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Product Develpment Help Is Here, There, Everywhere

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As equipment and substrates become more complex, many converters — and even their own suppliers — are relying on facilities with pilot lines, lab capabilities, or technical facilities to develop materials or “test drive” equipment and processes.

“Generally, the customer either has an existing product they want to improve or a new product they'd like to develop using coating options they may not have in-house,” says Dick Tetro, VP/technical director of Black Clawson Converting Machinery. In addition to its pilot lab facility, Black Clawson operates four other testing areas at its Fulton, NY, headquarters, including pelletizing and production labs. “We furnish the manpower, the equipment, and the know-how, and we basically turn the use of our pilot lab over to the customer to run the trials and obtain whatever information they're looking for.”

Clearly, Black Clawson is not alone. There are literally dozens of pilot lines/labs in operation across the US, each with unique equipment and capabilities. They are attracting attention — and, in some cases — crowds.

Accelerating Development

Enercon Industries says it has seen current and potential customers from as far away as China, Japan, and South America make a virtual pilgrimage to its headquarters since introducing the 60-in. PlasmaTreat3 lab line atmospheric plasma treater at CMM Intl. last April. Director of business development Rory Wolf reports Enercon has been running two to three tests a week on the atmospheric plasma lab line, which allows producers and converters to accelerate product development.

New Era Converting Machinery Inc. operates two testing centers: a 26-in. modular pilot coating/laminating line that utilizes a variety of coating methods; and a “cut-and-transfer center” that allows customers to test the capabilities of the company's unwind and rewind cut-off mechanisms on 80-in. production equipment. “Customers often have a coating method they'd like to evaluate, but they're not sure what type of application system they'd like to use,” says New Era president Bob Pasquale. “That's where the pilot line comes in handy.” CEO Frank Lembo adds that the pilot coater, installed in 1995, was always intended for customer trials. The test slitters, however, which originally were designed only for the company's internal use, were installed specifically for customer trials last year due to demand.

Dick Washebeck, director of engineering at Pillar Technologies, says operating a “production-sized” line in its lab facility allows customers to test full-sized rolls of material. “It's not so much that you need a wide line to do testing, it's just for the convenience of the customer and working with their materials. Rather than slit it down, we found they would rather just send us a [full-sized] roll off their unwind. Plus, if you can run it under actual conditions, sometimes you're going to find some things you wouldn't have running narrower widths or at slower speeds. Sometimes, there's not a direct [performance) correlation when you're running at slower speeds.

“It used to be that everyone was just looking at treating a substrate, and they were happy if they just hit the levels they were looking for. Now there seems to be so many other variables that come into play, like whether an over-treatment or an under-treatment will have any effect on distorting the edge of the material or pinholing. Materials are very sensitive now, and with thinner gauges you run into those types of issues.”

Wolfgang Schaps, director of lab technology for Faustel Inc., says some of the largest users of his company's pilot lab are chemical manufacturers and materials suppliers that want to test formulations.

Doug Goldstein, CP Films Inc.'s new business development manager, says his company often uses its pilot line to perform test runs before beginning full-scale production on its 74-in. coating lines. Of course, he adds, customers also take full advantage of the equipment. “Generally, you're going to encounter one or two problems on the pilot line, and we would much rather have it happen there than on the production line that costs so much more to run. If we can make it on the pilot line, we're sure we can make it on the production equipment.” The pilot lines also are used for internal product and process development of new coated and laminated and release liner products. Goldstein says the ideal user of its pilot lab is “someone who has a good high-volume, long-term production opportunity.”

Lamart Inc. offers its pilot line not only to customers but to other converters, reports sales manager of industrial products Bill Yoder. “A lot of people come to us with a concept, and they're not sure what the best construction might be. We sit down with them and do a couple of production runs, and you get to a solution much quicker. But we're also a converter's converter. The customer might think that XYZ Company does it, but they don't. [We] do it; we're just not allowed to talk about it.” Bill Farria, Lamart's manager of process engineering, explains many of its pilot lab customers are large converters that run wide web production equipment around the clock. “When they get a small project they want to test, it may take months to get time on their coater. So they say, ‘Hey, guys, help us out here,’ and they slip it in on our pilot lab equipment.”

PFFC recently conducted our annual survey of this unique segment of the industry and compiled a cross-section of the many companies that offer pilot line/lab/technical capabilities. On the following pages you will find the updated listings. All information was supplied by the companies themselves. (See the June 2001 Buyers Guide issue of PFFC for more information on pilot/lab/technical facilities.) Click Here for Directory.

Mark's Coating Matters | Process

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