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ENGINEERING PLASTICS

Malta: Not just for holidays THE PICTURESQUE ISLAND OF MALTA PRIDES ITSELF ON BEING ONE OF THE PREMIUM EUROPEAN HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS, HOSTING OVER 2.6 MILLION VISITORS IN 2018. YET, BEYOND THE HOTELS AND HOTSPOTS, IT IS A HIVE OF INDUSTRY.

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ne of the major manufacturing firms in the country is a Trelleborg Sealing Solutions facility producing hundreds and thousands of polymer seals per day. Trelleborg Sealing Solutions is a business area of Trelleborg Group, the almost $4bn (~€3.6bn) global polymer expert. While other manufacturing firms may turn away from European production, Trelleborg focuses on establishing a global-local footprint that means it retains significant sites within what some would deem high-cost locations. It produces in these effectively by investing in innovative processes and manufacturing excellence techniques. The Malta facility is a case in point. At its location in Hal Far, the Trelleborg Sealing Solutions facility in Malta may perhaps have one of the most breathtaking views of any industrial complex in the world. Yet, behind its traditionally washed walls lies one of the leading manufacturing facilities in the Trelleborg Sealing Solutions manufacturing network. Focusing on the technical performance and quality assurance of the customised engineered sealing solutions it provides, the facility offers its customers from the automotive, agricultural and high-tech semiconductor industries, a full service, from product development, tool design, seal manufacture and after sales support.

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The main seal materials used in production are elastomers including FKM, HNBR, EPDM and NBR. The material selection has recently been added to with the introduction of multi-component manufacturing in engineered plastics, including Nylon PA66, PPA and PPS. Production is divided into dedicated manufacturing cells for each application and include compression and injection moulding, with integrated machine data capture in key areas. With more than 50 machine vision inspection machines, every part meets the highest specification. In addition, the company has its own materials mixing and R&D facility, alongside in-house tool design, rapid prototyping, cleanliness testing and coating of parts in PTFE. This includes the innovative Seal-Glide Nano, which, at just a few hundred nanometres, is 10-50 times less than typical coating thicknesses. Despite the thinness, the coating significantly reduces the friction coefficient of elastomer seals and improves their stick-slip properties considerably. High investment has been made over the last few years in a 3D printing laboratory. Over this time the lab has experimented with what can and cannot be achieved, gradually moving toward the use of more demanding materials and complex designs.

The 3D printed parts are regularly used for what Trelleborg calls ‘show and tell’ samples. This has transformed its customers’ product development processes with large products scaled down and brought into a meeting room, or tiny products enlarged, helping designers visualise functionality and fit. And what next? Always looking to the next big thing, like other Trelleborg Group facilities, the Malta facility is grasping the opportunities that Industry 4.0 developments offer. This is mainly influencing production processes with machine data being captured in key areas to provide the manufacturing floor with visual machine performance statistics in real time, visible to all operators. So, if you are exploring Malta this summer, bear in mind that not far from your sun lounger millions of seals critical to your car or electronic equipment are being made.

The material selection has recently been added to with the introduction of multicomponent manufacturing in engineered plastics, including Nylon PA66, PPA and PPS

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