Show Report: Chillers, Vacuum & Compressed Air at the NPE 2018 Plastics Showcase


The NPE 2018 International Plastics Showcase was held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, May 7-11. Setting all-time records, the Show attracted 2,180 exhibitors — including Chiller & Cooling Best Practices and Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazines! Over 1,200,000 square feet of exhibition space was used, breaking the all-time NPE record. Held once every three years, NPE 2018 registered attendance was 56,000.

The plastics industry is the 4th largest in the U.S. It’s a major user of all the technologies we cover including blowers, vacuum, chillers and compressed air system components. Compressed air pressure requirements vary significantly for the plastics industry. Below is a simplified attempt to list some of the applications in the plastics industry

Process Chillers in Plastics

  • Blown film
  • Extruders (supporting liquid ring vacuum pumps)
  • Injection molding
  • Blow molding

Vacuum/Pressure in Plastics*

  • Pellet conveying and drying
  • Extruder venting, cooling/drying and calibration of extruded products
  • Injection molding, thermoforming and vacuum bagging
  • Gluing plastic parts and plastic welding
  • Forming Expanded polystyrene

*Source: Gardner Denver brochure “Plastics Industry Vacuum & Pressure Products”

Compressed Air in Plastics

  • PET bottle blow molding: 510-590 psi, (35-40 bar)
  • PET bottle blow molding with lightweight plastics: 290-365 psi (20-25 bar)
  • PET bottle blow molding with custom intricate design: 650 psi (45 bar)
  • Rotational molds for plastic car parts or milk jugs: 100 psi (7 bar)
  • Bottle labeling (100 psi-7 bar) and drying with blow-off (1.3 to 3 psi)

This event is produced by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), formerly SPI. They claim to be the only organization supporting the entire plastics supply chain, representing nearly one million workers in this $404 billion U.S. industry. Since 1937, PLASTICS has been working to make its members and the industry more globally competitive while advancing recycling and sustainability.


Chiller Technology Focused on Plastics

Chase Cooling Systems™ had a large booth displaying their QBE Series (0.6 to 7 tons) and CWE Series (3 to 40 tons) fluid chillers. Both product lines offer an optional hot gas bypass valve for temperature-sensitive processes, which is very common in plastics. All the components are “state-of-the-market” using environmentally friendly refrigerants R407C or R410A and efficient hermetic refrigeration compressor technologies selected for optimal performance (reciprocating, scroll or rotary). This firm is based just outside Pittsburgh, PA. “We are excited to continue to grow in the plastics industry,” said Engineering Manager Phil Shaver. “We particularly see growth with blown film and extrusion applications.”

Chase Cooling at NPE 2018Phil Shaver, Andrea Farbis, Jim Miller, Chip Miller, Massimiliano Parisi and Alessandro Milazzo at the Chase Cooling Systems™ booth (left to right).

Frigel is an Italian chiller manufacturer with an iron grip on the plastics industry. Their Marketing Manager, Al Fosco, says this is due to their profound understanding of the process chilling needs of the plastics industry.  When you walk around NPE, you see Frigel chillers in booth after booth of the injection molders.  A single molding machine he explained, may simultaneously require several different temperatures of cooling fluid.  A plant may have 20 different injection molders doing different things. That’s a paradigm shift for me and a reminder not to take reliability for granted. For this reason, the Microgel chiller from Frigel has a very broad cooling range from 47 °F to 195 °F. Fosco said they have introduced a proprietary PLC able to do energy monitoring of actual and average kWh with data logging capabilities.  Frigel is coaching injection molders on how to save chiller energy by increasing cooling temperatures from 65 °F to 80 °F. Fosco’s rule of thumb is a gain of 2% of capacity for every 1 °F. The new Microgel PLC is datalogging pressure, temperature and gallons per minute of chilled water at each injection molder and helping them conduct system assessments.

I did have the chance to meet Frigel CEO Duccio Dorin who said they are based near Padua in Italy and have recently acquired another chiller company named Greenbox. He said Greenbox brings complementary R&D, technology and vertical markets such as die casting in metal processing.  I was impressed. They have launched a new factory in Brazil, a joint venture in India and are expanding strategically into the beverage industry – where they see opportunities for improvement in cooling processes.

Frigel at NPE 2018Al Fosco, Lou Zavala and CEO Duccio Dorin at the Frigel booth (left to right).

Speaking of temperature control, I had the chance to meet General Manager Rob Kennery at the MOKON booth. He introduced me to their Full Range water-based temperature control system offering a combination heating and chilling system all in one package.  That blew me away. This system offers process heating and chilling from -20 °F to 300 °F  (-29 °C to 149 °C). The system features heating capacities up to 96 kW, pumping capacities up to 120 GPM and up to 60 ton chilling capacities.

Mokon at NPE 2018Robert Kennery at the MOKON Thermal Fluid Systems booth.

The Gardner Denver booth held a pleasant surprise for me. They have launched a new process chiller product line called the CHL Series. The range has models with cooling capacities ranging from 0.6 to 104.6 tons. Who better, to recommend process chillers, than the manufacturer of Bellis & Morcom oil-free PET bottle blowing air compressors? This technology has been a market leader since it was launched in 1852! It is a water-cooled, capacity control or variable speed drive, 3-stage, oil-free reciprocating air compressor able to deliver very efficient performance when matched up with the right demand profile. The Gardner Denver booth now provides solutions to almost all the utility requirements of a plastics plant.  The booth displayed the aforementioned chillers, the Bellis & Morcom WH28 PET oil-free (230 kW) air compressor, 100 psi class rotary screw air compressors, low-pressure blowers from Robuschi for conveying, and of course the huge line-up (including Elmo Rietschle) of vacuum/pressure technologies they own. 

Gardner Denver at NPE 2018
Dave Shanahan and Jason Katenin next to a Gardner Denver Bellis & Morcom WH28 oil-free air compressor (left to right).

The opportunities this consolidated product offering, at Gardner Denver, provides for sales channels to “add technical application value” to factories is tremendous. A Gardner Denver representative could visit a plastic extrusion plant, for example, and replace liquid ring vacuum pumps with dry rotary vane pumps – and then help the client capitalize on the significant reduction in chilled water load by providing a significantly smaller chiller than the one in use.  I can assure you today there are virtually zero chiller companies able to coach plastic extruders on how to reduce cooling loads by moving away from liquid ring vacuum pumps – the biggest chilled water consumer in the plant.

Gardner Denver at NPE 2018Donald Tilley and Jason Hobbs next to the Gardner Denver CHL Series Chiller (left to right).

Compressed Air, Blower and Vacuum Technology Focused on Plastics

Which sales and service companies, in the field, will embrace teaching factories how to use less vacuum or less process cooling in their plants?  The compressed air industry began this journey 25 years ago and there’s still a ton of work to be done.  How often do compressed air people work on helping plants understand their process cooling costs – so they move away from water-cooled air compressors if possible? Process chillers and vacuum system assessments are in their infancy – and we are excited to see it get started to benefit factory profits and efficiency.

Atlas Copco Compressors had their full range of compressed air, nitrogen and vacuum solutions on display. Atlas Copco offers a broad range of high-pressure air compressors for 25-40 bar, sometimes overshadowed by their GA Series rotary screw air compressors with standard Variable Speed Drives.  Product Marketing Manager Steve Bruno showed me a very compact GA 30 VSD full-featured (FF) unit in the booth.  I remember when integrated compressed air dryers seemed exotic, now it’s an absolute standard feature used more often than not and saving space in a plant. 

Atlas Copco Vacuum Product Marketing Manager Walter See walked me through a GHS VSD+ Series rotary screw vacuum pump. He told me the plastics industry is an excellent market for vacuum system centralization projects. One example he pointed out is the presence of many older vacuum venturis.  I was interested in the ESv central controller able to provide centralized control for multiple vacuum pumps.  This is an exciting opportunity for all kinds of plants to request a system assessment of their vacuum system. It’s also an exciting opportunity for both vacuum and compressed air system specialists to consider adding “vacuum system assessments” to their services.  Atlas Copco is bringing all their experience and technology, learned from years of compressed air system optimization, to the vacuum industry – an industry dominated by decentralized vacuum pumps sold to OEM’s manufacturing production equipment.

Atlas Copco at NPE 2018Steve Bruno, Walt Pitts, Dusty Taylor and Walter See at the Atlas Copco booth (left to right).

Busch is one of the global leaders in vacuum technology.  I spoke with their Sales Manager (South) George Sarkis at their booth where he showed me their MINK dry claw and their DOLPHIN LX liquid ring vacuum pumps.  Both are significant product lines used in the plastics industry.  George reminded me of the importance of reliability – a hallmark of Busch technologies.  Production uptime is always the most important factor in vacuum technology and system selection. He said Busch often engages in vacuum centralization projects, but only after significant engineering work with clients is done to ensure their process reliability integrity is maintained.  Plants may have several different vacuum applications running simultaneously and the entirety of the applications must be well understood first.

Busch at NPE 2018George Sarkis next to the Busch Mink Series vacuum pump.

Kaeser Compressors displayed a complete containerized compressed air system which clients can purchase or opt to pay for compressed air as a utility ($ per cfm).  Really cool! These completely customizable systems have all electrics pre-wired, any instrumentation one wants and Sigma Air Manager 4.0 integration to run the system optimally and data log all key performance indicators. An interesting feature was their “Air Main Charging Valve” designed to regulate the rate at which piping systems re-pressurize.  This ensures plants don’t flow more air through the compressed air dryers than they can handle – during this “demand event.”  The Kaeser booth featured their standard rotary screw air compressors for 100 psi air, their new and improved SmartPipe™ System (with aluminum fittings) now up to 8” diameter,  tri-lobe and rotary screw blowers for plastics pneumatic conveying and boosters to 680-700 psi for blow molders.

Kaeser NPE 2018Jarno Manzke, Jason Reid, Michael Camber, Joe D’Orazio and Brennen Schulz from Kaeser Compressors (left to right).

AF Compressors has quietly built itself into one of the leading global suppliers of high-pressure oil-free air compressors to the PET bottling industry. Sales Manager Joe Mashburn said their big news in 2018 was the introduction of their new “low pressure” 116 psi (8 bar) OPC Range of oil-free piston air compressors. Targeting the food and beverage, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, Mashburn said this is a very complete range offering ten models rated for 8 and 10 bar (145 psi) for flows from 272 to 1,925 cfm (at 116 psi).  AF claims their 2-stage oil free piston technology offers the “lowest maintenance and energy costs” – over other air compressor technologies.

AF Compressors at NPE 2018
Joe Mashburn and Juan Manuel Ortiz, from AF Compressors, next to a cut-away of their 3-stage oil-free piston PET air compressor.

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