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Level Detection: Baghouse Dust Collectors

The Dynatrol DJ level switch is designed for application to either high or low point level detection of bulk solids. It operates successfully on applications such as baghouses, cyclone separators, and above airlocks. Maintain consistent results on chemical powders, minerals, and many other granulated materials. 

4 Signs of Bucket Elevator Inefficiency

Continuous bucket elevators are widely used in many facilities to transport bulk solids. While a well-designed continuous bucket elevator is an effective means of material transport, there are factors that can degrade the overall efficiency of a unit. In this article, we highlight four signs of bucket elevator inefficiency, whose causes, if not addressed, can seriously compromise equipment performance.

U.S. Chemical Production Starts New Year with a Gain

According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the U.S. Chemical Production Regional Index (U.S. CPRI) rose by 0.3 percent in January, following a 0.6 percent gain in December and a 0.2 percent gain in November. During January, chemical output rose across all regions, with the largest gains in the Gulf Coast region.

Plastic bottle simulation that includes the label contributes to package success

Although computer-generated simulation has been used for many years to evaluate the structural attributes of a bottle before it is even blown, oftentimes the process stops short.

PTI shrink-sleeve simulationIf you consider that labels are the “hook” by which consumers are enticed to purchase the particular product, it stands to reason that simulation should be expanded to include what happens to the visual attributes once the label is applied to a bottle.

Even though your internal designers or external design house are capable of creating a stunning label, have you given any thought to how what happens to the visual impact should those graphics end up distorted?

Because bottles have frequently been lightweighted, extra ribbing and other structural features are incorporated to create strength attributes to support a thinner wall structure. What can happen in these situations is that visual aesthetics can be impaired by package deformation after filling or storage. Many plastic bottles, particularly in the beverage category, are shrink sleeved which means that every physical detail of the container is visible on the tightly wrapped, stretched material.

For example, important text can become unreadable because it ends up recessed in a structural element that has been added to keep the package rigid enough to handle. What started off as a gorgeous label may end up being much less effective as a brand billboard.

Pouches problematic, too

Further, this situation is not exclusive to plastic bottles. Take, for example, flexible stand-up pouches.  When lying unfilled and flat, the graphics are clearly visible. However, when filled, and perhaps gas flushed, pinching can occur along the side seams as well as curving of the front and back panels.  What could be clearly read when the pouch is unfilled, could end up distorted or even illegible when the pouch is filled and is standing upright.

Fortunately, technology exists to detect and prevent downstream surprises with modern simulation tools. Although the capability of computer-aided design (CAD) geometry to render with label has been available for quite some time, simulation can now show how far the flexible label can deform in order to conform to the surface geometry of the package. This can aid in selecting an appropriate label material, for example, or designing a bottle in which the label deformation occurs in a non-critical location.

Modern rendering techniques can map the original label on the deformed surface and provide a realistic picture of the final product visually. That means that graphics and text can be repositioned in keeping with the changed mold surface to minimize the distortion. Or modifications can be made to the bottle so that it can be a “friendlier” host to the label.

Sumit Mukherjee of PTISo, if you are currently not extending your simulation beyond the bottle, you should really consider it.  Doing so before the bottle is even produced, can save you significant costs and time-consuming iterations down the road.

Author: Sumit Mukherjee is the Vice President, Advanced Engineering Services, Plastic Technologies, Inc. He has 25 years of experience in preform and container design, materials characterization, process simulation and modeling, and finite element analysis (FEA) for package performance prediction.

About PTI

PTI is recognized worldwide as a preferred source for preform and package design, package development, rapid prototyping, pre-production prototyping, and material evaluation engineering for the plastic packaging industry. For more information: www.pti-usa.com.

 

Discover the plastics industry's newest technologies, processes and materials at PLAST-EX in Toronto (June 4 to 6, 2019), co-located with Pack-Ex, Design & Manufacturing, ATX and Powder & Bulk Solids under the Advanced Design & Manufacturing Expo umbrella at the Toronto Congress Center. For details, visit PLAST-EX Toronto .

Global carbon nanotube market to grow to around 4000 tonnes by 2023

Japan’s Yano Research Institute Ltd. (Tokyo) has released a report, in Japanese, that among its findings predicts a global carbon nanotube (CNT) market of 3931.1 tonnes by 2023, representing compound annual growth of 12.8%. The global CNT market in 2018 was pegged by Yano at 2255.8 tonnes, representing 118.5% year-on-year growth.

Showa Denko (SDK) completed a 400-tonnes/y plant for VGCF-X, a new grade of carbon nanotube with a diameter of 15 nm and an optimized design for resin composite applications, in March 2010. The plant is the second carbon nanotube production facility for SDK.

The report’s definition of CNTs includes the VGCF product offered by Japan’s Showa Denko with diameter of around 150 nm or more that has a similar structure to conventional CNTs and is used as a lithium ion battery (LiB) material. Conventional CNTs possess diameters of one to several dozen nm, and Showa Denko also offer such a product for polymer composite applications.

Yano reports that prices for single-wall CNTs have been declining and consequently, their application scope has widened to include conductive and antistatic paints and coatings, thermoset and thermoplastic resin composites, glass, asphalt and tires. Multiwall CNTs, meanwhile, are experiencing demand growth in LiB conductivity auxiliary applications as electric vehicle (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) production growth and the China market expands.

CNTs can extend LiB life compared when carbon black and graphite powder are employed. The 2018 global market for LiB conductivity auxiliaries was estimated at more than 10,000 tonnes, of which multilayer CNTs accounted for a more than 15% market share.

Recent plastics-related developments include a conductive polychlorotrifluoroethylene resin from Taiyo Nippon Sanso, and a CNT/carbon fiber thermoplastic composite by Arkema.

American Mold Builders Association survey points to generally positive business outlook

Survey imageAn online survey of mold manufacturers conducted by the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA; Indianapolis) reaped generally positive views of the business outlook going into 2019. The medical, dental and optical sectors are deemed the most promising, while automotive is expected to lag.

Presidents, owners and senior staff from 136 companies took the survey, which ran from Dec. 27 through Jan. 31. Forty-four percent of respondents were from companies reporting $1 million to $4.9 million in sales and 39% came from companies in the $5 million to $14.9 million range. Manufacturers of plastic injection molds represented 77% of respondents; 16% were makers of rubber and compression molds.

The top three markets served by survey participants were automotive (65%), consumer products (58%), and medical, dental and optical (49%). Packaging came in fourth at 24%.

Employment was up for 12% of respondents compared with three months prior to the survey; 76% reported that employment remained the same; and 11% said that employment was down. In the 2018 business forecast, 29% reported that employment was up, with 67% saying it was unchanged, and only 4% reporting a decline.

Backlog was up for 40% of the respondents in the 2019 survey, compared with 32% in the 2018 survey.

AMBA Executive Director Troy Nix noted that the vast majority of mold makers with sales over $15 million saw an increase in backlog while those companies below $1 million in sales saw a decrease. “Those companies in the median sales area carried the bulk of the increased backlog,” he said.

Profits were the same for 60% of respondents compared with three months before the survey; they were up for 23% and down for 17% of respondents.     

Overall, the current state of business as viewed in the survey period is mostly positive, Nix reported, with 50% of respondents reporting that business conditions are “good.” Smaller companies with under $1 million in sales, however, were the least likely to express optimism.

The hiring forecast looks promising, with 75% of respondents saying that they will be hiring; 15% said they were “not sure.” That might be due to the fact that over the next three months half of survey respondents said they expect business to “increase moderately,” with 10% saying they expect it to increase “substantially.” For about one-third of respondents, business is expected to remain the same.

A plurality (33%) of mold manufacturers expect to see the biggest business opportunities in the medical, dental and optical sectors, followed by automotive (16%), consumer goods (13%) and packaging (7%). “An aging population is creating growth opportunities,” commented Nix. “Even in a poor economy, medical, dental and optical will continue to grow.”

The automotive market has slipped out of the fast lane for 47% of respondents. “They seem to be more skeptical of automotive,” Nix said. “Automotive is projecting under 17 million units forecast for the first time in four years. If you’re servicing GM, you’re probably not optimistic, as autonomous and electric vehicles are starting to sliver out suppliers.”

Capital expenditures are expected to decrease among 60% of respondents with less than $1 million in sales. At companies in the $1 million to $4.9 million category, 48% expect to increase capital expenditures. “A lot of companies took advantage of the 2018 tax changes,” commented Nix.

The top challenge for moldmaking companies continues to be workforce development, with 100% of respondents noting that in the survey.

With respect to overseas tooling procurement, 66% said they do some buying of molds offshore. “I’d love to see the 29% grow to 100% one day,” Nix said. The number of respondents purchasing some molds overseas is down from 72% in 2017, however. “I have to think tariffs have something to do with the drop-off,” said Nix.

From the viewpoint of plastics processing customers, 42% said they are reshoring work back to the United States; 36% said they are not actively looking; and 19% reported customers were moderately looking. That’s optimistic, with Nix noting that the numbers were reversed not too many years ago. (The numbers are from the Manufacturers Association of Plastics Processors; Nix is also Executive Director of that trade group.)

“People are trying to bring stuff back, but processors are taking their foot off the accelerator,” Nix commented. “There was a lot of activity in 2018 with capital expenditures from processors, with 43% investing in automation and 31% investing in primary equipment. They’re doing everything they can to drive labor out of the process.”

Meet the new SPE Fellows

SPE–Inspiring Plastics Professionals (Bethel, CT) will introduce 12 new Fellows at its ANTEC 2019 conference in Detroit next month. They are being recognized for their outstanding contributions in the field of plastics engineering, science or technology, or in the management of such activities, said SPE.

To be considered, candidates are sponsored by an SPE division or special interest group and elected by the Fellows Election Committee based on their professional record as well as written sponsorships from at least two SPE members. These 12 individuals will join an elite group: Only 340 members, including the new Fellows, have received this title since it was introduced in 1984.

The new Fellows will be honored at SPE ANTEC, the world’s largest technical conference for plastics professionals, taking place at the Marriott Detroit Renaissance on March 18 to 21. And here they are . . .

Dr. Abdellah Ajji, SPEDr. Abdellah Ajji is a professor at the Chemical Engineering Department of Polytechnique Montréal Engineering University and holds an NSERC-Industry research Chair on safe, smart and sustainable packaging (3SPack). His research interests are in polymer processing, blends and nano-composites. Recently, his focus has been on applications involving multi-layer films and nano-fiber structures with functional polymers for active packaging, sensing and biomedical applications. He has published more than 200 journal papers, seven patents and applications, and more than 200 conference proceedings. He is also Associate Editor of the Journal of Polymer Engineering, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Plastic Films and Sheeting and a member of many professional societies including SPE. Sponsored by SPE Flexible Packaging division.

Professor Stephen H. Carr, SPEProfessor Stephen H. Carr has served on the engineering faculty at Northwestern since 1969, teaching and conducting research in areas related to polymeric materials. His research program made important contributions in areas such as alloys of rod-like polymers, piezo-electric and conducting polymers, and network polymers. Professor Carr served as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Engineering at Northwestern from 1992 to 2015. During his time in that position, he drove the evolution of the school’s education to focus on living at frontiers—both in research and in design. He was a past officer in SPE’s Engineering & Property Structure division. Sponsored by SPE Engineering & Property Structure division.

Donna S. Davis, SPEDonna S. Davis is a Sustainability and Advocacy Manager, Polyethylene, at ExxonMobil Chemical Co. During her career at ExxonMobil, she has led new product development efforts such as the introduction of Exact plastomers and other specialty polymers. She entered the polymers world via process design, going back to ExxonMobil’s first gas-phase polyethylene plants in Texas, Saudi Arabia and Canada. She has been heavily engaged in packaging markets and applications, particularly developing opportunities for ethylene- and propylene-copolymers. Davis has championed industry-wide technical interaction by organizing programming for Thermoplastic Materials and Foams, Flexible Packaging, Polyolefins and Sustainability. She has also chaired SPE’s technical program committees and general

operating committees for SPE’s Annual Technical Conference. She was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 2018 and served as the 2003-2004 President of the Society of Plastics Engineers. Sponsored by SPE Flexible Packaging division.

Professor Rakesh K. Gupta, SPEProfessor Rakesh K. Gupta is the George & Carolyn Berry Professor of Chemical Engineering at West Virginia University. Previously, he taught at SUNY Buffalo and worked for Monsanto, DuPont and Braskem. He has B. Tech and PhD degrees from IIT Kanpur and the University of Delaware, respectively. He does research on rheology, polymer processing and polymer composites and nano-composites. He has published more than 120 journal and 80 conference papers. He holds three U.S. patents and is the author of Polymer and Composite Rheology. He co-authored the Fundamentals of Polymer Engineering textbook and co-edited Handbook of Polymer Nanocomposites and Graphite, Graphene and their Polymer Nanocomposites. Sponsored by SPE Building and Infrastructure division.

Dr. Thomas W. Haas, SPEDr. Thomas W. Haas received a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from SUNY Buffalo, an M.S. degree in engineering mechanics from Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. and PhD degrees in aerospace and mechanical science from Princeton University in the Polymer Materials program. Dr. Haas joined Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 1983 as Professor and Director of the Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program. He also acted as Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs of the new VCU School of Engineering from 1995 to 1999. He currently holds a part time position as professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering. In addition to being a Distinguished Member of SPE, he is a Fellow of the Plastics and Rubber Institute (now the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining) in the United Kingdom and a Fellow of the Virginia Academy of Science (VAS).  Sponsored by SPE Medical Plastics division.
 
Dr. Christian Hopmann, SPEDr. Christian Hopmann holds the position of Chair for Plastics Processing and is director of the IKV – Institute for Plastics Processing in Industry and Crafts at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. He is co-founder of the AZL – Aachen Center for Lightweight Production and Vice Dean of the faculty for mechanical engineering. After studying mechanical engineering, he received his doctoral degree from RWTH Aachen University. Following a senior vice-director position at IKV, he started his industrial career in 2005 at the plastics processing company RKW SE, latterly as Managing Director of RKW Sweden A.B. in Helsingborg. He participated in the program for executive development at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Sponsored by SPE Injection Molding division.

Dr. Ying (Lora) Liang, SPEDr. Ying (Lora) Liang is a Research Principal in the global packaging core technology group at Mondelēz International, working on research and development and commercialization of enabling innovative technologies spanning multiple food package formats and categories. Dr. Liang earned her PhD from Michigan State and her MBA from DePaul University. With more than 20 years’ industry experience, she advocates for industrial collaboration across the supply chain to deliver breakthrough innovations. Prior to Mondelēz, Dr. Liang worked 11 years at Nanocor, where she spearheaded nano-composite technology development and commercialization. Dr. Liang’s patents range from polymer composite to barrier/sealant technologies. She is a frequent speaker at conferences. Dr. Liang currently serves as treasurer

for SPE Bioplastics & Renewable Technologies division and Board of Directors of the Flexible Packaging division. She is also the editor of Plastic Film and Sheeting. Sponsored by SPE Engineering & Property Structure division.

Professor Jan-Anders E. Mansson, SPEProfessor Jan-Anders E. Mansson obtained his PhD from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. After five years as head of the research and development department at a Swedish Tier-1/2 company, he was appointed professor at the University of Washington. In 1990, he joined the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) as Professor and Director of the Polymer and Composite Technology Laboratory. He also served as EPFL Vice-President. In 2016, Mansson joined Purdue University as Distinguished Professor and Director of the Composite Manufacturing and Simulation Center. Professor Mansson is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, IVA, the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences, SATW and is founder of composites company EELCEE Ltd. Sponsored by SPE Composites division.
 
Professor Amar Mohanty, SPEProfessor Amar Mohanty holds the Premier’s Research Chair in Biomaterials and Transportation as well as Research Leadership Chair at the University of Guelph, where he is also Director of the Bioproducts Discovery & Development Centre. He is an international leader in the field of bio-based materials with a focus on engineering new sustainable materials. He has more than 800 publications, including 348 peer-reviewed journal papers, and has 56 patents awarded/applied (total citations 28,135 – Google scholar). Also named a Fellow of American Institute of Chemical Engineers and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK). Sponsored by SPE Injection Molding division.

Dr. Maria del Pilar Noriega, SPEDr. Maria del Pilar Noriega, PhD, is the current Director General of ICIPC, Rubber and Plastic Institute for Training and Research. She has done graduate studies in polymer chemistry at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany and in thermoplastic extrusion at IKT, Institute for Plastics Technology, in Stuttgart, Germany. She earned a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has co-authored five technical books and numerous technical papers in international journals; is co-inventor of four granted patents in Colombia and two granted patents in the United States; and has four international patent applications and one patent application in Colombia. She is a member of the SPE Extrusion division and Board of Directors. Sponsored by SPE Extrusion division.
 
Dr. John Perdikoulias, SPEDr. John Perdikoulias is a professional engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the plastics industry. He holds B. Eng. and M. Eng. degrees from McMaster University and a PhD from the University of Waterloo in Canada. He is currently President of Compuplast North America, providing simulation software and services to the polymer processing industry worldwide. He has been elected as an SPE Honored Service Member for his contributions to the society and, in 2017, he received the SPE Extrusion division’s Bruce Maddock Award for his contributions to the industry. Sponsored by SPE Extrusion division.
 
Dr. Hsinjin Edwin Yang, SPEDr. Hsinjin Edwin Yang received a PhD in polymer science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has more than 25 years of success in technical leadership and management experience at companies such as Eastman Chemical, Essilor, Baxter and UL, and runs his own consulting business called Pioneer Scientific Solutions. He has issued more than 20 patents and published more than 50 papers. He is editor of the book, Durability and Reliability of Polymers and Other Materials in Photovoltaic Modules. He has made significant and creative contributions to plastics science and technology in the following areas: Quantitative understanding of polymer flammability; innovative injection-compression molding design and process for zero birefringence polycarbonate lens; miscible blends of polyesters and polycarbonates; correlation between free volume behaviors and barrier performance of polymers; and service life prediction of performance plastics. Sponsored by SPE Engineering & Property Structure division.

GW Plastics expands medical molding operations in Ireland

Avenue MouldIt has only been a couple of years since GW Plastics Inc. (Bethel, VT) scooped up Avenue Mould Solutions in Sligo, Ireland, but it is already announcing an expansion to meet increased customer demand in its medical device and drug-delivery business, the company announced today.

GW Plastics plans to invest more than €6 million ($6.8 million) to expand product development, precision tooling, thermoplastic and silicone injection molding, and contract assembly capabilities in Europe. The company’s molding operations will be moved to a scalable 28,000-square-foot site in Sligo, Ireland, the company said in a press release.

An injection molder and contract manufacturer serving medical device OEMs, among others, GW Plastics acquired Avenue Mould Solutions in 2017. With that acquisition, GW was able to offer precision mold-building, advanced injection molding and contract manufacturing on three continents—North America, Asia and Europe.

Avenue Mould has particular expertise in building ultra-high-cavitation tooling—up to 192-cavity molds—for the medical device, diagnostics and pharmaceutical markets. Bringing that capability in house allowed GW Plastics to claim that it now ranks as one of the plastic industry’s largest manufacturers of precision molds.

“Avenue has brought to GW Plastics a highly skilled manufacturing workforce, an award-winning mold-building company and a growing medical device contract manufacturing business that has been successfully serving Ireland and the broader European market for over 30 years,” said Brenan Riehl, GW Plastics President and CEO. “GW Plastics is delighted to build on Avenue’s success with this expansion, and we look forward to better serving our customers in Ireland and greater Europe.”

Sligo in northwestern Ireland has been recognized by the Irish government as a major regional center and driver of economic development under the Project Ireland 2040 national development plan.

Ireland as a whole has been very successful in developing a medical manufacturing cluster starting in the 1980s. Many U.S. medical device manufacturers established operations over the years, seeing it as a convenient path for entering the European market, and a robust supply chain developed in their wake. The Galway region, about 90 miles to the south of Sligo, traditionally has been the center of Ireland’s medtech hub, but other pockets have developed.

As its neighbor to the east wrestles with the Brexit train wreck, Ireland’s profile as an entry point to the European Union may well gain even greater stature.

Bioresin prepreg meets the stringent rail fire standard

Composites Evolution’s Evopreg PFC502 prepreg has recently completed an extensive series of tests to demonstrate compliance with the Hazard Level 3 (HL3) requirements of rail industry fire standard EN45545-2.

The Evopreg PFC502 prepreg passed stringent fire standard tests.
One of the first commercial examples of the PFA-based fire-resistant bioresin prepreg is a lightweight rail passenger seat support.

Evopreg PFC502 prepregs are a range of fire-retardant pre-impregnated composite materials based on a polyfurfuryl alcohol (PFA) bioresin. PFA is a thermosetting bioresin derived from crop waste. It is similar to phenolic resin but with lower toxicity and VOC emissions. In addition to its environmental credentials, it has outstanding fire-retardant properties, plus excellent temperature and chemical resistance. Evopreg PFC502 prepregs can be used to produce a wide range of interior components including wall and ceiling panels, seats, tables and vestibule areas.

HL3 represents the most stringent requirement of EN45545-2, allowing materials to be used on trains that pass through tunnels where no side evacuation is possible, such as in many underground metro systems. The EN45545-2 testing was performed by Element Materials Technology against Requirement Sets R1 (interior surfaces) and R6 (passenger seat shells). The testing included heat release to ISO 5660-1, lateral flame spread to EN 5658-2 and smoke density and toxicity to EN ISO 5659-2. Both glass and carbon-reinforced PFA laminates were tested and both met the HL3 requirement.

Evopreg PFC502 prepregs can be supplied with a wide range of reinforcement fibers and fabric constructions. They can be consolidated by vacuum bagging, press molding or autoclave and are designed for applications including rail interiors, aircraft interiors, marine, offshore and construction.

Brendon Weager, Composites Evolution’s Technical Director commented: “We’re greatly encouraged by this set of test results. We had already performed extensive testing to demonstrate compliance against the fire requirements of aircraft passenger interiors, so we were confident of achieving a good level of performance. However, we now have the hard data to demonstrate our materials can also meet the demands of the rail sector whilst enabling new composite design possibilities.”

A lightweight rail passenger seat support manufactured from the fire-resistant bioresin prepreg has been nominated as a finalist in the Land Transportation Category of the 2019 JEC World Awards. The seat support was designed and manufactured by Bercella using materials supplied by Composites Evolution. Extensive testing of the structure was performed by Element Materials Technology.

A key innovation of the component is the use of Composites Evolution’s Evopreg PFC prepreg. Evopreg PFC was specified for this application because of its excellent fire performance, low toxicity and outstanding environmental credentials. The base resin is 100% bio-derived, thereby providing a safer and more sustainable alternative to traditional phenolics for equivalent cost and performance.

The seat support, which is one meter long but weighs less than 5 kg, has passed a wide range of tests including static loadings and fatigue cycling. It has also met the most stringent requirement, Hazard Level (HL) 3, of rail fire standard EN 45545.

Gareth Davies, Composites Evolution’s Commercial Manager commented: “The team are honored to have their work acknowledged by these prestigious awards. The seat component represents the culmination of a two-year development program by the partners and we’re delighted with the outcome. We’re particularly pleased with how well Evopreg PFC has performed in both the structural testing and fire testing.”

The award winners in each category will be announced at a ceremony during the JEC World exhibition in Paris on the 13th March 2019. Composites Evolution will be exhibiting at the show on stand S50 in Hall 6.

Milacron reports Q4 and full year earnings results

Milacron quarterly reportMilacron Holdings Corp. (Cincinnati, OH) ended 2018 with sales of $1,258.2 million, an increase of 1.9% from sales of $1,234.2 million in the prior year, the company reported during its Feb. 21 earnings conference call. Excluding the favorable effects of currency movements, sales for the year ended Dec. 31, 2018, increased 1.2% compared to the prior year. Orders decreased 6.8% on an as-reported basis to $1,211.2 million, and operating earnings increased 19.6% to $106.6 million. Cash flow from operations of $124.3 million increased $13.9 million, driving free cash flow of $102.1 million, an $18.9 million increase versus $83.2 million in the prior year.

Sales in the fourth quarter of 2018 were down 4.2% to $311.4 million; orders also decreased 13.3% to $274.2 million. Operating earnings increased 45.2% to $15.1 million, and cash flow from operations of $68.8 million decreased $34.2 million, driving free cash flow of $63.2 million, a $32.3 million decrease versus $95.5 million in the prior year period.

“Milacron delivered another solid year of results, meeting our sales and adjusted EBITDA targets and exceeding our target for free cash flow,” said Milacron President and CEO, Tom Goeke. “We also capped off our multi-year restructuring initiative. Looking ahead to 2019, Milacron’s strategy remains unchanged and all of our platforms are well-positioned for growth and margin expansion. We are well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities in 2019.”

Milacron CFO, Bruce Chalmers, added, “We delivered on our commitment for 2018 by voluntarily paying down a total of $100 million on our term loan and our net-to-debt ratio ended at 2.9. In addition, we made significant improvements in working capital as we continue to strengthen our balance sheet. Our guidance for 2019 reflects our expectation of the impact of policy-induced trade headwinds in the first half of the year with a recovery in the second half as the headwinds recede.”

As a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Tax Act), the company began to recognize indefinite-lived deferred tax assets associated with U.S. net operating loss carry forwards and deferred interest deductions generated during the year ended Dec. 31, 2018. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the company made a tax accounting policy election to utilize existing indefinite-lived deferred tax liabilities as a source of income to support recognition of the aforementioned indefinite-lived deferred tax assets. In conjunction with this election, the company recorded an income tax benefit of $6.4 million, or $0.09 diluted adjusted earnings per share, related to the reversal of valuation allowances previously recorded against the deferred tax assets.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Milacron recorded a net income tax benefit of $8.9 million, or $0.12 diluted adjusted earnings per share, relating to the enactment of the Tax Act. This benefit was primarily driven by the release of valuation allowances on AMT credits and the revaluation of net deferred tax liabilities, partially offset by the recognition of withholding tax liabilities on planned cash repatriation from non-U.S. subsidiaries.

Milacron’s various business segments reflected the relatively flat results the company reported. Sales for Q4 2018 for the Melt Delivery & Control Systems were $102.3 million compared to $103.6 million in the same period a year ago. For the year ended Dec. 31, 2018, sales saw an increase to $451.7 million compared to $423.9 million in the same period a year ago.

Fluid Technologies saw sales increase slightly to $31.1 million compared to $31.0 million in the same period a year ago. Sales were up for the year ended Dec. 31, 2018, to $129.3 million compared to $121.2 million in the same period a year ago.

Sales decreased in the fourth quarter for the Advanced Plastic Processing Technologies (APPT): $178.0 million compared to $190.3 million in the same period a year ago. Sales in the APPT segment were $677.2 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2018, compared to $689.1 million in the same period a year ago.

For 2019, Milacron forecasts negative sales growth in the -3% to -4% range, which is inclusive of an anticipated 1% foreign currency headwind. On a pro forma basis, Milacron forecasts 0% to 1% sales growth in 2019, inclusive of the aforementioned foreign currency headwind. Adjusted EBITDA margin is forecast to be between 17.5% and 18.0%. Free cash flow is forecast to be between $100 million and $110 million.