Monday, 26 July 2021

The Plastics Industry – How Is It Organized & What Are The Key Success Factors

Hello and welcome to this post on how the plastics industry is organized. After graduation I spent my whole business career in the plastics industry and it is one of the most exciting and versatile industries to be in. In Europe, the plastics industry value chain covers over 1.5 million people, together with 55,000 companies with a turnover of 350 billion Euros in 2019.

The plastics industry itself can be divided in five major segments:

1. Polymer manufacturing

2. Compounding

3. Distribution

4. Processing

5. Equipment and tooling

The five major segments of the plastics industry - findoutaboutplastics.com


Each of the segments has at least one factor which differentiates it from the other segments. The factors, which we will discuss in detail, are the foundation for strategic planning and business operations. The overall knowledge on the factors will keep the plastics business operational and allows fulfilling the customer needs.

1.    Polymer manufacturing

Polymer manufacturing has a high need of vertical integration (from monomer to polymer) and most polymer manufacturers are a division of larger chemical or petrochemical companies. Compared to most downstream processing steps, which are physical processes, polymer manufacturing is a chemical process. It involves lots of capital since the manufacturer needs to have a minimum plant scale due to monomer making and polymerization. There is the continuous manufacturing way and the batch production way, however most polymers are made over the continuous way. Batch processes allow smaller quantities, and flexibility. This is in particular useful for specialty polymer manufacturing.

Key factors

For polymer manufacturers, technology is a key factor which allows them to produce high performance materials with consistent properties at completive costs. It covers the polymer chemistry on small as well as large scale and how to manufacture the polymer in the most effective way (reactor technology).

2.    Compounding

Polymer manufacturing is the first step, followed by compounding to modify the properties by incorporating fillers and additives. Compounding can be done at the polymer manufacturer or can be a standalone business by itself. There are also some cases where a company runs a part-time compounding in certain periods of the year to satisfy some local customers.

Key factors

In compounding, formulation technology is key and compounders must be able to develop special grades in the range of smaller volumes. For customers, there are two major reasons why they want such special grades. Firstly, it allows them to replace more expensive materials. For example, a newly developed flame retardant polypropylene can replace an engineering polymer with flame retardant properties in car electrification applications. Secondly, new compounds can combine several properties such as low friction with electromagnetic shielding. Compounders use twin screw technology for their extruders, however single screw compounding is also highly used.

3. Distribution

Small processing companies buy their needed material over distribution which reflects an important route to the market. Polymer manufacturers have a minimum order quantity (usually ranging in tons) and small amounts are all covered by distribution. Furthermore, distributors stock different materials and this allows them to ride out supply chain interruptions. However, more and more distribution companies move to a more just-in-time delivery, ordering the material at the polymer manufacturers just when they received the order from the customer. 

Key factors

Customer relationships is one of the key factors since the customer trusts that the distributor delivers the right material on time, every time, together with fulfilling the paperwork (invoices, technical data sheets, certificates of analysis). As important as customer relationships are supplier relationships for the distributor, since the supplier allows security of material supply. Distributors can also be seen as the extended marketing and logistics arm of a polymer producer. Also, the suppliers provide discounts on the volume purchased, which makes up a big portion of the distributor's gross profit. Geographic factors are important too. Distributors start out serving a certain region and with growth they can serve nationwide too.

3.    Processing

Processing companies cover small and medium size operations as well as billion euro multinational agglomerates. Within those processing companies, different specializations can be found: one can focus on certain material or equipment, other have an industry focus, and part focus including painting and assembling is also a route to business.

Key factors

More than base knowledge of the utilized processing technique, which can be injection moulding, compression moulding, extrusion, blow moulding, roto moulding thermoforming, and combinations of thereof, is needed to keep permanent in business. Margin pressure is high at processors level and processors try to offer more than processing plastics. Additional activities include part design, mould design and construction, and secondary operations such as painting and assembling. Processing companies need to handle certain processing details with perfection (for example right dryer for hygroscopic polymers to obtain high quality parts).

5. Equipment and tooling

Machine and equipment manufacturers play an important role in the whole plastics industry puzzle. In the past two decades, consolidation of machine manufacturing took place, triggered by three major economic crises (2001, 2009, and 2020). Bigger and consolidated companies can better spread their overhead and allow themselves to be more resilient during economic downturns.

Key factors

Technology is vital for equipment, machine and tooling manufacturers. New machines need to process new materials more efficiently, as well as withstand the new compound formulation with improved properties. Also the finished part needs to be properly measured, so that these improved properties can be shown too.

Summary

The plastics industry has five major industry sections and is not limited to those. Each of the industry sections play an important part to make the whole industry successful. Currently, each sub-segment is also in transformation due to Industry 4.0 and digitalization. New jobs and new platforms will emerge, helping to bring this industry into the future.

Thanks for reading and #findoutaboutplastics

Greetings

Herwig

#PlasticsIndustry #HerwigJuster

Interested to talk with me about your plastic selection and part design needs - here you can contact me 

Interested in my monthly blog posts – then subscribe here and receive my high performance polymers knowledge matrix.
New to my Find Out About Plastics Blog – check out the start here section
Polymer Material Selection (PoMS) for Electric Vehicles (xEVs) - check out my new online course


Literature:

[1] Roger Jones – Strategic Management for the Plastics Industry

Monday, 19 July 2021

Biopolymers – Difference Between Bio-Based Content vs. Bio-Based Carbon Content

Hello and welcome to a new post. With the arrival of new legislation to better protect the environment in Europe and other parts of the world, polymer manufacturers are extending their portfolio on bio-based polymers. In this post we investigate the question of what exactly the bio-content means of biopolymers.

In general, a bio-based product is made from biomass (plants, trees, algae, marine organisms, microorganisms) and there are two different concepts used in the plastics industry:

1.    Bio-based content: refers to the amount of biomass in a product; it considers four key elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen; expressed as percentage of overall weight of product;

2.    Bio-based carbon content: focus is on the carbon; expressed as percentage of the carbon the product contains;  

Most of the bio-based polyamide polymers use monomers from the sebacic acid chain which in turn is derived from non-food competing castor oil.

EN 16785-1 – bio-based content                 

Determination of the bio-based content is done over the EN 16785-1 standard which includes the measurement of the bio-based carbon (C14).

ASTM D6866 and EN 16640 – bio-based carbon content

For determination of the bio-based carbon content of polymers, ASTM D6866 standard was established with the working principle of radiocarbon analysis. With this method, determination of the carbon fraction including the bio-based percentage therein (C14 measurement) is done.

Illustrating the difference with an example

We want to access the bio content of a PLA (plant-origin, containing 50% carbon) and polypropylene (fossil-origin, containing 86% carbon) which are blended in a ratio of 30/70%. According to EN 16785-1, the bio-based content of this composition is in total 30%, whereas according to ASTM D6866 and EN 16640, the bio-based carbon content is 20% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Difference between bio-based content (EN 16785-1) and bio-based carbon content (ASTM 6866 / EN 16640) estimation for biopolymers


I hope that this post helped to better understand bio-polymers and how to read the amount of bio content. 

Thanks for reading and #findoutaboutplastics

Herwig Juster

#biopolymers #herwigjuster

Interested to talk with me about your plastic selection and part design needs - here you can contact me 

Interested in my monthly blog posts – then subscribe here and receive my high performance polymers knowledge matrix.
New to my Find Out About Plastics Blog – check out the start here section
Polymer Material Selection (PoMS) for Electric Vehicles (xEVs) - check out my new online course



Literature: 
[1] T. Garrison et.al. Bio-Based Polymers with Potential for Biodegradability, Polymers, 2016
[2] TÜV - Information Document 536 (EN) – 19.10

Monday, 12 July 2021

Relative Comparison of Material Properties for Visible Part Applications (Polymer Material Selection Tool)

Today we discuss the use of relative comparison material data as a support tool in the polymer material selection of visible part applications.

A summary of the technical data of the most used polymers can be found in this post here.

There are many application cases where the parts are visible to us such as housings of household machines (coffee machine, fridges, and washing machines), exterior and interior parts in cars and other examples. In such cases, information on UV stability, weatherability, colorability, and paintability is needed. Such data play a key role during plastic material selection.

In the table below, a range of such properties are listed together with commonly used polymers such as ABS, PC and PP. It can be used during the design phase as a starting point. In the course of selection, the materials need further investigation with additional tests to approve the part suitability.

Table 1: relative comparison material data as a support tool in the polymer material selection of visible part applications

Thanks for reading and #findoutaboutplastics

Herwig Juster

Interested to talk with me about your plastic selection and part design needs - here you can contact me 

Interested in my monthly blog posts – then subscribe here and receive my high performance polymers knowledge matrix.
New to my Find Out About Plastics Blog – check out the start here section
Polymer Material Selection (PoMS) for Electric Vehicles (xEVs) - check out my new online course



Literature:

[1] Saechtling Kunststoff Taschenbuch

#HerwigJuster #Findoutaboutplastics

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Rule of Thumb Polymer Processing: Effective Injection Moulding Troubleshooting using the 4M Approach

Hello and welcome to a new Rule of Thumb blog post. Today we discuss the 4M approach for effective troubleshooting in polymer injection moulding.

Background of the 4M approach

In general, troubleshooting in injection moulding means to solve problems which are related to the part, mould, machine, material, or process. The 4M approach was coined by Mr. Kerkstra and Mr. Brammer and is a systematic way to solve injection moulding issues. As a troubleshooter you can influence 4 main areas:

1. Moulding process

2. Mould

3. Machine

4. Material

4M approach for systematic troubleshooting in injection moulding

During troubleshooting, potential root causes can be hidden behind each of the 4M’s. Using the 4M approach allows you to systematically work through one category at the time and create a list of potential root causes.

Always ask: ''which of the 4M’s could be the reason for the defect and why?” Getting to the root cause is key. Also, avoid processing around issues when in reality a change in the tool is needed.

Another trap in troubleshooting is trying to solve the wrong problem. For example, one is reducing the injection speed to avoid burns, however the real reason for the burn are blocked vents in the mould. Therefore, one may always ask what has changed in the mould, material, moulding process or machine setting.

Additionally, working to solve a potential root cause at a time and to do so collecting data is key. One can change a thing and then observe the impact. Changing several processing settings at the same time will make it impossible to solve any problem. And if there is no impact when you have done the change, then switching back to the original documented setting is fine.

What are some additional troubleshooting techniques?

There are several additional troubleshooting techniques, such as

-5 Why

-Scrap recording sheets

-Brainstorming

-Fishbone diagram

-Is/Is Not analysis

-Design of experiments (DOE)

Main takeaways

Asking questions and exploring answers is a main task in troubleshooting. Also it is important to check if the moulding problem is a new one or is already longer there. In case it is a new problem, one needs to dig in and find out what may have changed. Only change one thing at the time. The moulding process takes time to stabilize and to see the effect. Another point to pay attention to is that the medicine should not make you sick, meaning that the problem solved should not create new problems.

Successful troubleshooting combines knowledge, a systematic approach and experience

Additionally, I made a short training video on injection moulding troubleshooting, which you can find here.

Thank you for reading and #findoutaboutplastics

Herwig

Interested to talk with me about your plastic selection and part design needs - here you can contact me 

Interested in my monthly blog posts – then subscribe here and receive my high performance polymers knowledge matrix.
New to my Find Out About Plastics Blog – check out the start here section
Polymer Material Selection (PoMS) for Electric Vehicles (xEVs) - check out my new online course


Literature:

[1] Kerkstra / Brammer: Injection Molding Advanced Troubleshooting Guide, The 4M Approach