Engineer's Playground

Timothy Walker has this to say about Optimation Technology's pilot lab facility: “There are no equivalent options that combine equipment, human, and IP [intellectual property] resources for web handling development work.” Sure, you'd expect to hear such boastful praise from a company executive. But Walker (PFFC's “Web Lines” columnist) is CEO of TJWalker+Assoc. As a nationally recognized leader in web handling, consulting, and training, he knows a good thing when he sees it.

“A small number of large corporations have a strong effort in web handling development with their own equipment/human/IP resources, but these are all locked away for ‘internal use only,'” says Walker. “Optimation's purchase of Kodak's web handling resource swings open the door to an amazing array of solutions to web handling challenges. Now everyone can see the wizard!”

Located in Eastman Industrial Park in Rochester, NY, the Media Conveyance Facility (MCF) was purchased by Optimation last winter and is used to research and develop process improvements, test OEM equipment performance, and evaluate web-produced products.

Peter Sherer, manager of Optimation's Mechanical and Process Systems group, says the facility has been utilized by small and large converters of finished films. More than 20 companies have reaped the technological benefits of the 8,000-sq-ft facility (including several notable Fortune 100 companies) because it allows them to test product under actual production conditions without having to tie up their own high-volume machines.

Sherer says, “Anybody that mass-produces product in roll-to-roll form could possibly benefit from the facility. Those folks could come in, work with our consultants, run their products, and look at either product-specific problems or even new products and process improvements.

“Also, we work with OEM equipment suppliers who provide hardware to the converting industry. These OEM suppliers want some quantitative or qualitative analysis performed to demonstrate how their equipment behaves.”

Narrow & Wide Web Pilot Equipment

Optimation's MCF facility utilizes a variety of winding and conveyance machine platforms. The facility also has access, through a special collaboration with Eastman Kodak, to several Kodak extrusion and coating pilot machines.

The MCF's four largest pieces of equipment are a 57-in. “combined wide machine,” used in film and paper winding experiments, that runs up to 3,000 fpm; a “thin web rewinder” for low tension, low traction experiments on ultra-thin webs with a maximum web width of 55 in. and a line speed of 2,000 fpm; a 14-in.-wide laminator used for combining and peeling different combinations of webs; and a narrow-width rewinder that has an environmental chamber for studies at controlled temperature and humidity conditions.

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The collaboration with Kodak expands the MCF capability to include a Leistritz compounder that combines various thermoplastic resins with powder and liquid additives for extrusion in the form of thin films in multiple layers at up to 50 lb/hr, and two extrusion coaters that simultaneously can extrude up to three resins and either be cast as a sheet or applied as a layer onto paper or film substrates at up to 200 fpm.

Other Kodak-provided pilot coating equipment includes three different platforms to lay down both solvent- and water-based coatings. They include a slot die coater to apply 10-100 micron-thick wet water- or solvent-based films onto paper, plastic, or metal at up to 60 fpm; a gravure coater applies 1-10 microns of thick wet films; and a digital pilot coater applies a range of water- or solvent-based solutions onto paper or plastic using gravure, rod, blade, or curtain coating at speeds up to 5,000 fpm.

Products tested at the company's 8,000-sq-ft pilot lab facility include polyester and nylon films; printed, unprinted, and coated films; and such specialty substrates as metallics and polyethylene weaving.

Sherer highlights Optimation's modeling capabilities, which allow companies to use shorter test runs to make projections on long-run success. “We have licensed the development knowledge and intellectual property, created over the past 75 years, of one of the country's largest manufacturers in the roll-to-roll industry. This IP is made available to help others in the converting industry solve their own particular web handling problems,” Sherer says.

“One of the things this company learned was how to do narrow web experiments, and there's a place for that. But when you get closer to going into full production, it's really smart to confirm that what you've learned scales up to full production — or make adjustments as needed. Our Media Conveyance Facility allows companies to do that.”

Predict & Verify

Sherer says one of the significant benefits of the MCF is the ability of Optimation's consultants to mathematically model and predict a client's thin film product and its behavior (using the licensed Kodak IP), and then use the lab equipment to verify the model. He says, “This approach is very effective for our clients, as it avoids the costly machine time that can be consumed when experiments are performed using a trial-and-error approach.”

Sherer notes the MCF's unique capabilities for web handling research and development, combined with the needs of the converting industry for demonstration and hands-on learning, have made Optimation's facility a popular site for training and courses. “Optimation hosts training courses to our commercial and industrial roll-to-roll manufacturers as a means to teach topics such as common terms, defect identification, and entry-level troubleshooting skills,” he explains. “Offering the MCF as a venue for hands-on demonstration of these roll-to-roll principles, our guests observe first-hand the capability of our people and equipment and begin to understand how we can help them solve their particular roll-to-roll challenges.”


In addition to Optimation's MCF, the company also has a team with over 40 years of experience in the design and building of prototype manufacturing equipment as well as capabilities to engineer, design, build, and install processes in manufacturing facilities.

Contributing editor Edward Boyle, based in Reading, PA, has covered the converting industry for more than 24 years. Contact him at EJB Communications; 610-670-4680; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Pilot Facility Info

  • Optimation Media Conveyance Facility | Eastman Business Pk., 100 Latona Rd., Bldg. 308, Rochester, NY 14652 | 585-321-2300 |

  • Kodak Coating and Extruding Pilot | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Supplier Info

A Center for Learning

Optimation Technology was selected by the Assn. of Industrial Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators (AIMCAL) as an instruction site for its Converting School, which provides productivity enhancing educational training to current and potential employees of converters across the country.

AIMCAL's Converting School includes classes taught in both the US and Europe on topics including Coating Solution Process Technology; Extrusion Coating; Web Coating and Drying; Web Handling and Converting; and Winding: Machines, Mechanics and Measurements.

See also:
Lab/Pilot/Technical Facilities Directory

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