CMT International Report: Chinaplas 2013

According to official tallies from show organizers, Chinaplas 2013 drew 114,000 visitors from around the world. From the perspective of your humble correspondent, rumors of a decline in the plastics industry have been greatly exaggerated, at least on evidence of our booth traffic. We saw visitors from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, just to start with the Asian countries. Mexico, Brazil, Israel, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Netherlands and India were also represented as engineers and managers from toolmakers and thermoformers all stopped at our booth to talk/learn about syntactic foam for plug assist.

New CMT booth at Chinaplas New CMT booth at Chinaplas

It would appear that the efforts of our local distributor (Melchers Trading) to educate the market about syntactic foam have paid off as many customers came to the booth with specific questions on grades of HYTAC® material and how best to machine/polish them into plug assist shapes. While some processors continue to use basic materials such as POM or nylon for low performance requirements, the level of sophistication has clearly increased over the past 2-3 years. More complex parts, multi-layer materials and demanding customers mean that thermoformers require higher performance plug assist materials. Low thermal conductivity and dimensional stability are two key reasons why the HYTAC® line of plug assist materials continues to increase in popularity in these dynamic markets. Polypropylene cups seemed to be a popular topic and several thermoformers who were running plastic at the show were extruding and forming PP.

Chinaplas 2014 will return to Shanghai and we will certainly be there again. In the meantime, our 2013 calendar is booked solid with the following events:

AMI Thin Wall Packaging Conference: June 17-19, Chicago IL

Penn College Heavy-Gauge Thermoforming Workshop: June 18-20, Williamsport, PA

Penn College Thin-Gauge Thermoforming Workshop: June 25-26, Williamsport, PA

SPE Thermoforming Conference: September 9-12, Atlanta, GA

K 2013: October 16-23, Dusseldorf, Germany

Best Practice: Threading HYTAC® Plugs

HYTAC®-B1X and XTL are thermoplastic-based syntactic foams. Due to the thermoplastic base, both B1X and XTL are extremely tough and durable. Unlike traditional syntactic foams which require inserts, B1X and XTL can be direct threaded. For all other HYTAC® materials, CMT recommends use of slotted inserts bonded into the base of the plug. We have worked with machine shops and toolmakers to develop a series of best practices for both direct threading and insert installation. Our insert installation guide offers complete details.

For direct threading, we developed a tensile test and used our in-house material testing equipment to record the results in pounds force. B1X and XTL were tested. For inserts, what we have found is that direct scored aluminum inserts work very well. Some of the key success factors for this simple process include the elimination of coolant during cutting (for proper adhesive bonding) and face milling the bottom of the plug after insert installation (to ensure a flush mating surface for the plug to the base is created).  We typically recommend Loctite 495 for bonding and our pull-out test results were based on this adhesive.

Field Notes: AMI Thin Wall Packaging Conference

CMT participated in the 2nd annual AMI Thin Wall Packaging Conference this week in Wheeling, IL. This was the first time that we attended this seminar and based on what we heard and who we met, it is likely that we will return next year.

AMI is a global market research firm and they brought together some major players from the world of plastics packaging. For companies like CMT that operate in the B2B space working with toolmakers and thermoformers, it is always valuable to expand the frame of reference beyond the engineering challenges of our daily work. Not only did we hear from upstream resin suppliers such as Milliken Chemical (who debuted an interesting new app), major brands such as General Mills, Danone and Kraft Foods provided insight into the importance of customer acceptance of new package design. We had the opportunity to talk about the critical role that our syntactic foam plug-assist materials play in overall package design and finished part quality. Thermoformers, toolmakers, sheet suppliers and major converters as well as some injection molding suppliers were all present at the table-top exhibition. Barrier film technology, in-mold labeling and retort packaging were just a few of the topics presented.

Down-gauging and light-weighting were two key topics and ones that are central to our value proposition. The ability to reduce the starting thickness of thermoforming sheet (source reduction) while maintaining the integrity of package and the contents within provide clearly documented financial and environmental benefits. In addition, lower weight parts also contribute to improved end-of-life processes (waste reduction).

We frequently talk to our partners about the interplay of plug material, plug design, material selection and sheet temperature. During the AMI show, we were glad to hear about some new projects where people were talking not only about down-gauging, but also reducing sheet temperature. The topic of sheet temperature vs. oven temperature can be addressed in its own blog, but we were very pleased to hear that some people recognize the importance of running at the sheet’s optimal temperature.

In addition to technical presentations, we also heard interesting talks on market trends, including some statistics on M+A activity in the packaging space. There were 112 deals in the past 6 years, 60% of which were thermoforming-related. Of those deals, approximately 60% were done by strategic buyers and 40% were done by financial buyers. The speaker, John Hart from PMCF, sketched out 3 categories of deal types (low, mid, high) and provided EBIDTA multiple ranges for each: 5-6x for low; 6-7x for mid; 7-8.5x for high.

AMI are hosting the 8th annual European Thin Wall Event in Cologne this December and we are planning to attend.

Field Notes: National Hands-On Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Workshop

by Kathleen Boivin, Sr. Materials Engineer, CMT Materials

Last week, CMT participated in the 4th annual National Hands-On Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Workshop at Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn College) in Williamsport, PA.  CMT has participated in this workshop since its inception.  The first year, we attended the workshop as participants.  The last three years, we have supported the workshop with presentations on syntactic foam plug assist materials.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology and prides itself on degrees that work.  It is only one of five institutions in the country that provide an accredited plastics engineering technology program.  The workshop was sponsored by the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center (PIRC) and drew participants from six different companies in NY, MA, and PA.  The participants included machine operators, technicians, engineers, and purchasing managers.

Like the college, the workshop focused on hands-on learning by combining technical presentations with numerous labs.  The workshop was coordinated by Christopher Gagliano, Program Manager of the Thermoforming Center of Excellence (part of the PIRC) at Penn College.  Thermoforming expert, Jay Waddell of Plastic Concepts & Innovations, was the workshop leader.  Jay presented key information on heating the sheet, controlling vacuum, optimizing mold cooling and trouble-shooting.  Numerous guest speakers supported the workshop with presentations on their areas of expertise:

Roger Kipp of SPE: “Tooling Performance: The Little Things Mean a Lot”

Eric Short of PMC:  “Choosing the Right Material for the Job”

Dr. Joseph LeBlanc of Penn College:  “Heating & Cooling the Sheet”

Kathleen Boivin of CMT Materials:  “Optimizing the Cut Sheet Thermoforming Process with Syntactic Foam”

Sam Hacman of uVu Technologies – ToolVu: “Thermoforming Quality Control and Process Monitoring”

Bill Noderer of Raytek: “Explanation of Thermal Imaging Scanner Use & Benefits”

Our presentation focused on the fact that syntactic foam can be used anywhere that chilling of the sheet is an issue.  Often, heavy gauge formers do not use full-size syntactic foam plugs due to low volumes.  However, syntactic foam can be used as localized pushers, as mold inserts, on the clamp frame, and for prototype/low volume tooling.  Compared to other common assist materials such as wood and felt, syntactic foam offers the benefits of no bond lines, improved durability, minimal mark off, improved material distribution and part cost reduction (through down-gauging).

Participants acquired hands-on learning with labs in thermoforming, physical property testing, and extrusion.  In addition, a demonstration of CMT’s HYVAC vacuum fixture material was provided.

In the thermoforming lab, participants marked the sheet with gridlines so that they could visually see the material distribution.  They got to adjust machine parameters and see first-hand the impact of those changes.  The extrusion lab allowed participants to run the extruder, thread up the line and understand how hard it is to make good sheet.  The testing lab gave participants a better understanding of why sheet physical properties are important.  They got to see the effect of temperature on properties by testing the impact resistance of both room temperature and “frozen” sheet.

During the HYVAC demonstration, the benefit of being able to make a trim fixture quickly without machining was discussed.  The participants were given tips on fixture design and instructed on how to work with the material.  The participants got to work first-hand with the material and make several fixtures.

The participants enjoyed the workshop and found the information extremely valuable.  They especially appreciated the fact that about half of the workshop time was spent in the labs.  Penn College will be hosting the National Hands-On Thin Gauge Workshop on June 25 through 27.  Industry expert, Mark Strachan, of Global Thermoforming Technologies, will lead the workshop.