ATLANTA, June 4 -- The current automotive slowdown, overcapacity in equipment for tanks and barrels, and slow acceptance of intermediate bulk containers in North America have stalled the industrial blow molding machinery market. Yet the emergence of flat-panel applications in markets as diverse as lawn and garden and snowmobiles promise to open new market opportunities.
“Many industries are looking to reduce cost and weight or economically convert large parts to plastics,” says Rich Morgan, Uniloy Milacron manager of new business development. The company currently is approaching 50% of U.S. sales of large accumulator head equipment and, including new capacity in Milan, 40% of annual worldwide sales.
Blow molding represents a viable alternative to large-part injection molding, says Morgan. “We’re seeing selective migration to blow molding, particularly for large products where massive injection molding machines can be difficult to justify in terms of production volumes or pricing levels,” he says.
As a case in point, Uniloy Milacron says it just built a large tandem system, its first dual clamp design, for a customer in Luxembourg that manufactures outdoor storage sheds assembled from blow molded, snap-fit components. Tandem capabilities allow the company to concurrently mold wall and roof panels from different molds on the same machine, says Morgan.
Wolfgang Meyer, president of SIG Plastics Technologies’ industrial blow molding division, agrees that flat panel applications represent growth opportunities for large part production. “One reason is that there is overcapacity in sectors such as barrels and automotive fuel tanks, which are also under pressure from vacuum formed tanks for shorter production runs.”
According to Terry Crossley, regional sales manager for Bekum America, the U.S. market for intermediate bulk containers, a large industrial blow molding application in Europe, hasn’t taken off in the U.S. because many materials are still transported by tanker trucks. The flat panel market, on the other hand, may represent a significant growth area, he says.
Crossley says there may be potential for barrels produced from resin incorporating reinforcements such as glass fiber and mica to provide more stackability than unreinforced drums. One potential application is containers for vegetables and other agricultural products that would not buckle under hot conditions. “The technology is 20 years old, but only now are there materials that can handle these applications,” he says.
Other promising growth areas, says Crossley, include flat panel components for recreational products such as pontoons and kayaks.