Erie, Pa. — Speakers at a wide-ranging conference at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, covered everything from low-pressure injection technology and all-electric presses to new uses of foil and film, "smart" actuation of hot runner pins, mold cooling and material blenders — with some Industry 4.0 thrown in for good measure.
Other presentations at the Innovation and Emerging Plastics Technologies Conference detailed molding simulation, remote standardization of injection molds and drying systems.
The conference, June 19-20, drew 210 people to the university in Erie.
Joachim Kragl, director of advanced injection molding systems and processing at Engel Machinery Inc. in York, Pa., outlined how much in-mold decorating has changed during the past two decades. Initially, IMD was used to change colors on basic consumer products, like cellphone covers.
"So what's new in 2019? The original desire to change appearances of the parts did not really change. But what did change dramatically is the amount of functional integration that we now want to do with foils or films," he said.
Kragl passed around parts for a car center console, made with molded-in circuit boards and sensors. "You can integrate connections into the film preform," he said.
In-mold film is vacuum-formed into a preform, then inserted in the mold and back molded. In-mold decorating can be done in a reel-to-reel process and usually does not to be made into a preform, he said.
On automotive consoles, a driver or passenger can change settings with flat-screen buttons or gestures, like a smartphone. The light source goes through the film. A center console may have 200 pieces, but film molding reduces that to a single board, he said.
"What makes it very interesting for automotive is the assembly time of a part like that is reduced by about 90 percent," Kragl said. "You snap it in place. All the contacts are being done as soon as it's snapped in place. There's no connections, there's no fixtures, there's no bolts, and the electrical connection happens as well."
Kragl said film for molding has greatly advanced over the early days. Now you can use film and foil to make a wide range of surface textures — making its touch soft or silky or velvety or sticky — and even multiple textures in different areas of the same part.
Film also plays a big role in scratch-resistant coating of lenses, he said. The coating is on the carrier film, which is peeled off, leaving the coating on the lens.
Kragl said a "holy grail" application is coming: film with special additives to simulate chrome that will feel cold to the touch, not like "plastic" at all.
"There's really limitless possibilities of what can be done with film these days," he said.