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The eight-day K 2019 drew down its curtain in Düsseldorf, Germany. Satisfactory response reported about the show indicates that there is still investing mood amidst the economic slowdown. Meanwhile, collaboration across the value chain for a plastics circular economy has become a trend. A new phenomenon in the global plastic industry can be expected between now and the next K show to be held on October 19 - 26, 2022.

K 2019 welcomed about 225,000 visitors during the eight-day show period. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)
K 2019 welcomed about 225,000 visitors during the eight-day show period. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)

About 225,000 visitors from 165 countries went to the show, where 3,330 exhibitors showcased their technologies, especially in recycling systems, sustainable raw materials, resource-saving processes, according to Messe Düsseldorf, the organizer of K 2019.

K 2019 came at precisely the right point in time. Especially in times of great challenges, a platform like the K is indispensable,” concluded Werner Matthias Dornscheidt, President & CEO of Messe Düsseldorf. “It provides guidance and perspectives, sets sustainable economic impulses, and shows forward-looking trends and concrete approaches,” he added.

Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Chairman of the Exhibitor Advisory Board at K 2019, said that the show far exceeded expectations and was able to generate key impetus for sustainable governance and new business models.

The nations especially well represented on the part of visitors after Germany were Italy, the Netherlands, India, Turkey and China, followed by the USA. Furthermore, there was a marked increase in the number of trade visitors from the Russian Federation, Japan and Brazil.

Reifenhäuser said that the products showcased had generated “concrete negotiations and contracts signed”. “We found the propensity to invest extremely high and across all nations. In particular, business with new customers was very positive this year,” he remarked.

Continues investing amidst economic slowdown

The booth of Arburg. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf) Despite the current economic climate and tensions in world trade, demand for innovative machinery and raw materials is particularly high, according to some exhibitors.

At Arburg’s press conference, Michael Hehl, Managing Partner and Speaker of the Board of Directors, commented on the current economic situation.

He said that Arburg is unlikely to reach the record sales revenues of €754 million achieved in 2018 this year. “In view of general economic developments, any other outcome would come as a real surprise,” he said.

Despite the difficult environment, the German injection molding machine manufacturer views the future in positive terms. “As we have practiced successfully in the past, we invest on an anti-cyclical basis with an eye to the future, in technology, infrastructure and also personnel,” Michael Hehl emphasized.

For the expansion in Lossburg headquarters and central production site, construction of the new assembly building for large ALLROUNDER and turnkey systems is progressing rapidly. Planning for moving into the ground floor is scheduled in the second half of 2020.

Meanwhile, the official opening of the Training Center is scheduled to coincide with the manufacturer’s Technology Days in 2020. These are large investments and each of which is in double-digit millions of euro, according to Arburg.

Apart from Germany, Arburg is also expanding its international operations in other countries, including Italy, France and the US.

The manufacturer’s trade fair presence at K 2019 focused on the topics of Digitalization and Circular Economy, launching the digital platforms of “arburgXworld” and “arburgGREENworld”.

ENGEL anticipates significantly lower revenue for the current 2019-20 fiscal year. Nevertheless, the company expects that new market opportunities arising from digitalization, circular economy and the transformation of the automotive industry can counteract the downward trend to some extent.

We invest in times of downturn to be prepared for the upswing,” stressed Dr. Stefan Engleder, CEO of the ENGEL Group. “We continue to focus on product and technology development as well as optimizing our internal processes and locations.”

This applies, among other things, to the Investment Programme 2020 which is not yet complete. At the large-scale machine plant in St. Valentin, Austria, construction work is continuing on schedule, the company reported. In the final construction phase, a new customer technology center will be built and the Center for Lightweight Composite Technologies will be enlarged.

The Munich-based plastic machinery group KraussMaffei showcased its new, single brand KraussMaffei. Visitors were able to experience the new corporate design for the first time.

The group unveiled that it has kicked off four projects to modernize its operations on a global scale. It is planning or building modern production facilities in Munich/Parsdorf, Hannover/Laatzen, Einbeck (Burgsmüller) and Jiaxing/China. 

The company’s online marketplace Polymore went live at K 2019. The aim of the platform is to better connect compounders and plastics processors, and to make plastics trading more transparent.

The packaging innovations on show, including the new El-Exis SP 1000 ton, proved to be a key attraction.With €25 million in sales confirmed over the eight day exhibition, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag CEO, Gerd Liebig, hailed the show K 2019 “an unprecedented success”.

Although the CEO emphasized that he doesn’t foresee an end to the economic uncertainty, he was surprised to see that markets being hit hard are now clearly signaling a revival with a significantly improved situation.

Liebig ensured that the company will continue to increase production capacity, invest in R&D and production support such as the web-based software solution MyConnect.

The new El-Exis SP 1000 ton machine unveiled at the show took center stage of the Sumitomo (SHI) Demag booth. The large sustainable packaging machine demonstrates the company’s continued investment in its product range.

Gerd Liebig also confirmed the company’s intention to expand its automation strategy. “We are known the world over for being very strong in packaging. We’d like to bring the same clear focus and global recognition for our clean room medical machines and validation support, as well as our automotive sector offerings,” he said.

In addition, as it is evident that injection molding in vehicle manufacturing is on the rise, the company is working on new IntElect models for launch in 2020, targeting the automotive and consumer markets.

Apart from machine manufacturers, some chemical suppliers are also expanding production and product portfolio, such as the Oman Oil and Orpic Group.

The group introduced at the show how its expanded polymer product portfolio meets the key trends in packaging. It stated its ambition to actively engage the value chain for sustainable polymers, with plans in place for the imminent operations of the US$6.7-billion Liwa Plastics Industries Complex (LPIC).

The LPIC investment means that the group’s portfolio now, next to PP products, also encompasses PE solutions for the first time. It has tripled the company’s grade slate that now includes PP-H, PP-R, PP-B, HDPE and LLDPE.

We want to play a major role in shaping the mega trends impacting our industry with our PP and PE solutions. This is why we want to be involved with every stakeholder along the value chain,” said Talal al Awfi, Chief Commercial Officer, Oman Oil and Orpic Group.

New recycling machinery draws interest

Visitors to the Circonomic Centre were able to experience live plastics recycling. (Messe Düsseldorf)Circular economy, standing at the forefront of the plastics industry, was centre staged at this year’s K show. In recycling, mechanical recycling is still the most used method at present.

The EREMA Group's all seven companies and business units presented an entire range of products and services. They also made recycling and recycling management a tangible experience for visitors to the Circonomic Centre located in outdoor area at Messe Düsseldorf.

In the course of the show, EREMA recycled 14 different plastic waste materials into high-quality recycled pellets, some of which were processed directly at the fair into new end-products.

These demonstrations were based on more than 30 cooperation projects with customers and partners representing the entire value chain. A wide range of high-quality products containing up to 100% recycled materials were also on display.

The products made of recyclates ranged from shower gel bottles made of 100% PCR-HDPE sourced from the yellow sack, shrink and stretch films containing up to 30% recycled pellets, to technical injection-molded products and lifestyle goods.

Our goal was to work with our partners to draw attention to what is technologically possible in terms of recycling and the circular economy and what has already been implemented successfully and cost-effectively,” said Manfred Hackl, CEO of the EREMA Group.

EREMA also demonstrated its technological highlights, such as VACUNITE in the bottle-to-bottle segment, new INTAREMA ZeroWastePro in-house recycling system, digital customer platform BluPort, ReFresher technology and QualityOn: Polyscan.

Among these, the food contact compliance of PCR-HDPE produced with the patented INTAREMA TVEplus RegrindPro extrusion system in combination with the ReFresher module has been recently approved by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The BluPort is a new digital customer platform for digital assistance systems launched by EREMA at the show. It puts together in one place a collection of intuitive and user-friendly service and data processing APPs that support quality control.

NGR gave a world premiere of its new NXT:GRAN series which will replace the renowned S:GRAN recycling machine series.

For over two decades, S:GRAN has been used to handle post-industrial plastic waste. Equipped with a large shredder, a feeder and an extruder, it repelletizes internal scrap for seamless re-use in the primary production process.

The new machine offers up to 40% higher throughput rate with lower energy consumption, simplified control and operation, and updated safety concepts, according to NGR. It features increased functionality for materials of different forms and different types.

The S:GRAN was the first shredder-feeder-extruder machine introduced by NGR. NXT:GRAN is a redesigned version. While the original concept of shredder-feeder-extruder combination remains, every function of the new machine has been rethought,” explained Patrick Steinwendner, Product Manager and Marketing Manager at NGR.

He said that the machine was redesigned with ease of operation in mind. “The entire machine has been redesigned in a way that each single piece, each single screw that an operator must manipulate can be fully accessed."

What remains is the automatic STARTSTOP function. It readies the system for operation in only a few minutes and does not require any supervision when stopping.

For post-consumer recycling, the C:GRAN series of cutter-compactor-extruder machine has been extended to machines for outputs of 2,200 kg/h and over. This expansion follows the market trend of increasing plastic recycling quantities and modernization of recycling plants to satisfy the increased demand for high-quality rPellets.

The inline measurement of the most important plastic properties offers the rPellets manufacturers the possibility to determine the quality of the plastic melt already during the recycling process, and to initiate appropriate sorting measures or additive feeds immediately.

POLYSTAR also demonstrated its latest recycling pelletizing technology at the show.

According to POLYSTAR, in addition to the recycling pelletizing of conventional HDPE, LDPE and other films, some processing companies have begun to recycle ABS, PS, PC and other materials used in injection molding.

The recycling pelletizing of these hard plastics has to meet high quality requirements. For this application, the company developed the patented pneumatic valve control system. By using the pressure of the pneumatic cylinder, the cutting surface is continuously attached to the die face, making the pelletizing more uniform and improving the recycling efficiency.

As said, without this technology, once the melt pressure of the die is too large, the cutter will be easily rushed away from the die face, resulting in uneven pelletizing and affecting the later processing.

Collaborative approach the trend of circular packaging

The new Reverse Spout Sealing Technology was designed for mono-material spouted pouches.Stepping up collaborations across the entire value chain drives more rapid technological developments in the plastic industry. In particular, the outcomes are courageous and fruitful for the packaging sector in achieving circular economy.

As advancing a circular economy is one of Dow’s 2025 Goals, many of its exhibits at the show were thus presenting the potential of recycled and sustainable materials. For packaging, 30 prototypes enabled by Dow’s Pack Studios were presented.

Dow and Menshen, one of the leading manufacturers of caps, closures and single-serve capsules, co-developed the new transformative Reverse Spout Sealing Technology which basically reversed the idea of where and when the heat needs to be applied during the spout sealing process.

The new process was designed to easily seal spouts in more heat sensitive, mono-material structures made from all PP or all PE packaging layers. Rather than traditionally applying the heat from outside the pouch forming film to melt the seal layer and the spout, the latter is pre-melted at its base before insertion into the pouch and sealing.

Prototypes of PE-based pouches, jointly developed by Dow, BOBST, Hosokawa Alpine and packaging producer ELBA, were also introduced. The pouches allow for the production of medium-to-high barrier packaging with MDO films designed for recyclability.

One of the biggest challenges in designing PE-based packaging for recyclability is to incorporate barrier functionalities that are today carried out by different materials in multi-material structures.

With the Pack Studios expertise fueled by strong industry collaborations, Dow has developed its next generation of high-performance resins to help enabling the production of PE-based mono-material packaging solutions.

By combining MDO conversion machinery with Dow’s PE-based polymers, similar production efficiency to existing multi-material packaging structures has been achieved.

Lily Ma, North Asia Performance PE Market Development Manager Polyethylenes, ExxonMobil Chemical Services (Shanghai) Co., and Olivier Lorge, global market development director, Polyethylene, ExxonMobil Chemical. ExxonMobil's exhibits this year highlighted the sustainable development of plastic packaging through value chain cooperation. The company introduced the full PE laminated Stand Up Pouch (SUP) packaging solutions, which were co-developed with Hosokawa Alpine, Erema and Henkel, as a replacement for conventional multi-material structures.

These newly created full PE SUPs combine 30% recycled PE with 70% virgin performance PE from ExxonMobil, delivering comparable performance to multi-polymer structures that contain BOPP, BOPET or BOPA. They are said to be suitable for non-food applications such as detergents.

According to Olivier Lorge, ExxonMobil Chemical’s global market development director for Polyethylene, the challenge for recyclable products is the number of time that they can be recycled to maximize utilization.

In another partnership, ExxonMobil and Reifenhäuser have developed the Heavy Duty Sack (HDS), using up to 37% multi-cycle recycled PE from recycled HDS film in combination with virgin performance PE. The finished HDS is said to have the same solid properties even after being recycled four times.

ExxonMobil also presented the Vistamaxx performance polymers which can compatibilize PE and PP plastics, and allow them to mix in the melt, removing the need for separation. They aim to improve the recyclability and end product quality of high-value applications.

The circular economy needs the cooperation of the value chain to achieve substantial success. Therefore, ExxonMobil is further promoting the development of circular economy through cooperation with equipment suppliers, brands and processors,” stressed Olivier Lorge.

In collaboration with several value chain partners, Borealis and Borouge have developed a series of new, mono-material pouch solutions based on PE and PP, which expand the range of more sustainable options for the flexible packaging industry.

Designed specifically for recyclability, the new stand up pouches are suitable for demanding consumer packaging applications. Several of the pouches, including one containing 35% PCR, were on display at the companies’ joint booth.

Meanwhile, Borealis announced the commercial launch of BorPure RF777MO. Based on the proprietary Borstar Nucleation Technology, this new resin fulfills value chain demand for high-quality solutions offering good organoleptics, the company said.

As next generation random PP, BorPure RF777MO was designed for use in flip-top caps which is a growing caps and closures market segment.

Hinged caps made using this new resin are robust and, as a mono-material solution, 100 % recyclable, Borealis introduced. Thanks to fast crystallization behavior, the resin offers proven cycle time reductions of more than 10% for certain caps applications.

Kautex has worked with Braskem to advance the blow molding application of recycled materials since about two years ago. At the company’s booth, the extrusion blow molding machinery builder showcased the production of sustainable three-layer HDPE bottle on an all-electric KBB60 blow molding machine.

With a mixture of PE and PCR foamed in the middle layer of the bottle, the consumption of raw materials was reduced. The weight of the whole bottle was finally reduced by 18%. In addition, the bottle, made with materials supplied by Braskem, has a neutral odor despite the use of PCR.

Visitors were also able to see the operation of Kautex’s new generation of extrusion heads installed on the KBB60 machine.

The new extrusion heads were designed for consumer package applications. By optimizing the flow path and spiral mandrel dispenser design, the time required to change materials and colors can be reduced by 75%, according to the company.

Kautex will increase investments in projects for packaging applications, said Dr. Olaf Weiland, CEO & Partner. The development of new extrusion heads is a demonstration of this strategic direction, he added.

A future with material innovations

The VisionVenture concept vehicle at BASF stand.A major market of plastics, the automotive industry, is facing falling sales, and the uncertainty is expected to remain in the near future. However, the development of new plastic materials for future mobility can breathe new life into the weakened market.

At K 2019, a wealth of innovative, high-performance, lightweight and sustainable materials were presented to offer a wide array of automotive applications.

One of the big hits at the fairground was the concept vehicle,  VisionVenture, at the booth of BASF. It was co-created by the material producer and HYMER.

More than 20 types of high-performance plastics and a new painting technology of BASF are used in the concept camper which also contains more than 100 3D-printed components.

The VisionVenture's self-inflating pop-top roof, which inflates in less than 60 seconds, is a striking feature of the van. The Elastollan coating on the roof creates an outer wall that is resistant to water and wind, and guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep at a pleasant temperature, the company described.

The cushions and mattresses in the VisionVenture remain fresh and cool even on the hottest day. This is down to the temperature-regulating effect of the Elastocoat C Spray Gel which adheres to all PU foams and can be applied to different mattress surfaces, at different places and in variable thicknesses.

For automotive applications, the highlight of Covestro was a comprehensive interior concept for digitalization trends such as autonomous driving, electric drive and car sharing.

Covestro has developed this concept together with important partners along the automotive value chain. The main features are newly designed surfaces, integration of ambient lighting, the latest infotainment systems and forward-looking seating concepts.

The Orange series of high-performance materials on display.In order to help various drive systems of electric vehicles to achieve market breakthroughs, LANXESS focuses on developing different technologies for mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles.

Dr. Martin Wanders, Head of Global Application Development in HPM (High Performance Materials) at LANXESS, introduced the Orange series of high-performance materials mainly used in high-voltage equipment of electric vehicles. The orange color indicates the possible dangers to the operators and reduces the possibility of safety accidents.

For example, the heat-stable modified engineering plastics Durethan 8KV30FNOO (PA6), due to the reinforcement of 30% glass fiber, have good mechanical, halogen-free and flame retardant properties, and are currently used in the production of battery packs for BMW electric vehicles.

According to Dr. Wanders, as PA66 production is dominated by several major chemical companies, once their productions have an emergency, the supply chain will be affected. Thus, some of the exhibits were also marked with a red label to indicate “PA6 that can replace PA66”.

For example, Durethan BKV 30H2.0 PA6 GF30 material is used to replace PA66 for the production of hoods due to its high impact resistance, stiffness and surface forming effect.

Highlights of exhibits of Polyplastics included the recently launched DURACON POM grades which facilitate the production of injection molded automotive fuel system components.

A new high-flow/high-rigidity POM grade has a melt flow rate (MFR) around 14. This material suits a wide range of molding conditions (cylinder conditions, injection pressure) and is used in Europe.

For electric vehicles applications, the leading engineering thermoplastics global supplier has developed new DURANEX PBT and DURAFIDE PPS materials. They target engine peripheral parts such as power control units (PCUs), delivering high insulating properties and lower water absorption, and meeting harsh operating conditions (-40°C to 150°C, up to 95% relative humidity).

Satoshi Nishiwaki, Managing Director of Polyplastics Europe, mentioned that the automotive market in Europe is shifting to e-mobility, and sustainability is a big concern from car brand-owners to OEM manufacturers.

Therefore, Polyplastics has launched some low-emission POM grades for automotive applications, which can be used to produce car parts with low VOC,” he explained.

HRSflow offers hot runners series to cover all automotive industry needs. The company’s Marketing Manager Grit Reifer also shared her insights on the industry.

She believes that the industry and the consumers are in the grip of a “power struggle”, rather undetermined if they should go for electric, hybrid or traditional cars, and it is one of the reasons for the industry downshift.

There is a kind of uncertainty in the market as to how it will go next year. Here in Germany, we have focused in e-mobility, but it may not be the final solution,” she explained. “For me, it is not clear what will be the best solution in the end. There are people struggling with the idea of having only e-mobility.”

Grit Reifer commented that although the automotive industry in the crossroad has affected HRSflow’s business, the company also focuses on other areas such as transportation, domestic appliances, housewares, etc.     

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