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Keywords of this article:  injection molding 
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Georg Tinschert, Managing Director of Wittmann Battenfeld.
Georg Tinschert, Managing Director of Wittmann Battenfeld.
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The EU Commission has defined plastics as one of five key areas in its Circular Economy Action Plan. Europe's plastics processors have already been working on how to play a part in circular economy under VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association's Blue Competence initiative.

Wittmann Battenfeld, being one of the major injection molding machinery suppliers in the world, discusses the importance of promoting the use of recyclates.

Q: Are plastic recyclates already used as material in injection molding machines?

Mr. Tinschert:
They have been in widespread use for a long time already. And this should also be communicated. Since it is a point that helps to improve the image of plastics.

We all have to point out more strongly that plastics can be reused multiple times, and, in fact, are being reused. Recycling three, four- or even five times is possible nowadays. We have customers who use up to 100% recyclates for their applications. For example, transport boxes for vegetables are made of up to 100% recyclates.

Q: Are there special requirements for injection molding machines that use recyclates?

Mr. Tinschert:
You have to examine closely what the recyclate is made of. It can contain impurities which may harm the plastification system, for example, metallic matter, glass splinters or contaminants. You just need to be a little bit more careful.

If a customer tells us which recyclate they want to use, we take this into consideration when we configure the injection unit. This may lead us to use more wear-resistant materials for cylinders and screws. We can also install a filter that prevents contaminants to enter the machine.

Q: However, these adjustments cost extra money.

Mr. Tinschert:
It can be costly if you indeed have to expect that the material used contains impurities. If the processor uses a well purified recyclate of high quality, however, this extra effort is unnecessary. Accordingly, it will not cause extra costs, but the price for the recyclate will be higher.

You simply have to make sure that only pure recyclates will enter the injection molding machine. This material will have similar processing qualities than fresh plastics. The same applies to the processing of gate systems. Many customers have tools with gate systems. With every cycle they create a certain amount of waste, which, however, is directly being ground at the machine and afterwards being added continuously to the injection molding process.

Q: Do you, as an injection molding machinery manufacturer, have any influence on which material your customers use?

Mr. Tinschert:
We do counseling interviews where we get to know which materials the customer wants to have processed by the machine. For the optimal configuration of the machine, our know-how is needed.

If the customer does not have a specification for the material about the amount of recyclate that can be added, we can suggest, for example, that for certain applications or process technologies, like the sandwich technology, instead of 100% fresh plastic you can also use a certain amount of recyclate. This way, you can reduce material costs because recyclates are cheaper than virgin material.

Q: Are customers open to the idea or are they mainly worried about production safety?

Mr. Tinschert:
We have made the experience that our customers are very open-minded about this topic. You just have to realize that the material costs make up for the biggest part of production costs in injection molding. On average, 60% of the costs are allotted to the material.

Recycled plastic, even if it has been recycled with a lot of effort and accordingly is more expensive than plastic recycled with less effort, is still cheaper than virgin material. Its use also makes sense from an economic perspective. To ensure the production safety, a consistent quality of the recyclate needs to be maintained and the qualities of the parts may not be reduced or influenced by the recyclate.

Q: Could the new EU roadmap to circular economy also lead to an image improvement?

Mr. Tinschert:
The roadmap certainly is an important contribution to the image improvement. Big changes that concern the usage or consumption behavior of people often have to be initiated by legal requirements. When politics set circular economy as an important strategic goal for the future, the respective formalities have to be established to ascertain their implementation.

We could observe this with light bulbs, which were substituted by energy saving lamps. Nobody would have done it voluntarily, or only very slowly. If you want to push something like this, you must set up rules. To only believe in the good will of people, does not lead to success. Formalities that apply to a large economic region also have the advantage that they are neutral in terms of effect on the competition. You cannot produce cheaper in one country, just because you do not have to adhere to certain regulations.

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