HEAT UP PROFITS. COOL DOWN COSTS.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
There’s no doubt that price changes for petroleum products are sending shock waves through the global economy, including the plastics markets. Regardless of the speculation about these changes, it’s clear that oil will continue to become more expensive and that there will be increased demand for competing petroleum based products; gasoline, heating fuel and others. These changes will have a direct and negative impact on the availability, cost and price stability of traditional plastics.
At the same time, end user markets have demanded alternatives for petroleum based food packaging and other “disposable” products. Europe and the Americas have begun to see legislation enacted designed to constrain petroleum based packaging products and force the hand of producers into providing “green product solutions”.
There is a lot of confusion about what “green” means and a lot more confusion about the cost of “going green”. Frankly, there is too much talk and not enough science or time to address all the issues about this topic, but at Turbo-Screws® we believe that poly-lactic acid (PLA) represents the clear choice for the future of foamed food packaging products. That’s why we have spent several years working closely with NatureWorks®, the world’s leading producer of PLA based alternatives to traditional plastics.
NatureWorks® PLA is derived from organic plant materials, which serve as an alternative source of carbon & hydrogen. These plant products are fermented and then polymerized in such a manner that the end result is a viable substitute for petroleum based commodity thermoplastics. PLA resin has many different properties requiring new processing hardware and methods for commercial success.
These new bio-polymers can not be expected to process like something they're not. Generally, bio-polymers like PLA start with a relatively low molecular weight, and are long & narrow molecules that require processing aids and additives to make them work successfully in plastic extrusion processes, especially for foaming.
For extrusion foaming, PLA bio-polymer must be processed in what is known as a reactive extrusion process. In this case, the new foam extrusion process involves combining PLA resin with various additives to enhance process-ability. A chemical reaction is then initiated inside the extruder in order to build PLA molecular weight and ultimately the hot melt strength.
Here’s the good news: if it was easy, everyone would already be foaming PLA successfully on a commercial scale. The new screw hardware and process changes are effective barriers to entry and that's a good thing if you’re a processor seeking a competitive advantage with PLA extrusion foaming.
While there are several other promising bio-resin technologies emerging, many of these are a long way from commercialization. There remain major issues such as; process ability, end product performance characteristics, the availability of production quantities of resin, regulatory approval for food contact and bio-degradability certification, and, as always, unit cost. These issues will take time to be resolved. In the mean time PLA bio-polymer resin is viable and here now.
NatureWorks® and its parent company, Cargill, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and several decades of scientific research and development work in order to deliver to the market, in substantial quantity, a commercially viable family of PLA bio-polymers for the plastic extrusion and injection molding markets. NatureWorks® bio-polymers (Ingeo®) dominate for many reasons – principally it is now readily available in large quantities, and operates successfully on a number of plastic processes (extrusion, coating, injection molding, blow molding, fiber spinning, etc). PLA bio-polymer processing results in sustainable, renewable and biodegradable products at both a reasonable and stable cost.Thanks to NatureWorks® and now Turbo-Screws®, major companies are already producing and selling commercial quality thermoformed bio-polymer foam products today. These companies are using production scale bio-polymer foam production systems – not laboratory pilot plants. Each and every day, these major food container manufacturers move further and further ahead in bio-polymer foam production capacity and PLA bio-polymer foam sales.
The answer to this question depends upon the condition of the individual machinery you wish to convert. For example, some extrusion lines have adequate drive motor capacity, while others do not. PLA is highly viscous, shows minimum shear thinning and has higher extruder drive power requirements than polystyrene. We strongly suggest a mechanical review of your extrusion line and total plant systems before contemplating PLA foam production. This service is provided by our sister company, Plastic Engineering Associates, Inc. (www.pea.cc) on a “fixed fee” consulting basis.
We strongly suggest that this not be attempted. Safety is the primary issue but there are time to market issues as well.
Bio-polymers are sufficiently different from polystyrene and proper personnel safety and hardware processing precautions must be taken before attempting to process PLA. We advise that interested parties consult the NatureWorks® foam technical team to solicit their guidance and suggest that you receive a full safety briefing before attempting to foam NatureWorks® bio-polymers.
The time to market issue is really a matter of cost. New product & process development is frequently punishing both financially and in terms of lost time to market.
PLA foam is a commercial reality already, and can be implemented simply by investing in the right PLA resin, processing hardware and know-how. Inventing your own process takes the focus away from your core business; foam container manufacture and sales. Our experience and our knowledge of the industry has shown that you will not do it for less, it will take longer than you plan, and you may be too late to compete once you get there.We have a production proven Turbo-Screws® technology PLA foam process that is available today, not tomorrow.
Our close collaboration with NatureWorks® and our many years of worldwide experience in the foaming industry have allowed us to amass a great deal of information about the type and scope of screw technology that companies have used while attempting to foam PLA. Most existing conventional foam screw designs are from the 1970’s and 1980’s and many firms have tried to foam PLA with them. They simply do not work well at all. Some “new” screw designs that purport to be PLA foam screws do not work at all for bio-polymers.Turbo-Screws® technology for PLA foam represents the state of the art in screw technology for PLA foam manufacturing. We didn’t arrive at them by accident or from the sidelines. We have purpose designed and developed, through multiple iterations, a system of tandem screws specifically for reactive foam extrusion of bio-polymer resins. NatureWorks® LLC agrees and this is why Turbo-Screws® technology is the preferred screw technology for foaming PLA.
Our company neither markets nor sells bio-polymer resin. What we do provide are the specialized foam extruder screws, PLA foam dies, downstream cooling and sizing equipment and process know how for PLA resin foaming.
Like many of us in the plastics business we are aware of the forces that drive cost instability in the resin markets. That’s one reason we believe that PLA represents the best bet for competitive and stable bio-polymer resin pricing.
PLA is not tied to a specific pre-cursive raw material source (eg: corn). Already today there are several other crop alternatives for lactic acid production from around the world. Flexible raw materials sourcing, multiple growing regions and several new suppliers of lactic acid all add to the availability and price stability of PLA resin.For more specific information regarding the pricing of NatureWorks® PLA bio-polymer resins (Ingeo®), interested parties should address inquiries to Mr. Doug Kunnemann, Business Segments Director, NatureWorks® LLC. To send Mr. Kunnemann an email, click here.
The patented Turbo-Screws® technology represents the culmination of more than 40 years of our firm’s foam technology development. We have a 10 year history of successfully using the licensing model to deliver a continuous stream of new products and services to the foam extrusion marketplace.
After multiple years of development work with NatureWorks® LLC on PLA foam, our company firmly believes licensing represents the lowest cost entry point for commercial PLA foam extrusion. The world’s largest PLA producer, NatureWorks® LLC, agrees with us.
Turbo-Screws® technology is the preferred technology for foaming PLA in the world today. The Turbo-Screws® license fee is a low fixed cost and is NOT related to production volumes. There is never a per unit/pound/kilogram charge or expense associated with Turbo-Screws® technology.
How long it takes is a function of the technical state of your equipment. Delivery of the Turbo-Screws® hardware can be as short as 12 weeks. For project planning purposes, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to budget 6 months between initiation and PLA foam sheet production.
One thing is certain; waiting will not produce the results you need now. Companies using the Turbo-Screws® technology today are committed to gaining a first mover advantage in the emerging bio-plastics market. Some companies have a tradition of waiting until the adoption of a given technology is an established “industry standard”, in this case, continuing to wait can have a direct impact on your market share in the future.
While your company waits, the other guy is already selling bio-plastics to your customers.
The market for alternatives will not wait. End users are vocal, determined and politically active. Many top tier retail distributors of meats and poultry have established “green” initiatives and mandated the move away from traditional plastics. Governments on the local, national, and international level have begun enacting legislation limiting and in some cases banning traditional plastic packaging altogether.
In the end, bio-plastics will continue to gain ground for a variety of reasons and while they are unlikely to fully replace traditional plastics in the very near term, few companies will be seen as top tier players without a credible “green” component. The time for waiting is running out.
The good news is that thanks to the development work done in the last several years, your company can add bio-polymer based foam products at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time involved in “going it alone”. So the question is; What are you waiting for?
You will need process know-how, Turbo-Screws® technology screws, and depending upon your company's present equipment inventory, a PLA Hardware Package from our sister company, Plastic Engineering Associates, Inc. The first thing to do is to contact us for a consulting proposal; we will visit your facility, determine your needs, inform your company about the state of the art in extruding biopolymer sheet, and assist you in preparing & presenting your project needs to your management.
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Last updated: 09/25/12.