‘Learn to Embrace Variability’
At PTXPO 2022, one of the dominant themes was the emerging circular economy, and that means broader exposure to recycled materials and consequent variability. Fortunately, technology is on hand to deal with this. (Photo: Matthew Naitove)
Cognitive dissonance can be defined as “the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other” (Psychology Today). That’s approximately what I felt when chatting with Gene Altonen at the PTXPO 2022 show in Rosemont, Ill., late last month. Gene is chief technology officer for iMFLUX, inventor of its core technology of constant low-pressure molding, and a 28-year veteran at Procter & Gamble. Needless to say, he’s someone whose thoughts on the direction of plastics molding technology are worth listening to.
So I took a moment to process the paradox when he told me, “The plastics industry needs to learn to embrace variability.” We were talking about how one of the dominant themes of the PTXPO show was what’s coming to be known as the “circular economy.” I knew from reporting on iMFLUX technology and from articles Gene had authored for Plastics Technology, that his firm’s Auto Viscosity Adjust control software is keyed to overcoming variations in viscosity that can affect mold filling—variations inherent in the resin itself or caused perhaps by changes in moisture content, incorporation of regrind or, more importantly, by addition of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin.
So his overall point was that plastics processors have to “embrace” a future in which they will be using more and more PCR, which is apt to be more variable in viscosity than the virgin they’re used to running. And processors therefore will need to adopt technology that allows them to deal efficiently with that variability.
Fortunately, that technology exists and continues to evolve—not just from iMFLUX, but also, for example, KraussMaffei’s APC Plus control software, Engel’s iQ weight control, and Wittmann Battenfeld’s HiQ Flow.
Ever the optimist, I also see a reason why there may even be less variability to embrace in the “circular” future. With more and more primary resin producers getting involved in recycling, as well as the advent of chemical or solvent-based “advanced recycling,” it appears likely that through compounding or other means, these resin producers will be able to supply PCR-based materials with specification ranges similar or equivalent to today’s prime materials. That will be especially good news to blow molders and extrusion processors who may not (yet) have access to sophisticated control technologies like those available to injection molders to compensate for viscosity variations.