There have been many changes in the injection molding market since I started in the business in 1953. Today there are more than 200 suppliers of injection machines. The largest 13 have about 70 percent global market share.
The area of injection molding with the greatest developments today is mold making. There are many high-quality mold makers today coming up with innovative solutions to make injection molded parts less expensive and more environmentally friendly.
Our relationships with leading mold makers have a major impact on our business. Today our machines are at many of the best mold makers, including Yudo Inc., StackTeck Systems Ltd., Cap-Thin Molds, F&S Tool Inc., Accede Mold & Tool Co. Inc. and Electra Form Industries. We work with them to develop new applications requiring cube molding, inject-over-inject and stack machines, which can run two different single-face molds at the same time with different resins and different colors.
The fastest-growing market globally for injection molding is the medical business. Due to the need for cleanliness, this is one segment of the market that single-use plastic components are not widely criticized. For this market, we are developing a line of small tie-barless machines. We are also building a particle lab to document that our machines are not only as energy efficient as all-electrics but also just as clean.
The environment is going to become a bigger factor for the entire plastics field. It is up to all of us to lead by example of how to run environmentally friendly businesses. At Niigon, we make machines with a small footprint and with very low energy consumption. But we also run our operations with a minimal environmental impact.
Geothermal cooling and heating, daylight harvesting LED lighting, automated high density parts storage and state-of-the-art inspection equipment not only reduce our footprint but they reduce our costs.
We also support our customers in developing environmentally friendly products. One example is Fourmark Manufacturing Inc., which commercialized the first compostable single-serve coffee capsules.
Plastic recycling is the biggest challenge facing our industry. It is also the biggest opportunity. Many of our molding customers have embraced this and got involved in recycling years ago. Alpla-Werke Alwin Lehner GmbH & Co. KG is a prime example. As Gunther Lehner, CEO of Alpla says, "for plastics, recycling is the solution." It is far better for all of us in the industry to jump in and make positive changes now and publicize these improvements than wait for government mandates.
For injection machine suppliers, recycling puts more emphasis on the injection unit. Recycled content increases variability in the resin. Also, thinner, lighter-weight parts are often harder to fill. These factors require machines with higher injection rates and pressures as well as better injection control. Fine-tuning the screw designs for the many new variations in recycled resin specifications is a necessity.
The injection molding business has matured over the last 70 years. The challenges today are different. It is up to us, the members of this industry, to accept these challenges and change if we want to prosper.
Robert Schad is a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame who just celebrated his 90th birthday. He is the founder of Vaughan, Ontario-based Niigon Machines Ltd.