburg's Technology Days the tiny Black Forest town of Lossburg became a global plastics mecca, as 6,800 visitors descended on the event, held March 19-22.
They studied more than 40 exhibits of Allrounder injection molding presses, including the new Freeformer, an additive manufacturing machine that Arburg unveiled at K2013. They saw direct injection molding over long-fiber reinforced sheets, overmolding of thick-wall LED lenses for car headlights, even a press molding ceramic dental crowns. They witnessed a press molding 64 irrigation drippers on a 1.8-second cycle.
Michael Hehl, managing partner of Arburg GmbH + Co. KG, said about 54,000 visitors have visited Technology Days since it began in 1999. “Our traditional event in March has been a magnet for the international plastics industry for many years,” he said.
The 6,800 attendees this year is almost the size of Lossburg's entire population (7,800). The annual Technology Days is a major logistical feat, as the company organizes hotel rooms in surrounding towns, transportation and meals.
Technology Days drew 260 people from the United States, a record number. Arburg is building a new U.S. headquarters in Rocky Hill, Conn., and company executives said the United States remains Arburg's biggest export market.
And every year, there is more to see — like a Disneyland for lovers of technology. For many, the highlight is touring the highly automated factory, where a self-directed pick-and-place system fills bins with components that move on gondolas hanging from five miles of overhead rails, to the assembly area. Arburg runs automated machines making tie bars and welding machine bases. Technicians assembly controllers upstairs, and shuttle then down to the assembly floor.
During the tours, Arburg's 1,900 Lossburg employees kept on making injection presses. Arburg generated about 470 million euros ($650 million) in 2013. Company officials do not reveal how many presses are made each year.
Attendees saw a completely redesigned historical exhibit, first walking through a corridor with giant photographs of brothers Karl and Eugen Hehl, following them from boyhood to more recent years. Karl Hehl died in 2010. At the 2014 Technology Days, Eugen met customers from around the world, often hanging out in the well-stocked cafeteria area.
People strolled through an Efficiency Arena, seeing demonstrations of small-batch production—and even one-off production of toy cars, each with an individual QR code that showed detailed production and quality data.
On the management side, this Technology Days marked a major transition, as Herbert Kraibühler prepared to end a 50-year career at Arburg. He turned the reins over to Heinz Gaub as the incoming managing director of technology and engineering.
Gaub, giving a tour for the trade press, said demand has grown for Arburg to supply complete production cells, with more-complex machinery and automation.
Here are some highlights from Technology Days:
• A small magnifying glass molded from liquid silicone rubber, showing that LSR can give good optical properties.
• A work cell molding a thick, LED car lens in a press with 40 metric tons of clamping force, using a rotating tool that cycles through three injection units, with a cooling step between each injection station. Gaub said the key is molding different sections of the lens with no knit lines, and keeping a precise optical function.
• A machine molding a structural demonstration from a thermoplastic composite. A long-glass-fiber reinforced sheet—called an organic sheet--is heated, then shaped before the 400-tonne injection press does back injection-compression molding to inject the polypropylene around the sheet. The plastic can even go through the sheet to flow through mold, according to Christian Götze, head of research and development at Georg Kaufmann Formenbau AG, the Swiss maker of molds and process development. A six-axis robot moves the sheet through the operation.
• In a high-speed packaging application, an all-electric 400-ton Arburg Alldrive-e press turned out teaspoons in a high-cavitation mold. A Campetella side-entry robot removed the spoons and stacked them in a fixture. Then a five-axis ABB robot moved them to a conveyor, where groups of the spoons ran through a Lafer packaging line and into small plastic bags.
• Another press, a 180-tonne hybrid Hidrive P, cranked out two square food containers on a cycle of under three seconds.
The machines were displayed in Arburg's glass-walled Customer Center, which looks on the picturesque German town.