Accuracy and Experience are Hallmarks for Accubeam

Ask the Expert Digital thermal transfer marking, already widely used in Europe, is gaining acceptance in the US as an alternate method of marking labels and tags. Profile Accuracy and Experience are Hallmarks for Accubeam A simple beginning with the purchase of a single laser has evolved into a staff with the optical engineering expertise needed to mark products for the aerospace, medical device, military, transportation and industrial industries. Assembly Considerations in Frequency, Thermoplastic Type and Metal Type for Ultrasonic Horns Three critical factors that determine the success of an ultrasonic welding assembly are frequency, thermoplastic type and metal type. Failure to accurately assess any of these aspects in light of the specific application can lead to an ineffective weld. Technology Durable Graphics Add to Product Security, Branding For markets in which safety information or parts identification are crucial, the ability to fuse a label directly to a plastic part has answered a need for labeling that can withstand extreme conditions or deliberate attempts at removal. Management In Bed with the Enemy: How to Successfully Partner with the Competition Through strategic alliances, competitors can realize great value by building relationships of integrity with one another. —- Association ANTEC 2013 Draws 2,000 Attendees Bill Morey Recognized as Honored Service Member ———————————————- Brad Dunn (left) and Tom Johanning Jr. formed Accubeam in 2005 to serve industries as diverse as aerospace, medical device, automotive and transportation.

Accuracy and Experience are Hallmarks for Accubeam

by Amy Bauer

Accubeam Laser Marking, Sarasota, FL, had its genesis within its sister business, the Florida Knife Company, when a single laser was purchased to mark specialty machine knives with logos, manufacturing data and product numbers.

Today, Accubeam’s lasers decorate everything from surgical instruments and medical implants to automotive and aerospace parts and even promotional items in a variety of media, including plastics. “We found using a laser was fast, efficient, economical and produced a mark that was superior not only in quality, but also in long-term durability,” said Brad Dunn, marketing and sales director.

Florida Knife began offering laser marking as a secondary service in 1999 to get as much value out of its new capital asset as possible. “The first laser we purchased was so fast, in fact, that it quickly began to sit idle for longer than you would ever want an asset to sit,” Dunn said. “That is where the idea for Accubeam was drawn. Many applications call for or could use a laser, but that doesn’t mean someone has the ability to fully utilize such an expensive asset or to carry the staff with optical engineering expertise needed to program and process parts in a job shop environment.”

In 2005, Accubeam was officially formed. It shares a 14,000-square-foot facility in Sarasota with Florida Knife and employs 15 people. Florida Knife is a family company founded in 1978, said Accubeam Vice President Tom Johanning Jr. His father, Tom Johanning Sr., also is active in the business.

Markets for marking

Accubeam serves a wide variety of industries: medical devices, aerospace, military, transportation and automotive, industrial, and promotional goods. Plastics cross all of these segments, Dunn said. The types of products vary greatly even within a single industry. “For example, in our medical industry segment we laser cut gaskets and fittings made from siliconized rubber and other soft materials, as well as mark surgical instruments and human implants with identification and serial data,” Dunn said.

Marking services range from light marking to deep engraving with paint filling. The types of marks also range widely, from alpha-numeric data, graphical logos and bar codes to 2D Data Matrix codes and UIDs, which are unique identification markings required by the Department of Defense for military property.

The company works with Delrin, PVC, polycarbonate and other plastic substrates. Laser marking is appealing because it can produce precise, detailed and uniform marks that won’t vary from part to part. Laser markings also don’t rely on chemicals or inks.

Accubeam has the ability to mark and engrave three-dimensionally or around a circumference with all of its laser types. Volumes range from marking on a single item to tens of thousands per purchase order. Accubeam also offers design services to ensure artwork is converted to appropriate file types.

The company’s growth has been steady. “If you look at the percentages over time, there hasn’t been a year where sales doubled, and there hasn’t been a year where sales declined,” Dunn stated. “It’s been a very steady increase in revenue over time.” He attributes this consistent growth to the company’s success in marketing its products in new and different industries. “Over time, we’ve added more and more capabilities,” he said. “That diversity has grown the business organically and sustained us through a lot of the ups and downs that you see with the economy.”

Accubeam’s customers come not only from Florida, but throughout the United States. Dunn said Accubeam serves different industries than Florida Knife, which manufactures industrial blades for the plastics industry, as well as for the paper and milling industries. The majority of Accubeam’s customers are in the medical, military and aerospace segments.

Technology and skills

Accubeam owns five lasers, and the optical sources include Yag, Co2 and fiber optic. Each is computer controlled and has different power ranges. All of Accubeam’s lasers are connected on the same computer network to share programs, files and data.

Dunn said in addition to the highly skilled technicians who operate the machines, the lasers themselves help ensure the right settings are being used for each new material. “You can put the material beneath the laser, and it will run through the settings to see what will work best,” he said. “Once you get those power settings and frequencies, the knowledge to tweak, perfect and hone comes down to the knowledge, skill and experience of the engineer.”

The average tenure of an Accubeam employee is 15 years, and the head engineer has been with the company for at least 20 years, Dunn said. “That level of knowledge allows us to take on challenging requirements that others just can’t get right,” he explained. “It’s rare when we are asked to do something we have never done or seen before.” To enhance employees’ knowledge in this fast-paced industry, Johanning said, information comes from a variety of sources, including trade shows, trade publications, customers and sales representatives.

Problem-solving is an important skill as companies present Accubeam with new products and materials. For example, Dunn described a project involving aerospace parts for a defense contractor that would require marking on Teflon. Teflon engraving leaves a cavity that must be filled – in this case with enamel paint – in order to make the markings visible, he said.

“The mechanics of the engraving process are straightforward every time,” Dunn said. “Where we see uniqueness is in the types of material. Every so often, you’ll get a material that nobody’s had to mark before with a laser.”

Quality measures

Accubeam has a quality control process that it uses on all of its parts, guaranteeing customer satisfaction. “The relationship with the customer really plays into this,” Dunn said, “and it’s all about trust. We have trust in our customers that they are communicating all of their requirements and updating drawings, and they have trust in us that we are meeting those requirements, following the plans, adhering to the quality standards and communicating with them in a completely honest and courteous manner.”

The company provides UID Grading and Verification with any bar code mark. This is key in cases of bar codes, 2D Data Matrix codes, UID codes and QR codes, for example, that need to be scanned or viewed through a camera or other lens for traceability, Johanning said. Accubeam must ensure the codes are reading properly – using whatever type of reader the customer and/or end user will be – and that the quality is high.

“We provide a grading scale and report the quality of the mark,” Dunn said. This grading and verification process is done early in a production run to ensure the entire batch will meet the required standards.

Economies of scale

Accubeam is able to keep costs lower by taking advantage of efficiencies with its sister company. Sharing a facility reduces overhead expenses, such as utilities. There also is some overlap of administrative functions; for example, both Dunn and Johanning Jr. serve in their same roles at each company.

However, the two companies have completely segregated environments within the facility, with different equipment serving each. Dunn notes that all of Accubeam’s equipment has to be in air-controlled (air-conditioned) environments. Several of Accubeam’s newer offerings take advantage of its sister company’s successes. Accubeam provides vendor-managed inventory using a 12,000-square-foot facility directly across the street from its 14,000-square-foot main building.

Dunn said about a dozen companies currently contract with Accubeam for VMI services. Accubeam maintains the raw materials and parts for the companies and can ship the inventory on demand to clients’ customers, using their shipping documents, once it is marked. Dunn said Accubeam recently has put increased focus on marketing its VMI capabilities. “The process is seamless and invisible to the end customer and eliminates many logistical challenges and costs to our customers,” Dunn explained.

Accubeam also has begun marketing more heavily its regional pickup and delivery service, which originated with Florida Knife. The company offers weekly stops in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Largo and the Orlando area to pick up and deliver parts and components. Batching these deliveries – Florida Knife generally uses the service for picking up blades to sharpen – saves on delivery costs such as fuel and vehicle maintenance.

When it comes to selling these specialized offerings, as well as Accubeam’s capabilities overall, Dunn said the company uses an “all-of-the-above” approach. The company uses the ThomasNet online database; optimizes its website to capture more eyeballs during Google searches; attends tradeshows in a variety of sectors; creates direct-mail and direct-email campaigns; and even does some direct cold-calling from time to time.

“I think the only thing we haven’t done up to this point is paid advertising on Google,” Dunn said, “which is something we’ve talked about, but we haven’t tried yet.”

Future growth

Accubeam’s primary focus in the short-term is to continue enhancing the scope of its services to existing customers. “In the past, that has meant adding new lasers, tooling and technologies into the process that drive down costs for us and our customers and improve service levels and quality,” Dunn said.

Long-term, the company is exploring more ways to increase its offerings to remain competitive in the rapidly changing marketplace. “Having a diversified customer base helps smooth out the ups and downs,” Dunn said, “but so does having an expanded service offering, such as adding pad printing and digital printing capabilities or possibly a focus on a comprehensive laser cutting and welding team.”

Johanning said the company is considering all options, particularly from the standpoint of which technologies could benefit both Accubeam and Florida Knife Company going forward, providing the most value and the most growth of the customer base.

“We believe to be successful with expanding into new services you must first be at the top of your game in what you currently do,” Dunn said. “That is where Accubeam is at today, and all options are on the table for us.”


Applying Variable Data with Digital Thermal Transfer Marking

by John Kaverman, Pad Print Pros, LLC

What is “variable data marking”?

Variable data marking is marking each successive part, or series of parts, with a different image. Examples of variable data include images such as expiration dates, serial or other progressive numbers, bar codes, 2-dimensional matrix codes or QR (quick response) codes, people’s names or company logos.

What is the difference between “marking” and “decorating”?

The terms “marking” and “decorating” rarely are synonymous. I’ve learned that most processes are better suited to one or the other, not both. I consider a marking to be more functional and less aesthetic, and a decoration to be more aesthetic and less functional – the exception being for the purpose of branding, which must be both functional and decorative.

Which processes are suitable for variable data marking?

Digital thermal transfer, laser engraving and inkjet.

What aren’t screen printing, pad printing and hot stamping suited for applications requiring variable data?

Screen printing, pad printing and hot stamping are not typically cost effective methods for applying variable data because they require a unique stencil (screen), cliché plate or die in order to transfer an image to a product. To apply variable data and make a profit, you would need to amortize the cost of an image-specific screen, cliché plate or die into the cost of every part. While there are pad printing systems that are capable of laser engraving reel-to-reel cliché materials “on demand” and hot stamping dies that can accommodate simple progressive numbering, their cost effectiveness versus digital-based processes like digital thermal transfer, inkjet and laser engraving are negligible at best.

What is digital thermal transfer marking?

Digital thermal transfer is similar to, but not the same as, hot stamping. While the final application to the product is essentially the same, the method of generating the actual image is completely different.

The digital thermal transfer process is different in that it doesn’t require any image-specific dies or pre-printed transfers. The digital thermal transfer process uses heat energy in two ways: first to transfer a digitally generated image from a single colored “inked ribbon” to a receptor ribbon, and then again to transfer the image from the receptor ribbon directly to the object.

What are some popular applications for digital thermal transfer marking?

In Europe, digital thermal transfer marking widely is used for marking labels and tags such as those used for product safety, serializing, tamper-proof seals and tracking and anti-theft labels. Examples of products that utilize digital thermal transfer marking include disposable medical devices such as vials, syringes, pipettes, filters, I.D. bracelets, bandages and compression stockings; dental products such as tooth brushes and dental floss containers; food and beverage containers and electrical components such as relays, circuit breakers, small chargers and transformers.

Other product examples include wire and cable housings, hoses, pens, pencils, brushes. Many other extruded products can be marked using the digital thermal transfer process, as can the small cardboard boxes, blister packs, tubes and containers used in the short-run cosmetic and homeopathic product packaging.

What are some limitations of the digital thermal transfer marking process?

Digital thermal transfer marking normally is limited to a single color. Additionally, just as with foils in hot stamping, the inked and receptor ribbons used in digital thermal transfer need to be matched with corresponding substrates for best results. For example, there are specific ribbons for marking gloss or matte cardboard cartons, smooth wood, fabric or leather, soft rubber, vulcanized rubber, PVC, ABS, PC, painted surfaces, PE, PP and PA.

Marking speeds are adjustable up to 90mm per second, so the process isn’t screaming fast; but then again, for short-run applications, it probably doesn’t need to be.

It is important to understand that digital thermal transfer marking systems cannot utilize conventional hot stamping foils. Thermal ribbons are available exclusively from the manufacturer of the thermal transfer marking machines.

What colors are available?

While there are a wide variety of metallic and colored ribbons available for most substrates, some less frequently used ribbon types have a limited color range. Custom colors can be formulated upon request. Ribbons typically come in 500-meter-long rolls, in widths varying from 30mm to 95mm depending upon the application.

What kind of resolution is available?

Standard resolution is 300 dpi, which is adequate for most marking applications. Optionally, 600 dpi resolution is available.

How much do typical digital thermal transfer systems cost?

The thermal transfer marking systems that I researched in writing this article were Italian-made and varied in price from just under $20,000 to just under $30,000, depending upon the model, image size requirements and optional accessories.

The systems also interface with external PLC controllers, making integration into existing production lines/retrofitting of hot stamping heads relatively painless.

What type of operating environment does digital thermal transfer require?

Digital thermal transfer printing is designed for use in industrial production environments, with temperatures ranging from as low as 45F to as high as 105F and relative humidity between 10 and 75 percent. As such, it is not nearly as sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity as wet ink film transfer processes like screen and/or pad printing.

How does digital thermal stack up versus other processes in the US?

While the use of two thermal ribbons leads to slightly higher operation costs as compared to conventional hot stamping, the cost largely is offset by the flexibility of the process and the fact that you don’t have to create and/or inventory any screens, cliché plates, pre-printed transfers or dies.

When I shared this technology with several hot stamping, heat transfer, laser and label equipment manufacturers at the SPE Decorating and Assembly Division TOPCON last year, attendees seemed to agree that this technology has a unique niche in the US market.


As a consultant specializing primarily in the pad printing process, clients frequently inquire as to how they can cost effectively apply unique names, logos, serial numbers, codes and other information to a single part – or to lots of less than a few dozen parts. Prior to my exposure to digital thermal transfer marking, I could only recommend inkjet, laser marking or adhesive labels. Now, I can recommend a new method that enables manufacturers to really differentiate their product from those of their competitors – digital thermal transfer marking.

John Kaverman is president of Pad Print Pros, an independent consulting firm. Kaverman, who holds a degree in Printing Technology from Ferris State University, has nearly 25 years of experience in the plastics decorating industry. He can be reached via email at or online at

———————————— ———————————— ———————————— Considerations in Frequency, Thermoplastic Type and Metal Type for Ultrasonic Horns

by Gary Clodfelter, Plastics Assembly Technologies, Inc. (PATSONICS)

Three critical factors that determine the success of an ultrasonic welding assembly are frequency, thermoplastic type and metal type. Failure to accurately assess any of these aspects in light of the specific application can lead to an ineffective weld.

Determining the correct frequency for the application

Building a horn for ultrasonic welding is not totally unlike building tooling for injection molding machinery. Different tonnage injection molding machines require different sizes of molds. Different ultrasonic frequencies allow the production of different sizes of horns for welding different sizes of parts. Manufacturers of ultrasonic equipment make ultrasonic welders that operate at different frequencies to provide machinery that best meets the requirements of a given application. The most common frequencies for ultrasonic welders are 15, 20, 30 and 40kHz, but some manufactures have selected to produce machines at frequencies that are slightly different, such as 19, 28 and 35kHz.

One key element for the ultrasonic tooling manufacturer is to design the horn to resonate at the frequency generated by the machine, or it will not function. There are horn size limitations for different frequencies. It also is necessary to produce horns that separate any secondary frequencies from the primary frequency, so the machine knows the correct frequency on which to run.

The process of determining the correct frequency to use for a given application often is one of trial and error, but there are some excellent guidelines that can point one toward the best selection. The 20kHz frequency is the most common frequency found in the industry for plastic welding. The 20kHz frequency can weld a broad range of plastic part sizes and perform other applications like staking, swaging, cutting, fabric sealing and insertion that can be accomplished with the ultrasonic process. At 20kHz, parts have been welded using a single tool up to 9×12″ and as tiny as 1/8″ in diameter. For insertion of metal into plastic components, 20kHz equipment is the most common frequency used as the transducers (converters) are very rugged at the 20kHz frequency range and can withstand the impact of a vibrating horn contacting a metal insert. Additionally at 20kHz, equipment manufacturers make high wattage equipment with the capability of installing metal components up to ½” in diameter.

When staking a plastic stud or spot welding two plastic pieces together, 40kHz equipment may be the most prevalent frequency used with these types of applications. However, it is not uncommon to see 20, 30 and 35kHz used for ultrasonic staking and spot welding. 40kHz also is the most common frequency used for welding small parts, parts with electronic components enclosed, parts with appendages attached that might be damaged during the ultrasonic process and applications that just require smaller sized equipment. The approximate diameter of a 20kHz transducer is three inches, while a 40kHz transducer is two inches. Additionally, the length of a 20kHz ultrasonic ½ wave horn is close to five inches and the length of a 40kHz ultrasonic ½ wave horn is close to two-and-a-half inches. As expected, the shorter the horn length, the higher the frequency. This smaller size allows the 40kHz equipment to be used in closer proximity, making the use of 40kHz equipment common in machines having space constraints and multiple ultrasonic transducer/horn assemblies. 30kHz provided a bridge between 20 and 40kHz that allows more power and amplitude to be delivered than 40kHz, but still less amplitude and power than 20kHz.

Although the 20kHz frequency can weld parts up to 9×12″ with a single horn, this is atypical for 20kHz equipment. The horn design that can be manufactured to operate at 20kHz is limited for welding a part this size. Also, welding a large part of this size using 20kHz usually is limited to ABS or Styrene materials. Different plastic material to be welded at this size generally will lead one to choose 15kHz equipment. Large horns can be produced to run efficiently at the 15kHz frequency, which allows for welding of larger parts, parts with more irregular geometries, parts that have a substantial difference from the horn contact surface to the joint interface and more difficult-to-weld materials.

The material melt flow at the joint can be influenced by the vibratory frequency and how energy transfers through the material at a given frequency. This transfer of energy can be different for varying part geometries, distance to the weld joint, plastic material used and amplitude needed to weld. Even with all of the above guidelines to help point the way, it often comes down to the following questions:

  • Can a horn be built for the part size to be assembled?
    Tuning a horn to the resonant frequency is not always an easy process due to the size and shape of the plastic part.
  • >What frequency machine does the customer have available to weld the part?

Type of thermoplastic to be welded affects frequency

The higher the frequency, i.e. 40kHz, the more the energy is dissipated or attenuated in the material, resulting in a reduction of distance the mechanical vibrations will travel in the material. The lower the frequency, the further the energy travels through the part before it is attenuated. In some difficult-to-weld materials at high frequencies, the mechanical vibrations created by the ultrasonic energy can be completely dissipated near the top surface where the horn contacts, so the distance from the horn contact surface to the weld joint will impact the frequency needed to weld. Some plastic materials transfer the energy more readily than other materials, so it becomes a combination of the type of material and the distance to the weld joint to determine if a specific frequency will work for a given application.

As a general rule, the chemical composition of the material to be welded will greatly influence the distance the ultrasonic energy will travel in the material. The amorphous-type plastic materials usually allow the mechanical energy to travel further down the material from the horn contact surface to the weld joint. Amorphous materials are plastics with generic names like polystyrene, ABS (acrylontrile butadiene styrene), acrylic and polycarbonate. Crystalline resin-type plastic materials usually attenuate or restrict the mechanical vibrations, reducing the distance the energy travels from the horn contact surface to the weld joint. Crystalline materials are plastics with generic names like Nylon – polyamide, polyethylene, polyester and polypropylene.

The distance to the weld joint from the horn contact is defined as near field and far field. For years, a ¼” or less has been defined as a near field weld condition and more than a ¼” of distance has been defined as a far field weld condition. Because the ultrasonic energy is attenuated in plastics to a greater degree at higher frequencies than at lower frequencies, the distance to the weld joint from the horn contact surface will determine the feasibility of using a particular frequency. For example, if the part is ABS and the distance to the weld joint is three inches, this condition is known as a far field weld. Since the frequency determines the distance the energy travels in the material, the most logical choice would be to consider a lower frequency, 15 or 20kHz. It is questionable as to whether a higher frequency 40kHz welder could transmit the energy through the ABS material over a three inch distance and create a good weld. However, because the material is ABS and readily transmits the ultrasonic energy, for a small part one might consider the use of a higher 30 or 40kHz frequency if the weld joint is closer to a near field weld condition. But, let’s say the material is a crystalline polypropylene PP material and the distance to the weld joint is ¼”. At first glance, it might appear that all frequencies could be considered since the weld joint is a near field condition. However, with PP crystalline material the energy is absorbed so rapidly by the material it also is questionable that a good weld could be achieved using the higher 40kHz frequency.

As one might imagine, the combination of material, part design and joint design is exponential, but hopefully the guidelines of material type and the distance from the horn contact surface to the weld joint help to direct one towards a frequency choice that is suitable for the material and the part design. In most ultrasonic welding applications, it is a combination of the part size, part geometry, material used and distance from the horn contact to the weld joint that determines the best frequency.

Metal type affects the assembly process

Most ultrasonic horns are manufactured using specific grades of aluminum and titanium; however, D2 steel and CPM steel also are used for some specialty applications. As a first step to determining a horn metal to be used, one first must analyze how much amplitude is required for the application. Based upon the plastic material and the type of application, the range of required amplitudes needed is broad. Of course, horn costs, wear, size of the horn and quantities of parts to be assembled all must be considered when selecting a metal type for the assembly process.

Most 20kHz ultrasonic welders produce approximately 20 microns or .0008 of movement at the face of the transducer when activated by the ultrasonic power supply. In other words, the face of the transducer is expanding and contracting 20,000 times per second for a total displacement of 20 microns. There are not many applications for plastic assembly that can use such a small amount of motion to effectively melt material. The two other components used with the transducer to increase the amplitude level to a more workable level are the booster and the horn. The booster is simply a tuned horn with a nodal mount point that allows the transducer, booster and horn assembly to be held for the purpose of delivering the ultrasonic energy to the part. The boosters are rated by the amount of gain they increase – the 20 micron motion that is produced at the face of the transducer. The typical booster gains are 1:1, 1.5: 1, 2:1 and 2.5:1. These booster gains are used to put the transducer, booster and horn assembly at the needed amplitude for a given application.

The ultrasonic horn is designed to fit the part being welded, the stud being staked, the textile being cut or welded and the insert being installed. However, another very important element to the horn design is building gain into the horn, so the transducer, booster and horn assembly have sufficient amplitude to perform the application at hand. Building gain into the horn adds stress to the tool and plays a role in determining what horn material should be used.

As previously stated, the amplitude required to perform a specific function varies tremendously with the application. Fortunately, most applications have a range of amplitudes that will work for the assembly process.

The reason that amplitude reference information is important for the ultrasonic tool maker is it provides the guidelines for the type and style of horn that needs to be built to achieve the amplitude levels required for the application. Build a horn with insufficient gain and the application will not work. Put too much gain in the horn and it adds stress to the tool, reducing the life of the horn. Remember, a horn is expanding and contracting at a rapid rate, and the further the horn is expanded and contracted the greater the potential for the horn to fatigue.

What horn material should be used? Because it is important to reach high amplitude levels for some applications, it is absolutely critical in these situations to use titanium material instead of aluminum for the ultrasonic horn. The fatigue strength of titanium is approximately 2.3 times that of aluminum. At very high levels of amplitude, the aluminum horn might not last very long. However, at lower levels of amplitude, the aluminum horn can last for a very long period of time. An aluminum horn will cost substantially less than a titanium horn, because the cost of titanium material compared to aluminum material is significant. The increased machining time required to produce a titanium horn versus an aluminum horn also increases cost to the end user. There are excellent benefits for using aluminum horns where the application allows; however, there are times one simply cannot use aluminum and titanium is the appropriate material due to the application requirements.

D2 steel is very prone to fatiguing at ultrasonic frequencies where high gain levels are required for the application. Fortunately, the app­lication where D2 tool steel most commonly is used for ultrasonic assembly is installing metal components into plastic parts, and this application does not require high amplitude. Since ultrasonic metal insertion is a high-wear application, D2 steel proves to be the material of choice for high-production insertion jobs. This is not to say that titanium will not work for insertion applications, but one will see improved tool wear when using D2 steel horns for metal insertion installations. For some high-wear applications where the plastic material is particularly abrasive to the horn face, CPM steel has been used. Although the CPM steel can run at an amplitude level exceeding aluminum, it also has a higher resistance to acoustical energy transfer than aluminum or titanium. Therefore, CPM is not acoustically as efficient as titanium or aluminum.

It’s always a matter of trade off regarding which metal material to use for manufacturing horns. Aluminum is the most acoustically efficient, followed by titanium and then steel, but aluminum has the drawback of increased fatigue failure and reduced wear resistance.

Gary Clodfelter is president of Plastics Assembly Technologies, Inc. (PATSONICS), a diversified company specializing in ultrasonic welding products and services. Patsonics offers ultrasonic welding accessories, used ultrasonic equipment, ultrasonic welding equipment repair, ultrasonic spare parts, consulting, pilot and small production runs. For more information, contact Clodfelter at 317.841.1202 or visit


Additional Considerations for Ultrasonic Horns and Fixtures

by Brian Gourley, North American sales manager, welding product line for Sonics & Materials, Inc. (

What effect does the size/shape of the horn have on the effectiveness of the ultrasonic weld?

Horn designs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, there are designs that are a natural fit to the application; but in some cases, unconventional means work best in transmitting the sound waves through the horn and into the weld area efficiently. Utilizing FEA (Finite Element Analysis), 3D horn models can be designed for uniform amplitude and low stress levels before any machining even takes place.

Horn symmetry is vital. An unbalanced horn may vibrate in multiple directions. Radial motion may increase stress levels to the point of failure. Ultrasonic vibrations that are not applied efficiently to the parts may not properly weld the part. Higher amplitude boosters may help overcome some inefficient horns, but they also may cause a horn to crack.

FEA computer simulation can be a valuable diagnostic tool for pinpointing the cause of ineffective ultrasonic welds or cracked horns. FEA simulations show in “live” animation a horn’s amplitude and stresses during a weld through the use of visual indicators such as color and line patterns, as well as numeric values.

In what cases are attachments necessary?

In some cases, secondary half-wave or multi-wave extenders (smaller horns) can be attached to a larger primary horn. Applications that are tall or difficult to reach may need small, localized horn contact.

What role do ultrasonic fixtures play in the success of the weld?

Good fixture design is important. The fixture has two main purposes: align the parts under the horn and support directly under the weld area. Supporting under the weld also includes reflecting the ultrasonic energy back to the weld plane. In order to reflect the ultrasonic vibrations back to the weld plane, a fixture machined from metal typically is used. Materials such as aluminum and stainless steel are good choices. An aluminum fixture can be plated or anodized to prevent (black) aluminum oxide from transferring to the plastic part.

In some instances, cast polyurethane may be used to create a fixture. This material tends to be compliant and not cause any surface marking to the plastic part, but can break down from heat or moderate- to high-production use. Replacements may be more frequent.

———————————— COURTESY/Romo Durable Graphics Common applications for in-mold labels are in the appliance, automotive and lawn and garden markets for products such as medical waste containers, recycling and waste curbside containers and outdoor furniture. COURTESY/iMIG iMIG utilizes a company’s existing hot stamping or heat transfer equipment to apply a finished graphic. Durable Graphics Add to Product Security, Branding

Solutions available for both in-mold and post-mold decorating

Plastics Decorating

For long-term branding and identification in difficult conditions, durable graphics have a step up on their pressure-sensitive labeling counterparts. For markets in which safety information or parts identification are crucial, the ability to fuse the label directly to the plastic part has answered a need for labeling that can withstand extreme conditions or deliberate attempts at removal.

In-mold labeling is accomplished during the injection molding or blow molding process, fusing a printed label to a molded part. This process creates a win/win scenario for those wanting the visual impact afforded by screen or pad printing, while still delivering a long-lasting graphic that does not require secondary processing. For those without the ability to apply labeling during the molding process, new technology now allows post-mold fusing of a label to plastic parts, creating another option for those desiring the permanence and longevity of durable graphics.

In-mold labeling avoids secondary decorating process, reduces waste

Labels applied as a part of the molding process are fused permanently to the resin, avoiding the undesirable profile of a raised label and eliminating the chances of the label peeling off or elements such as dirt or water getting between the label and the product, loosening its hold. In addition, according to Becky Murphy, marketing manager for Romo Durable Graphics, durable graphics provide the added benefit of reducing the labor and material costs associated with secondary applications, hot stamping, heat transfer and pad printing. “In-mold labeling provides a result that looks like a high-quality pad printed label without the high-quantity scrap,” she explained. Labels applied during the molding process also meet standards established for chemical, UV and weather resistance.

According to Butch Kaplan, general manager of Central Decal, in-mold labels have distinct advantages, particularly when considering product liability issues. “The beauty of an in-mold label over a pressure-sensitive label is that the label becomes part of the plastic,” he explained. “To get the in-mold label off the product, you would need to destroy the plastic.”

Common applications for in-mold labels are in the appliance, automotive and lawn and garden markets for products such as medical waste containers, recycling and waste curbside containers and outdoor furniture. In-mold labeling also is used in consumer packaging (detergent, shampoo, butter, etc.) and consumer goods like phones, automotive decoration and toys.

The in-mold labeling arena continues to evolve, with new applications and decorating options entering the arena. Central Decal has focused on low-cost, low-volume durable goods that require customized labels that may be more extensively decorated than typical durable labels. “With our latest technology, we have created a hybrid process that combines a variety of printing processes into one: flexo, digital and screen,” said Kaplan. “Combining these processes allows us to print durable variable data and high resolution pictures without sacrificing outdoor durability.”

Romo Durable Graphics, which designs in-mold material, inks and coatings, has focused on improving the durability and ease of use of in-mold labels. “We offer glossy and slip-resistant surfaces and can print up to 4×6′ size,” said Murphy. “Durability options include outdoor UV, scratch, solvent and high-heat dishwasher resistance.”

iMIG® technology allows post-mold permanence

MIGS®, a manufacturer of permanent graphics and enhancement products for PE/PP products in the rotational molding industry, has created a new division: iMIG®. The iMIG technology is a post-mold process that utilizes a company’s existing hot stamp or heat transfer equipment to apply a fully compatible finished graphic to polyethylene and polypropylene products.

Jason Brownell, vice president of sales for iMIG, explained, “If a decorator or molder already owns hot stamping or heat transfer equipment, no new capital expenditures are required to apply a more permanent labeling option. The company’s bottom line reflects that benefit.”

iMIG relies on three variables: heat, time and pressure. The iMIG graphic is applied by melting two like materials together. This requires a higher die temperature than typically seen with hot stamping or heat transfers, approximately 450º F (232º C). This added heat causes the graphic material to reach its melt temperature, fusing it to the skin of the PE/PP product. Dwell time is dependent on the melt flow characteristics of the PE/PP being decorated, but typically is between .5 to 2 seconds.

The iMIG graphic application process only requires 175psi. Compare this to foil stamps, which need approximately 400psi, and heat transfers (around 450psi). The lower required pressure means larger images can be fused with a smaller tonnage machine. Large iMIG labels (such as 8×10″) can be applied to the product with a vertical hot stamp/heat transfer machine. Heat transfers of a similar size would need to be rolled onto the surface with a roller-style machine.

Because the iMIG graphic and the PE/PP product become one during the application process, the iMIG graphic has the same characteristics as the base material. The graphic has consistently passed chemical- and weather-resistance tests, while also consistently scoring a 5A (the highest possible score) in the ASTM D3359-09 test method covering procedures for assessing the adhesion of coating films to substrate.

This post-mold method of applying durable graphics is not limited to logos and warnings. With iMIG technology and the use of LaserCode, manufacturers can achieve a durable method to capture serialized numbers and bar code tracking information. Browning explained, “iMIG graphics utilize laser-reactive pigments that change from white to charcoal-grey when exposed to specialized lasers. This system can be used on the pre-applied graphic or directly to the graphic after being fused onto a product.”

Thank you to Becky Murphy (Romo Durable Graphics, 920.712.4090,, Butch Kaplan (Central Decal, 800.869.7654, and Jason Brownell (iMig, 928.634.8888 ext.56, for their assistance with this article.

———————————— In Bed with the Enemy

How to Successfully Partner with the Competition

by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE

Strategic alliances today are commonplace among large corporations, allowing these companies to successfully compete in the global marketplace. Smaller companies can derive the same advantages through alliance relationships. With synergistic partnering alliances, competitors can realize great value by building relationships of integrity with one another.

Finding the right partner is the first step. Suppliers and trade associations can be quite helpful. Suppliers already have a great deal of experience with your competitors. Board members and staffers at trade associations usually are knowledgeable about the players in the industry. Other possibilities include local chambers of commerce and the Better Business Bureau.

The key is to find a partner with the same or similar core values, which will make life together better. A significant point in selecting a partner is to keep in mind that the alliance will only be as strong as its weakest link. Do not build an alliance with a needy person or organization, especially if they/it cannot make it on their/its own.

Next, court the future alliance partner to start building a relationship. Getting them to have an emotional ownership in the partnering paradigm will be the primary mission at this point. Intellectually, the partner can see and realize the benefits of a synergistic relationship, but the fear of losing control might block an emotional ownership to commit. Without an emotional ownership, any commitment made will have been done on a shaky foundation.

Sensitivity and understanding of your potential partner’s situation are crucial at this juncture. Talk about the up sides and the down sides to your intended alliance. Talk about how to deal with the relationship if things do not work out. Plan an exit strategy. Getting fears and issues out on the table rather than hiding them will serve all involved extremely well.

Where are you going to live?

The question is about your individual and combined marketing areas. Also, talk about new buying habits and information recovery systems. You will need to track new information to detect the value gained in the alliance. Selecting the alliance marketing area and service/product mix is no easy task. You will need to pay close attention to the small and large details alike. Might you share warehousing or delivery facilities or possibly even employees to overcome personnel challenges?

Who is going to do the chores?

Alliance partner responsibilities and activities make the relationship a success or failure. Too often this is the area where unrealistic expectations of one another rear themselves. Be clear and commit who will be doing what to writing. It is too easy to forget your commitments in six months, a year or a decade later. Regular value updates on the alliance relationship will be very helpful. The relationship value updates should consist of expectations (met and missed) and profitability targets. This information will assist you in determining whether to upgrade, downgrade or maintain the relationship as is.

Time to tie the knot

The synergistic alliance partnering agreement should be in writing and contain detailed explanations of activities, expectations and responsibilities of each partner. This document will be your road map for a successful alliance relationship. When in doubt, refer to the “Partnering Charter.” Now that you are in a relationship, it is be necessary to make regular deposits of physical and emotional energy. Always meet your partner more than half way. By giving more than half, a robust synergy follows. So much more is possible by working in concert, rather than singularly.

Surviving under the sheets

Being in an alliance relationship is much like being married. Once the synergistic partnering alliance is in place, it becomes essential to learn how to become successful cohabitants. While each business is responsible for its own success, consider how one’s actions will affect the other’s business. Be aware of the things you do and how your actions might create a need for the partner to change its strategic plan. Confer before you act.

What happens when your partner takes all the covers?

To successfully deal with the regular, normal issues and challenges of the relationship, get past the “denial syndrome.” Too often in conflict, one finds it easier to ignore than confront. A confrontation does not have to be a knock-down, drag-out affair. Open communication is the key element in dealing with missing covers… or anything else.

Going to the marriage counselor

When relationship roadblocks occur, it may be necessary to seek third party counsel for mediation.

It usually is worth the time, energy and expense necessary to rebuild the partnering bridge. Mediation is becoming a popular method for resolving conflict, and it is easier than you might think to find a qualified mediator. During reconciliation, focus on the reasons the partner was selected and the benefits each hoped to receive rather than the anger, rage or hurt feelings.

Oh no, divorce!

It just didn’t work out. Sometimes this happens, but there’s no reason to feel like a failure or declare that you’ll never again be in a relationship. In dealing with separation issues, be the bigger person and again meet your partner more than half way. If there is “community property”, dispose of it fairly or offer to buy out the partner. Either work it out, or take court-ordered pennies on the dollar. Only outsiders win in that situation.

We did it, and look at the profits.

Yes, success is my hope for any partnership. Enjoying the journey with an alliance partner and looking for additional opportunities makes all the work worth the energy. Maybe the alliance simply will be a buying consortium. Perhaps it will serve a large multi-regional customer. It could be to share a pool of employees or an advertising co-op. But whatever is selected, have fun in the partnering journey – enjoy the process and the rewards. If built correctly, there will be rewards.

Ed Rigsbee is a Certified Speaking Professional, president of Rigsbee Research and author of PartnerShift, Developing Strategic Alliances and The Art of Partnering. He has published over 1,000 articles and is a regular keynote presenter at conferences across North America. For more information, call 805.498.5720, email or visit