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Plastics on the Web: use the Internet to capture data you need.

How many hours do you spend looking for material data sheets or machinery specifications? You start by rifling through the file cabinets - or the piles on your desk. Even if you find some of what you were looking for, you still have to get on the phone and start calling resin or equipment suppliers. You ask for missing spec sheets. You request additional information on pricing, applications, and technical service. Calls completed, there's nothing to do but wait patiently by your fax machine or mailbox.

Or you could skip all the phoning and waiting by plugging into the World Wide Web.

Part of the Internet, the World Wide Web consists of text, graphics, and multimedia documents containing information on almost every subject under the sun - including plastics processing. You navigate through the Web "sites" of plastics firms guided only by your interests and by the mouse-activated "links" that allow you to jump between related documents that may be located at the same site or at different ones anywhere in the world.

Hundreds of plastics sites run by machinery and resin suppliers, processors, industry associations, and plastics magazines are already up and running. There are also at least four plastics-specific "index" sites, which serve as industry directories with links to other plastics sites. Access to plastics Web sites is generally free to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection - though a few sites do charge a fee if you want to get beyond their introductory information.

Like everything about the Internet, the Web has been the subject of much hype. Many companies' Web sites offer nothing more than on-line versions of their printed brochures. That may be useful to you if you just want a quick look at what an unfamiliar supplier may have to offer. But there are also plenty of more imaginative and elaborate plastics-related Web sites that take advantage of the speed, interactivity, and database search capabilities of computers. Here's a glimpse of what's available today, based on a survey of 100 plastics sites on the Web. (See box at the end of this article for a listing of all the electronic "addresses" of sites mentioned.)

CLICK HERE FOR PLASTICS

Much of what's on the Web today can also be obtained through traditional means, like mail or fax. But even in those cases where an on-line offering resembles a printed one, the Web increasingly has one advantage: speed. After all, even a slow modem beats the mail, and faxed information will get to you only after someone gets around to sending it.

What's more, some types of information - like catalogs and other reference materials - lend themselves to computerization because keyword or numerical data searches become possible. For example, IMS Co., which offers its equipment catalog both in paper form and on CD-ROM, recently began offering a version of the catalog on its Web site. While somewhat less detailed than the other two formats - it doesn't include prices, for example - it allows easy on-line searching. Many other vendors of auxiliary equipment, hot-runner components, and tooling have also taken their product listings and descriptions (even graphics) on line. The Web has also become a good source for specs on primary machinery, though these sites generally offer little more content than you'd find in a printed brochure.

Associations, too, have also gone on-line. Their sites typically inform you of their organization's activities and scheduled events. Some, like the Composites Fabricators Association, Society of Plastics Engineers, Society of Automotive Engineers, and American Plastics Council, also offer some technical documents.

MATERIALS SEARCHES ON LINE

Materials companies have wasted little time getting their property data onto the World Wide Web. Most of the information is ordinary data sheets, but there is something to be said for the ability to simply see a list of resins, click on the ones you want and have the data sheet pop up. (You can also print it out or download it to your computer.) Resin companies such as AlliedSignal, Bayer, BASF, Eastman, and GE Plastics have added the capability to search their product lines based on keywords, intended application, or resin properties.

Property data aren't all that's available. Suppliers like GE Plastics and AlliedSignal, for instance, have made a variety of troubleshooting, processing, and application guides available through their Web sites.

For searching across the product lines of many materials vendors, three third-party databanks - CenBASE/Plastics, IDES, and PLASPEC (PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY'S own databank) - offer searchable, on-line materials databases - though for a fee. The three databanks' Web sites do have free explanations of their services and even offer some search capabilities without charge. For example, PLASPEC lets you search for suppliers of a particular material - part of its free directory of over 4000 suppliers of 600 types of products for processors.

WHAT'S REALLY INTERACTIVE

A few Web sites offer a lot more than the usual "Click Here for Literature." One of the more noteworthy examples can be found on the Hunkar Systems Inc. (HSI) home page. It has its share of company and product information, but it also offers you the ability to test some developmental software on-line for free through the HSI Java ToolKit Beta Site. (Java is a programming language for software applications that run over the Internet.) As long as your Web browser has Java capabilities - as do the popular Netscape and Microsoft browsers - you can make use of a variety of HSI software tools over the Internet. One such tool benchmarks the repeatability of your injection molding machines according to Hunkar's nine-level scale of Class Factors. Another one is an on-line part-cost estimator for injection molders. HSI president-Bob Farriss says more on-line tools are forthcoming.

Another interactive site is run by Paulson Training Programs, a supplier of CD-ROM training materials. Paulson offers an on-line competency test for operators of molding machines and extruders. Visitors to the site can take the test on-line, and their scores are bench-marked against those of other test takers.

GET HELP OR GET SOFTWARE

Most of the other "interaction" with plastics Web sites involves clicking on an e-mail or fax button to request quotes or additional information. Even this kind of limited interaction can have some interesting twists. For example, the Materials Engineering Center at Dow Plastics has made its PAMS (Processes and Materials Selection) expert system available over the Web. PAMS helps you choose the fabrication process and material combination that will best meet your product and economic requirements. You simply fill in an on-screen form, and within 10 days, the Material Engineering Center will provide a summary of process and material options that meet your requirements.

Other sites let you click on a button to download software. For example, Eurotool Inc. lets visitors to its home-page download the company's hot-runner component selection software, called the Navigator. AC Technology lets customers download upgrades to its C-Mold mold-filling simulation software. Or go to the GE Plastics site to download the most current version of Selector, which lets the user conduct searches by materials property or application across GE's line of engineering thermoplastics.

HOW TO FIND IT FAST

If you don't know the precise electronic address of the company or information you are looking for, help is available. There are several generic Internet "search engines" that allow you to perform keyword searches on any topic - including plastics - across vast numbers of Web sites. These search engines are accessible for free. Given the vastness of the Web, the search engines help you to zero in or your target by allowing use of multiple keywords with "and/or" logic. These search engines have the added benefit of serendipity: You can't help stumbling across tidbits of data - or entire information sources - that you didn't know existed.

But many users will no doubt find that generic search engines cast much too wide a net to efficiently trap specific pieces of plastics information. For instance, type the word plastics into the AltaVista search engine, and it yields 100,000 documents with that keyword. Even more refined searches can return a list of "hits" stretching into the hundreds, and many of them will have only a marginal connection to your topic.

To narrow your search, sites like PLASPEC, The Plastics Network, PolySort, and PolymersDotCom can serve as indexes to plastics-related information on the Web. Their sites are more than just a collection of links to other sites: All offer a variety of services and original content - some for free and others for a fee.

The Plastics Network, to take one example, has links to processors, suppliers, plastics publications, associations, and university polymer science departments. It also includes on-line forums, where users can swap processing problems and solutions. The only cost to use these services is just a few moments of your time to fill in a registration form. In addition, The Plastics Network charges between $995 and $4995 to create and maintain Web pages for processors and equipment suppliers. Similar offerings can be had from PLASPEC, PolymersDotCom, and PolySort.

Users of PolySort and The Plastics Network can take advantage of another feature: They can order products directly from Web sites of participating suppliers.

NEWS ON THE WEB

If it's news you want, whether of business or technical nature, the Web offers plenty of choices, including both on-line versions of printed publications and original on-line news sources.

Three on-line sources are free to users: PolySort runs a collection of plastics-related stories and has established a free link to the massive Nexis/Lexis database, which brings together news stories from roughly 5800 journalistic sources. PolymersDotCom offers for free an on-line magazine with features and news stories, primarily in the area of materials technology. PLASPEC offers its daily news on the Web for free.

As for printed plastics magazines, the sites of PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY, Injection Molding Magazine, and Plastics News offer a selection of recent articles. (See p. 7 for more on PLASTICS TECHNOLOGY'S site.)

Is that all there is on the Web for processors? Not by a long shot. Companies go on-line or add features to their sites every day. By the time you put this magazine down, there will be even more to look at.

WORLD WIDE WEB ADDRESSES OF ORGANIZATIONS MENTIONED IN THIS STORY

To access any of these sites, type in http://www. followed by the address to the right of the company.

AC Technology Inc. cmold.com AlliedSignal, Inc. asresin.com American Plastics Council plasticresource.com BASF Corp. basf.com Bayer Corp. polymers.usa.bayer.com CenBASE/Plastics infodex.com/cbmat/ Composites Fabricators Assn. cfa-hq.org Dow Plastics dow.com Materials Engineering Center plasticsnet.com Eastman Chemical Co. eastman.com Eurotool Inc. eurotool.net GE Plastics ge.com Hunkar Systems Inc. plasticsnet.com IDES idesinc.com IMS Co. imscompany.com Injection Molding Magazine plasticsnet.com Paulson Training Programs, Inc. plasticsnet.com PLASPEC plaspec.com The Plastic Network plasticsnet.com Plastics News plasticsnews.com PLASTIC TECHNOLOGY plasticstechnology.com PolySort polysort.com PolymersDotCom polymers.com Society of Automotive Engineers sae.org Society of Plastics Engineers bbsnet.com/SPE
COPYRIGHT 1996 Gardner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Ogando, Joseph
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:1831
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