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News commentary: NPE2009 highlights sustainability efforts by plastics industry

News commentary: NPE2009 highlights sustainability efforts by plastics industry

commentary With an expected attendance of 75,000 plastics professionals from approximately 120 countries, the NPE2009 show at Chicago’s McCormick Place offers a plethora of fresh ideas for the plastics industry as well as the many industries—such as packaging—that use plastics. The show blew into town on Monday, June 22, and the five-day show will go dark this afternoon at 3 p.m.
I think it's safe to acknowledge that the sustainability movement went mainstream a while back, and virtually all industries are putting forth sustainability efforts. That said, plastics—as an industry—is especially challenged when it comes to being acknowledged for its sustainable efforts. Plastics, generally, do not appear to be considered sustainable by the average consumer.
On the subject of what makes a product sustainable: It is this writer’s

opinion that like many other socially oriented values, a product’s sustainability can only be measured in degrees and not absolute sustainable or not-sustainable values. A great number of smart people working towards sustainable goals also are continually questioning and re-evaluating the tools used to measure a product’s sustainability. This I consider a positive because faith is better invested for religions not systems. Even then, it can be argued that nothing is ever above questioning. But this is a topic for a publication of a different nature.
At the NPE show, there were three exhibitions halls with sustainable solutions and concepts throughout—much too much for one writer or even the team of PD reporters that blanketed the show to cover. I strongly suggest that those who are strongly interested in sustainability and can attend the last day of the show, do so. It can be an eye-opening and, frankly, quite a heartening experience.
How packaging professionals benefit from the technology exhibited at the show is through the efficiencies, sustainability and product quality improvements made when plastic goes through the converting process. To this aim, PD brings news from a small sampling of the exhibitors visited.
Brown Machine, booth S46044
The company states its direct extrusion B-Series Hot Sheet Thermoformer offers more manufacturing sustainability with technological advances when compared to traditional pellet-to-product inline systems. One of the major differences is that the B-Series thermoformers incorporate a roll stack at the entrance end of the

thermoformer. Therefore, hot sheet material is extruded directly onto a set of conditioning rolls within the machine, eliminating the need for a separate roll stand system like those found in conventional inline systems and thereby reducing costs in both components and energy utilization.
The sheet transfers from the conditioning roll stack system into the thermoformer’s sheet transport rails at a higher process temperature, thus maintaining a greater core sheet temperature. A higher core temperature sheet creates forming conditions that provides more precise material distribution in product and also downgauging of sheet thickness. This also allows the system to utilize a 2-stop oven instead of a 4 or 5-stop oven. Heat requirements are reduced by more than one half, saving the customer substantial energy costs. The two-stop top and bottom multiple-zoned oven is controlled to optimally profile the heat pattern of the sheet consistent with the material and product being thermoformed.
Autodesk Inc, booth S10025
Perhaps, one of the most sustainable ways to create a prototype could be virtually. Autodesk for the tools are written to help packaging designers visualize, simulate and analyze real-world performance before manufacturing even a prototype package. At the Autodesk booth, I chatted with Hilde Sevens, Autodesk senior product line manager for its manufacturing solution division, and John Callen, the company's product manager for computer integrated manufacturing also in the manufacturing solutions division.
Sevens explained how the company is looking toward “democratizing” it solutions, with pricing for its 2-D LT product hovering around the $1,000 mark. The company has a wide range of design software that goes up in price and capabilities from this point, including AutoCAD Inventor Suite 2010 that sells in the low-$5,000 to low-$6,000 range. This software can be used to build an accurate 3D model that validates the form, fit, and function of a design, and it can take that 3D model through motion simulation and stress analysis.
R & B Plastics Machinery LLC, booth S20063
In addition to manufacturing blow molding machines and single-screw plastic extruders, R&B Plastics Machinery has a reconditioning service which can extend the lifecycle of plastics manufacturing equipment. Services offered include complete teardown and replacement of worn or damaged components; steam-cleaning, priming and painting of the machine; upgrades or replacement of PLC and HMI; and complete upgrade to newest ANSI safety standards.
The company, which is known for supply private-brand equipment for container manufacturing, also launched its Max Extruder brand. According to Al Hodge, vp of sales at R&B Plastics, the 2.5-in, 24:1 single-screw extruder with diameters from 1- to 10 inches is not a new machine. The machine has been field tested for many years. The brand name offers a convenient moniker with which customers can easily reference and identify the machine.
Milliken Chemical, booth s54055

According to Brian Burkhart, Ph.D., Milliken Chemical’s global market manager for PP clarifiers, his company’s additives can bridge the aesthetics gap between PP and other plastics, thus making PP a more attractive option for packaging designers. The company’s Milad NX8000 clarifier significantly reduces haze, enabling manufacture of a container with high clarity but without BPA. Milliken displayed several applications include shampoo bottles, cosmetics jars, water storage bottles and baby bottles. Food packaging applications shown include Libby Peach slices in a wide-mouth plastic jar.
3M, booth W121037
The tiny bubbles on display at the 3M booth are not the same ones that Don Ho sung about in his Billboard chart in his 1966 hit, but they might make eco-conscious consumers feel fine. The 3M Glass Bubbles can be used to lightweight plastics by creating stable voids in polymers

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