- MIXING Markets
The continuous mixer market.
The continuous mixer market is constantly in motion. Since the formation of FARREL POMINI and the Continuous Mixer Business Unit in 2011, several dramatic developments have transformed the market. These include, for example, the revitalisation of the US petrochemical industry fuelled by plummeting feedstock prices as a result of intensive shale gas production through fracking. Above all, however, worldwide growth in the demand for luxury vinyl tiles has led to a shift in the market. PVC flooring customers in Europe, Asia and the US are investing heavily in expansion projects in this sector and stimulating tremendous levels of growth in otherwise mature markets.
New machines to meet new challenges
Specialising in plastics industry applications, the Continuous Mixer Business Unit reacted to this development with, among other things, the addition of the 7FCM-High Torque (7’ 175mm) to the range to complement the 9FCM-High Torque. Like all continuous mixers of the FCM-HT machines, the 7FCM-High Torque is particularly well suited for processing the newer highly filled, temperature-sensitive products. The automatic and rapid opening feature which facilitates cleaning, clearly adds value in the customer’s eyes.
Market demand for polymers and growth in FARREL POMINI’s key markets of masterbatch and PVC were slightly lower than market forecasts. When our masterbatch customers in this segment pushed for increased production rates and better ROI, the business unit responded by developing the CP4000 Compact Processor. That new processor can raise the maximum nominal output of a CP machine by more than 50% over the previous maximum of 2,500 kg, which is the rated capacity of the CP2500.
Expansion of sales to new countries pays off
The continuous mixer and CP Series II™ Compact Processor product lines have already been very well established for many years now in highly filled polyolefin & styrenic masterbatches and PVC applications. FARREL POMINI’s drive into new geographic markets and further applications has seen new machine sales growth in the region of 20–25% annually. 2013 even saw the highest number of CP unit sales since 1986. So the focus on expanding the geographic reach of our sales channels and on increasing our activities in developing markets in Asia, Russia and South America has paid off. ‘We’ve forged new, growing relationships there with customers previously unaware of the capabilities and benefits of the continuous mixer product,’ reports Paul Lloyd, director of the Continuous Mixer Business Unit. ‘And at the same time, those new markets also brought our developers into contact with interesting new types of fillers and minerals.’
FARREL POMINI also enjoyed success in the traditional markets in North America and Europe. Despite economic challenges, key customers there have continued to invest in their capabilities and capacity. One of the essential factors in this connection has been the business unit’s continuous work with material selection and manufacturing methods to improve the longevity of the equipment.
Investments and new developments in all areas
FARREL POMINI has invested heavily in its Research and Development programme, establishing a new laboratory in Connecticut, USA and developing the European demonstration laboratory in the UK. Both facilities are utilised extensively by customers and potential customers to test new formulations or create new products. The use of those laboratories often represents a more cost-effective and focused way for them to carry out their development work. Conversely, FARREL POMINI’s developers also regularly spend much of their time working on process applications at the customers’ facilities in order to better understand their needs and develop the most effective solutions.
It was also through close proximity to customers that the business unit discovered the need to undertake several modifications to the control interface. In response to the general trend toward simplicity and the need for new language options in the new markets, FARREL POMINI’s developers created a new, intuitive, symbol-oriented control system, which can be installed on all machines. All machines have also been equipped with an interface which allows remote access and diagnostics. ‘This interface now enables us to view machine, operator or process parameters and to provide instant remote support worldwide – no matter where the mixer is installed,’ says Paul Lloyd, who is clearly pleased about this advancement.
Customers’ service requirements have changed
New technological possibilities are not the only reason that customers’ service requirements have changed in recent years: many companies are focusing on their core competences and outsourcing traditional in-house activities. The Continuous Mixer Business Unit has adapted in response to this trend by dedicating more resources to project management, installation and maintenance services, in order to provide adequate customer support. It has also developed a strategic spares programme which enables customers to minimise their spare parts stocks. In this way, customers can take capital previously tied up in spare parts inventory and invest it in their production equipment.
In 2015, FARREL POMINI will make further investments: the company is building a new facility in Connecticut, USA, which will bring research and development, engineering and production all under one roof for the first time. The new facility will not only make production operations more efficient, but also enhance communication and training capabilities.
‘Predicting future developments in the continuous mixer market isn’t easy,’ says Lloyd. ‘It is clear, however, that certain factors will become increasingly important in the future. One of these is energy efficiency. Compounding equipment has so far been exempt from European energy labelling, however, this is certain to come. In the long term, I expect to see global regulations in this area.’ His business unit is well-prepared for this – after all, FARREL POMINI continuous mixers are considerably more energy-efficient than those of the competitors. Nevertheless, Lloyd’s development staff is already taking further steps to improve energy efficiency.
Lloyd is also convinced that the use of biopolymers will continue to increase in the future, even if only for environmental protection reasons. That assumption is borne out by the growing number of customers who are conducting trials and undertaking product developments in this area. Fortunately for FARREL POMINI, the continuous mixer is the ideal machine for processing generally temperature-sensitive biopolymers.
‘The need for flexibility will also continue to grow. Companies that can adapt their production rapidly and cost-efficiently to changes, both large and small, will have a significant competitive advantage,’ says Lloyd. ‘Whatever the future may hold, we at FARREL POMINI will continue to rise to the challenge and provide optimal support to our customers to help them achieve their objectives.’