Düsseldorf, Germany — S.T. Soffiaggio Tecnica srl got a lot of marketing miles from the spiral walking sticks one of its machines cranked out for some 5,000 attendees at K 2010.

On the heels of that promotion, a shoehorn giveaway in 2013 had a lot of people beating a path to the production exhibition of the Monza, Italy-based blow molding machine maker.

Again at K 2016, ST had a giveaway that it expected to net it some attention and booth visits. The company made tennis rackets as it debuted the ASPI 150.3 Mono, which is an upgrade of its top-selling model, the ASPI 150.2 that cranked out the shoehorns.

This third-generation machine packs a lot of new suction blow molding technology for smarter factories, particularly for automotive applications such as ducts for the air induction systems of turbo-charged engines for cars and trucks, said Martin Graziadei, one of the managing partners.

“You are processing really high-technology raw materials on this machine. The plastics come out to 7 or 8 euros per kilogram, so it's really important to have a precise machine that saves not only energy costs and maintenance, but especially on the raw materials side,” Graziadei said. “If you have a put through of 2 million euros of raw material a year and can save 5 to 10 percent, it's a really important savings.”

The new features include patent-pending parison diameter monitoring, which optically measures any “swell factors” that could require adjustment of the machine, the settings or the raw materials, as well as production data accessible by remote devices with an S.T. app.

“It's running on automatic. The heating is on. The pump is on,” he said. “The extruder is not running now because it is heating up. You can see the last cycle times, hourly production, the recipe you're using with the mix of resins, the number of cycles since the machine started, pieces produced, and on and on. You can have a lot of data constantly on all machines all over the world. This is a step toward the future and better control of your machines.”

Compared to the previous generation, the new model also has larger platens for molds up to 1.65 meters and a patent-pending parison marking system that Graziadei said solves problems like rejection of parts because of unacceptable aesthetics and all the cleaning required of spraying nozzles covered in dried paint.

The new printing technique uses marking dots and a self-cleaning nozzle. A related print technique makes it possible to put text and characters directly on the parison during extrusion, which could help with quality control and production traceability. In addition, a ghost ink is available to mark characters intended only for machine operators with a UV lamp.

A smart heating system also is available now thanks to software that reduces power utilization by limiting the maximum power used by each machine and optimizing the heating sequence by zone and time.

“Our clients tell us on Monday morning when they heat up their machines there is a lot of electrical power utilization all at the same time,” Graziadei said. “Normally the amount of installed capacity is fixed, so if you go over, you pay a lot of penalties.”

The machine also has a new self-diagnostics system that delivers information about its performance and different parameters, such as oil quality, pressure and pump and extruder efficiency.

“When the parameters go below a certain level, an alarm says please check or within 200 operating hours you need to do maintenance. This makes it possible to actually predict when maintenance service is requested,” Graziadei said. “It works similar to the car when lamps come on saying you have to do maintenance. We can offer maintenance services ahead of when it is needed and prevent unexpected downtime of the machines.”

S.T. Soffiaggio also put in a pneumatic power multiplier that can almost triple pressure power for a short time.

“If you run the machine on 8 bars of pressure, you can have up to 20 bars for a short amount. This gives you two main advantages,” Graziadei said. “One is a better surface quality because you have more power that pushes the plastic to the wall of the mold, especially if you have writing on it. You can see it better. Another thing is a small increase of the cooling. You have better cooling if the plastic is pushed toward the mold in a strong way.”

The company is heavily focused on the automotive segment, which makes up about 60 percent of its revenue. However, it does make conventional blow molding machines of larger sizes. Most clients produce items that from 30 to 2,000 liters.

S.T. Soffiaggio also is the only suction blow molding partner of DuPont Co., which sells high-tech polymers and has its machines in labs in Switzerland and Japan.

“We do a lot of testing,” Graziadei said. “Whenever they put out new materials, they are first run on our machines. This helps us have better machines. Whenever they have problems or issues, we can adjust our machines to their specific need.”

While the auto sector is a big end market for customers, the company was in love with the idea of making black nylon tennis rackets at K 2016.

“It's our tradition to come out with a nice gadget to show the capability of the machines and have something for people to remember,” Graziadei said.

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