After months of preparation and planning, days walking the halls and nights networking in the Altstadt, K 2013 is over for another three years. Here, Leanne Taylor looks back at some of the highlights, innovations and announcements over the course of the show.
So, post-K 2013 and the dust is starting to settle. The organisers of the fair, Messe Düsseldorf, have issued a statement outlining visitor numbers, with the overall number of attendees having decreased slightly since the 2010 event. This year saw 218,000 visitors come from over 120 countries, compared with 222,486 visitors during the last outing.
Suggestion is, that the organisers of the other great player in the global plastics exhibitions arena, Chinaplas, could be preparing themselves to step up and capitalise on attracting those visitors that gave K a miss to their event in Shanghai on April 23 – 26, 2014. There’s definitely opportunity in the East, given that the Messe Düsseldorf’s figures suggest the proportion of visitors from Asia accounted for the largest group of foreign visitors – totaling approximately 30,000 from South, East and Central Asia as well as from the Near and Middle East.
Despite this, word from the organisers suggests that expectations for business at the show have been exceeded, with exhibitors reporting numerous concrete project enquiries, negotiations with visitors and a large number of business deals, some of which were concluded on-site and were worth “millions”.
Chairman of the Exhibitors’ Advisory Board for K 2013, Ulrich Reifenhäuser, said: “We had not expected visitors’ willingness to invest to be this high. The many innovative products and applications premiered in Düsseldorf were met with great interest from trade visitors.” One such product to do justice to this statement undoubtedly came before the show had officially even begun.
Plastic freeforming – no one saw that coming
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a plastics processing additive manufacturing machine for the production of mould-free, prototype plastic parts and it was undoubtedly the biggest bombshell dropped at K 2013 by none other than injection moulding machinery manufacturer, Arburg. At the company’s pre-show press event, held the night before the show opened, the mystery as to what was concealed beneath the curtain could safely be described as a shock to many of the trade press and onlookers who weren’t privy to the secret, which was telling from the silence that greeted the shiny, compact machine, that most definitely wasn’t an injection moulding machine, sitting underneath. The gymnast, or should I say contortionist, that was pirouetting on top, only added to the polished unveiling by the company.
So, what exactly is the freeformer? According to Herbert Kraibühler, Managing Director of Technology and Engineering at Arburg, the new freeformer enables the production of functional plastic parts without a mould by layering droplets of liquid plastic. “Additive manufacturing entails the conversion of 3D CAD data into STL data,” commented Kraibühler. “The layered geometries obtained in this manner are then used to build up the components on an additive basis, i.e. in layers, without the use of a mould.”
What is causing the noise in the world of additive manufacturing – and has led to the machine being touted as “game changing” – is the fact that the machine uses conventional plastic granulates rather than ‘prefabricated’ materials such as powders or strands, which traditionally make the material, the processing and therefore, the parts, more expensive.
"You can continue to use your familiar standard granulates. In other words, all the plastics that you use day-by-day at your injection moulding plant. Our freeformer requires no additional, special and therefore expensive materials," said the company.
Developed using the group's technical experience in injection moulding, the system uses a heated plasticising cylinder for an optimal plastic melt in the discharge unit. The patented nozzle closure, with high-frequency "piezo" technology, is said to enable fast opening and closing movements to produce the plastic droplets under pressure. “The nozzle of the freeformer remains stationary, while the component carrier moves along three or five axes. This allows undercuts to be produced without the need for support structures. This means new freedom in terms of geometry and less material waste,” explained Kraibühler.
The freeformer can be configured as either a single or two-component machine, allowing the production of parts that integrate both hard and soft polymer elements as well as multiple colours, often a drawback with conventional additive manufacturing systems.
In terms of distribution, the group says it aims to use existing channels and customers to bring the machine to the market. The first freeformers will be supplied from next year. Commenting on the freeformer, Colin Tirel, Managing Director at Arburg UK told me: “In a word – it’s phenomenal. I think it’s going to take us into markets, into areas and into companies that we don’t currently sell to. Initially of course, it will be offered to our own customers, but if you think about the whole additive manufacturing arena, it will open so many doors for us. It’s unique and it’s created a huge buzz.”
Although the freeformer got unreservedly the Lion’s share of attention of all of the exhibits on Arburg’s stand, some of the other technology, much more in keeping with the traditional vein, was not to be overlooked. One particularly impressive display was a fully electric injection moulding machine and cube mould producing a functional two-component juice container closure. Using a mould from Foboha, an Arburg Allrounder 720 A produced the closure in six seconds and, utilising all four sides of the mould for production, the mould filling, cooling phase and part removal was carried out simultaneously, a process designed to considerably reduce cycle times, particularly for applications in the packaging industry.
Machinery – the best of the rest
In terms of the other big injection moulding machinery manufacturers, it was apparent that serious investment had been made in some colossal booths, which were a serious magnet for visitors keen to see the machinery live in action. At Engel’s press conference, the company unveiled its recently launched control system, which it says has been developed due to the increase in demand for turnkey systems that incorporate automation solutions.
CEO Peter Neumann spoke about the company’s focus on its ongoing automation strategy, where robots are integrated into the production process for conformity of cycle times and ease of system operation. “Our strategy for automation is to grow even faster than we do in our machine business,” he commented.
“We really do see automation as a very important part of our strategy going forward, all manufactured ourselves, including conveyor belts, robots and other components. In order to ensure that these systems work in the best way they can we need an effective control system – and that is why we are presenting the CC 300 as part of our showcase at K 2013.”
Engel says the CC 300 will make the use of injection moulding machines and integrated system solutions safer, more user-friendly and more efficient through allowing IMMs and manufacturing cells to be controlled according to tasks such as mould changing, or according to functions such as injecting.
At Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s booth, the company demonstrated a new peripheral module called activeColourChange. With the product, the group has developed a pigment dosing system, which allows extremely short colour change times to be performed when using liquid colours.
The group demonstrated activeColourChange on its new Systec SP 280 (producing one litre buckets) with three different colours at K 2013. The colour was fed directly from a closed system into the metering zone of the melt-filled injection unit. In contrast to colouring with masterbatch, the upstream zones (the feed and compression zones) are kept free of colour, which in theory means that less cleaning is required.
Another curtain drops – this time recycling machinery
In another ‘big reveal’ at the show, machinery manufacturer, Erema, unveiled its latest machine for plastics recycling, the ‘Intarema’.
The machine is based on newly developed and patented ‘Counter Current’ technology, which is said to result in increased productivity, flexibility, easy operation and “considerably lower” energy consumption.
Erema says the innovation in the Counter Current system is in the cutter/compactor and tangentially connected extruder, where it circulates material against the normal direction of the extruder, resulting in more material being processed in a shorter time.
Erema says to date, the worldwide technical standard has been a system in which the material in the cutter/compactor moved in the direction of the extruder. The centrifugal forces arising in the process were used for the feeding of the extruder and the treated, warm material was "packed" into the extruder screw. It says the inverse tangential configuration of the Counter Current system now ensures that the extruder screw is filled virtually pressure-free with the preheated material.
Michael Heitzinger, CTO at Erema, described the impact which the new system has on productivity and the quality of the recyclate, saying: "The screw basically "takes what it needs", the extruder always has the ideal filling level and is never overfilled, which makes it much better to regulate."
Materials hold their own in terms of innovation and footfall
The materials halls held their own in terms of impressive stands, new product launches and footfall. Innovation for the automotive industry was an unavoidably apparent theme, with booths acting as podiums displaying futuristic concept cars modeling the best of the cutting-edge technology that the plastics industry can offer OEMs, designers and consumers. Bayer MaterialScience, LanXess and Evonik showed some interesting and impressive four-wheel displays.
At the show, Evonik confirmed that it is once again fully supplying markets with polyamide 12 after the explosion that caused a severe shortage in 2012 and that it is “considering” a second plant for the production of the CDT feedstock.
Speaking at a press event, Dr Dahai Yu of the company’s Executive Board said that he was aware of the company’s responsibility as a major supplier of CDT and a second plant would ensure supply chain security should there ever be another reason for a sudden stoppage of production. “We managed to rebuild our Essen facility within six months after the explosion, which is very quick, and we are now fully supplying to our customers,” Dr Yu commented.
The autmotive industry also played a part in the launch of a new product line from manufacturer of polymer stabilisers, Songwon Industrial Group. Songxtend 2121, 2122 and 2123 are designed for the automotive industry and are tailored to address fogging and odour issues in car interiors. Songwon says Songxtend stabilisers reduce VOC emissions and improve organoleptic properties by either eliminating or reducing undesirable odours that negatively impact car interiors.
A major focus for SABIC at K 2013 was its materials solutions for the automotive industry, an area in which it says it will continue to focus heavily. One of the company’s flagship applications at the show was the Volkswagen XL1 diesel plug-in hybrid car, which features advanced polycarbonate side windows as well as an all-thermoplastic tailgate concept, which SABIC says are both aimed at enabling lighter weight and energy efficiency within a vehicle.
At the company’s press conference, Scott Fallon, General Manager for Automotive at SABIC, said the company had “collaborated with almost every major automotive OEM in the world.“
The company said it is working with materials that will enable it to enter “completely new markets”, including synthetic rubbers. SABIC said it will be producing a range of Polybutadiene rubber (BR), a homo-polymerised, 1-3 butadiene, which it says will be used for the production of tyres that are “safer, more fuel efficient and long lasting.”
The company also announced that it would be opening a new plant in 2016 in Saudi Arabia for the production of POM, a polymer known for its high stiffness, mechanical strength and good resistance to chemicals and solvents. The company highlighted its use of POM in the automotive industry by displaying fuel caps on its stand.
Outside of the automotive industry, Innovia Films, a leading global manufacturer of Biofilms, and Corbion Purac, a global leader in lactic acid and lactides, displayed a range of prototype PLA (polylactic acid) film that are both transparent and resistant to higher temperatures. Possible opportunities for the new bioplastic film include both food and non-food packaging and many industrial applications.
Specialty chemicals group, Perstorp, premiered four new products for the plastic materials market at K 2013. The four new products are Capa for bioplastics, a highly biodegradable plastic that improves mechanical properties as well as accelerating biodegradation; Charmo for intumescent systems in plastics, a halogen-free, rich carbon source for phosphorous/nitrogen based systems said to significantly reduce the release of smoke and heat in the event of a fire; Pevalen, a non-phthalate plasticiser for sensitive applications said to be perfect for close contact PVC applications, such as flooring, coated fabrics, plastisols, toys and moulded parts; and finally, a new co-polyester alternative called Akestra, a thermoplastic alternative to polycarbonate, polystyrene and glass.
Separately, at a panel discussion on the future of plastics and the role of styrenics, Dr. Norbert Niessner, Global Head of Research and Development at Styrolution, said that styrenics were “much more than insulation” and that they had an “exciting future” in the areas of building construction, architecture and design.
Professor Dr. Hans-Werner Schmidt, Head of the Department for Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Bayreuth, said that K 2013 was “full of innovation” and that the “polymer age” was “only just starting” in terms of exploiting potential of plastic materials, but that research was key.
Flying the flag for Great Britain
A number of UK companies said they had enjoyed a successful K Show. Charmaine Bowers from The Polymer Training and Innovation Centre (PTIC), exhibiting as part of the ‘British Group’ alongside the British Plastics Federation, said: “We’ve been really busy and have had good quality leads from several nationalities for our PICAT II software. The K Show is a globally recognised platform for our industry, a lot of our technical team are excited by the innovation that is being shown, which is important for us as a training provider as it means we keep a competitive edge.”
Richard Benyon of CJP Sales, distributors of Dynapurge purging compounds, said that the show had been “a great opportunity to network and knowledge share with other distributors from around the world.”
North Wales-based producer of solid masterbatch, Silvergate Plastics, announced at the show that it has appointed a new European-based manager to lead the company’s export growth strategy.
Dr. Giuseppe Chiacchio will be responsible for developing and supporting Silvergate’s growing client base in mainland Europe from the company’s new offices in Italy. Following a significant investment to reconfigure Silvergate’s manufacturing facility at its headquarters in Wrexham, North Wales, the company says it now has the capacity to satisfy the most demanding of requests, from specialist multi-component 1kg purchases to high volume commodity masterbatches including blacks and whites.
Commenting on Chiacchio’s new appointment, Managing Director, Tony Bestall, stated: “We are delighted Giuseppe has come on board to lead our Export Growth Strategy. Having invested a total of almost £250,000 into our manufacturing facility, we now operate a much slicker, flexible and larger operation. We can now bring our extensive technical know-how to a much wider market and rapidly deliver products of any volume to fulfil the needs of our growing customer base.”
Until next we meet
Messe Düsseldorf has confirmed the dates for the next event will be 19 – 26 October 2016. Until then, the impact of the other big tradeshows remains to be seen. As Helmut Heinson, Managing Director of Arburg, said during the EUROMAP press conference at K 2013, it is “important for plastics and rubber companies to strive for global presence at key exhibitions.”