Sebastian Acosta, Danny Parades, and Dr. Robert Todd. Department of Mechanical Engineering
Our ORCA project was motivated by the realization that many South American countries have not taken full advantage of the polyurethane industry. The manufacturing of PU and its applications may contribute to the economic and social growth in less-developed nations. This may be accomplished if this potential industry is appropriate for development by small/medium enterprises and other business partnerships. The main goal of our ORCA research project was to learn by study and personal experience if the synthesis of PU foam truly is a suitable business in developing nations.
Analysis of Business Suitability
A study has been done to show that a small size factory is appropriate and sufficient to start manufacturing simple PU products. We found a local company, Flexible Moldings, who specializes in profiling and rigid foam architectural applications. With the appropriate permission, one of us decided to perform a summer internship at this company to learn all we could about the PU foam synthesis. At interviews with the owner/manager we collected useful information.
This company is a good example of a small initiative into the PU industry that is producing wonderful results for their owners and employees. Similar small/medium factories are found across the United States. Our full technical report contains some of the details regarding the investment, growth, and market description of companies like Flexible Molding. It also includes a simple layout of a prototype lean and inexpensive manufacturing facility to process PU architectural applications (moldings, panels, shutters, and insulation).
We also had the opportunity to attend the Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry Annual Technical Conference held in Salt Lake City by special invitation of the Huntsman Corporation. At this conference, we contacted representatives from several companies such as Huntsman Polyurethanes, Dow, Bayer Material-Science-USA, BASF, Desma, Tadco, AIST, Honeywell, Linden, and IAL among others. Helpful information and insights were obtained from them. In particular, Rodolfo Kaufmann (Huntsman PU), and Angela Austin (IAL Consultants) provided important data to understand the current trend of the PU industry in South America.
We have documented a technical report summarizing the actual growth of the PU industry in Chile and Venezuela. We have also included a broad overview of the PU markets in Latin America and the US. This was done in order to compare and estimate the potential growth of this industry in South America. Chile and Venezuela were chosen as prototype countries because of their economic capabilities. Particularly, in Venezuela there is a greater potential for the manufacturing of PU and other plastics since petroleum is locally extracted at large quantities.
Technical Research and Challenges
We have learned of the basic machinery and technical support a small PU factory would need in order to manufacture good products. Polyurethane is the most versatile member in the plastics family. However, the freedom of controlling the nature and properties of this polymer in the chemical nature of the polyols, isocyanates or additives opens the window for potential problems in the processing. Furthermore, changes in the mixing conditions and ratios magnify the potential for faulty parts. Flexible Molding along with other small manufactures struggle with maintaining consistency in the parts they make.
PU cell formation and stabilization are affected by water excess and contaminants which result in high degree of open cells. Some parts experience damage which is visible as voids or craters with a soft texture around them. The part in Fig. 3 displays damage known in the industry as “water damage.” Thus, small variations in the mix content have a major effect on the final product. The final size of the cells is related to the reactivity of the foam system that needs a precise control and elimination of foreign elements such as solvent (water + soaps) and contaminants (oils and greases, paint.)
These manufacturers spray paint (prime coat) on the molds before applying the blend to reduce secondary operations and extend the life of the silicone molds (Fig. 2). The above mentioned practice, when not done properly, creates drips of paint. The accumulation of a liquid (paint) becomes a hinder for the exothermic reaction. The heat generated is not enough to evaporate the concentration of the liquid. Thus, the process ends up with the formation of an undesirable soft, porous area.