One of the many rotomoulded products on display was this eye-catching chair
At the ARMO rotomoulding conference held in Nottingham recently, speakers spoke of their visions for the future of the rotomoulding process - making it faster, more flexible and safer. There were several areas of innovation discussed across a range of materials, machinery and processes - all aimed at safeguarding the future of the process against a rise in the development of similarly shaped blow and injection-moulded products.
Starting proceedings, Martin Coles of Matrix Polymers delivered his vision of the future of rotomoulding materials; questioning the dominance of polyethylene and announcing news of the company’s new R&D venture that will see it embark on a new programme of developing new alternatives. “I see the development of new raw materials as one of the biggest challenges our industry faces. Not enough has been done to overcome the hurdles to using materials other than polyethylene,” explained Coles, who identified cost of other materials as a major preventative factor to their use. “As an industry we will have to get out of the mindset that any other material than PE will have to be lower cost – this is not just the case. We need to think about the extra performance benefits.
“There are growing threats to rotomoulding on all sides, blow and injection moulding will encroach more and more on the technique, as well as 3D printing. Greatly expanding the range of products that can be made is possible,” he added.
Coles went on to say that not only is the company looking at developing materials for the progression of rotomoulding, but also the process, with research work set to be undertaken with machinery manufacturers and mould makers. “There is no point in developing all this and realising moulders cannot utilise it,” he said. As part of the new materials developments, Matrix Polymers would be working on specific projects with an identified end use, with further announcements expected in the coming month. Concluding, Coles said the future of the rotomoulding industry could not just rely on polyethylene. “We cannot afford to stand still and we must start looking into alternative materials,” he said. “The opportunity is there to transform the future of the process and develop thousands of new processes.”
Focusing on health and safety in the industry, Ian Hansen of Rotoconsult outlined the importance of considering both old and new machines when it comes to rotomoulding safely, highlighting several options available. “Safety is not an expense, it’s an investment,” he told the audience. Carrying on this theme, Mic Hewer of the the Stewart Group gave an update on the Health and Safety initiative developed by the BPF’s rotomoulding group and HSE. “We decided we would concentrate on prevention. There has been cases of entrapment and we have decided that no where in the world should someone be allowed to walk into an oven without someone knowing that they are there,” said Hewer, who explained that new guidelines will be issued to encourage collaboration and risk mitigation.
Other notable presentations included an energetic overview of the North American rotomoulding market by Adam Webb from ARM. Having recovered better than any other country following the 2008 downturn, America’s rotomoulding industry is currently experiencing a real resurgence in its fortunes. Explaining how they did it, Webb said rotomoulders should look into “new, larger markets outside their comfort zones” in order to grow. “Training, contingency plans and bringing external processes in house to ensure skills are available and staff are kept even in economic slow times are also vitally important,” said Webb as he recalled the advice of a US-based rotomoulder.
On the machinery side, Dr. Gareth McDowell of 493K introduced his rotomoulding machine with integrated temperature control technology as “a vision of the future” and Johan Potargent of AMS Belgium spoke of a “revolution in rotomoulding” using the company’s technology for a fully automated process using robots.
When it came to art and design, the charismatic William Sweetlove of the Cracking Art Group showed how his giant rotomoulded animal sculptures have been displayed all over the world, from international events such as the G8 Summit to celebrity parties. Les Stokes, from LA Design, spoke of making rotomoulding sexy, highlighting hoe to get the very best out of the manufacturing process by considering the full user experience of a finished product.
Finally the presentations and conference over the two days were supplemented by 51 trade stands and a range of innovative rotomoulded products on display from the winners and runners up of the ARMO 2015 Student Design Competition. Organisers, the British Plastics Federation, said the conference had been “a roaring success.”