MD+DI Online is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Advanced Prosthetic Hand Provides Natural Sense of Touch, Connection

Designers of prosthetics often focus mainly on their mechanical capabilities, their ease of use, and their ability to provide natural movement. However, there is a psychological aspect that designers are beginning to explore through sensory-enabled prosthetics. Recently, a team at Case Western Reserve University discovered that a sense of touch encourages users to wear the prosthetics more regularly and for longer periods of time. They also feel more confident to interact with their environment and loved ones.

The team engaged in the first known study of amputees wearing advanced, sensory-enabled prosthetics in everyday life. These prostheses achieve a sense of “touch” using direct interfaces attached to the nerves of the wearers. The researchers found that by receiving sensory feedback from the hand, study participants used the mechanical appendage more often than a typical prosthetic.

This graphic shows how a sensory-enabled prosthetic hand works to give more of a sense of touch to a wearer. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University allowed two subjects to wear a sensory-enabled hand at home, resulting in more frequency of use and the confidence to engage in tactile activities. (Image source: Case Western Reserve University)

Moreover, the amputees had more of a general sense of psychological well-being from the use of the hand, seeing it more as a typical hand and less as merely a tool to be used sporadically, said Dustin Tyler, a professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve and associate director of the Advanced Platform Technology Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. "When they're in the lab, many subjects (in previous studies) have described their prosthesis as nothing more than a tool attached to the end of their residual arm," he said. Tyler worked on the research with Emily Graczyk, a post-doctoral researcher at Case Western Reserve University.

Two subjects took part in the study, using the hand at home with no restrictions put on its use. Both said that the sensory-enabled prosthetic improved their relationship with their environment, allowing them to do activities such as pick up a grandchild, pick flowers, button a shirt, or slice tomatoes in a real-life, interactive way.

Though sensory-enabled prosthetics have existed for about 10 years, those wearing them typically have tested them in a laboratory setting to demonstrate how restored sensation can aid in object identification and manipulation tasks, Tyler said. This meant that “once at home, they'd often end up putting a traditional prosthesis on the shelf,” he noted. “We found the opposite to be true when they had a sense of touch—they didn't want to stop using it." One of those tested in the research even noted that giving back the device after the study concluded was "like losing my hand all over again,” according to researcher interviews.

Using the prostheses more often and for more everyday tasks gave participants greater confidence in resuming tasks that they performed before the loss of their hands and in interacting with people in their personal lives, researchers found. From their observations, the researchers concluded that the psychological and emotional impacts of sensation are integral to improving the quality of life for amputees, they said.

The team plans to continue its work by implanting devices in users that can route neural connections through Bluetooth technology to allow the amputee to actually "feel" the new hand, Tyler said. This will give users an even more lifelike sensation and allow them a deeper interaction with the things around them and other people.

"When you add sensory feedback technology to something like a prosthetic hand, you add the most important thing that connects us together as humans—touch," he said. "That's a huge difference."

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Scientific Reports.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


ESC, Embedded Systems ConferenceToday's Insights. Tomorrow's Technologies.
ESC returns to Minneapolis, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018, with a fresh, in-depth, two-day educational program designed specifically for the needs of today's embedded systems professionals. With four comprehensive tracks, new technical tutorials, and a host of top engineering talent on stage, you'll get the specialized training you need to create competitive embedded products. Get hands-on in the classroom and speak directly to the engineers and developers who can help you work faster, cheaper, and smarter. Click here to submit your registration inquiry today!

Is Tesla taking suppliers for a ride?

Is Tesla taking suppliers for a ride?

Tesla logoThings aren’t looking so good for Tesla: Investors are worried about Elon Musk’s tweets as well as the company’s financial situation. The two big P words of successful automotive manufacturing—profitability and production—have seemed to elude Tesla as it continues to seek both. All of this is keeping Tesla’s suppliers awake at night.

An article on the front page of the Aug. 21 Wall Street Journal, “Some Suppliers Worry About Tesla,” referenced a survey by the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA; Southfield, MI) sent to 35 top executives, in which 18 of 22 respondents said they believe that "Tesla is now a financial risk to their companies." The document was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

I blogged recently about how Tesla might be taking lessons from Detroit’s automotive industry by asking for rebates on already-paid invoices and trying to stretch out payments. This most recent article on Tesla’s problems noted that “its on-time payments to production-related suppliers” has improved to “about 95% from 90% last year,” but non-production suppliers are only receiving on-time payments about 80% of the time. 

“Regarding Tesla, any time there is uncertainty in the marketplace, it causes concerns for suppliers,” OESA CEO Julie Fream told the Wall Street Journal.

None of this should surprise suppliers who’ve dealt with the automotive industry over the long term. Stretching payment terms on tooling from 60 to 90 days is something the Detroit guys have done for the past two decades! If the tooling guy who commented on this is lucky, he’ll get paid in six months. Asking a parts supplier for a “10% across-the-board price cut going forward” is common in Detroit. If the suppliers don’t comply, Tesla will hold their feet to the fire and “stretch the current 60-day payment terms to 120 days,” one person commented to the WSJ. Most of the automotive suppliers have been down that road before.

Tesla’s CFO, Deepak Ahuja, commented in the WSJ article that “it is normal for auto makers to ask for better terms as the business improves.” Yeah, sure. A molded parts supplier can make even more parts for less money and not get paid for four months. It’s the old “lower the price and make it up in volume” scheme.

The WSJ noted that public records show 16 companies since October “have taken the unusual step of filing mechanic’s liens” against Tesla. I have news for the WSJ: it’s not so unusual.I remember when a group of Michigan moldmakers, with the help of the American Mold Builders Association, got a strict mechanic’s lien bill passed in the state legislature that addressed moldmakers specifically, allowing them to hold the mold until payment is received. Those were desperate times for mold shop owners, some of whom were on the verge of bankruptcy.

At this point, Tesla is small potatoes compared to the Detroit 3 and European auto makers in the United States and Mexico that most of these suppliers serve. Some suppliers can choose to cut their losses and run, deciding to stick with the devils they know rather than the one they don’t know. And one whose future doesn’t look all that great!

Tesla, after all, hasn’t been in the car-building business all that long, and when even the mainstream auto makers that have been in business for over a hundred years struggle with profits and production, you can bet that this is just the beginning of Tesla’s problems.

The future of flexible plastics depends on educating consumers about its sustainability

The future of flexible plastics depends on educating consumers about its sustainability

In April, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA; Annapolis, MD) released a report providing a holistic view of the sustainability benefits flexible packaging offers. The report highlights six life-cycle assessment (LCA) case studies using EcoImpact-Compass LCA software, which allows for quick life-cycle comparisons between different package formats. Recently, the FPA boiled down the report into a consumer-friendly, two-page fact sheet with images and graphics.

FPA sustainability fact sheetGiven that there is a lot of emotion swirling around plastics and packaging, some say that trying to sell the science to the average person is futile, since the negative reporting that most people hear is so ubiquitous. But Alison Keane, FAP President and CEO, noted that “science is on our side. The new fact sheet offers information that consumers can absorb right away.”

The fact sheet was created from the report released in April, A Holistic View of the Role of Flexible Packaging in a Sustainable World, prepared for the FPA by PTIS LLC. It shows the life-cycle advantages of flexible packaging in comparison with rigid packaging. The fact sheet highlights the following:

  • Carbon impact—a rigid PET container for laundry detergent pods emits +726% more greenhouse gases than a flexible pouch with zipper;
  • water and fossil fuel usage;
  • material going to landfill—+31% more thermoformed tubs for baby food packaging ends up in a landfill compared to a flexible pouch with fitment;
  • product-to-package ratio—a single-serve, flexible juice pouch efficiently uses packaging with a product-to-package ratio of 97%.

The flexible packaging sustainability benefits outlined in the fact sheet also include material/resource efficiency; lightweight/source reduction; food shelf-life extension; transportation benefits; and a reduction in materials going to landfill.

“At the end of the day, lightweighting is winning,” said Keane. “There is less energy use due to less weight. But we need to get consumers to recycle more—not just traditional recycled materials but plastic materials that can be recycled through in-store drop-off programs. In the end, however, even plastic materials that aren’t recyclable are still a better choice than alternative materials.”

The second part of FPA’s educational effort involves How2Recycle labels, which, Keane said, are a key component of recycling. “We’re in between the consumer and the product manufacturer,” Keane said. “We need to make it as easy as possible for people to recycle or compost. If part of the package is recyclable and the rest isn’t, we need to do a better job of letting people know how to recycle what is recyclable. We have to make it easy for people.” 

Municipal governments are looking at recycling infrastructure, and Keane sees this as an opportunity for plastics. “Is energy recovery the way to go? Maybe we invest in infrastructure that we’ve not invested in for a long time,” she said. “We’ve come so far in packaging maybe we need to update the infrastructure to meet the recycling or composting needs of the new packaging technologies.

"We know that people still want to recycle and we’re trying to get the multi-laminate or barrier pouches into the recycling infrastructure. Just making something compostable when there is no composting infrastructure that will take it means that it’s still going into the trash,” Keane added.

FPA is launching a new website that is more consumer facing, has more graphics and quick hits, and uses science to tell the story to consumers. Keane hopes that will encourage people to educate others in their families and community about the science of plastics, including the benefits of using flexible plastics in various applications versus alternative materials.

Renovia Brings in $42.3M for Its Series B Round

Pixabay Renovia Brings in $42.3M for Its Series B Round

Boston-based Renovia has just brought in a rather sizeable financing. The company has raised about $42.3 million in a series B round.

The financing will accelerate clinical research, development and new digital therapeutic device launches that are focused on pelvic floor disorders. The series B financing was led by Perceptive Advisors and Ascension Ventures, with participation from Longwood Fund, Inova Strategic Investments, Cormorant Asset Management, OSF Ventures and Western Technology Investment. BayCross Capital Group acted as an advisor to Renovia.

“Combining our innovative and proprietary sensor technologies and form factors with a digital health platform will give our customers valuable data to inform new treatment options, drive greater knowledge and understanding of pelvic floor disorders, and ultimately lower long-term healthcare costs,” Marc Beer, Co-Founder, chairman and CEO of Renovia, said in a release. “This funding recognizes the tremendous value in our innovative digital therapeutic and diagnostic product pipeline that we plan to bring to the treatment of pelvic floor disorders, including urinary incontinence.”

Renovia said its technology enables treatment via precise visualization of pelvic movement in real-time during pelvic floor muscle training, while monitoring usage and progress over time.

A Temporary Fix for the EpiPen Crisis?

Pixabay A Temporary Fix for the EpiPen Crisis?

The ongoing saga of the EpiPen shortage crisis took a new turn today as FDA made a move to extend the expiration dates of certain lots of the allergy drug-device combo by four months.

The recent EpiPen shortage has caused FDA to extend the expiration dates of certain lots of the allergy drug-device combo by four months. The products effected are the EpiPen 0.3 mg Auto-Injectors and its authorized generic version. This measure by FDA was made after a review of stability data.

Mylan's product treats life-threatening allergic reactions by automatically injecting a dose of epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The company developed the drug-device combo and partnered with Pfizer’s Meridian Medical technologies to manufacture the product.

The firms said patients should have confidence in using the products from these particular lots as it works to stabilize supply, which is anticipated in 4Q18.

The extension of the expiration dates does not apply to EpiPen Jr (epinephrine injection, USP) 0.15 mg Auto-Injectors and its authorized generic version of this strength. Patients should continue to adhere to the manufacturer’s expiry date labeled on EpiPen Jr 0.15 mg and Epinephrine Injection, USP Auto-Injectors 0.15 mg products.

“We are doing everything we can to help mitigate shortages of these products, especially ahead of the back-to-school season,” Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said in a release. “We’ve completed the necessary reviews of the data to extend the expiration date by four months for specific lots of EpiPen that are expired or close to expiring. We’re hopeful this action will ensure patients have access to this important medication and provide additional peace-of-mind to parents as the agency works with the manufacturer to increase supply.”

Back in May, Mylan said it had alerted FDA that there could be trouble in getting the EpiPen prescriptions filled after manufacturing problems with its partner Pfizer, constrained supply. There were also shortages in Canada and Britain that were reported in April, according to a Reuters article.

New Developments with autoinjectors

Recently, FDA approved a generic version of the EpiPen that will be manufactured by Teva Pharmaceuticals.

“[The] approval marks an important step forward in bringing patients an additional epinephrine auto-injector option and furthers our commitment to accessibility to quality products for the patients who need them," Brendan O'Grady, executive VP, North America Commercial for Teva said in a release.

Teva did not specify when the product would hit the market but did say that it was applying its "full resources" to the launch in the coming months.

Earlier this month, Pfizer made headlines when  it was revealed that it would be working on a combination drug-device rescue pen using Antares’ Quick Shot Device. However, details surrounding the product are being held close to the vest as the companies have not yet disclosed what drug the device will deliver.

Controversial Product?

Mylan’s EpiPen has been at the center of controversy before - mostly related to pricing.

Last year, MDDI reported that the $465 million settlement agreement that Mylan reached with the Department of Justice for claims of defrauding the government by overcharging Medicaid for EpiPen auto-injectors has been finalized.

Mylan was accused of misclassifying the drug-device combo as a generic product with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services when it should have categorized it as a brand-name product. In doing so, Mylan paid state Medicaid programs far less in rebates because the rebate for a generic drug is 13% of the average manufacturer price while the rebate for a brand-name drug is 23.1%.

According to the lawsuit, Medicaid spent $960 million on EpiPen between 2011 and 2015 before the rebate and $797 million after the rebate.

LyondellBasell completes $2.25-billion acquisition of A. Schulman

LyondellBasell completes $2.25-billion acquisition of A. Schulman

Breaking newsLyondellBasell (Houston, TX), one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world, announced on Aug. 21 that it has completed the acquisition of A. Schulman Inc. (Fairlawn, OH), a leading global supplier of high-performance plastic compounds, composites and powders. The $2.25-billion acquisition reportedly creates an industry-leading compounding giant with combined revenue of $4.6 billion.

“This acquisition builds upon our complementary strengths, creating a substantial value proposition for our customers and positioning the company for future growth in this space,” said Bob Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell. “Moving forward, our team is focused on a seamless integration that captures opportunity and creates exceptional value for our shareholders.

A. Schulman’s stockholders approved the merger at a June 14 special stockholder meeting. The company serves a broad range of markets, including agriculture, building & construction, electronics & electrical, mobility, packaging, personal care/hygiene, sports and leisure, and custom services, with plants, offices and technical centers in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle-East, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

The acquisition more than doubles LyondellBasell’s existing compounding business and broadens the company’s reach into growing, high-margin end markets such as automotive, construction materials, electronic goods and packaging. LyondellBasell said that the company is the largest producer of polypropylene compounds and the largest licensor of polyolefin technologies. 

According to LyondellBasell, the combined business will operate as a stand-alone Advanced Polymer Solutions reporting segment. In addition to LyondellBasell’s existing polypropylene compounding assets and the A. Schulman assets, the segment will include Catalloy thermoplastic resins that combine the advantages of polyolefins and elastomers for durable, flexible products for the automotive, packaging and construction industries; and Polybutene-1 resins that offer a combination of temperature resistance and strength in applications such as water pipes, construction materials and re-closeable packaging.

New to LyondellBasell’s product portfolio are several materials previously manufactured by A. Schulman that will be included in the Advanced Polymer Solutions segment going forward. Those include engineered composites used in infrastructure, aerospace and automotive applications; powders (specialty particle materials) used in coatings, rotational molding, toll compounding and other technical applications; and masterbatches including coloring and additive materials used in the production of paper, paint and plastic goods around the world.

“With the combination of LyondellBasell’s vertically integrated polypropylene compounding business and A. Schulman’s agile customer focus across broad and growing markets, Advanced Polymer Solutions is well positioned to deliver significant value for our customers and shareholders,” said Jim Guilfoyle, Executive Vice President, Advanced Polymer Solutions and Global Supply Chain for LyondellBasell. “I’m convinced that we have all of the ingredients to build a world-class business that will reach a multitude of markets with a full range of innovative, tailored products and solutions.”

Pretium’s new 12oz PET bottle mimics glass packaging

Pretium’s new 12oz PET bottle mimics glass packaging

Pretium Packaging (Chesterfield, MO), a North American manufacturer of plastic containers and closures, is launching a new 12-ounce polyethylene terephthalate (PET) sauce bottle designed to mimic the look and feel of glass.Pretium Pkg 12-ounce PET sauce bottles

The new sauce bottle provides a viable alternative for brands (sauces, marinades, dressings, condiments, etc.) previously unwilling to convert to PET. Additionally, for brand owners seeking to minimize use of virgin materials, the bottle can be made with up to 50% recycled PET.  

“When a PET substitute is produced for a specific fill volume it has a smaller footprint because the blow molding process results in sidewalls that are thinner than glass,” explains Barry Sak, vice president, business development, Pretium. “That means reduced shelf presence and ‘hand feel’ that is less substantial. As a result, many brand owners marketing premium products have been reluctant to make the conversion.”

Pretium’s objective in designing the new 12-ounce, 38-400mm stock bottle was to engineer an alternative so brand owners could capitalize on the positive attributes of PET, but still keep the desired glass attributes.

Pretium selected a 40-gram preform, which is approximately 50% heavier than those typically used for 12-ounce PET sauce bottles. Pretium’s engineers were able to modify shoulder, neck and label indentation areas, to end up with a bottle that met both fill and dimension requirements.

Now brand owners can benefit from PET attributes (shatter-resistance, less weight to transport, easier handling, etc.) while still having desired shelf and handling attributes. Additionally, as ecommerce distribution for food products continues to grow, PET’s lightweight and shatter resistance is ideally suited to withstand distribution challenges.

Pretium’s new bottle is ideal for cold or ambient fills up to 130°F and can be used for a wide variety of products. 


Winners and losers: High lumber prices, tariffs on Canadian softwood a boon for plastics

Winners and losers: High lumber prices, tariffs on Canadian softwood a boon for plastics

Data from the platform show that sourcing activity for lumber by users is up 11% over its historical average during the past 12 weeks. “While the platform features U.S. and Canadian suppliers exclusively, our data show this sourcing trend being driven by U.S. buyers looking for U.S. suppliers,” commented Tony Uphoff, President and CEO of Thomas. “This, despite the fact that earlier this year, lumber prices skyrocketed over 60% since the early part of 2017. According to CNBC, this price surge was due in part to a perfect storm of challenges that hit Canadian suppliers: Tree-eating beetles, wildfires, a trucking and railcar shortage, and U.S. tariffs.

MoistureShield decking
MoistureShield won an award earlier this year for its Infuse decking.

With more wildfires consuming forests in the western United States, U.S. lumber soon could be in short supply. Some trees are being harvested after the burn—while they may be charred on the outside there is still valuable lumber to be harvested from the tree after the char is removed. But will that be enough to satisfy homebuilders and remodelers? Canada is the largest supplier of softwood, and the tariffs are putting pressure on builders, some of whom have had to absorb higher costs.

Maybe it’s time to consider plastics’ role in construction. While plastics have been increasing in those applications over the past couple of decades, there is room for more growth as a market for recycled plastics. Trex, for example, uses 95% recycled wood, sawdust and plastics from overwrap packaging for paper towels, toilet paper, dry cleaner bags, and grocery and shopping bags.

Azek’s plastic lumber is made from PVC. Roofing materials, such as those from DaVinci Roofing, use recycled plastics, as well. Vinyl siding has long been used as a construction material, and continues to be in demand. 

Lumber is still desirable as a framing material, and the National Association of Home Builders put the 2018 price of lumber at $350 per 1,000 board feet. Some home contractors use steel for framing, which is used in large industrial and commercial buildings, but steel has its own problems with tariffs, making it increasingly expensive. 

For home remodelers who are building decks, railing and fencing, wood-plastic composites (WPC) and plastic lumber are a good choice. When the materials’ benefits are taken into consideration, such as weather, insect and rot resistance and a useful life of about 25 years with little to no maintenance, plastic lumber and WPCs can be very cost effective. According to information found online, Trex costs about $9.38 per square foot for basic decking and $12.40 per square foot for better material. 

MoistureShield won an award earlier this year for its Infuse decking that uses the company’s CoolDeck technology to keep the decking cool for barefoot use. MoistureShield (a product of Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies – A.E.R.T.) is 95% total recycled content (38% post-consumer, 57% pre-consumer) including recycled milk jugs, grocery bags, pallet wrap, waste pallets and construction debris. The company says that, unlike wood decking, Infuse decking can be installed on the ground. 

Polyethylene (PE)-based decking runs approximately $7.82 per square foot, and polypropylene-based decking is about $8.68 per square foot. That’s compared to California redwood at $7.75 per square foot. There are cheaper wood materials such as cedar and even pressure-treated (PT) lumber, but both require maintenance and have shorter lifespans. PT lumber contains harmful chemicals—although some of the worst ones have been replaced since 2003—and it is recommended that a good coat of sealant be used on these types of decks.  

With all the talk about improving recycling rates and giving plastic waste a longer useful life, it would seem that plastic lumber and WPCs are a good solution to increasingly higher lumber prices.

Nutty research: Almond shells sustainably strengthen plastics

Nutty research: Almond shells sustainably strengthen plastics

USDA Extrusion Sheets typical vs Shells

The Institute of Food Technologists show held in Chicago mid-July centers on food ingredients and processing flavored with a little packaging. Intriguingly, a Tech Theater presentation sponsored by the Almond Board of California (Modesto, CA) disclosed research and development in using almond shells as an ingredient in plastics for applications including packaging.

Nutty idea? Literally it is, but figuratively it’s not—the shells enhance the plastics’ strength beyond most traditional materials. The shells are being tested as a partial plastic replacement in plastic trays and pallets and other containers and products.

The highly “edutaining” presenter was Bill Ort, research leader, Bioproducts, Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA) of the United States Department of Agriculture, who responds to PlasticsToday’s questions. Ort credits much of the answers to Zach McCaffrey, almond project research leader, and Lennard Torres, who he describes as “our polymer go-to-guy.”


Let’s start with an overview of your group.

Ort: The team has been working on sustainable agricultural-derived plastics for at least 20 years with a scope well beyond fillers.  We’ve quietly worked with companies like EarthShell, Cargill-Dow (Ingeo), Clorox-Glad, Metabolix, etc., to create sustainable packaging solutions. 

We’ve also been actively involved in creating standards for the industry. My colleague, Greg Glenn, and I have been on multiple standard committees to help establish, for example, ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868 and the USDA Biopreferred Program. Both Greg and I have been active officers in Bioenvironmental Engineering Polymer Society and the Biodegradable Products Institute (New York City)  

We help companies in this area on a regular basis, and those include these Strategic commercial partners that are presently located within the Research Unit (pilot plant) among others: Method Products (San Francisco), provides us with several researchers to develop sustainable packaging solutions for detergents and other products; tire company Bridgestone Americas Inc. (Nashville, TN) collaboration that provided a big grant to make domestic rubber and another big grant from Cooper Tire & Rubber (Findlay, OH) to make greener tires.

In a nutshell, what’s this research all about as it relates to plastics?

Ort: California produces more than 80% of the world's almonds. That leads to the problem that almond growers and shellers must find an outlet for more than one billion poundsAlmond parts diagram of shells every year. Using shells as fillers in polymer composites have multiple advantages over commercial additives, e.g., cost, energy consumption, renewability, biodegradability, landfilling; however, almond shells are hydrophilic, which limits their incorporation into most polymer matrices. Our research is investigating using almond shells as a filler in polymer composites and results have shown we can make stiffer, stronger and more heat-resistant composites compared to the unfilled polymer. We're starting to work with industrial companies to optimize materials to meet their specifications and work towards scaling up.

PLASTEC Minneapolis 2018 held October 31-November 1 is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that also includes MinnPack brings you the latest in materials and additives, injection molding, rapid prototyping, coatings, automation, packaging and more. For details, visit PLASTEC Minneapolis.

The process involves torrefication—what exactly is that?

Ort: Torrefaction is a thermal process where biomass is heated to 200-300 ⁰C in the absence of air and oxygen.  Compared to raw biomass, torrefied biomass is more hydrophobic, making it more chemically compatible with polymer matrix, and more grindable, reducing the energy required to mill to a small particle size.

Torrefied shells are used as filler and strengthener…what materials do the shells replace?

Ort: Common industrial fillers include calcium carbonate, talc and carbon black.

Next: HDT data, levels, performance and applications

What can you tell us about that research that mixes torrefied almond shells with polypropylene?

Ort: We have published a few papers on torrefied almond shell (TAS) polypropylene (PP) composites.

almond shells HDT chartBriefly, TAS-PP increased the heat deflection temperature (temperature where composite softens), and tensile modulus (stiffness), but had lower tensile strength and elongation compared to neat polypropylene. We are currently working with PE with good results, and are optimistic about others.  We haven't worked with enough with PET yet.



At what levels are the shells added?

Ort: Currently we're making masterbatch pellets of 30% TAS/70% PP for trials with plastic manufacturers.  Plastic manufacturers can dilute to meet their desirable processing and material properties with maximum 30% filler. Our industrial partners currently don't use fillers.  So, improved properties (and cost) are compared with unblended (neat) polymer.


What are the performance, sustainability and other benefits of this material?

Ort: The benefits of using almond shell as a filler is it reduces amount of petroleum-based plastic, reduces landfill of almond shells, makes better utilization of almond byproducts, etc.  The major disadvantage is that recyclers (such as CalRecycle) will not recycle the composite material.  Recycling facilities can only tolerate a small non-plastic component.  Thus processes will need to be setup to accommodate the new materials.  Fortunately the companies we are working with already recycle their own materials by regrinding and incorporating the material into new products.    


What are the general benefits of a higher HDT polymer?

Ort: Example of a flower pot that is sitting in the sun, but works equally well for recycling bins, trash cans, etc. The flower pot made with torrefied almond shell compositeplastic planters made using almond shells will be able to resist wilting at higher temperature. Results have shown TAS filler can increase HDT by 10-20°C or 18-36°F.  


What are the applications or potential uses for these composites, especially in packaging?

Ort: Numerous plastics applications using extrusion of injection molded parts: flower pots, trays, pallets, bins, cases, containers, computer parts, automotive parts and more.

What have been the results to date? And at what scale?

Ort: Currently the team has presented prototype products to plastics manufacturers and is upgrading to larger scale. This includes adding automation, creating shaped products such as pallets, and collaborating with industrial partners to test market opportunities. 

Lab-scale experiments have been performed manually, and results published in academic journals (e.g. McCaffrey, et al., 2018 submitted; Chiou et al., 2016; Chiou et al., 2015).  The current prototype system produces about 5lb per hour of blended composite resin, but industrial partners are now requesting ton quantities. For example, a collaborator anticipates manufacturing prototype plastic shipping pallets at a small production scale in coming months, so we're working on scale-up and finding commercial services to aid manufacturing.

Companies are interested and we're trying to demonstrate that our materials improve their products at lower cost.


Tell us about the related work done by molder F-D-S Manufacturing.

Ort: Sullivan Grosz of F-D-S Manufacturing (Pomona, CA) is part of the Almond Board’s “Leadership Program,” helping us find business opportunities. He has a packaging background and has helped find potential leads—early adopters—in the California packaging industry.  We’ve visited F-D-S to work on scaling up to commercial level, but the work has been slow. 

Essentially, they would have an interest in the torrefied fillers if it works as well on their industrial machines as it does on our pilot-scale extruder.  However, there’s a big difference between 10 tons per hour vs. 1 bucket per hour. 


What’s next?

Ort: Finding an industrial partner wanting to invest in composite manufacturing.  We're on the right path and have several interested companies who we're working with to make prototype parts that are looking forward to trying to make parts incrementally at larger scales. 

An Australian Startup's Unique Approach to Imaging Lung Function

4Dx An Australian Startup's Unique Approach to Imaging Lung Function
4Dx is developing a software-as-a-service technology that enables four-dimensional lung imaging tests using the imaging equipment already in place at hospitals and other clinical settings. The company expects to have FDA clearance for the software sometime in 2019.

Here's a story about how a technology developed to study air displacement from jet engines inspired one mechanical engineer to develop a unique solution for medical imaging.

"I used to work on as a mechanical engineer testing aircraft and other vehicles in wind tunnels," Andreas Fouras told MD+DI. "We would place models in a wind tunnel, we would do this wind tunnel imaging with lasers and cameras and so on, and from that my team would write software that would perform the quantitative analysis of those images to do things like calculate where there was turbulence and how this aircraft or this vehicle was performing in the tunnel."

Fouras invented new algorithms in that space that allowed that analysis to be done in 3D and 4D. 

"And at the same time, I was rubbing shoulders with medical researchers who were talking to me about the difficulties they had in understanding or doing good quality functional imaging in the heart and lungs," said Fouras. "I was able to put two and two together and extend and extrapolate the wind tunnel technology that I developed into this medical imaging technology. I had that idea in 2005 and worked on it effectively as a research project for eight years and then spun out the company in 2013."

So that's how Fouras became the founder, chairman, and CEO of 4Dx, a Melbourne, Australia-based company developing a software-as-a-service technology that enables four-dimensional lung imaging tests using the imaging equipment already in place at hospitals and other clinical settings.

"It's a new measurement that has not been previously available," Fouras said. "The modality is available in a virtual setting."

So the way it would work is the patient would go to a hospital or clinic, the radiologist would use X-ray equipment already on site but would follow a slightly different protocol in terms of acquiring those X-rays, and load the images into the cloud. Then, 4Dx would run its software, perform the analysis, and send a scan back to the doctor and patient without there actually being a physical 4Dx scanner at the facility that the institution would have to buy and maintain.

"To a very high-resolution measure where the air is flowing in someone's lung," Fouras said. "We see everywhere in the lungs and also everywhere throughout the breaths, all phases of the breath ... doctors love to have that visualization and patients love to have that visualization where they can see their lungs, and they can see where the air is flowing and where the air isn't flowing as they breathe."

But Fouras didn't initially envision the technology being offered this way. 

"I have to admit that we initially imagined building and selling scanners," he told MD+DI. "We imagined the technology without really imagining the business side of it, which I think is not too unusual for a group of engineers to do that."

Once the business focus kicked in, it became clear that the technology could be more efficiently developed and sold as a software-as-a-service model. The scan can be delivered on any piece of X-ray equipment and only delivers two chest X-rays' worth of radiation to the patient, which is less than a CT scan.

Although 4Dx is an Australian company, it has a Los Angeles, CA-based office and the company is developing partnerships with major U.S. healthcare organizations like LA Children's Hospital, Cedars-Sinai, University of California Los Angeles, and Cleveland Clinic. The company is currently leveraging those partnerships to develop clinical evidence to support an FDA submission, and if all goes as planned 4Dx will have its software cleared in the United States next year.

Future applications of the technology go beyond the lungs, including heart and cancer diagnostics.