What a year! 2016 has come to close and we finally have some time to exhale and look back at what was an eventful and record-breaking year.
The triennial K show ended in October, but we are still feeling the ramifications as new projects come on-line throughout the world. During the event, we signed new distributor agreements in Asia and more recently, we signed a new distributor for Oceania. What most of the press and industry organizations concluded was that we are at the top (near the top...?) of the business cycle with major investments being announced globally. Continued activity in the M&A market suggests further profits can be generated in thermoforming.
(CMT Materials invested in a larger presence at K2016 and introduced a new product logo for the HYTAC family of products. Photo: CMT Materials, Inc.)
From our perspective, the continued demand for increased quality leads to more stringent requirements in the thermoforming process. As the data clearly show, the use of HYTAC syntactic foam plugs improves material distribution in the final part, which has important implications for both quality control (fewer rejects) and project economics (reducing starting gauge).
In heavy gauge thermoforming, we introduced a new product - HYTAC LPXT - specifically formulated for use with TPO and other capped materials. Continued growth in this sector of the industry opens new opportunities for material replacement, primarily from wood and MDF tools (and sometimes aluminum) to cast syntactic molds. We continue to work with industry partners to generate data-driven white papers, including an upcoming one comparing syntactic foam to ceramic molds. Project economics remain paramount, but those processors who take a total cost of ownership approach are finding that consistent and repeatable parts are worth the effort.
In materials development, we saw an increased number of requests for plug recommendations with new multi-layer films. In particular, many processors inquired about PE sealant layers and how to manage plug geometry. Based on our experience and multiple discussions, we recommend HYTAC FLXT. This is a co-polymer epoxy syntactic formulated with PTFE. It is tough, easy to machine and polish. Of course, during processing, it is also important to closely monitor the sheet temperature, especially the side where the PE layer is. If possible, you should use 2-3 slightly different plug designs at the beginning to optimize forming.
(Image: Google images/RPC Superfos)
Of course, instead of using 2-3 designs, processors could instead exploit new advances in simulation software. In 2016, we received many inquiries about optimizing plug geometry. In collaboration with our friends at Compuplast North America, we published a very popular case study that illustrated the benefits of simulation in thermoforming. More work remains to be done, but the science of thermoforming is improving, albeit at a slower pace than other industries.
At the 25th Annual Thermoforming Conference, our founder, Noel Tessier, was honored by the Society of Plastics Engineers with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In the words of Noel's colleague, Dr. Peter Martin of Queen's University Belfast, "...Noel was instrumental in providing technical leadership [for the EU-funded "Plug-In" Project]. To date this project alone has produced more than 10 research publications and its results have led to significant advances in the understanding of plug materials and the measurement of in-process friction and heat transfer. It has also acted as a catalyst towards further technical developments and it has been particularly important in enabling process simulations to reach a new level of sophistication. Amongst the international scientific community, Noel is highly respected and he is regarded as one of a handful of leading figures in his field." Noel continues to be an inspiration to his colleagues and collaborators in the US and Europe.
So, what does 2017 hold in store? All indicators appear to be positive, suggesting continued growth for the coming year. New market research reports show that global thermoforming will reach $57bn by 2024, though reports like this could stand to be vetted more thoroughly by industry participants. In thin gauge, we are likely to see PP displace other polymers such as PS; more decorative parts via T-IML and offset printing as supermarket penetration rates increase across the globe; more diverse packaging formats and styles in both electronics and medical packaging.
Finally, we want to thank all of our customers, distributors, partners and colleagues for making 2016 a wonderful year at CMT. We could not do what we do without continued support from the industry that supports us all.
What do you think? Let us know if you agree with our assessment or if your crystal ball shows something different.