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Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association

Pera as a facilitator for Innovation in the Plastics Industry

Matt Duggan, Pera

The theme of the February meeting was "innovation for the plastics industry".

Dr Matt Duggan, an innovation consultant at Pera, explained how Pera, as a European-wide innovation network, acts as a facilitator to help companies with product and process innovation to allow companies to remain competitive.

The four main strands of Pera's activities are:

  • better differentiated products and services
  • more efficient business processes
  • more effective skills development
  • greater access to global markets 

Pera, an SPRA Corporate Member, operates within identified industry needs, in new markets and the application of new technology, rather than from a 'technology push' approach. Pera's 600 employees are engaged in over 100 projects across the spectrum of production engineering, putting companies and organisations in touch with suitable partners, creating solutions and planning implementation.

Pera has numerous major projects for the polymer industry of which 6 were discussed in Matt's presentation.

IN-OV-ATE is a project to tackle counterfeiting by embedding holograms during the injection moulding process, for security in medical and digital media packaging.

BARRIER involves the application of nanoclay platelets to improve gas barrier properties in pipes made from commodity plastics. 

DISBLADE plastic scalpel
DISBLADE uses polyceramic materials to produce sharp disposable plastic scalpels, by surface hardening and sharpening.

INSULIN involves application of laser technology to drill fine holes in the production of plastic hypodermic needles

MICROMELT applies microwave receptive coatings on the inner surface of moulds for rotational moulding to reduce cycle times.

The remainder of the presentation centred on ULTRAMELT, a project involving the application of ultrasonic heating to improve melt flow in extrusion and injection moulding processes.

ULTRAMELT ultrasonic heating attachement to an extruder
Pera brought together trade associations, research institutes, machinery manufacturers, ancillary equipment manufacturers and a moulding company in a project supported by the European Commission.

The object was to:increase the flow of thermoplastic melt by 200%

  1. reduce process energy by 30%
  2. reduce product wall thickness by 33%
  3. reduce process cost by 23%

The initial approach was to introduce an ultrasonic energy converter, booster and sonotrode to the final die feed section in an extruder. After 40 s of ultrasonic power, the viscosity of the melt had dropped and there was a 50 -75% reduction in comparable extrusion melt pressure. At higher stock temperatures the effect was less pronounced. For shear sensitive materials such as PVC, the ultrasound assist resulted in degradation.

spiral flow mouldings; with and without ultramelt
Turning to injection moulding, with a platen-mounted prototype that can be retrofitted to any standard moulding machine, initial trials with a spiral flow mould demonstrated the flow improvement induced by the ultrasound.
Also improved flow (90%) was achieved with considerably shorter injection times. Knock-on benefits include reduced clamp force and reduced injection pressure. The effectiveness of the innovation has been demonstrated in a large cavity tool for car trim, where low MFI grades can be successfully moulded, with better impact properties.
thin walled mouldings with (right) and without (left) ultramelt
Thin walled (1.3 mm) mouldings, which could not be moulded in polycarbonate in conventional moulding systems, were satisfactorily moulded using ultrasonic assist.

Ultramelt is being further developed by DKI, a Danish moulding company. The technology is not yet fully commercialised and interested parties should contact Pera to discuss the application of this technology for their individual requirements.

Report btv Charlie geddes, SPRA Hon Secretary   February 2010

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