By Jan H. Schut
Three New Technology Forums at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ ANTEC 2014 technical conference in Las Vegas, April 28-30 (www.4spe.org), focus on cutting edge developments in packaging, medical and 3-D manufacturing areas with applications ranging from outer space to inner body. At each forum a slate of around a half dozen experts in the field present emerging R&D, technical issues, and opportunities for commercialization.
The forum on “Advances in Packaging” is held Monday afternoon April 28. The medical plastics forum on “Plastics in the Hospital and the Human Body” is held Tuesday afternoon, April 29. The forum on “New Frontiers in Additive Manufacturing” is held Wednesday morning, April 30. A complete speaker slate is available at (www.4spe.org/ANTEC-2014-technical-program-information).
‘ADVANCES IN PACKAGING’
Is that your package calling? Bemis Advanced Technology Group, Sheboygan Falls, WI (www.bemisplastics.com) reports on smart packaging designs that give consumers real-time information on how fresh the contents are and whether food products have been properly refrigerated during shipping and storage. Advances in package design can even tell consumers when the contents are real.
New anti-counterfeiting technologies are being invented for drugs and medical packaging, luxury brand products, electronics, and even shipment of original legal documents to make copying difficult. RFID or radio frequency identification devices, known as “source tags,” are also so thin now that they can be invisibly embedded in blister packs, under bottle labels and in garments. When deactivated at checkout counters, source tags notify restocking and inventory.
Dow Chemical Co., Midland, MI (www.dow.com), reports on innovations in light weight films and sheet for longer shelf life and single-serve containers to reduce food waste. Dow also highlights methodology that plastics companies can use to stimulate innovation.
DuPont Co., Wilmington, DE (www.dupont.com), reports recent advances in ionomer technology, including a new ionomer that disperses easily in hot water without solvents, which could be used in fluorine-free grease-barrier coatings on paper and clam shells.
Braskem in Sao Paolo, Brazil (www.braskem.com), reports advances in high melt-strength PP, which are allow more down-gauging and even low density PP foam to lower packaging weight.
New developments in light-weighting also include the scale-up to commercial production of a novel “solid-state” micro-cellular hot drink cup by MicroGreen Inc., Arlington, WA (www.microgreeninc.com). MicroGreen shares the +10-year story of how it developed novel equipment and material technologies to support the new product. MicroGreen’s InCycle cups are made of recycled postconsumer PET.
‘PLASTICS IN THE HOSPITAL AND THE HUMAN BODY’
Bio-engineering research is creating unique bio-absorbable and tissue-like structures to be implanted in the human body. High-strength PLLA (poly (L-lactic acid) polymer is used in medical implants for its strength and biodegradability. But how does PLLA really biodegrade? A two-year aqueous degradation study at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell (www.uml.edu) on the physical aging and viscoelastic behavior of PLLA finds that specimens degrade from the inside out and can leave highly crystalline residues that don’t degrade. Also new from U. Mass Lowell are biodegradable hollow nanospheres for targeted drug delivery in the body and electrospun silk nanofibers, which have potential for healing wounds and burns.
Micro-electro-mechanical systems, or MEMS, devices are functional systems, miniaturized on a molecular level. They have been used for decades in miniature pressure sensors for medical devices. Now MEMS promise to make devices with more capabilities. From the University of Utah come new helical protein-based nanofibers that are electrically polar in the fiber axis with “high non-linear optical activity and thermally stable piezoelectricity.” That means they have potential for miniature sensors and energy harvesting.
The University of Utah reports new helical protein-based nanofibers that are electrically polar with “high non-linear optical activity and thermally stable piezoelectricity,” so they have potential for energy harvesting and small sensors.
The University of Utah also reports a simple peptide that mimics a triple helical collagen. The peptide can hybridize with collagens in the body and introduce drugs that potentially target pathological tissue, but without toxicity.
Bemis’s MACtac adhesives division in Stow, OH (www.mactac.com), reports new developments in “100% solids” pressure sensitive adhesives for medical products to replace solvent-based adhesives. Solids chemistry is less expensive and complies more readily with regulations on outgassing and chemical migration than solution-based adhesives. Recent advances in polymers and in manufacturing capacity make the new adhesives more available.
‘NEW FRONTIERS IN ADDITIVE (3-D) MANUFACTURING’
Three-D printers are also preparing to go where no 3-D printer ever went before. Last September the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (www.nasa.gov) announced a program to launch a 3-D printer into space to make spare parts on the space station as needed, rather than shipping parts from earth. But a 3-D printer capable of operating in space doesn’t exist, so NASA gave a grant to develop one. It could be ready to fly this year.
Meantime here on earth NASA; the University of Dayton Research Institute in Ohio (www.udri.udayton.edu); PolyOne Corp., Avon Lake, OH (www.polyone.com); rp+m also in Avon Lake (www.rpplusm.com); Stratasys Inc., Eden Prairie, MN (www.stratasys.com); and OEMs are jointly working on additive manufacturing of functional production parts. PolyOne presents the program’s goals, commercialization plans, current results, and successes.
Stratasys’s process, which can combine metals and plastics or different metals in a single part, opens unique possibilities for mold makers of one-piece molds made of different metals, which can’t be achieved by conventional casting.
There are also design issues to consider in layered construction of durable parts. Parts can be built in any plane or in multiple planes. But the choice of plane and how planes join is critical to part strength. Experts will address engineering and design issues for production parts. New material formulations are also being developed, especially high-temperature engineering polymers for low volume production parts. As new materials become available and additive manufacturing equipment gets more robust, new business opportunities are born.