The Charlotte, N.C.-based Polymers Center of Excellence installed its sixth extrusion line and is planning a 12,000-square-foot addition as it adds capabilities and capacity for instruction, research and trial manufacturing.
Established in 1999 by the state of North Carolina, the nonprofit center provides technical support and assistance in the development of emerging technologies in the plastics industry with a focus on custom compounding, physical and analytical testing, injection molding and workforce development.
The newly installed 40-millimeter Leistritz machine equips the center with the latest compounding technology and increases capacity, according to Tom McHouell, president of the affiliated Polymers Technology Center, which is housed in the same space.
"We will have the ability to compound high temperature engineering polymers that we have not in the past," McHouell said in an email.
Having a sixth extrusion line will give the center another scale machine for developmental work and help decrease lead times.
"Initially it will be set up to strand pelletize, but we will be able to underwater pelletize in the near future," McHouell said.
The center now has five twin-screw extruders — four built by Leistritz — and one single-screw extruder for single-layer cast or blown film trials.
A 21 mm twin extruder in the lab is the only twin that is not a Leistritz. The others are Leistritz's 27 mm Maxx, 40 mm Maxx and two 50 mm Maxx machines.
The polymers center also has three injection molding machines — a 55-ton Arburg, 55-ton Shibaura and 85-ton Engel — for making test specimens for the lab, prototype molding and process setup as well as Wittmann machines, including a granulator for regrind studies for customers, a dryer used for moisture-sensitive resin and a robot for picking molded parts out of the machine.
For materials analysis, the center's customers can study viscosity, get a shear rate curve for a polymer sample in to design a mold or die, determine the exact composition of a sample part and analyze a part that has failed, according to Executive Director Phil Shoemaker.
"Sometimes our customers suspect that the feedstocks that they are using are not consistent. We can determine whether they are, and if not, by how much they differ," Shoemaker added.
The center's staff also gets a fair number of requests to determine the physical properties of a new compound or polymer through tensile, impact, heat deflection and other tests.
"We are the only facility that we know of where a customer can design a compound, make it, mold test bars and test them all under one roof," Shoemaker said.
The center then can scale up and run larger amounts of material or pilot production volumes, McHouell added.
Full production runs aren't offered so the center doesn't become competition to customers.