British Plastics Federation's Philip Law talks injection moulding

Materials World magazine
,
1 Feb 2016

Khai Trung Le talks to Philip Law, Director General of the British Plastics Federation, on developments in injection moulding technology.

Tell me about your background prior to your role as Director General with the British Plastics Federation?

I joined the British Plastics Federation (BPF) in 1978, which I found to be a very compelling organisation. Working at the crossroads of a major industry provided immense variety in the problems thrown up, and working there was, and is, as challenging as it gets. The BPF’s front line jobs are very much done in public and you need to develop a thick skin early on.

Initially, I was an executive responsible for a couple of sectoral groups, including Moulders, but, in 1981, I was asked to prepare a three–year plan for the BPF, resulting in me being appointed Planning Manager. A direct consequence of the plan was the admission of continental European polymerisers into the BPF. After a few other roles, I became Public and Industrial Affairs Director in 1996, responsible for issues management and communications. I was privileged to become BPF’s Director General in July 2014.

In my earlier roles, a constant theme was the heightening of the BPF’s presence in the EU and I was successively Chairman of the Standardisation, Food Contact, Environment and Communications Committees of the European Plastics Converters Association in Brussels. I have also served as the Communications Director of EUROMAP, the Frankfurt-based European plastics machinery organisation and, for many years, I represented the BPF within the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers’ PVC Network, again in Brussels, Belgium.

How much change have you seen in injection moulding machinery over the last decade?

It’s been a story of gradual incremental improvement focusing on energy and production efficiency. Aspirations to reshore new projects which may have flowed to Asia has put an emphasis on reducing manufacturing costs.

The sustainability story has gripped major users, as expressed in their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. Suppliers of moulded parts have had to respond in equal measure with the overall result of reducing the environmental impacts of the product. Energy efficiency has been a fundamental focus as energy taxes, such as the UK’s Climate Change Levy, have bitten deep across Europe. The availability of more energy efficient drives plus a greater uptake of all-electric machines are classic responses. BPF member Philips Avent recently reported 65% energy savings following installation of three all-electric machines in place of hydraulic presses.

Commentators say we are moving towards ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ - ‘Industry 4.0’ - a scene of totally integrated manufacturing in digital factories. Leading injection moulding machinery suppliers are moving towards this, conceiving machines interacting with multi-axis robots and computerised moulds, fully networked to other production units and the different processes required to produce and incorporate inserts.  The flexible automation provided by these systems can be adapted for both high volume production and for part individualisation.

We are also seeing the extension of multi-component moulding – key to the further consolidation of components – to the production of larger parts.  The challenge of progressive component miniaturisation is being met by corresponding developments in micro-injection moulding.

What technological developments in the UK moulding industry have caught your eye over the last 12 months?

Two developments in particular have caught my eye – one is MuCell technology, the controlled use of gas to create a foamed part with microcells uniform in size and distribution. This produces economic advantages with up to 33% more parts per hour produced on a given machine. Lower tonnage presses can also be used.

The second is 3D printing technology to produce plastics prototype injection moulds, of up to 100 parts. There are significant cost savings as design improvements can be changed directly in CAD and the mould re-printed.

How does the UK sector compare with other regions?

We have an extraordinarily broad customer base for injection mouldings in the UK, with one of the biggest national automotive markets in the EU. My gut feeling is that productivity is much higher than it is given credit for. The industry is packed with aggressive small- and medium-sized operations with impressive specialties. Our research indicates that of the top five users of plastics in the Europe, the UK, in terms of value added, comes in at second place, hot on the heels of Germany but ahead of France, Italy and Spain. A major advantage we have is the top class design fraternity in the UK, and it is the BPF’s intention to harness this more closely to the expertise of the plastics industry.

What can we expect from the BPF in 2016?

We will be publishing a strategy for the UK plastics industry in the first quarter. This will cover industry reputation, availability of materials, sustainability, new markets and design. We will be launching a Polymer Ambassadors campaign targeting schools backed up by an educational website – PolymerZone.co.uk – and a schools kit.

There will be a general elevation of communications to promote the benefits of plastics, and we will be projecting the capabilities of the UK plastics industry globally with major exhibitions presence at Plastics and Rubber Vietnam, Chinaplas in Shanghai, China, and the K 2016 fair in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Although Law has been with the BPF for 34 years, his working background is impressively varied, ‘I was born in Lancaster in 1954, then very much an industrial town, and went to the University of Nottingham, and York, aspiring to be an academic medieval historian. Following a University of Oxford teaching certificate, I did stints teaching in comprehensive schools before finally deciding on a commercial path, starting off in a textile printing firm.’

Spotlight: moulding your success 

1. Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, Germany, has introduced its SEEV-A series of mid-sized injection moulding machines. The all-electric series includes eight models ranging from 247 to 556 tonnes aiming to pair precision and productivity of mid-sized electric devices to larger, heavier and more complex moulds that would otherwise require a hybrid or hydraulic machine.The SEEV-A range reduces injection and clamp force requirements, due to the increase in tie bar spacing (8% in transverse, 15% in longitudinal direction) compared to the preceding SE-HDZ series. The SEEV-A range also incorporates Sumitomo-exclusive features, including the S-MOVE, replacing multi-step, mould-open/close speed settings with optimised speed patterns and clamp open/close speeds of up to 1,438mm/s.

2. Italy-based BMB revealed the eKW range of electric injection moulding machines in late 2015 – Managing Director of BMB Plastics Machinery Nigel Baker said, ‘We now have the largest all-electric machine in the market, at up to 2,200 tonnes.’ BMB showcased the eKW28Pi/1300 machine at Fakuwa 2015, which moulded a rectangular PP lid weighing 8.2g in a cycle time of 4.2 seconds. Among the advantages over hydraulic devices is greater energy efficiency, with the eKW28Pi/1300 using around 40% less energy than an equivalent hydraulic machine.

3. UK-based Global Closure Systems (GCS) has unveiled a range of bi-injected plastic jar packaging intended to replace glass packs. The plastic jars will maintain the ‘luxurious look and feel of glass containers’ with a double-walled structure of varying opacity, but are shatterproof, more efficient to produce and help support GCS in reducing its carbon footprint.