Spotlight on polymers - highlights of the Polymer Process Engineering meeting

Materials World magazine
1 Apr 2010

Professor Phil Coates presents highlights of the Polymer Process Engineering meeting held in Bradford, UK.

The Polymer Process Engineering international meeting was held in Bradford, UK, on 27-28 October 2009. The event covered process innovation, solid phase orientation, injection and extrusion technology, process monitoring and simulation developments, together with a focus on polymer nanocomposites and micro- and nanotechnology developments.

Professor Ian Ward of Leeds University, UK, gave the keynote presentation on the orientation processing of polymers. This covered extensive research by the Leeds and Bradford universities’ polymer groups on the significant property improvements resulting from molecular orientation and the development of commercial products, such as polyoxymethylene wire ropes. The paper was complemented by another from the Polymer Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC), Leeds, UK, on polyethylene (PE) single polymer composites made by hot compacting high modulus PE fibres – the process used PP fibres for the commercial Curv materials developed from the IRC work. This is a new concept in thermoplastic materials that bridges the gap between commodity plastics and traditional fibre-reinforced materials. Delegates from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, China, demonstrated orientation processing of pipes using a biaxial solid phase expansion technique.

Controlled environment
Process modelling and control studies, Autodesk Moldflow, San Rafael, USA, showed the importance of careful evaluation and determination of raw materials properties for enhanced accuracy of injection moulding simulation and high precision moulding. Studies of the effect on process efficiency and product properties of varying thermal conductivity of tooling, using copper alloys, by Bradford and Copperplas International Ltd, Ross-On-Wye, UK, showed that copper alloy tooling has the potential to achieve significant cycle time savings without detriment to process or product quality.

Medical applications of polymers were outlined by Invibio, a biomaterial solutions company for the surgical and medical markets, who uses polyetheretherketone for long-term implantable medical devices with better mechanical properties of match-to-bone for use in areas such as spinal and orthopaedic applications. In relation to process innovation, the Bradford interdisciplinary pharmaceutical engineering team, led by Professor Anant Paradkar at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Innovation, Bradford, UK, with Polymer IRC colleagues discussed the use of hot melt extrusion to improve solid dispersion in a polyethylene oxide carrier to enhance the solubility
of drugs.

Micro and nanotechnology
Polymer micro- and nanotechnology presentations formed the main part of the conference, including:
• Precision moulding studies. Surface replication is important for optical and potential medical products. A study led by John Coulter of Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA, demonstrated on proactive stimulation of stem cell development by surface structures was referenced.
• A precision geometry radio-opaque dental root canal product, now commercialised as SmartPoint by DRFP Ltd, Sheffield, UK.
• Microfluidics system moulding aimed at consistent high quality, low cost production for ‘lab-on-a-chip’ work.
• Techniques and products for two-component micromoulding products, including hearing aid parts – a co-operation between the Technical University of Denmark and Sonion, Roskilde, Denmark, and new technology from Desma, Fridingen, Germany.
• Process, mould and product metrology such as in-mould cavity thermal measurements and optical evaluations by Ben Whiteside from the Bradford Polymer IRC and the team. This enables more detailed in-cavity rheo-optical and thermal measurements in micromoulding than with conventional, larger scale injection moulding.
• Minimixer routes for a design of experiments study of optimum structuring of PP- and PET-clay nanocomposites by processing, including biaxial orientation post-processing to simulate packaging production processes. These were jointly presented by Queens University Belfast and Bradford. The project involves cooperation with Danone, JG Perrite, Innovia Films and a variety of other international industrial partners. It was complemented by a study of optical methods to characterise extrusion of nanocomposites at Queens.
• Validation of modelling in normal scale moulding and in the extremes presented by micromoulding, shown by Autodesk Moldflow.
• A new route to accelerate innovation in micro- and nanotechnology from Nanofactory, a collaboration of six UK universities in Yorkshire and Humberside, which aims to develop and implement strategies to overcome barriers to the uptake of nanotechnology techniques and products by regional SMEs.

At the event, the Polymer Micro and Nano Technology Centre at Bradford was launched. This £1.4 million additional investment in people and facilities is one of the 10 new Research and Knowledge Transfer Centres in which the University is investing. It provides facilities for materials, technology and product developments for polymers, polymer nanocomposites and biomaterials, and can handle metal and ceramic powder materials.

Further information:
Professor Phil Coates