The Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando, Florida, will remain the home of NPE for the 2018 edition
With low energy and labour costs, reindustrialisation and re-shoring some of the key growth drivers behind the boom in the US plastics market, the keenness to seize a slice of the action by exhibitors at NPE 2015 was evident.
Go hard or go home. That epitomises the level of effort invested by exhibitors at the most recent iteration of NPE, which took place from 23-27 March in Orlando, Florida. From serenading saxophonists performing atop machinery, a giant robot parading the floors and a pre-show ‘Hakka’ from one exhibitor, there were certainly no holds barred when it came to trying to catch a visitor’s eye. Gimmicks aside, some serious money had been invested in NPE, with Milacron taking the biggest stand in the show’s 69-year history. There was significant investment from some of the industry’s most recognisable names, highlighting the level of importance being seen in the US market warrants.
And the official post-show figures show they were right to invest, confirming NPE 2015 was the biggest in the show’s history to date, with an increase in size, exhibitors and visitors. Registered visitor attendance stood at 65,810, some 19 percent higher than three years earlier, with 26 percent of registrants coming from outside the US. “What made NPE2015 a milestone in the 69-year history of NPE was not only its size and international diversity, but also the richness of its offerings to attendees,” said William R. Carteaux, SPI president and CEO. “The hundreds of machines operating on the show floor, the customer service centers provided by material suppliers, the pavilions and programmes on current issues and emerging technologies, the extensive agenda of co-located conferences—this wealth of content surpassed our previous shows and now provides a guideline for making future NPEs even more attractive to participants.”
A cornerstone of the show’s theme was sustainability, with a dedicated sector of the exhibition floor serving as a ‘Zero Waste Zone’ focusing on the industry mandate to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastics. Gene Sanders, SPI’s senior vice president of trade shows and conferences, said that the exhibit reflected the organisation’s commitment to pursuing zero waste. The SPI reinforced this commitment during a conference held alongside EU-based plastics and rubber machinery association, VDMA, where the routes to achieving goals of standardisation and collaboration were discussed at length. “Blue Competence is the way we approach sustainability in Europe,” explained Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director of the VDMA. “We are spreading from Germany, through to NPE here in the United States and onto Chinaplas. We do believe if we talk about sustainability issues then this can be convincing for others.” The two associations said they want to ensure the greatest possible alignment of technical requirements, especially in matters of safety, in order to simplify machinery deliveries. Kühmann said he thought that the way SPI had highlighted issues surrounding sustainability at NPE were “very interesting.”
NPE’s innovation showcase came in the form of a ‘start-up garage’, which contained a mini-hub of some of the most inventive polymer technologies seemingly just inches from their ‘EUREKA’ moment. The companies exhibiting in the start-up garage demonstrated promising developments in graphenes, bioplastics, 3D printing and recycling amongst others, with all the participants I spoke to in universal agreement that standing alongside some of the industry’s biggest companies, with a host of potential investors streaming through the door, was “an incredible opportunity.”
There was an evident nod from several exhibitors to ‘Industry 4.0’, the idea that fully autonomous manufacturing is the future. Helmut Heinson, Managing Director of Sales for Arburg, said that the company was working to develop its provision of IT solutions to enable it to embrace the concept. “Industry 4.0,” he said, is the story behind the company’s future development, as ARBURG becomes a “system supplier for networked production in the digital factory of tomorrow.” Wittmann Battenfeld echoed this, with the company coining the moniker ‘Wittmann 4.0’ to describe its approach to the concept. “Industry 4.0 is a buzzword at the moment and as a business we are really embracing it,” explained Michael Wittmann, General Manager. “For us it is all-embracing and uniform technology that covers connectivity through plug-in, software updates, condensing of data and hardware accessibility.”
Following on from above, automation in the form of both systems and robotics were also put in the spotlight. ENGEL said that the US market can look to Europe and its “pioneering“ approach to process integration and automation as a key growth driver for the country. Speaking at the show, Peter Neumann, ENGEL CEO, said that this would be key for its own sales in the country, as US customers focused less on standardised machines and more on complex, more integrated systems. “Europe is pioneering when it comes to complex process integration and highly functional technologies,“ Neumann said. “This is an area where we see increasing growth in the USA as the markets here require highly automated processes with stable production and quality.“ The key markets identified by the company as having major growth potential in the USA are automotive, medical and packaging. “Where we see a big growth is the automotive sector, especially in the composites sector for lightweighting,“ said Mark Sankovitch of ENGEL’s US subsidiary. “In 2012 we made a commitment to this with our specialised centre in composites in the company’s headquarters in Austria and we see a real place for this technology here as car manufacturers are increasingly interested in lightweighting solutions.“ Also focusing on the potential offered by the US automotive sector, Sepro launched a new portfolio of large robots and automation technology with clamping force between 700 and 5000 tonnes. These robots have been designed with the automotive sector in mind” explained Jean-Michel Renaudeau – Managing Director. “We want to grow our market share in large robots, but moulders also want the flexibility that these new lines offer.”
3D Printing and AM
In materials as well as machinery, 3D printing and additive manufacturing played a recurring tune. SABIC announced its commitment to developing innovations in additive manufacturing, even showcasing the “world’s first” 3D printed car on its stand (pictured) and citing the critical link between materials, design, processing and part performance as the reason for the move. PolyOne followed suit, announcing that it was actively exploring the technology to help its customers optimise both the manufacturing process and the performance and aesthetics of a
part. Chemical company, Eastman, also highlighted its foray into the area, showcasing its new carbon fibre polymer for 3D printing. Not to be outdone, Arburg chose NPE to mark the sales launch of its Freeformer additive manufacturing technology, something it says has “great potential” in the country. Davis-Standard and Conair also demonstrated the extrusion of printed filament for use in 3D printing. “3D printing is taking off right now,” said Chris Weinrich, Conair General Manager, Downstream Extrusion, “and demand for the plastic rod or filament that feeds the printers has never been greater.”
The next NPE will take place once again at the Orange County Convention Centre, Orlando, Monday through Friday, May 7-11, 2018.