“Plastic.” You’d think it was a four-letter word.
You’ve seen the photos: a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in his nose, a Laysan albatross with a stomach full of plastic, and shorelines of plastic packaging, among other gruesome images. It’s hard to imagine a material more demonized.
But it is also a ubiquitous, amazing, human invention. From buildings to cars, from clothing to electronics, from food to health devices (and more), it has enabled the world in which we live, just as it now threatens to engulf us.
The problem isn’t plastics. The problem is garbage. Plastic pollution can best be addressed or avoided by having a clear, profitable course for end-of-life-plastic-products, because if it’s valuable, it’s not garbage.
Moving from a linear to a circular economy in plastics requires both supply of post-consumer plastics, also referred to as resins (or PCR) and demand for those materials. With no buyer, the supply is worthless.
At iMFLUX, we’re among a group of innovative companies making it possible for manufacturers to rely on PCR as a viable source of material to make high quality plastic products. ‘Demand Champions’–members of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR)–were early leaders in establishing goals and making commitments to use PCR but ran into obstacles when trying to produce parts with recycled content.
The problem was quality. PCR is much more variable than resin made from virgin fossil fuels. A Washington State Department of Ecology study specifically identified ‘viscosity variability,’ especially problematic if there is only a portion of PCR resin content being mixed with virgin resin. While that issue can be ameliorated through additional processing– returning the material to near ‘virgin’ quality–that processing significantly increases the cost of the materials, making them uncompetitive.
The good news is that these challenges are being addressed with innovation across the plastics supply chain. One such solution is iMFLUX. iMFLUX, a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, is an injection molding technology that addresses viscosity variation challenges as the plastic is injected. Its revolutionary low-constant-pressure injection molding platform works on virtually any machine, material or mold, and ensures the quality of the part as it’s being manufactured.
“Molding recycled engineering grade polymers directly from regrind provides our customers tremendous value, but operationally it can be very challenging with frequent operator intervention to maintain quality; adding iMFLUX to our production cells has enabled our presses to run with less downtime and higher output. Quality has also improved, which frees up our operators to focus on higher value work,” said George Staniulis, Vice President of AGS Technology, a leader in recycled plastics injection molding.
Conventional injection molding is a set volume of plastic at a set velocity being injected into the plastic mold. With iMFLUX, a nozzle sensor measures plastic pressure at the point of injection, adjusting velocity real-time to maintain low-constant-pressure, even with material variations. This dynamic process allows equipment to run more reliably with fewer operator adjustments. The technology works similarly to adaptive cruise control technology in automobiles, which automatically adjusts the speed of the vehicle to maintain a safe following distance from vehicles ahead.
The dynamic and adaptable process has always delivered operational results for traditional (virgin) materials–improved part quality, reduced costs and capital, elimination of complex processing conditions—but with improved technology to automatically adjust for viscosity changes, plastic manufacturers can run more PCR, and deliver reliable, high quality products with less energy, wear and waste.
“iMFLUX has proved invaluable in our effort to establish more processes using sustainable resins. Not only have we been able to increase our percent of regrind used, but we are seeing more consistency than ever before,” said Brandon Meadors, Engineering Manager at Clarios, a global vehicular battery manufacturer and recycler.
A reliable process drives a reliable demand, which provides both the opportunity and challenge to better address the supply of PCR. Currently, recycled resins undergo quite a curation process to meet all the rigorous quality specifications that virgin resins have. If recycled resins can be turned into something usable immediately, rather than going through the current rigorous compounding process, recyclers would have a less expensive—and more attractive—product for their customers, who would be able to use more PCR. More PCR; less garbage. The plastic waste problem is daunting, but technology like iMFLUX is continuing to deliver solutions that will drive a more circular plastics economy that is reliable, affordable, and accessible.
High quality consumer products can now be made reliably and affordably with PCR, thanks to iMFLUX technology, reducing plastic waste and improving circularity.
For more information on the commitment to the circular economy in the Great Lakes Region, see Circular Great Lakes Initiative.
About the Author
Kelly Santini, Senior Safety & Sustainability Manager, iMFLUX
An advocate for environmental causes, Kelly Santini is leading the charge for injection molders to utilize iMFLUX to increase PCR usage and realize a truly circular economy for plastics.
In addition to promoting circularity, Kelly has delivered
internal energy savings and zero waste-to-landfill status, all while ensuring the health and safety of employees. Prior to joining iMFLUX, she led and managed aspects of environmental, safety and health programs within various companies including Lockheed Martin, The Coca-Cola Company and Novelis. Kelly holds a Master of Science degree in Industrial Health Science and and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Health Science–both from the University of Michigan. She recently completed her certification in Sustainable Business Leadership with GreenBiz.
iMFLUX, a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, is transforming the future of plastic injection molding. With iMFLUX, sites run more reliably with fewer operator adjustments. Manufacturers can produce higher quality parts, reduce costs, and lower capital—all while advancing sustainability efforts. iMFLUX provides the way to autonomous molding with a new capability to design and mold that impossible part. The revolutionary low-constant-pressure injection molding platform works with virtually any plastic injection machine, materials, and molds. For specific questions or more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow iMFLUX on twitter at @iMFLUXinc or LinkedIn