Celebrating 30 years of NRC collaboration to improve blow molding design processes

- Ottawa, Ontario

The NRC's BlowView blow molding simulation software is the world's leading dedicated blow molding and thermoforming simulation software package developed for the design and optimization of thermoplastic components.

For 30 years, the National Research Council of Canada's SIGBLOW collaborative research and development (R&D) group has modelled how a committed partnership between the NRC and global industry can produce lasting collaborations, benefits, and shared success.

In 1992, NRC researchers recognized an industry need and capitalized on their unique skillsets in digital simulation to form a collaborative R&D group that focused on the blow molding manufacturing process.  In collaboration with 10 major corporations in the automotive, packaging and resin-manufacturing fields, the NRC formed the Special Interest Group in Blow Molding (SIGBLOW). 

Since then, SIGBLOW has grown to 26 members, which include multinationals such as Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Graham Packaging, Kautex-Textron, and ABC Technologies, with most of them as members of SIGBLOW for many years. 

SIGBLOW was created to find innovative ways to optimize the design of blow molded products, reduce waste, help control design and development costs, streamline fabrication processes and respond to rapidly changing market needs. To that end, they enlisted the NRC's vast scientific knowledge of polymers, digital simulation and engineering expertise. After 30 years, this focused collaboration has not only changed the manufacturing game, but also earmarked applications for new challenges such as stricter environmental regulations and zero-carbon targets.

SIGBLOW's BlowView blow molding simulation software

The results of SIGBLOW's ongoing efforts are culminated in the NRC's BlowView blow molding simulation software. BlowView is a complete, affordable and industry-proven, 2.5D finite-element simulation software designed to model the most advanced methods of the plastic blow molding manufacturing process. It is the world's leading dedicated blow molding and thermoforming simulation software package developed for the design and optimization of thermoplastic components. BlowView is currently used to design and optimize over 90% of the world's automotive plastic fuel tanks.

 "The key to SIGBLOW's success is the fact that the capabilities of BlowView software have continued to evolve with that of the blow molding manufacturing technology used in industry.  And after 3 decades of working closely with the members of SIGBLOW, it remains at the leading edge of today's manufacturing technology," says Anna Bardetti, Research Council Officer at the NRC.

Molding technology to industry needs

BlowView's well-validated, NRC-developed digital models enable designers to run computer simulations that accurately represent the blow molding manufacturing process. The software enables users to create and optimize product designs by identifying flaws before they are put into production.  This avoids repetitive, costly, time-consuming and wasteful trial-and-error steps during the design and manufacturing process.

Exploited widely today by a range of member companies around the globe, BlowView provides users with a competitive edge by reducing development cycle time by up to 40%and slashing manufacturing costs. It also enables them to build lighter, stronger parts.

BlowView is the only numerical modelling tool that can target novel manufacturing processes such as twin-sheet extrusion blow molding (TSEBM) and suction blow molding (SuBM). These help companies produce environmentally friendly parts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and material wastage.

"After modelling the blow-molding process for the auto industry, we debuted the world's first simulation tool for SuBM, which efficiently produces complex, convoluted ducts," says Zohir Benrabah, NRC Research Officer. "Interest in the process has significantly increased in recent years due to better equipment and new engineering resins allowing for the replacement of metallic parts with plastic blow molded ones which are reported to be 30 to 40% lighter and with a cost reduction of 20 to 25%."

To help the industry meet its stringent global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the NRC also developed models for TSEBM. Used to build new-generation plastic fuel tanks, this innovative technique was a first in the industry—and remains in a league of its own. It can save time and labour, produce a seamless part with lower hydrocarbon emissions and create a strong structure with lighter, cheaper components.

The next 30 years with sustainable solutions

As the automotive, packaging and resin-manufacturing industries evolve, BlowView also continues to advance to not only simulate today's technology demands, but also anticipate future technology requirements. This software can alleviate increasing pressure on the automotive industry to reduce fuel tank emissions and fuel consumption or help the packaging industry increase the adoption of biopolymers, thus addressing stringent environmental challenges. BlowView can also be used to devise ways to reduce material and energy usage while adding new processes to the manufacturing cycle that reduce the number of components to be assembled and help automation.

One such application involves the blow molding of hydrogen tank liners for the automotive industry for which several issues remain to be addressed in order to produce larger-size liners and use new engineered materials. Developments in this field will help the automotive industry meet its stringent global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Emerging challenges push us constantly to tackle new physics, explore new algorithms and look for more effective and accurate solutions," says Florin Ilinca, Team Lead, Simulation and Numerical Modeling at the NRC. "With a solid history of proven technology, science and people, we are confident that with SIGBLOW's help, we can continue to pioneer solutions for the industry and citizens of the world."

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