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EUROMAP: Plastics machinery twice as efficient as 20 years ago

The “Energy Efficiency: European Plastics and Rubber Machines Well Placed” study was released by EUROMAP – Europe’s Association

for plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers on November 29. According to the report author Dr Otto Urbanek, major plastics processing technologies have seen production efficiency almost doubled in 20 years, while energy consumption was down 30%.

Including injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and thermoforming, which account for around 90% of the total volume processed, the report states that injection molding machines are now capable of a manufacturing output that would once have required twice as many machines of similar size. Developments in manufacturing technology have provided a significant performance boost. The demands made on hydraulic systems have resulted in greater efficiency and cut the energy consumption of injection molding machines by around 40%.

As for extrusion machines, the throughput capacity has also doubled over the same period. Machine-related energy consumption has been reduced by around 20%. The same situation happens in compounding. Twice the amount of material is being processed with machine-related energy consumption down by 20% at the same time.

Meanwhile, more servo drives are being used in cyclic processes such as injection molding, blow molding and vacuum forming technologies for a number of years, cutting the energy required for motion by half. Plants with a conventional, central power source and system-related line and control losses are increasingly being replaced, according to the study. Servo engineering has long since made the breakthrough in such high-performance areas as packaging and medical engineering. Servo systems now also offer simple solutions for energy recuperation. In injection molding, for example, during rapid motion of the closing units, the drives are used as generators to produce energy when braking. The same principle is also used with fast-working closing units of blow molding machines and in thermoforming machines.

Looking to the future, the study estimates that the use of energy saving and highly dynamic components will provide a significant boost in terms of improving energy efficiency further in the next 10 years. Greater use of all-electric drives and servo-hydraulic designs instead of conventional technology will achieve further efficiency gains, and in some cases as much as 50%.

Dr Urbanek adds that development in process engineering is the most important part in improving machinery. Advances in screw technology have brought a significant increase in throughput rates while at the same time improving the quality of the melt. This has allowed extruders and the injection units of injection molding machines to become smaller and better while maintaining performance. Radiant heater systems show great potential in thermoforming machines. There is also a great deal of potential for combining several processes. This is of particular interest if residual heat from one stage in a process can be used in the following stage with a view to eliminating reheating altogether.

If increasing productivity continues to drive European plastics converters’ investment decisions in the future, energy efficiency will benefit, the report concludes. Major savings can also be achieved if converters fine-tune processes to minimize energy consumption. Monitoring the flow of energy in machines, installations and in the plant also produces results. It makes the energy requirement transparent, which in turn contributes to tailoring energy consumption to need. This will ultimately reduce operating costs, helping them meet the European Commission’s target of cutting energy consumption by 20% by the year 2020.


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