Florence, Ky. — Edward Gay, process engineering manager at KraussMaffei Corp. (KMC), monitored a nylon compounding process going through a strand pelletizer at the machine builder's North American headquarters.
Gay was conducting material development trials of a proprietary formulation that contains nylon and natural hemp fibers grown by BrightMa Farms Inc., a Charleston, S.C., agri-tech company. He was able to increase the filler content from 20 percent to 40 percent to improve critical material properties like rigidity while maintaining an incredibly low moisture content.
"We're light years ahead of where the customer has been in previous trials at other extrusion development locations," Gay said during a plant tour given to Plastics News.
In a meeting room above the test lab, BrightMa CEO Harold Singletary was smiling. He has been searching for the right material to produce an injection molded sustainable automotive part for a Volvo truck.
At KraussMaffei, Singletary had success with three formulations and seems to have found a partner to recognize his vision for what he describes as "growing a sustainable future one seed at a time."
"I was looking for one formulation. This is much more than I anticipated," Singletary said, calling Gay his Tony Stark — a fictional Marvel Comics industrialist and inventor who becomes Iron Man.
"Ed pushed the envelope. He showed we have room to expand the research and the capability to provide more natural fibers into this plastic resin. It was an amazing milestone week," he said.
It was the kind of week that has been unfolding more often at KMC, a subsidiary of Munich-based and China-owned KraussMaffei Co. Ltd. — a machine builder for plastics and rubber processors that is marking its 185th anniversary this year and has been issued some 1,200 patents over the decades.
The parent company generated 1.03 billion euros ($1.09 billion) in annual sales in 2022 with 4,700 employees at 50 sites.
In "Florence, Y'all," as the city water tower proclaims just south of the Ohio River, KMC generated $230 million in new machine sales and $90 million in after-market services in 2022.
From a global perspective, about 60 percent of KraussMaffei machines are for injection molding, 30 percent for extrusion and 10 percent are reaction process machinery (RPM), which includes equipment such as mixing heads, foaming tools, mold carriers and metering systems.
However, the sales mix varies by regions and markets. For the U.S., it's about 40 percent each for injection molding and extrusion and 20 percent for RPM, according to KMC President Nolan Strall.
The subsidiary has seen growing demand for extrusion equipment, PET chemical waste recycling systems and RPM — the latter from customers turning not only to polyurethane but also carbon fiber composites to produce lighter parts and components.