Material Cuts Delays in Contact Lens Container Production
Custom TPE addresses critical issues, delivers $100,000 in annual savings
A leading North American medical contact manufacturer faced a challenge when molding the gasket for a contact lens container.
The two-gram gasket is a critical component for keeping contact lens solution from leaking out of the container. The manufacturer produces 7.5 million cases per year, and used liquid injection molded (LIM) silicone to mold this component. However, the silicone was sticking to the mold and inner workings of the molding machine. This not only caused a high scrap rate, but also led to frequent interruptions in the automated process so that the mold and machine could be cleaned.
Because low durometer (softer) material is a requirement for this application, the manufacturer considered a switch to a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). The company tried several TPE grades, hoping to find a material that would eliminate the adhesion problem while providing comparable softness to silicone. But even if it could find the right TPE, the company was concerned about the additional cost of new tooling, and wanted to achieve a rapid return on its investment.
The manufacturer worked with PolyOne to formulate a custom Versaflex™ TPE that featured a low durometer with excellent resistance to adhesion (sticking). Testing showed that this TPE would not stick to the machinery or itself.
But before making the decision to switch from silicone to the Versaflex material, the company needed to feel confident that it would recoup its capital, which included a $50,000 investment in new tooling, within 12 months.
PolyOne helped the customer calculate costs for the 12-month period. In addition to a lower material cost than silicone, the custom TPE offered cycle time efficiencies, lower part weight due to its lower specific gravity, and reduced scrap rates. Projections showed the cost of a new tool would be recouped within months, enabling the manufacturer to move forward with confidence.
Armed with a new specialty TPE solution, the medical manufacturer handled gasket adhesion with a material that outperformed that not only silicone, but also conventional TPEs. On top of that, the manufacturer had the evidence of projected savings and ROI to confidently invest in new tooling.
With the new material, the manufacturer is expected to save $122,000 per year vs. silicone. Even after the cost of the new tooling, the company will save about $72,000 the first year, an impressive and rapid return on the investment in new tooling.
Electric Car Quickens the Pulse With Color
Natural ABS formulation enables improved color consistency, operational efficiency
After grabbing more than 8% of the market within six months of the release of its flagship vehicle, the engineers at a game-changing electric car manufacturer went back to work fine-tuning the details.
They focused in on color mismatches of molded interior trim parts that were causing production delays. Making matters worse, the pre-colored PC/ABS material used to mold the parts required up to 10 weeks for delivery, further hampering operational efficiency and increasing inventory costs.
The carmaker needed a material solution that would shorten lead times while fine-tuning color harmony in the molded interior parts.
In addition to color uniformity, engineers also wanted a balance of stiffness, impact resistance and heat resistance. And there was an aesthetic target: the new material needed to deliver tactile qualities consistent with the car’s luxury price tag.
The carmaker’s design engineers brought in PolyOne to look at possible new approaches. Liking what they heard, the engineers decided to team up with PolyOne specialists in polymer distribution, colorants and additives to tackle the issue.
Working together, the team developed a natural ABS formulation with an additive package that provided consistent color along with heat-stabilizing properties. They also provided technical support in molding operations to assure fast, high-quality output.
The pre-formulated material boasted one more important property: it was available for just-in-time delivery.
The immediate result of the new ABS material was elimination of the automaker’s color consistency issues. In addition, the natural-plus-additive concentrate package:
- Eliminated supply chain delays and excess inventory
- Reduced material costs for the affected parts by 16 percent
- Improved surface finish of molded parts
- Reduced scrap rates
- Increased throughput of molding operations
These improvements freed working capital for other projects, and helped keep production running at a consistent rate for annual savings estimated by the company at more than $200,000 a year.
Medical Device Shielded from Radiation Without Lead
Global medical device OEM reduces costs and environmental impact
A leading global manufacturer of medical equipment was anticipating a serious regulation change. The European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) eventually would lead to a ban on lead shielding components in equipment like the company’s new line of computed tomography (CT) scanners.
Shielding elements protect sensitive electronic components from degradation due to X-ray exposure during a CT scan. Designs traditionally have required lead parts produced by machining or casting.
To stay ahead of the regulatory curve, the manufacturer's material technology team needed to find a replacement for lead. They wanted an injection moldable material with equivalent radiation shielding performance and the ability to provide uniform shielding with no “hot spots.” Injection molding also would allow the company to eliminate machining and increase productivity and design freedom for components.
Working with Reiter-HG Geiger, a sophisticated injection molding processor specializing in demanding applications, the OEM team began their search for a sustainable material to replace lead, one that would effectively shield X-rays up to 140 keV while offering additional manufacturing benefits.
Two application areas were targeted initially: a printed circuit board controller unit and shielding plates for various electronic components linked to each of the numerous detector elements.
The search for a suitable material brought them to PolyOne. Teams from all three companies worked together to develop new designs based on Trilliant™ Healthcare Radiation Shielding Compound, a high-density, metallic-filled material. The material, a highly filled polymer based on PolyOne’s Gravi-Tech™ technology, is specifically formulated to address health care industry needs and regulations.
Intensive material evaluation by the OEM showed that Trilliant™ blocked radiation at levels equivalent to those of pure lead. In addition, excellent dispersion of the metallic filler eliminated “hot spots” where radiation could leak out.
The three-way collaboration allowed the manufacturer to reduce shielding component costs from 30 to 50 percent due to machining, assembly and regulatory cost reductions versus traditional methods. In addition, the company reduced the health and environmental impact of its equipment by using an RoHS-compliant, eco-conscious and equally effective alternative to lead.
Finally, the material gave the OEM's designers greater geometric flexibility so that they could shield areas more effectively than with machined parts.
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Telecom Supplier Secures Large Contract with Specialty Nylon
Shielding connectors deliver higher speeds, lower costs than ever before
A manufacturer of high speed electronic connectors for the telecommunications industry had a chance to become a key supplier for a new, highly anticipated line of low cost computers. All it had to do was the unprecedented: Set a new industry standard for shielding from electromagnetic interference (EMI), with high-volume manufacturability, at a cost much lower than anything already available.
Traditionally, EMI shielding connectors have been made using LCP carbon fiber. Their shielding properties are excellent – higher than called for in the sourcing specifications for the new line of computers. But they’re difficult to produce, requiring manual trimming and assembly.
The manufacturer’s product development engineers set up a competition to develop a compound that would deliver on three key needs:
- Technical Advantage: Signal dampening within the range specified, along with high heat resistance, rigidity to maintain a tight electrical connection and flexibility to allow a snap fit.
- Cost Performance: Significant material and/or manufacturing savings compared to the current LCP carbon fiber compound.
- Market Benefit: Enabling entry into the low-cost computer market with a competitive connector.
Proposals came in for more than 40 formulations, though most had difficulty balancing the required properties. PolyOne’s solution was a unique nylon compound that, through a proprietary combination of materials, met all of the application’s performance requirements.
After reviewing all of their options, the manufacturer’s product development engineers selected PolyOne to move forward with the development project based on the preliminary indications for its proposed resin as well as the company’s track record in compounding engineered materials for specialized applications.
After continued development yielded a resin with all the necessary physical properties, the manufacturer tossed in one more idea: Could it be modified further to be flame retardant?
Teams from the two companies went back to work and, using an additive from a broad portfolio, were quickly able to achieve UL94 V-0 flammability standard.
The manufacturer and PolyOne also worked with the toolmaker, providing technical support on venting, gate placement and other design issues that impact speed and accuracy in molding operations.
The manufacturer ultimately was selected to provide the shielding connectors for the new line of computers. As production runs ramped up, the benefits of the new material included:
- Reduction of post-production processes
- Shorter cycle time
- Lower scrap rates
- Significant overall reduction in manufacturing cost per part
When production of the connectors was subsequently expanded to a facility in Asia, the material formulation was transferred to the PolyOne compounding facility in Suzhou, China, where additional technical collaboration preceded production startup. Testing determined the compound was identical to that developed in the United States, and production metrics met targets.
Auto Supplier Cuts Costs of Painting Trim Parts
Masterbatch approach eliminates added cost, chemical volatility of painting
A leading manufacturer of molded auto parts and subassemblies was in a tough spot. Its client – a top global automotive OEM – demanded high-quality parts for its highly engineered performance vehicles.
But the manufacturing process for the decorative trim molded from ABS was time consuming, requiring as many as eight steps to complete. After molding, the parts had to be cleaned, primed, painted and clear coated – with three rounds of drying in between.
With multiple locations in Germany, China and the United States, the supplier needed to reduce the number of steps to save time and money – without sacrificing product quality or resistance to UV radiation.
The auto parts maker reached out to PolyOne, which was already was providing it with specialty materials. Working in close cooperation, technical teams from both companies identified a product within the OnColor™ FX Smartbatch portfolio as a potential answer.
The new material, which could be produced in a metallic-effect masterbatch, would allow the supplier to replace the time-consuming painting process. That, in turn, would eliminate emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which required a costly recovery process under environmental regulations.
The concentrates also would provide UV resistance for color that won’t fade.
After making the switch to OnColor FX Smartbatch color and additive concentrates, the supplier achieved a number of significant benefits:
- Cost reduction: Overall improvement in material cost performance versus painted ABS. The total savings varies, depending on color, resin, equipment, and other processing factors.
- Inventory savings: Rather than stocking several pre-colored materials, the molder could purchase and store natural resin that can become whatever color is required when combined with the proper masterbatch.
The switch to masterbatch technology was made without a large capital investment. In addition, equipment costs showed a quick return on investment (ROI) because of the material savings.
Manufacturer Grows Market Share with Lead-Free Products
Kalas expands offerings by reducing heavy metal in wire, cable
The European Union’s adoption of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) was a watershed moment for Kalas Manufacturing. The directive meant that the Denver, Pa.-manufacturer needed to switch to lead-free vinyl compounds or lose out on a major market for its wire and cable products.
Kalas’ first course of action was to find substitutes for jacketing and heavy-metal-free (HMF) color concentrates that would deliver the same performance properties as its existing materials while meeting Underwriters’ Laboratories standards. The company also wanted to find a lead-free vinyl that would process as well as lead-stabilized material to avoid a negative impact on manufacturing efficiency and cycle time.
Beyond those goals, Kalas wanted to use the opportunity to make a major leap forward in its sustainability efforts by reducing its overall lead exposure at two key facilities.
As a first step, Kalas partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As part of that effort, it entered the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities program, which encourages organizations to form voluntary partnerships with the EPA to reduce the use and release of 31 priority chemicals, including lead.
The company set ambitious goals. It planned to reduce the amount of lead processed at its Plant No. 2 by 20 percent – or 20,000 pounds – through substituting reduced-lead or lead-free compounds and color concentrates. It also planned to reduce lead processing at its Plant No. 3 by 25 percent – or 10,500 pounds – through solderless product offerings.
With these key goals set, Kalas reached out to PolyOne, which had been supplying lead-stabilized vinyl compounds for wire and cable jacketing for a number of years.
Teams from both companies worked together on the needed conversion, eventually developing new Geon™ vinyl compounds using stabilizers without lead that delivered equivalent processing and performance parameters. They also switched from color concentrates containing heavy metal to RoHS-compliant OnColor™ color concentrates.
In addition to developing the right materials, the teams worked closely to transition all aspects of manufacturing using the new materials. Just as important, they joined forces to secure UL approvals for the updated products.
The switch to new materials allowed Kalas to not only stay in the European market, but to expand its presence and enhance its sustainability profile.
- Enhanced “green” reputation: Kalas ultimately removed 100,000 pounds of lead from its operations, due in large part to reformulated vinyl compounds and color concentrates. The manufacturer received recognition from NPEP for voluntarily lowering the amount of lead in its operations.
- Unrestricted sales opportunities: The lead-free materials enabled Kalas to continue marketing its wire and cable products in Europe without interruption, thanks to compliance with the RoHS directive.
- Competitive advantage in existing and new markets: Kalas was able to complete its conversion to lead-free wire and cable materials ahead of its competitors. As a result of this head start, the company expanded its European sales and opened new market opportunities in North America, making an important contribution to growth and revenue targets.
- Improved safety and easier handling: Kalas was able to reduce health and safety risks to its workers from lead exposure, while also eliminating the costs of handling, monitoring and reporting these regulated materials.
“We have achieved key objectives including growing revenues, expanding into new markets, and gaining a competitive advantage,” said Lyn Hassler, senior buyer at Kalas. “Most important, we have made a contribution to a cleaner, safer planet through the reduction of huge amounts of lead and other hazardous substances, an achievement that all of us at Kalas can feel good about.”
Innovation Cuts Solar Power System Wiring, Installation Costs
Single-layer jacket amps up photovoltaic wire offering for leading manufacturer
A leading manufacturer of custom cable systems for the solar industry needed to reengineer its time-consuming production process to capitalize on rapidly growing market opportunities.
The company was producing wire for USE-2 (Underground Service Entrance) applications in solar systems. The wire was installed in the transition from outdoor to indoor use. As a result, it needed to meet both the Underwriters’ Laboratory UL 4703 standard for photovoltaic wire, and the UL 44 standard for interior wiring. In some instances, it also was subject to UL’s Vertical Wire Class 1 rating for flame resistance (VW-1).
To comply with all of these standards meant covering the wire with more than one layer of jacketing and insulation materials – and that meant running the product through the extruder more than once.
This not only added cost, it made for longer cycle times, even as rising demand was pushing the manufacturer to unlock new capacity. In 2014, more than a third of all new U.S. electrical capacity came from solar projects, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
In setting reengineering objectives, the manufacturer was mindful that simply layering components that meet the various UL specifications wouldn’t necessarily mean a UL listing for the finished product. The more complex the finished product, the more involved certification would be – delaying the return on any new investment.
That’s why the manufacturer’s technical team hoped to find a single-layer material to jacket and insulate the wire. This would reduce costs, ease certification and – by eliminating secondary extrusion processes – effectively increase manufacturing capacity.
The engineering team conferred with PolyOne to find a material that could meet the stringent requirements. With nothing clearly available in the market, the teams worked to develop an entirely new solution: Syncure™ Solar, a single-layer jacketing and insulation material made of cross-linked polyethylene.
It offered protection from ultraviolet radiation, with improved resistance to heat, cracking, abrasion and creep. It also complied with the critical standards – UL 4703 for photovoltaic wire, UL 44 for indoor use and VW-1 for flame resistance – enabling streamlined production of wires and cables that meet virtually all specifications for solar USE-2 applications.
The manufacturer used the new material to produce finished cable and wire with a single pass through the extruder, which simplified production, reduced costs and freed capacity. Benefits from the project were:
- Reduced costs: An estimated savings of $500,000 a year in production costs, primarily through reduced materials and energy costs.
- Increased capacity: Reduced cycle times from the single extruder pass yielded an increase in manufacturing capacity.
- Improved product offering: The resulting cable system can be installed seamlessly from exterior to interior applications. This reduces downstream system costs by eliminating the need during installation to create a junction between interior and exterior wiring.
As the solar energy market continues to evolve, innovation in photovoltaic wire components has done its part to reduce the cost and complexity of this sustainable energy source.
Tier 1 Auto Supplier Saves with Supply Chain Expansion
Cycle time improvement, reduced maintenance costs, color standardization mark success
Material supply interruptions are among the biggest threats to a noted Midwestern Tier 1 automotive supplier. So when the company looked at the integrated HVAC ducting modules it was supplying to a global OEM, it knew that having a single source for its raw material put delivery at risk.
The modules – which combine air ducts, air conditioning coils, filters, damper door mechanisms and a blower motor – are installed behind the instrument panel on several popular models. The supplier molds two housing components using a 20 percent talc-filled polypropylene — one for the HVAC parts and one for the blower motor — then assembles all of the components to produce a single module.
To protect against supply chain disruption, the supplier needed to find a second source for the polypropylene. Based on its location under the hood, the material needed to provide a heat deflection temperature (HDT) rating of 68°C HDT at a load of 264 psi.
And while underhood elements aren’t classified as appearance parts, the OEM wanted to achieve visual harmony when the hood was opened, so the material also had to match the black of other components in the engine compartment.
A team of engineers from the supplier and the OEM met with PolyOne experts to look at possible polypropylene options. Together they developed a specially formulated pre-colored talc-filled Maxxam™ PP material incorporating OnCap™ CTR Process Optimization Additive. This solution met the standards for heat resistance, physical properties and processing parameters.
To assure color consistency, the development process also included creation of color specifications – the first time the OEM had such standardization for underhood parts. This meant that when a prospective customer opened the hood of a vehicle, they would see a single shade of black.
Working together, the supplier and PolyOne’s technical team also considered opportunities to optimize production. One change was to deliver the raw material in round, underwater-cut pellets rather than the square pellets provided by the other material source. The shape processed more efficiently, delivering a cycle-time reduction and, more significantly, reducing wear on the material handling equipment that carried the pellets 500 feet from silo to press.
New tooling was also being developed at the time, and the team was able to provide design input that minimized mold shrinkage during production.
When the new material was put into production, benefits included:
- Time savings of five to six seconds per cycle for molded housings
- Cost reduction related to downtime and maintenance for the material conveyor line
- Improved performance of tooling and molding operations
- Color standardization on behalf of the OEM for underhood parts
Overall, cost performance for the new material was 40 percent better than for other competitive materials – a level of value the supplier didn’t anticipate when merely seeking another source for a commodity raw material.
Smart Hero Amps Up Efficiency for Solar Lights
Rethinking and replacing metals adds $500,000 to Smart Hero’s bottom line
By: Michelle Maniscalco
While Smart Hero’s outdoor lighting was finding success around the world, its engineers needed to decrease the cost of manufacturing its line of painted metal solar-powered lights.
Since the China-based contract manufacturer used metal and plastic in its products, its manufacturing team thought converting metal parts to plastic could lower costs. But initial test with pre-colored ABS failed because they weren’t retaining color when exposed to UV light.
The Smart Hero team needed to find a more viable material.
The engineers reached out to PolyOne’s Dongguan, China, facility for help in identifying a material it could use in the solar-powered lights. But it had to meet a number of stringent requirements:
- Withstand daily exposure to outdoor UV rays with minimal color fading
- Exhibit excellent flow characteristics to efficiently fill the complex geometry needed for the light
- Display an excellent surface finish and overall visual appealing
- Decrease the cost of production
The Smart Hero team found the solution they needed in a pre-colored version of Geon M5705, PolyOne’s high-flow vinyl molding formulation for outdoor use. The pre-colored material was matched to the painted metal lights, which were being produced in gray and black.
Molding trials allowed the company to optimize processing conditions, leading to the creation of ideal parts for evaluation. As a result of the evaluation, Smart Hero was confident that Geon M5705 was the best material to replace painted metal in its solar-powered lights.
After moving to pre-colored Geon M5705, Smart Hero reduced its manufacturing costs by $300,000 by eliminating the painting process and reducing scrap.
In addition, the use of the new material eliminated the volatile organic compounds previously produced during painting operations, reducing the production facility’s impact on the environment.
Smart Hero’s product was so commercially successful in the initial black and gray colors, the company moved ahead with an expansion of its product line to include seven additional colors made with Geon M5705, which will save another $200,000 a year.
Andwin Scientific Innovation Improves Dosing Accuracy
Adapter made from TPEs helps consumers avoid overmedicating
Every year, 70,000 children in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for overmedication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A common cause of these life-threatening accidents: using ordinary spoons and cups to dose liquid medicines.
Product engineers at Andwin Scientific, a leading manufacturer of medical and laboratory supplies, were determined to find a replacement for these wildly imprecise measuring methods. Their efforts led to an ingenious solution: an adapter that fits snugly into the top of a medicine bottle, allowing a dosing syringe to be inserted.
The SealSafe® bottle dosing adapter lets consumers dose medicine the same way professionals do in a health-care setting – by inserting a syringe in the bottle, turning it over to eliminate air bubbles, and drawing a precise measure into the syringe. Once the syringe is removed, the adapter reseals and the cap can be put back on the bottle while the device remains in place.
At the heart of the concept is a patented self-sealing membrane. During development and prototyping, the engineers used an SBS-type elastomer for this critical component – but they hadn’t settled on materials for mass production.
Andwin Scientific sought out a supplier, knowing that any materials needed to be inert to liquid medicines such as amoxicillin – not to mention FDA-compliant.
Seeking a partner that could provide consistency and local sourcing in North America and Asia, as well as establish drug master files for the United States and China, the Andwin Scientific team met with PolyOne, which has a range of technologies engineered to meet health care industry needs and regulations.
The two teams reviewed a range of possible materials for the dosing adapter, which consists of the self-sealing membrane and a cylindrical shell with flexible fins that lock the device in place. They ultimately selected a solution that utilized two custom formulations, both of which would meet FDA requirements.
The shell would be made with a custom-formulated Synprene™ thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) blend that provides resistance to most common medications and is flexible enough for the fins to work as designed. To assure the consistency of the product’s appearance and quality, the Synprene™ blend was designed to tolerate processing variability.
The membrane would be made from a custom-engineered GLS™ Dynaflex™ TPE overmolded onto the shell.
Andwin Scientific’s patented solution improves dosing accuracy, allows the end-user to use every drop of medication and reduces the chance for an accidental spill. It also prevents air contamination and evaporation if the bottle isn’t closed right away. With the dosing adapter in place, medication bottles also have an additional layer of child-resistance.
When the product went into full production in the United States, Andwin Scientific realized a number of key gains:
- Better manufacturing efficiency: Cycle time for the two-part manufacturing process was 60% quicker than had been anticipated during development and production trials, and scrap rates were lower than expected;
- Lower costs: Annualized production costs came in at $30,000 less than budgeted.
Based on reduced lead times and supply chain costs to get the same formulations from PolyOne’s manufacturing facilities in China, Andwin Scientific is working to develop Asian markets for the SealSafe® adapter.
“PolyOne’s knowledge of materials, applied to our specific needs, gave us better consistency and quality,” says Andwin Scientific General Manager Ryan Smith. “Because PolyOne brought us a more consistent product, we have better process control and were able to reduce downtime and increase our production speed by 40 percent.”