William H. Willert
Invented the reciprocating-screw plasticater in 1956, advancing injection molding technology and making practical the injection of thermosets, speeding up blow molding and facilitating the blow molding of vinyl compounds. Vice president, Egan Machinery Co.
During World War II, plastics applications and plastics processing machinery were developed without regard to economical justification.
After the war, during conversion to civilian economy, plastics were looked upon as a low-cost substitute for other materials. In the 50s, nearly every major chemical company maintained a well-staffed technical service laboratory to develop machinery and products to promote the market for their plastics material. Great advancements were made in plastics processing technology, ie, longer length-to-diameter extruders, reciprocating-screw plasticaters for molding, etc. The U.S. dominated the world market both in materials and machinery.
The roaring 60s presented a different set of circumstances. A wide range of plastics materials with new physical properties became available in almost unlimited supply. The competition became keener and the raw material suppliers either started their own operations or purchased their major customers to protect their markets. Machinery manufacturers added their own laboratories for the development and demonstration of their equipment. During this period, the U.S. lost its leadership in plastics technology and now shared it with western Europe and Japan.
Basically, most plastics are no longer cheap substitutes for wood, metal, glass, and paper. Also, the government agencies are passing legislation to control the use and disposal of plastics materials. Making the industry responsible for its products will result in better utilization of our plastics resources . . . and some changes:
First, there will be a moderation in growth of plastics, as the industry reaches maturity. The necessity for products to conform to standards and codes will certainly slow down the development and use of new plastics and new applications.
From the equipment angle, here, too, we can expect major changes from present and past practices. For one item, OSHA has altered the machinery manufacturers' attitude toward safety. Although the responsibility to conform to OSHA rests with the user, the user in turn has made this requirement part of his equipment specifications. This will make the equipment more expensive.
Process development is gradually being delegated more and more to the machinery manufacturer. Instead of selling components as extruders, dies, takeups, etc., the present trend is and will continue to be to supply complete systems with responsibilities to produce a commercially acceptable product at a guaranteed rate. The machinery manufacturer will have to be product knowledgeable as well as being a machine designer.
Plastics processing machinery will continue to become more sophisticated. Solid state controls compatible with computer operation will prevail on the majority of equipment, taking the control completely away from the present so-called operator. Automation from the material entering the plant to the finished product will be the way of operation.
Although plasticating techniques have progressed greatly in recent years, the rate of cooling this melt is in need of further improvements.
The plastics industry is still as exciting as it was 30 years ago, and still holds a great future for the engineer and individual who will apply himself to the opportunities as they come along.