High precision and process consistency despite a high variation of products — that's an accurate description of one of the leading manufacturers' of fruit crates and recyclable containers production. At Europlast, they calculate in kilograms and tons — but the quality of the products is tested even more precisely, in grams and millimeters. The climate-neutral company is able to face those challenges with the ENGEL duo injection molding machines.
Europlast combines quality with efficiency and sustainability thanks to ENGEL duo machines
Process consistency is key for stacked fruit crates
Fifty kilograms of plastic — many injection molding machines need many cycles for such a quantity. At Europlast in Carinthia, the standards are different. Here, large containers with individual shot weights of up to 50 kilograms are produced: fruit crates for agriculture, logistics and recyclables containers for industry and municipalities, as well as individual large plastic parts made to order — and in an impressive variety of shapes and colors, as a tour of the company premises in Dellach im Drautal shows. Long gone are the days of uniform grey containers and even the geometric variety of the containers is impressive. Apples require a different box design than pears or plums, and even apples — depending on the variety and size — do not have uniform requirements.
Europlast is one of the three largest suppliers of plastic injection molded container solutions in Europe. Depending on the product, production is primarily from HDPE, but also from recycled goods from post-consumer material. Environmental awareness is important to the company.
"Since 2019, we have been a climate-neutral company. We have achieved this through many energy-saving measures and by switching to 100 percent green electricity," Europlast Head of Technology and Innovation Michael Seifter said.
"In harmony with nature" is the processor's motto, which plays a role in every decision. The topics of recycling, CO₂ footprint and, above all, the energy efficiency of the company's own production are important.
"We try to produce in a resource-friendly way and with as little impact on the environment as possible,” Seifter said. “That's why we place these requirements on our production machines. In ENGEL, we have found a partner in spirit."
Energy consumption further reduced
ENGEL duo injection molding machines are located in the spacious production hall. The large-scale machine series offers inherently low energy consumption compared to other machine types and brands. Contributing factors include the fast-clamping unit with low moving masses, short-stroke cylinders, optimized mold movement and the ecodrive servo-hydraulics with a demand-oriented pump output. When the machine is at a standstill, for example during cooling, the motors are also at rest and do not consume any energy.
Europlast and ENGEL have been working together since 2004, and from the very beginning ENGEL has adapted the injection molding machines precisely to the individual requirements of its customer. This applies to the injection units, for example, as Europlast requires comparatively low injection pressures due to cascade control. To save even more energy, the latest duo 4000, delivered in 2020, was equipped with an electric metering drive. Including peripherals and automation, the total energy requirement per cycle is thus less than 11 kWh.
"Thanks to their high energy efficiency, the ENGEL duo machines pay for themselves in less than three years," said Seifter, who is very satisfied with the investment, not only for reasons of sustainability, but also for economic considerations.
Availability is crucial
Technically, the duo series has everything that is crucial for efficient and reproducible production of large boxes. The consistently high product quality is crucial for the stability of the boxes and thus a decisive safety factor.
"During the apple harvest, up to five tons of weight are stacked high, 14 boxes on top of each other," explained Seifter.
Such towers of apple crates can then grow to a height of around 10-12 meters. Despite the thin-wall construction, even the lowest crate must be stable.
Depending on the apple variety, the boxes have a shot weight of between 25 and 40 kg. Uniform injection and weight consistency are the prerequisites for completely filling the cavities and achieving a reproducible wall thickness distribution despite the long mold cores. Only then are the boxes load bearing and can be safely interlocked when stacked.
The clamping unit is also crucial for performance and efficiency.
"The ENGEL duo machines are among the fastest machines on the market. Opening, closing and locking are unproductive times. Here, the duo is very fast, which is directly reflected in the cycle time," explained Seifter, emphasizing yet another aspect that speaks in ENGEL's favor: high system availability. "Fruit crates are not pre-produced in stock, but on-demand at harvest time. I have to be able to rely on the machine being available exactly when I need it."
Process consistency with recycled material
An essential component of resource-saving production is the use of recyclate. According to the Foodstuffs Act, recycled materials are not yet permitted for fruit crates, but the proportion of recyclable material containers is steadily increasing. In use, the recyclable containers have to withstand different stresses than fruit crates, which only require static stability because the climatic conditions at the time of harvest vary little. Waste bins, on the other hand, are exposed to dynamic loads, from -30 °C in Scandinavian winters to +45 °C and more in Israel, for example.
The raw materials for the production of the recyclable containers with recyclate content come from post-consumer fractions in the sense of the circular economy. The somewhat fluctuating material consistency must be compensated for by the injection molding machine with its high precision.
The high process stability of the ENGEL machines also proves to be an advantage for Europlast in contract manufacturing. Around 30 percent of production is contract manufacturing for different industries and different sized parts with ever new molds and the trend is rising. The production hall in Carinthia is therefore not only home to the large-scale machines of the duo series.
"ENGEL supports us very well with customized solutions to be able to produce flexibly," said Seifter.
In the future, the two "partners in spirit" will continue to work together on new projects in order to meet the requirements arising primarily from the CO₂ issue.
"We will continue to work on energy efficiency and increase the proportion of recycled materials," said Seifter.
Above all, he hopes to soon be able to use recyclates for fruit crates as well.