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Сase studies
1

Visible and functional parts for household appliances, vehicles, medical equipment and the construction industry are the specialty of Eifler Kunststoff-Technik.

Vacuum cleaners and dishwashers do not have an easy life. They get pushed and kicked around, operated with greasy fingers and cleaned with strong detergents. Eifler Kunststoff-Technik takes on the challenge of fabricating extremely robust visible components for these appliances that are both functional and have a sophisticated optical finish, and yet can be produced at competitive unit costs. The key to success: reliable injection moulding technology, creative processes and a great passion for plastics.

The fact that Eifler Kunststoff-Technik (EKT) exists is due to the vision of its executive director Volker Scheffels. When its original parent company became insolvent in 2005, the fate of the plastics processor from Bielefeld, Germany, seemed to be sealed. Scheffels – who had a position at the company headquarters at the time – recognised how much potential the operation had to offer. His decision: to save the injection moulding business and run it as an independent company. He found an investor with Dieter Eifler, founder of the Eifler Group, and was able to win Miele as a major customer that would utilise the capacities to a large extent. Since then, the company has relocated to Bad Salzuflen and grown continually, attracting many new customers and tripling the staff. Currently, the third major expansion of their production facilities is being completed. In the autumn of last year, the company won the the prestigious German "Grand Prix of Medium-Sized Enterprises" business award.

The company also achieves exceptional technological accomplishments. "While the struggle for ever lower energy consumption has long been a dominating issue, today, design is also one of the most important distinguishing features in the household appliance market," explains Volker Scheffels. "Our daily challenge consists in combining high-quality optical design with top functionality, and yet still achieving very low unit costs." EKT has developed many processing technologies itself. For example, when it comes to high-quality and at the same time robust piano black surfaces, most state-of-the-art technologies are not economical and flexible enough. In-mould labeling is one of the specialties at EKT, but here it is combined with creative custom solutions as demonstrated by the example of vacuum cleaner control panels.

2

EKT managing director Volker Scheffels, Christoph Hoelscher of ENGEL Deutschland and production manager Guido Bachmann (from left).

IML lays the foundation for fabricating small batch sizes efficiently and with short cycle times while realising surfaces that are both robust and of top quality. A cleanroom would normally be necessary for the high-gloss finish, but that would not be cost-effective. EKT therefore has their base film laminated with a protective film that is removed later.

The base film is usually colourless and transparent, because printing the film is also part of the expertise that EKT has achieved. The symbols for selecting the desired suction performance – for curtains, upholstery or carpet – are applied in white in an initial step. This is followed by a transparent grey – for backlit warning symbols in day/night design – and finally black as the background. In contrast to conventional in-mould labeling, the unprinted side of the film adheres to the wall of the cavity while the melt bonds with the printed colour. "We must precisely tune the composition of the printing colour to fit the plastic granulate as well as the processing temperature and the geometry of the component. Only then can we prevent the colour from leaching around the injection point or becoming torn along ridges", explains Scheffels.

The films are brought into form mechanically, immediately before being back injected. A 3 mm rim is bent down at 90° so that the film cannot become loosened by the warm exhaust of the device. While most plastics processors that perform IML have their films thermally preformed by external suppliers, the production of the control panels at EKT starts with two-dimensional labels. "In this way we are much more efficient," emphasises Guido Bachmann, production manager at EKT. "We reduce the logistics effort and can stack the films in conventional storage facilities."

3

The melt is injected onto the printed side of the label.

The preferred injection moulding machine model is the ENGEL victory with its tie-bar-less clamping unit. New machines are ordered with integrated robots. If ENGEL supplies both the injection moulding machine and the robot, the RC300 control unit for the ENGEL linear robot is fully integrated as a subsystem in the CC300 machine control unit. "In our experience, the integrated controls make it possible to program and operate even complex processes very easily," adds Bachmann. Process reliability and machine availability are key factors for EKT. The company in Bad Sulzuflen is the sole supplier for around 85 percent of its products.

“The combination of functionality and optical finish will continue to keep us busy for quite some time," says Scheffels. The scratch-resistance of surface finishings is, for example, one issue. Hard-coating methods, as well as the ENGEL clearmelt technology with a polyurethane finish, are being discussed. In future, software solutions will also help leverage further potential for efficiency and quality. The installation of ENGEL e-factory is a first step. It makes it possible to network systems beyond the borders of a single location. EKT will be making use of these features in the near future, because it is establishing its first foreign production site in the Czech Republic, in the vicinity of a major customer. "Our goal is to be able to provide support for our employees in the Czech Republic from here in Bad Salzuflen," Scheffels explains. "Thus we are taking a first step towards Industry 4.0."

Just last summer, an 8,000 square meter plot of land was acquired next to the headquarters in Bad Salzuflen where two new production halls and a warehouse were erected in the course of the autumn and winter. Both investments have laid the foundation for managing the continually increasing order volume and growing customer base.

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