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GE Plastics focuses on new processes, faster product development.

The two-pronged business strategy that will carry GE Plastics through the balance of the 1990s involves more intensive proprietary research into perfecting novel processing technologies and halving the cycle time for developing new engineering thermoplastics.

Nigel D.T. Andrews, vice president and general manager, recently outlined this strategy for PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY at company headquarters in Pittsfield, Mass. He said the new processing methods now under development, which involve both internal research programs and joint-development alliances with independent molders and end users, are said to go well beyond anything the company already has unveiled publicly, including its highly touted Alpha 1 "hybrid" molding machine.

He also says GE will better exploit its existing roster of engineering polymers in the coming months to create new alloys and blends. These will contribute to the drive to compress the product-development cycle for new resin grades from the former two to four years to one to two years.


Andrews confirms GE's research into new processing technologies is dedicated to projects that have near-term, real-world commercial targets. Predictably, GE will not tip its hand on specific details, but current programs encompass gas-assist injection molding, large-part blow molding and thermoforming, and new fabrication techniques for Azdel-type thermoplastic composites. These processes were among those considered to be in the vanguard of manufacturing technology for the automotive industry.

These projects are supported by a stable of R&D machinery at GE's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield. One example is a large-part blow molder with a programmable head, 120-ton clamp and 20-lb accumulator head from Ube Industries Ltd. of Japan. Another is a large-part, shuttle thermoformer from MAAC Machinery Co. Inc., Itasca, Ill. Forming glass-reinforced sheet is one target for this machine, which has twin-sheet and pressure-forming capability to 125 psi. Gas-assist injection molding equipment is on hand from Krauss-Maffei Corp. and Cinpres Ltd.; and a multilayer extrusion line from the Egan Machinery Div. of John Brown Inc.

Another development area is exploring the Alpha-1 concept on a smaller scale. Alpha-1 was designed for incorporating multiple processing methods for production of a single part. This multi-process technology is illustrated by a joint development program of GE and Japan Steel Works Ltd., utilizing a JSW 250-ton, vertical-clamp injection molding unit, which has a two-station rotary table and 16-oz shot capacity, and can incorporate injection-compression molding, gas-assist molding and insert molding.


Andrews says his firm's alloying/blending strategy for the 1990s is to explore functionalized versions of its current suite of engineering thermoplastics--building in chemical attachment sites on the polymer's molecular backbone--as well as using new discrete thermoplastic compatibilizer resins.

"The efficiency of compressing our entire product-development cycle relies on resin performance from the molder's point of view," Andrews says. "How well does a resin process? How accurate are the first shots out of a new mold? These are the things we're trying to understand in order to develop our new resins."

One market-specific priority on the alloy agenda is a new-generation auto body-panel material, one that could surpass the Noryl GTX line, which is used for fenders on the Cadillac and Saturn platforms of General Motors Corp. The overall market for thermoplastic body panels remains tepid, falling well short of the bold growth forecasts made by GE Plastics in the mid-1980s. Andrews says GE is pursuing both new alloys and new processing techniques to expand opportunities in this area.


GE Plastics plans to become a supplier of low-gloss ABS, made by the continuous-mass or "bulk" process, keeping pace with opportunities in the automotive market now being pursued by Monsanto Co. and Dow Plastics. Low-gloss, higher heat ABS is the material of choice among automotive designers for interior components. GE Plastics has chosen Bay St. Louis, Miss., as its production site. The company says it expects the facility to be on line by early 1994.


Among the latest new resins fielded by GE are Ultem LTX300A and LTX300B polyetherimide/polycarbonate blends, which are priced at $6.12 to $10/lb tl. They both contain nonhalogenated flame-retardant additives. Ultem LTX300A is for general-purpose injection molding, while LTX300B is for extrusion.

Cycoloy C2950 HF is an injection-grade ABS/PC intended for business-machine housings, which achieves a UL 94V-0 rating at 1/16 in. without halogenated additives. Priced at $2.02/lb tl, the new material has a notched Izod of 11 ft-lb/in. and HDT of 203 F at 264 psi. The company says the new grade offers a 30% improvement in flow compared with its existing Cycoloy C2950 grade.
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Title Annotation:General Electric Co. GE Plastics
Author:Gabriele, Michael C.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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