Tuesday 13 December 2016

Plastics Industry: Level up your Digital Game! – 5 Ideas to get your Digital Plastics Revolution started (Digital Plastics Revolution Series – Impactor 1)

Digital welcome message at the Lisbon airport.

Welcome to my blog series entitled Digital Plastics Revolution!
In our daily lives we have noticed that digitalization and especially Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) initiatives are moving at a faster speed compared to some years ago. At this speed more and more disruptions occur in all type of industries. Digitalization is literally transforming one industry after the other. This includes also the plastics industry.
In this series I will explore and present the key elements of digital transformation and how these can be used in the plastics industry. Each part of this series presents a major key stone and is called therefore impactor.

So, let’s get started with impactor 1:

Following are my 5 ideas on how you can get the digital revolution started in your plastics business:

1) Digital Technology Platforms (DTP’s): Nowadays, new Digital Technology Platforms (DTP’s) constantly evolve. These are the major building blocks to get your digital business alive. Gartner suggests that companies should have a mix of 5 DTP’s [1]. These should be related to information systems, customer experience, analytics and intelligence, the Internet of Things and business ecosystems. In addition, DTP’s allow your business partners to connect with you from any location and device. Therefore, simply put: get familiar with DTP’s and learn how they can be used in your business.

2) Start creating digital ecosystems: We have to be fit to move in more and more complex networks and interconnected systems. Keeping the current hierarchical structured type of businesses will not help you dealing with this kind of complexity, however, moving toward an ecosystem approach will. Ecosystems are opened up systems and allow much more cross-functional activities [2]. Our whole business leadership structure should change. Digital Leadership should be based on an above-hierarchy, team concept which allows faster innovation.  Bigger companies often re-structure and re-organize to become “leaner”, but to the majority, the old hierarchal systems are kept. This is often influenced by political interest of protecting individual (high) positions within the business.  Fact is that the corporate culture and mindset needs to change! 

3) Awareness of the New Economy and its principles (winner-takes-it-all; zero-to-one with 10x improvements [3]): Although the internet is already 20 years old, the New Economy is still evolving and new possibilities as well as challenges come along with it. In my opinion, awareness of its main working principles is necessary for reforming and growing your business.  In a nutshell “the winner-takes-it-all” meaning that the best and most used platform gets the monopoly of the market. This principle was also coined by Peter Thiel with the expression zero-to-one [3].  Therefore, improvements in proprietary technology should be in a scale of 10x so that new businesses may succeed. In addition, based on a quote of Gary Vaynerchuck [4], you need to start asking yourself every day in the morning: “How can I put myself out of business?” In this way you challenge yourself to stay on top of your business. This is especially true when your business is doing great, because  then you tend to oversee the fact that somewhere a little start-up is already working on your downfall.

4) Clear vison and self-awareness: Your plastics business needs to agree on a vision which includes the digital transformation. This comes along with transforming the whole company culture including the employees’ mindsets. Everyone needs to lean in on their personal side to avoid digital illiteracy. Your company and you need to live, communicate and use methods from the year you’re actually living in (e.g. learning how to use tools like Google trends to see when a trend starts to manifest).  
5) Establish the role of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO): We need CDOs in C-suites to push the digitalization in plastics industry forward! This is also a clear sign to address the importance of the ongoing changes. The Strategy& Chief Digital Officer study [5] showed that only 6% of global companies (1,500 largest companies) have established the position of a CDO. However, this number is rapidly increasing. The consumer-focused industries have here the lead together with large companies. Bottom line: suggest your CEO to hire a CDO or find motivated people in your organization who can take up on such a position. This will help speeding up things!

In impactor 2 of this Digital Plastics Revolution Series I will present to you 2 major strategies to enhance digital transformation in plastics industry!
Thanks for reading!
Till next time and #findoutaboutplastics

[1] Kasey Panetta: Gartner’s Top 10 Technology Trends, http://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartners-top-10-technology-trends-2017/
[2] Pearl Zhu: Digital Master: Debunk the Myths of Enterprise Digital Maturity (2015)
[3] Peter Thiel: Zero to One, Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Crown Business; 1 edition (September 16, 2014)
[5]      Strategy&: The 2015 chief digital officer study, http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/reports/chief-digital-officer-study

Monday 5 December 2016

Optimizing your injection moulding production – my 5 How’s

In this blog post I give you a “cheating” guide to tackle some of the most frequent challenges in injection moulding: venting, mould release, mould shrinkage, hot runner systems and energy consumption.

Let’s get straight to it:

  • How to improve your venting?

Burn marks or short shots are often related to inefficient venting caused by air entrapment in the mould’s cavity. The first action to take is to lower the injection speed. This will reduce the amount of air which needs to leave the cavity within the injection time frame. If the latter does not help, venting can also be enhanced by placing a thin copper foil (~ 0.01 mm) on the closing surfaces of the mould. By trial and error the foil thickness may be adjusted to enhance venting while keeping flash phenomena to a minimum.
  • How to have a better mould release?
One way to go is chemically by using silicone-based releasing­ agents, however, this is no option in case the parts need to be painted afterwards. In such cases silicone-free products can also be utilized. When you have a mould which produces cups or (soup) bowls, it is helpful to have the core (forming the positive of the cup/bowl) at a lower temperature to prevent it from sticking in the cavity. The lower temperature leads to shrinkage of the part on the core and ejection is easier due to the availability of ejector pins there. Regarding the set-up of the cooling system, cooling lines connected in parallel (instead of in series) are more suitable to keep the mould temperature constant. Besides mould temperature fluctuations (too high mould temperature leads to warpage), overpacking (too high injection pressures) and overfilling are the main causes of mould releasing problems. In the latter cases, it is useful to control the part’s weight during production.
  • How to have a better hand on mould shrinkage?
Part’s shrinkage can be to a great extent minimized by applying the right pressures during the filling and packing processes. Choosing the optimal process pressures can be supported by consulting the pvT-diagram (see figure below) of the material system you are working with. For most material groups, e.g. commodities and engineering thermoplastics, multipoint pvT data is available free of charge on online databases such as CAMPUSPlastics.

In the pvT diagram we can follow what happens to the material during the injection moulding cycle: Injection of the melt happens fast, thus, there is no significant variation in temperature (vertical line from 1 to 2). The melt can only fill the mould cavities under high pressures. This results in a compression of the melt (2). Once filled in the cavities, the melt is allowed to cool down so that the part(s) can be ejected. During cooling, if no more melt is added, the specific volume of the part stays constant until  atmospheric pressure (1 bar) is reached (horizontal line from 2 to 3). At 1 bar, no further relaxation of the melt can take place, however, it can happen that at 1 bar the melt has not yet reached room temperature (3). In this case, the melt will follow the 1 bar line until room temperature or ejection temperature  (4). As it can be seen in the pvT diagram the isobaric trajectory of the melt from 3 to 4 is associated with a volume decrease or shrinkage. To keep shrinkage to a minimum you need to control your process in such a way that point 3 in the pvT diagram is as close as possible to point 4, or it does not exist at all. This can be reached by holding onto the right packing pressure in point 2. The ideal scenario is drawn in orange on the above diagram.
Mould temperature, melt temperature, injection speed, injection pressure, packing pressure level and time set, and dimensions of gate- and runner systems are all crucial parameters to be controlled in order to attain the right cavity pressures during your process.
Controlling process parameters play a key role in steering the resulting part’s shrinkage. Nevertheless, depending on the material system you are working with, e.g. semi-crystalline or amorphous polymer-based systems, post-processing shrinkage may additionally occur to different extents. Conversely, parts based on hygroscopic polymers such as polyamide may undergo swelling in post-processing stages due to moisture absorption.
  • How to handle hot runner systems?
One of major issues which can occur when using hot runners is material degradation. This has mainly two causes: longer residence time at higher temperatures on one hand and often not completely balanced flow/temperature gradients in the hot runner system on the other. It is helpful to lower the temperature of the hot runner whenever moulding is interrupted. Additionally, after moulding, not only purging of the cylinder should be done, but also purging of the hot runner system to be sure that all the remaining melt is out. Beneficial is to have a hot runner system which allows a separate heating zone by using different control units as well as using an electrical circuit which enables gradual heating (less risk of short circuiting due to moisture present in the heater cartridges).
  • How to save some energy?
Here are some tips which help reducing energy as well as material consumption: the machine nozzle should not always be docked to the mould. Once the gate is frozen, pull the cylinder back. When you use a shut-off nozzle you could place insulated plates between the mould and the machine. Keep an eye on the mould temperature and on the difference in the coolant temperature when entering and exiting the mould. The difference should be 1-2°C for good quality moulding and maximum 3-5°C for economic reasons. The plasticization can be at lower r.p.m and it should be slightly shorter than the cooling time. And regarding the cylinder: do not use a too big capacity cylinder for your shot weight.
I hope that my 5 how’s can help you in your moulding operations.
Thank you for reading my post.
Greetings and #findoutaboutplastics
Literature: GE Plastics injection moulding guide