ORLANDO, FLA. — Executives of Austria-based Engel Holding GmbH are bullish on the North American market, where the U.S. injection press market is solid — and also on Europe, despite its more-tepid economy.
Credit the two A's: Automotive and Automation.
“Our largest market that we have globally is the automotive business unit,” Mark Sankovitch, president and CEO of Engel North America, said at the company's Tuesday morning news conference.
Sankovitch said carmakers are working to reduce weight in vehicles — which opens the door to new technologies that combine injection molding and composites. Engel has created a technology center for lightweight composites at its plant in St. Valentin, Austria.
“Where we see a big growth in the automotive sector, especially in North America, is the composites technology that's out in the marketplace,” he said. Some of the technology is moving over from the aerospace industry.
At NPE 2015, Engel molded a fiber-reinforced nylon brake pedal for Germany's ZF Friedrichshafen AG, to replace a much heavier steel pedal. Engel calls it the Organomelt process. On the work cell, a five-axis Engel easix robot picked up a composite sheet and places it in an infrared preheating oven located above the clamping area of a 220-ton vertical injection press. The sheet moves down to the press and was immediately overmolded with nylon. A finished part came out, with no need for trimming.
The ZF brake pedal is 30 percent lighter than conventional steel brake pedals.
In Europe, car sale growth is not as robust as the United States, and the economies of key countries are pretty flat. “But the plastics industry is really growing,” said Engel CEO Peter Neumann.
Neumann said European automakers such as BMW, Mercedes and Saab continue to invest in new plastics technology. “The plastics industry is really growing,” he said. “If you read the news and see what the economists say, we have a really different situation in our industry.”
Neumann said very low interest rates also make it easy to finance equipment in Europe, where Engel claims to hold a 35 percent market share.
“It's a very unique situation we have for this moment,” Neumann said.
Engel Holding is based in Schwertberg, Austria. Engel North America is in York, Pa.
In another automotive application in Orlando, a 660-ton Engel duo press made a center console component from polycarbonate/ABS — combining MuCell microcellular foam for light weight and a RocTool system that rapidly heats and cools molds, for a high-gloss surface finish.
The center console demonstrated Engel's variomelt and foammelt technologies.
Neumann said the U.S. economy stands out in the world right now.
“I'm very optimistic, especially here in the U.S. The energy, this is a big issue, and I think the U.S. has done the right step forward,” Neumann said. “The result is the U.S. economy is coming back and growing again and we are benefitting from our machines and our technologies, and we see a very good situation here for the next two or three years, I think.”
North and South America account for 22 percent of Engel's total business, he said.
Neumann said Engel is the world's largest injection molding machinery maker. Sales for the fiscal year 2014-2015, which ended March 31, were expected to reach $1.38 billion, up 11 percent from $1.24 billion in 2013-2014.
Engel executives at NPE 2015 also touted automation. Neumann said Engel's automation business grew 11 percent last year. “We're growing faster in automation than in injection molding,” he said.
Engel employs 200 people in automation in Austria. The company closed its automation facility in Guelph, Ontario, in 2007 during the Great Recession. Sankovitch said officials decided in 2012 to rebuild the North American automation operations, as the market had stabilized.
He said Engel employs about 10 automation employees in York — out of 147 total employees there. “We continue to hire engineers,” Sankovitch said.
He said automation is helping fuel the reshoring of manufacturing: “We're learning to automate. We're learning to take labor out of the process.”
In addition, Engel is developing an automation center at its plant in Shanghai.
At NPE, Engel also featured medical molding — and in-mold assembly — of a three-component drip chamber for blood transfusions. A 180-ton all-electric e-victory press made the part, assisted by an Engel six-axis robot. The mold rotated between two horizontal injection units and a vertical injection unit injects a third component. The parts are polypropylene and polystyrene.
After the 14-second cycle time, the robot removed the drip chambers and moved them to an automatic leak tester.
Sankovitch said medical original equipment manufacturers will spend more than $70 million on equipment this year, most of that for injection molding machines. “And that number is probably on the conservative side,” he said.
In another medical demonstration, Engel molded needle holders for insulin pens on a 96-cavity Braunform mold, using Hekuma automation. The cores have a diameter of just 0.3 millimeters. To counter core deformation, the injection unit of the Engel e-motion press has a direct drive. All 96 cavities are separated according to cavity, and the parts are automatically put into bags.
In packaging, a 720-ton Engel e-speed press, debuted in North America at NPE 2015, turned out 1.5-liter PP containers on a four-by-four cavity StackTeck mold, every 6.5 seconds. A CBW side entry robot needs only half a second to remove the containers from the mold.
Joachim Kragl, Engel's director of advanced molding systems and processing, said the all-electric e-speed stores and reuses kinetic energy from braking functions. That cuts overall energy use and reduces peaks of consumption, to lower electric bills.
“Not all electric machines are really built the same,” Kragl said. “Just because it's electric, does not mean it's an energy-efficient machine, per se.”