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BASF customers showcase prototypes made from chemically recycled material

BASF customers showcase prototypes made from chemically recycled material

An increasing number of companies in the plastics industry are working on improving the recyclability of plastics and thus helping to create a circular economy. One way that BASF is contributing is the ChemCycling project: At the end of 2018, the company first used pilot volumes of pyrolysis oil derived from plastic waste as a feedstock in its own production. At a press conference in advance of K 2019, four partners have showcased the first prototypes that were created during the pilot phase of the project.

Dr. Stefan Gräter (left) and Dr. Andreas Kicherer (right) showing a sample of pyrolysis oil and plastic produced from it in front of the steam cracker.

Packaging innovations made of Styropor P Ccycled from Storopack: Temperature-controlled 96h-box for medical applications.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), a leading automotive manufacturer, developed a plastic front-end carrier prototype for its first electric SUV, the I-Pace, out of Ultramid B3WG6 Ccycled Black 00564. “As part of our commitment to accelerate closed-loop manufacturing across our operations, we are always looking for advances in technology that will help to reduce waste,” said Craig Woodburn, Global Environmental Compliance Manager at JLR. “The ability to convert consumer waste into safe, quality parts for premium products through the ChemCycling process is an important step in advancing our ambition to deliver a zero-waste future.”

Storopack, a globally active supplier of protective packaging and technical molded parts, used Styropor P Ccycled to make insulation packaging for temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products as well as boxes for transporting fresh fish and protective packaging for electronic devices. “We were particularly impressed by the fact that Styropor P Ccycled can be used in food packaging. There are already various recycling options for Styropor, and ChemCycling helps raise the recycling share even further,” said Storopack’s Chairman of the Management Board, Hermann Reichenecker. Storopack and BASF are thus forging a new path in the circular economy.

Südpack, a leading producer of film packaging in Europe, produced a polyamide film and a polyethylene film that were processed into specially sealed packaging for mozzarella. Until now, multi-layer packaging has usually been considered to be only recyclable to a limited extent. “Film packaging must fulfill important roles: product protection, hygiene, and shelf life while using a minimum amount of plastics. That is why it is made up of several materials and layers with various properties and barriers. Through innovations such as ChemCycling we come closer to solving the problems associated with recycling of flexible packaging,” said Johannes Remmele, Managing Partner of Südpack.

Schneider Electric, a leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation, manufactured a circuit breaker from chemically recycled Ultramid. “We actively assess the ability of secondary raw materials, such as recycled plastics, to meet our demanding quality standards, and stringent industry regulations and norms. We rely on BASF expertise to demonstrate the end-to-end sustainability benefits while offering an appealing cost. We are hopeful this experimentation with BASF will open room for more circular innovations in Energy Management and Distribution,” said Xavier Houot, Schneider Electric’s Senior Vice President Group Environment, Safety, Real Estate.

“The pilot projects with customers from various industries show that products made with chemically recycled raw materials exhibit the same high quality and performance as products made from primary materials. ChemCycling, which uses a mass balance approach to mathematically allocate a share of the recycled material to the final product, can help our customers to achieve their sustainability goals,” said Jürgen Becky, Senior Vice President Performance Materials. The certified products are indicated with the addition of “Ccycled” to their name. The prototypes presented at the press conference are part of the ongoing pilot phase of the ChemCycling project.

“With the ChemCycling project, BASF is aiming to process pyrolysis oil derived from plastic waste that currently cannot be recycled, such as mixed or contaminated plastics. If we are successful in developing the project to market readiness, ChemCycling will be an innovative complement to existing processes for recycling and recovery to solve the plastic waste problem,” said Stefan Gräter, head of the ChemCycling project at BASF.

The significant potential of chemical recycling was confirmed by the consulting firm McKinsey in a December 2018 study: If established recycling processes are combined with new ones such as chemical recycling, the experts believe that a 50% reuse and recycling rate for plastics worldwide can be reached by 2030 (today: 16%). The share of chemical recycling could then rise from 1% currently to around 17%, which is equivalent to the recycling of around 74 million metric tons of plastic waste.

To move from the pilot phase to market roll-out, however, various issues will need to be resolved. The existing technologies for transforming waste plastics into recycled raw materials must be advanced and adapted for the use at industrial scale, in order to ensure the consistently high quality of the pyrolysis oil. BASF is currently investigating various options for supplying the company’s Production Verbund with commercial volumes of pyrolysis oil in the long term. Besides the technical issues, economic aspects also play a role. For chemical recycling to find acceptance in the market, regulators must also recognize the process officially as recycling. Within this framework, they have to define how chemical recycling and mass balance approaches can be included in the calculation of recycling rates required by law.

“Our ChemCycling project is a good example of how BASF is working with partners on solutions to the key challenges of the 21st century,” said Dr. Andreas Kicherer, sustainability expert at BASF. Besides ChemCycling, BASF is involved in many other projects and initiatives that strengthen the idea of the circular economy and prevent plastics from entering the environment. For example, BASF’s product portfolio includes ecovio, a certified compostable plastic partly based on renewable raw materials.



Designing ‘Wildly Complex Geometries’ for the Human Body

Designing ‘Wildly Complex Geometries’ for the Human Body
Medical devices on a build platform: spinal ALIFs, tibial trays, and acetabular cups. Image and caption courtesy nTopology.

When it comes to designing products for use in the human body, medical device engineers need “advanced capabilities for handling extremely complex geometry, lattice creation, topology optimization, and surface-quality control,” Chris Cho, senior application engineer, nTopology, told MD+DI. They also “need rapid, highly accurate, and dependable design engineering tools in order to innovate quickly and create products that can be tracked, validated, and approved for use in human patients.”

Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is giving medical device designers the ability to develop features that were previously difficult to execute with standard manufacturing. To help them design such features, the company developed nTop Platform engineering software specifically to meet the challenges of advanced manufacturing and particularly AM. “Medical device engineers are always looking for new and better design methodologies to create osseointegrative surfaces, and new capabilities in advanced manufacturing are becoming able to support those needs. Lattice structure creation is another priority for lightweighting implant designs that additive manufacturing in particular meets very well,” Cho explained. “Design exploration in both these areas is greatly facilitated in nTop Platform’s robust modeling environment where a full design space can be explored and then optimized with the kind of complete traceability that is a priority in the medical industry. nTop Platform enables medical device engineers to create complex lattice structures, control surface roughness, create patient-specific devices, and ensure the level of accuracy . . . demanded by the industry.”

Cho describes nTop as “a unified platform for geometry creation and editing, design analysis and control of manufacturing output. Because of its foundation in advanced mathematics, it is not prone to errors or model breakage during data transfer or iteration.” He added that “the software answers the pressing needs of today’s product designers for rapid, innovative design iteration and optimization, knowledge capture and collaboration, and clean transfer of design data to the advanced machines used to manufacture such products.”

The open-software nTop Platform interfaces with other software tools. “It’s implicit-based processing and field-driven design capabilities allow for direct integration with computer-aided design (CAD), finite-element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and other software tools—and enables dramatically fast processing speeds,” Cho said.

It can take designs or data from other software and utilize them for design improvements or iterations. “Users can easily bring their existing designs or data into nTop Platform to create a master model upon which all manner of multiphysics analyses can be carried out, extremely quickly, to optimize designs and evaluate such characteristics as performance, robustness, and lifespan,” Cho said.

Above: Additively manufactured femoral stem implants with complex surface structures have a performance advantage of improved osseointegration. Image courtesy of TU Delft.

Above: nTopology Platform design options for 3D-printed femoral stem implant seen in the image directly above. The software allows for the rapid iteration of designs, quickly sweeping between ordered or randomized structures that promote osseointegration. Image and caption courtesy nTopology.

nTop Platform also supports efforts to make manufacturing more efficient and data driven through Industry 4.0 initiatives. “Our software’s workflow capabilities enable automation of processes and elimination of low value manual work,” Cho said. “These qualities lend themselves to the goals of Industry 4.0, which is seamless data transfer that enables automation up and downstream between conception and production.”

During a recent webinar on using nTop, medical device engineers expressed the need “for software solutions that make their design processes as efficient and reliable as possible and give them the ability to handle the wildly complex geometries they need to create products for use in the human body,” Cho said. “Engineers are constantly under pressure to innovate and collaborate at the same time—while meeting the extremely strict quality metrics of their industry. The webinar demonstrated the powerful benefits accessible to them through the workflows in nTop Platform.”

Dasani makes a bigger splash in bottled water sustainability

Dasani makes a bigger splash in bottled water sustainability

Through a quintet of coordinated sustainability initiatives, the Coca-Cola Company (Atlanta) is aggressively aligning the Dasani water brand with the company’s global “World Without Waste” goal to make packaging with 50% recycled material by 2030.

It’s the largest sustainability initiative in the history of the Dasani brand, according to Lauren King, brand director, Dasani.Dasani PT PQ1 “It’s rooted in providing sustainable options for our consumers, while doubling down on our commitment to minimize our impact on the environment. Over the last decade we’ve been on a journey to make Dasani more sustainable through new package design and innovation, and we are now accelerating these efforts in support our company’s ambitious goals to significantly reduce packaging waste around the world by 2030.  While there is no single solution to the problem of plastic waste, these additional package and package-less options mark an important next step in our effort to provide even more sustainable solutions at scale.”

The day of the announcement in mid-August PlasticsToday interviewed Sneha Shah, group director, packaging innovation, Coca-Cola North America, who reveals the reasoning and details for the program, which comprises five parallel initiatives involving two plastics-centered developments that include innovation in plastic bottles made from renewable resources and an emphasis on bottle weight reductions.

The HybridBottle, the next generation PlantBottle

Unveiled was the new HybridBottle, which features a mix of up to 50% plant-based renewable (PlantBottle) and recycled PET (rPET); specifically, the blend will be about 30% recycled (rPET) content and 20% renewable (PlantBottle) content with the 50% virgin PET. It is expected to launch nationally in mid-2020 as a 20-oz bottle.

Coca-Cola’s Coca-Cola Dasani PlantBottlecurrent sustainably enhanced benchmark standard, the PlantBottle, is a blend of 30% renewable materials including sugarcane and corn and 70% virgin PET.

Shah identified three key considerations for this development that will remove an incrementally larger amount of virgin material from the brand’s portfolio:

High-quality material. Requirements include that it being sourced from food-grade material with proper coloring/clarity.

Recycled content. Coca-Cola is adding this year six new suppliers of rPET who use mechanical processing specifically for the HybridBottle. This will ensure a steady supply of consistent quality of food-grade material; Shah declined to identify them by name.

Packaging performance with scalability that extends through the entire supply chain through to the consumer experience.

“This is going to accelerate our use of recyclable and renewable resources and is an industry-leading solution for the market in North America,” Shah states.

In related news from early 2019, the company made the PlantBottle technology available to all interested companies, including competitors. Currently, only a limited number of suppliers produce the type of biomaterial used to make PlantBottle resin, which adds complexity and cost to the production process. By encouraging more use of bioPET by companies both inside and outside the beverage industry, Coca-Cola expects to increase demand and drive down pricing.

Next: Dasani plans to lose weight

A second component of the 5-prong sustainability plan is accelerated lightweighting across the Dasani portfolio.

The company is leveraging new technologies in taking a closer look at packaging design to reduce weight package by package and gram by gram.

"It's part of our new smart design process where we are challenging to maintain or evolve the performance aspects and maintain beverage quality as part of a holistic package system," Shah explains. "We don’t want to take so much weight out that we have to add somewhere else instead as balance perspective as to what makes sense for that particular package."

[Ed. Note: you’ll find more about smart design at the end of this article]

The lightweighting R&D takes a big-picture view.

“The closure and entire neck finish contribute to bottle design and lightweighting,” says Shah, "but really everything affects the total weight so we look at the whole system of bottle, closure, label, secondary packaging—with the closure an enabler of the entire lightweighting program.”

Lightweighting plans will first focus on the 500mL bottle before turning to other sizes, starting with the 20oz size, she says.

We asked her about KHS’ "Factor 100" bottle that brings the weight of a 500mL bottle down to an incredible five grams, which PlasticsToday covered in an NPE report published June 2018.
“That’s an incredible development,” agrees Shah. “We have connected with KHS and all OEM suppliers of bottle manufacturing systems—we’re supportive of all their work in using new technology for lightweighting.”

Read more about the Factor 100 technology in a June 2018 report published by PlasticsToday.

As an aside and because we were speaking with the company's North American lead in packaging innovation, PlasticsToday asked her about KHS’s Plasmax technology that coats small 250- or 300-mL bottles internally with a silicon oxide (SiOx) “glass” barrier layer, a technology that was commercialized recently by Coca-Cola Canada (shown). PackEx PAC Coke small bottle award edit

“Plasmax coating tech is something we took a leadership role in,” Shah emphasizes. “In fact, we launched that type of package in Asia four or five years ago and are now using it in Canada as an enabling technology that’s part of our ‘toolkit’. While that specific bottle is not in the U.S. market today, the technology provides excellent shelf life characteristics to the bottle and reduces overall weight, which is sometimes a problem in smaller packages.”

PlasticsToday asked if there was specific range of bottle sizes where the method is technically and economically optimized?

“The tech itself might have some limitations, but we would assess using it case by case looking at the design of the package, the environment it will be in and the shelf life that’s needed…there are a lot of lot of dimensions to consider,” Shah responds. “However, overall there’s a strong case for the technology because of the amount of material you’re able to reduce in the bottle.”

According to a June 2019 report in PlasticsToday, Coca-Cola Canada was able to achieve a 30% weight reduction while blowmolding both size bottles from the same 14-gram preform.

Next: A move from plastics?

Dasani Sustainable Cans trio PT

The most dramatic of the three non-plastics plans announced as part of the 5-element program was for Dasani still water’s move into not only aluminum cans, but aluminum bottles, too. Of course, Coca-Cola has a lengthy history in aluminum cans for carbonated soft drinks and sparkling waters (including Dasani), teas and lemonade, but this is a first for the company’s still water when Dasani will debut in a 16oz can later this year to be followed by a 12oz can. Both cans will be introduced into foodservice outlets in the Northeast in targeting “certain drinking occasions where customers have higher preference to enjoy or choose that aluminum package,” Shah says.

In 2020, those will be joined by resealable aluminum bottles to bring an on-the-go, portable multiple consumption format to the brand.

PlasticsToday asked if this move into metal was reactionary to the backlash against plastics, particularly bottled waters.

Instead, she positions it as a move to leverage opportunities in aluminum packaging for consumers and for the brand with an environmental angle as well.

“This meets changing consumer preferences in creating a format choice also paired with consumer recycling behavior,” Shah explains. “Both PET and aluminum have value in the recycling market, and aluminum’s higher recycling rate helps with our overall World Without Waste goals. We want to inspire consumer behavior to recycle to help get the entire value chain working towards that goal as part of a circular economy—aluminum plays a key role in that bigger picture.”Dasani Metal Can in hand PT

While the move into aluminum loses the losing literal package transparency that’s appealing to some consumers, Sha expects a net gain in customers because aluminum represents “a little more of a premium drinking experience,” Shah notes, that will appeal to a different consumer segment than PET bottles.

The addition of cans will impact production operations. “We’re considering modifications to our lines and capabilities at multiple plants to support a national launch starting in the Northeast in late 2019.”

Next: The final two initiatives and smart design

The addition of How2Recycle labels to all packages

Rolling out to all Dasani packaging starting this fall, Dasani How2Recycle Plastic Bottle Org PTHow2Recycle labels will educate and encourage consumers to recycle after use (sample image for a generic plastic bottle is shown).

“We believe this is a great step forward in consumer education—consistent messaging can go a long way in increasing the amount of recycling behavior we see,” says Shah. “Our package itself is an important piece of real estate and a key touchpoint with consumers. While consumers may be familiar with recycling for aluminum and PET, we still want to progress towards more. Our goal is to collect an equivalent of every package we put into the market.”


The rollout of Dasani-branded PureFill water dispensers

In deploying 100 PureFill units across the country beginning in fall 2019, the only non-packaging aspect of these initiatives aims to reduce the amount of prepackaged bottled water that consumers use while making it more convenient for them to enjoy the brand.Dasani PureFill Dispensers

These are compact countertop unit that can be used by a lot of different types of foodservice outlets that feature the proven microcartridge flavors technology of the successful Coca-Cola Freestyle platform. Consumers can drink Dasani as-is piped and filtered from local water supplies or enjoy the brand flavored in still or sparkling versions.

Another benefit of the units is that they provide the company with consumer information about flavor preferences and how they use the system, Shah points out.

At the core of it all: Smart design

A common thread that guides and supports these five sustainably-centered endeavors from the start is what Shah calls smart design.

“Designing our packages to reduce the amount of raw materials used and incorporating recycled and renewable content in our bottles to help drive a circular economy for our packaging is an important part of our commitment to doing business the right way,” she says. “We are working diligently to continually reduce our overall environmental footprint through smarter package design, procurement of recycled and renewable materials while continuing to deliver exceptional consumer experiences.”

Shah identifies the three components of smart design:

1.            Consumer or customer focus design. We want packages that are convenient, compelling and easy to use.

2.            Sustainability. It is really at the center of things. We want each of the packages we launch to incorporate recycled content, are recyclable and maximize the materials we leverage for that package or design.

3.            Leveraging our scale and efficiencies. It's the only way we can bring that package forward into the market.

“When we can maximize each of those, we have what we call a ‘winning package’,” she tells PlasticsToday.

How Darkroom Photography Techniques Inspired a Radical Approach to Cancer Screening

Images Courtesy of Imago Systems How Darkroom Photography Techniques Inspired a Radical Approach to Cancer Screening
Mayo Clinic recently signed on to support Imago Systems' clinical trial. The multi-year agreement will focus on clinical trial support for Imago Systems' ICE Reveal product for breast imaging and includes financial investment from Mayo Clinic. The collaboration will be led by a breast imaging research specialist at Mayo Clinic who will spearhead Imago's pilot and pivotal studies to clinically validate Imago's visual intelligence software as applied to mammograms for breast cancer screening.

Tom Ramsay, an image processing expert and master photographer, has spent decades sharing his expertise with the world, from working on satellite imaging for the U.S. Navy, fingerprint image processing for the Department of Homeland Security, computer-based photo microscopy analysis of tuberculosis (TB) in Africa, and even restoring Thomas Edison's movies for the Library of Congress. So when his cousin lost both of her daughters to breast cancer, Ramsay had a hard time understanding how such a thing was possible, given all the advanced imaging technology that exists.

The problem, of course, is that even with the most advanced mammography systems, radiologists have a tough time spotting cancer in dense breast tissue because density shows up white in an x-ray and cancer is a density.

"So I looked at this as a problem and said 'I think I'm going to approach this very differently.' Because everything I had done in my history ... everything was to write an algorithm in software to find something," Ramsay told MD+DI. "And that makes sense, right? If you're looking for TB you write an algorithm to find TB."

But in order to get around the density problem that has confounded the field of breast cancer screening, Ramsay proposed what seems to be a radically different approach. "I said, 'what if we write an algorithm that doesn't find anything?"

It sounds counterintuitive, but as a photographer, Ramsay understands the old-school method of developing images in a photography darkroom.

"When you put a piece of paper in the developer, how is it that the developer knows what you took a picture of? Well, it doesn't," Ramsay said. "All of the silver particles, their relationship among one another is determined by whether you have a picture of a dog or a cat or a sunset or the moon or your family. So we said 'what if we could create an equivalent to the darkroom chemistry, only digitally, where every object in the image would self express based on the relationship of the pixels around it?"

Ramsay took that idea and founded Imago Systems, a Lansdowne, VA-based company that he is now CEO of. Imago Systems has developed an advanced visualization software that is designed to dramatically improve a clinician’s ability to detect cancer and other abnormalities earlier and more accurately. The software delivers what the company calls "visual intelligence" to help clinicians observe and identify abnormalities at the earliest possible stage.

"So now we don't have to go and run a million mammograms to try to define what cancer looks like, cancer will tell us that it's there," Ramsay said. "Benigns will differentiate from cancers and normal tissue will have their own patterns. We developed an approach algorithmically to have tissue structures in medical images self-define and differentiate."

In other words, Ramsay said, "We're not detecting anything but we're showing everything."

Imago Systems has even gained the confidence of Mayo Clinic, which recently signed on to support the company's clinical trial. The multi-year agreement will focus on clinical trial support for Imago Systems' ICE Reveal product for breast imaging and includes financial investment from Mayo Clinic.

The collaboration will be led by a breast imaging research specialist at Mayo Clinic who will spearhead Imago's pilot and pivotal studies to clinically validate Imago's visual intelligence software as applied to mammograms for breast cancer screening. Imago said Mayo Clinic's involvement will play a critical role in the evolution of the technology to improve breast imaging across multiple imaging modalities.

Adagio Gives Afib Cold Treatment in Hot Market

Pixabay Adagio Gives Afib Cold Treatment in Hot Market

Adagio Medical is vying to get its treatment for persistent atrial fibrillation treatment on the market. The Laguna Hills, CA-based company made significant progress toward the goal this week and announced it received an IDE from FDA.

The firm is developing a catheter procedure involving an energy source that freezes tissue. Adagio said its intelligent continuous lesion ablation system (iCLAS) encompasses the One- Shot+ catheter, a corresponding console, and a protective esophageal balloon to mitigate the effects of the cold beyond the localized area of ablation.

The anatomical approach requires a single transseptal puncture to reach the targets in the left atrium. The same catheter is used for navigation, ablation, and validation of the lesions.

The firm’s study is set to support a PMA application for the treatment of patients with Afib that has persisted more than seven days but less than twelve months, who have not had prior Afib ablation therapy. Research centers will include both private practice and academic sites in the US, Canada, and Europe.

“Adagio has been working diligently toward, and is extremely pleased with, this important corporate milestone,” Nabil Jubran, VP of Regulatory Affairs and Quality, said in a release. “We have started the approval process of our clinical sites and may have patients enrolled and treated by the fall. We are pleased with the strong interest expressed by the clinical community in participating in this clinical study.”

Adagio, which was formed in 2011, joins the growing list of med-tech companies that have made strides in the Afib market.

Nearly a year ago, CardioFocus completed enrollment of the full cohort of 153 patients in the CONVERGE IDE clinical trial. The trial compares the Convergent approach to endocardial catheter ablation for patients with persistent or long-standing persistent Afib.

In January, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals announced it teamed up with Apple for a research study to look at how to help improve Afib outcomes, including stroke prevention, through the use of wearables. The partnership uses an app developed by J&J along with the Cupertino, CA-based company’s Apple Watch.

And in late May, CardioFocus raised $55 million in financing to help with the adoption efforts of the HeartLight X3 System. The Marlborough, MA-based company’s device is a third-generation technology building upon the advanced features of the HeartLight Endoscopic Ablation System, which performs pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) using laser energy to create lines of scar tissue to block the abnormal electrical pathways that cause Afib.

Special K: Medical injection molding takes center stage at plastics industry’s premier show

Special K: Medical injection molding takes center stage at plastics industry’s premier show

Weekly resin report: Spot prices for commodity-grade PE reach decade-long lows

Weekly resin report: Spot prices for commodity-grade PE reach decade-long lows

Spot resin trading continued to transact at a very swift pace last week: Buyers and sellers came to do business and both sides were willing to bend a bit to complete deals, reports the PlasticsExchange (Chicago) in its Market Update. Prices for nearly all polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) grades slid a cent, with very sharp pricing again seen for off-grade materials.

Cool Design
Image courtesy Cool Design/

Spot domestic demand remained strong and, despite trade wars and geopolitical uncertainty, July PE exports scored a new all-time record high. European inquiries were off this past week, as the traditional August holiday season took its toll; otherwise, incremental demand was met by willing supply. PE producers aim to recoup their June/July price decrease—or at least stem the slide—with a fresh September $0.04/lb nomination, which backs up the current $0.03/lb August attempt. It would take a disrupting hurricane to implement, writes the PlasticsExchange, but "heads up," it adds, "we are entering high season." August PP contracts should see little price change, as monomer has been stable while spot resin supplies are surprisingly available given tight upstream inventories. 

The spot PE market continued to transact at a healthy pace, though completed volumes fell a touch below the previous week’s tally. Spot prices eroded further and most commodity grades reached fresh decade-long lows, reported the PlasticsExchange. In general, these low price levels have been viewed as attractive, as processors continued to step up and buy in size. While much of the new PE production has been finding a home offshore, to the tune of a record 1.6 billion lb in July, upstream resin inventories continued to bulge to a new all-time record, exceeding 5.7 billion lb, which is 2 billion above July 2017 levels. The Houston packaging grid is feeling this heavy flow, as some warehouses are full and turning away packaging business for the moment. In addition to the $0.03/lb increase sought for August, PE producers have nominated a $0.04/lb increase for September, perhaps partially to limit the downside in prices and also in case of a hurricane-induced production disruption as we head toward peak storm season. 

PP trading marked the seventh straight week of robust business; completed volumes favored homo- over co-polymer PP and off-grade over prime. With limited movement in monomer costs and no new news of supply disruptions, homo- and co-polymer PP prices gave back an earlier spot penny increase. The cent premium had been added in the aftermath of the Exxon Baytown fire, even though it did not create a meaningful disruption to the market. Overall PP resin is amply available, though fiercer negotiations were required to consummate transactions last week. Producers appear to have run reactors in July at around 90% of capacity, domestic demand was strong and upstream inventory drew nearly 50 million lb, resulting in nearly decade-low levels. August PP contracts are on track to roll relatively flat.

Read the full Market Update on the PlasticsExchange website.

Elevating the sustainability conversation on flexible packaging

Elevating the sustainability conversation on flexible packaging

FPA Study Graphic Shoppers PT FPA

Sustainability and packaging have made their way into the mainstream media spotlight, thanks in large part to the increase in debates over single-use plastics and recyclability. Because of this added attention, it is more important than ever for plastic manufacturers to understand the perspectives of two target audiences: consumers and brand owners. The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA, Annapolis, MD surveyed these audiences last year to explore opportunities to address gaps in sustainability conversations and promote the benefits of flexible packaging. The study, Perspectives on the Meaning of Sustainability in Flexible Packaging, confirmed two overarching trends in the flexible packaging industry: consumers can identify sustainability terms they are more often exposed to, such as recycling; and various players in the plastics industry can mitigate the negative perceptions of flexible plastic materials by highlighting lesser-known sustainability attributes.

Understand consumer perceptions

It is no secret that consumers care about sustainability and are becoming more vocal about packaging. In fact, the FPA study revealed 86% of consumers care about sustainability in FPA Study Graphic Prefer Square PTgeneral and 79% prefer products in sustainable packaging. However, many consumers do not realize that a packaging format can be sustainable without being recyclable, an insider fact that manufacturers, packaging experts, and brand owners fully understand. In other words, consumers may misjudge a packaging format’s true impact on the environment if they cannot put it in the recycling bin.

Although consumers are most likely to associate sustainability with familiar terms like “renewable” (59%) and “recyclable" (56%), some recognize the importance of business-to-business (B2B) terms like “transportation efficiency” (24%) and “circular economy” (13%) when presented with them.

This demonstrates that consumers are already talking about sustainability, but there is still an opportunity to inject specific sustainable manufacturing processes and supply chain concepts into the conversation.

Amplify communications

Brand owners can amplify communications about specific life cycle impacts in dealing directly with customers. In any role along the supply chain, you must be transparent and actively communicate the environmental impacts so all aspects of sustainability can be passed along to potential end users evaluating a purchase decision. Brand owners should be able to discuss how a product’s manufacturing process is sustainable and consider incorporating that information within brand promotions.

For instance, 81% of consumers think it is at least somewhat important that product packaging has been transported efficiently. Therefore, ensuring operations like transportation efficiency are measurable and can be shared with brand owners is key. Perhaps these insights will translate to on-package messaging or sustainability reports to reveal the more B2B aspects of environmental impact and introduce into consumer conversations.

Consider buying power

Plastics manufacturers can also rest assured that consumers who represent the next wave of buying power in the U.S. are receptive to flexible packaging formats. Members of younger generations are more likely than their older counterparts to believe flexible packaging is sustainable and less likely than older generations to think glass or corrugated is sustainable. This presents a unique opportunity for the flexible packaging industry to create end products that cater to this demographic and prioritize sustainability in operations.

Millennial consumers ages 18-34 are also more likely than older consumersFPA Sustain Study Infographic Trust Labels PT to say they support/buy from businesses with sustainability initiatives (71% of consumers 65+; 83% of Millennials ages 18-34). We can help brand owners position their sustainability efforts and achieve a positive return on investment by prioritizing and communicating sustainability efforts in the manufacturing process. In the design process, consider how the format can be positioned to the sustainability-conscious consumer: Do the robust film layers enable reusability, or does the high product-to-package ratio result in transportation efficiency?

Overall, the flexible packaging industry has a unique opportunity to turn the sustainability conversation in our favor. Let us encourage consumers to see beyond recycling by putting other sustainability attributes in front of them. Amplifying communications to consumers starts early in the supply chain and can be strengthened by every player along the way.

About the author

AlFPA Alison Keane PTison Keane, Esq., IOM, CAE, has served as President and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association since October, 2016, and provides strategic leadership and advocacy to advance and grow the flexible packaging industry. Keane previously served as the Vice President for Government Affairs and Industry Programs with the American Coatings Association. An environmental attorney, with 25 years of experience in the association and government sectors, Keane has also served at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland State Senate.

Click on image below to view a downloadable infographic of highlights from the study.

FPA Sustainable Infographic top portion


New ‘Analog’ Smart Glass Could Be the Future of Artificial Vision

With the increased sophistication of technology such as smartphones and smart eyeglasses, researchers are looking for new ways to upgrade the typical characteristics of glass to meet contemporary technology needs.

To this end, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a new type of smart glass for facial-recognition technology in an analog way that uses simple tricks of light rather than the usual complex technology, they said.

analog smart glass, University of Wisconsin-Madison, facial-recognition technology, optics, cameras, sensors
From left to right, Zongfu Yu, Ang Chen, and Efram Khoram at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the concept for a “smart” piece of glass that recognizes images without any external power or circuits. (Image Source: Sam Million Weaver)

The team—led by electrical and computer engineering professor Zongfu Yu—has developed glass that can recognize images without requiring the usual sensors, circuits, or power sources.

Instead, “we’re using optics to condense the normal setup of cameras, sensors and deep neural networks into a single piece of thin glass,” Yu said in a press statement.

Unique Approach

Typically embedding artificial intelligence to add smart capabilities to devices or glass requires computational resources that in turn require a lot of power. However, Yu and his team have come up with a unique and different approach that allows a piece of glass to recognize someone’s face using no power at all.

“This is completely different from the typical route to machine vision,” he said in the release.

The design the team came up with includes pieces of glass that look like translucent squares, with small bubbles and impurities strategically placed within the glass that can bend light in specific ways to differentiate among different images.

In a proof of concept, researchers demonstrated glass pieces that identified handwritten numbers. In the design, light emanating from an image of a number enters at one end of the glass, and then focuses to one of nine specific spots on the other side, each one corresponding to different digits.

In this way, if the light matches an expected pattern, the glass “recognizes” what it sees, researchers said. The proof of concept was accurate enough to detect, in real-time, when a handwritten number 3 was altered to become the number 8 instead, showing complex behavior with a simple technological construct, researchers said.

The team published a paper on their work in the journal Photonics Research.

All About Perspective

The technique researchers designed also changed their own view of how technology works, they said. Designing the glass to recognize numbers was similar to the machine-learning training process, except with an analog material instead of digital codes.

To “train” the glass to recognize images, engineers placed air bubbles of different sizes and shapes on the glass. They also included small pieces of light-absorbing materials such as carbon-based graphene in specific locations inside of the glass.

“We’re accustomed to digital computing, but this has broadened our view,” Yu said in the statement. “The wave dynamics of light propagation provide a new way to perform analog artificial neural computing” 

Researchers acknowledged that the training process for the glass is time consuming and computationally demanding; however, material-wise, the glass itself is easy and inexpensive to fabricate. 

Another benefit to this low-tech way to recognize images is that because the technique is basically built into the material, one piece of smart glass could be used and re-used up to hundreds of thousands of times, he said.

It also could be used as a “biometric lock” to recognize only one person’s face, which could be applied to mobile and electronic devices as the ultimate form of security, Yu added.

Indeed, future plans for developing the technology include determining if it can work for these types of complex tasks, as well as other next-generation uses for machine vision, Yu said. 

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 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.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!


Rockwell Automation Opens Electric Vehicle Innovation Center in Silicon Valley

Rockwell Automation has opened an Electric Vehicle (EV) Innovation Center in San Jose within the company’s Information Solutions development facility. The EV center intends to provide live manufacturing demonstrations, hands-on trials utilizing new technology, and events showcasing collaboration with industry experts and Rockwell partners.

Rockwell Automation EV Innovation Center, electric vehicles, EVs, IoT, augmented reality, manufacturing, robots, smart manufacturing
Demonstrating autmented reality technology at the Rockwell Automation EV Innovation Center. (Image source: Rockwell Automation)

Rockwell will utilize augmented and virtual reality modeling at the EV Innovation Center to provide automotive start-ups and established manufacturers an environment to learn new technologies and standards. The goal is to enable them to deliver electric vehicles to market faster, with less risk, and at lower cost.

Working with Rockwell Partners

Rockwell intends to use the combination of the company’s technology with partner technology to make the center unique. Specifically, Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC, is an integrated solution that combines software from PTC and Rockwell Automation. Similarly, Eagle Technologies provides the battery pack assembly machine, and FANUC furnishes robot technologies. All of these are integrated with Rockwell Automation technology.

Hirata, a turnkey assembly line builder, will provide an assembly cell to demonstrates electric drive unit assembly and testing. Emulate 3D, Rockwell Automation’s simulation software, will be used to prototype and test machines before they’re built. Teamtechnik will perform functional testing to confirm performance before building the drive into the electric vehicle.

Building on the Rockwell Ecosystem

Rockwell saw it as important to include partners in the EV center. “This is not an innovation center singularly showing Rockwell technology. In order to be valuable we have to leverage the power of our ecosystem,” John Kacsur, automotive and tire industry VP at Rockwell Automation, told Design News. “We have two major pieces of equipment in automotive. One is Hirata. They offers demos in drive chain. We have Engle Technology for battery and test. The ecosystem is what makes this powerful. We’re showing actual suppliers in our facility.”

The EV center will also demonstrate the use of advanced manufacturing technology, including PTC’s IoT systems as well as augmented reality. “We have some of the PTC augmented reality designed into the machinery,” said Kacsur. “You can see how some of these new capabilities can be used by including actual suppliers.”

Using Tech to Get to Market Quickly

The aim of the center is to demonstrate how advanced manufacturing technology can help EV companies produce vehicles efficiently and get to market quickly. “A lot of the capabilities around simulated reality and augmented realty are employed,” said Kacsur. “All of the technology enables analytics. That’s on display in the context of analytics at the edge and in the cloud. Batteries are the technology moves to an EV drive chain, so that’s why we show an EV manufacturing set up.”

Rockwell chose Silicon Valley because it has become a growing area for the development of electric vehicles. “The idea originated because the San Francisco Bay area has become Detroit West. It was important for Rockwell to have a presence and be local to our customers. We’re tracking 100 EV start-up companies. We want to engage with all of them and help them build a plant as soon as possible,” said Kacsur. “The EV start-ups are in a race. In many respects Tesla has captured the consumers interest and opened up the market race. The sooner that EV companies can get to market and launch, the sooner they can get some market share.”

Kacsur, noted that Rockwell wants to focus on companies that are moving from prototype to manufacturing. “When it’s time to scale up and build a large quantity at a lower cost, that’s when we can help,” said Kacsur. “We can leverage IoT to fully connect their enterprise. That will drive efficiencies -- more uptime and less downtime, predictive maintenance, and more throughput. All of this is possible as we leverage the assets from all the partners.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Drive World with ESC Launches in Silicon Valley

This summer (August 27-29), Drive World Conference & Expo launches in Silicon Valley with North America's largest embedded systems event, Embedded Systems Conference (ESC). The inaugural three-day showcase brings together the brightest minds across the automotive electronics and embedded systems industries who are looking to shape the technology of tomorrow.
Will you be there to help engineer this shift? Register today!