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Plastics Blown film extrusion
Manufacturing intelligence: Plastics 2
We know that your clients take risk management seriously and that it plays a key role in the service you offer. We have produced this guide to highlight the controls and prevention measures your clients can take to help reduce the risks associated with the types of machinery used in the manufacture of plastics.
Blown film extrusion relates to the manufacture of plastic films and sheeting.
Blown film can be produced either in tube form (e.g. for plastic bags and sacks) or the tube can be slit to form a sheet.
ProcessThe blown film extrusion process begins with (computerised) mixing of virgin resin and any additives that are needed to control the film production process and properties of the final product.
This mixture is then heated and conveyed through the extruder (typically an electrically heated screw-fed barrel). An extrusion machine is a device which pushes or pulls a material out of a shaped die to form a continuous length of product with a pre-set cross section.
The melted material is then pumped, under continuous pressure, through a circular, rotating dye that creates a tube of thin polyurethane or other polymer. As the warm, extruded material is drawn up several stories by nip rollers, the tube is expanded by filling it with air, creating a “bubble” allowing the material to be stretched to the required thickness and to allow air cooling as it travels.
As the bubble enters the nip rollers it is collapsed into a flat tube and then cools further while it travels back down the outside of the tower to an additional set of rollers.
The film then enters the slitter station where one or both sides of the flat tubular film can be slit. Slitting both edges allows the flat tube to be separated into two layers that can each be wound onto their own core.
Finally, the finished product is wound onto corrugated or plastic cores and packaged for shipment to the customer.
Manufacturing intelligence: Plastics 3
Blown film extruders are large machines, with high output capabilities. The loss of one machine will have a major impact on a company’s ability to supply customers with the required volumes. Plastics remains a highly competitive market and non-fulfilment of even a small order can see the customer disappear.
On this basis, it is essential that the machines are maintained to a high standard using Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) regimes to reduce the risk of downtime or, in more significant cases, fire caused by component failure.
Pre-agreed reciprocal outsourcing can be beneficial in the event of a loss, but these will likely be with competitors who may be looking to secure the same customers.
Employer’s LiabilityLike any other machine process, there is always a risk of entanglement or trapping. Trip devices and guarding, whether fixed, interlock or distance, must be checked and recorded before use.
Operators/employees must receive proper training in the correct use and in particular specific hazards associated with the equipment, e.g. hot surfaces. In addition, maintenance and breakdown activities along with routine predictive maintenance must be considered when developing risk assessments and training needs.
Isolation of services, formal permit control and management systems
are key areas to consider when completing safe maintenance on any powered plant and equipment. Persons undertaking these activities are normally trained and authorised to do so, as their competence needs to be established before undertaking any work on the equipment.
Public/Products LiabilityProduct liability can extend to the packaging material, particularly where the manufactured product is to be used for perishable goods. Failure of the packaging will lead to costly recall. In some circumstances, the potential financial loss cost associated with the nature of the failure and spoiling of the product can be very significant.
A further issue is contamination of the packaging materials through poor handling and storage of the completed items and/or contamination arising from maintenance activities on the equipment itself. Quality control and management together with testing and sampling of the completed product is essential. Recall procedures are a must and require detailed records to be maintained to allow a proper recall of suspect materials.
Material DamageThe blown film process is a continuous operation so the machinery has to be designed to cope with the high speeds involved and to operate on a 24 hour basis. For monitoring, loading and unloading, the machinery should not be left to run entirely unattended.
Machinery maintenance (see Business Interruption section) is essential, to ensure fail safe systems are in operation such as temperature sensors for the heating of the raw material.
Storage of raw materials and finished goods needs careful consideration as this can be a major contributing factor to large fire development.
To avoid the risk of arson, safe storage away from sources of heat and ignition is required.
Manufacturing intelligence: Plastics 4
Material Damage and Business Interruption Hazards
The tables below highlight some specific hazards present in plastics environments, along with the associated controls which will help prevent major loss of physical property. Generic risks resulting from arson, electrical sources and waste are not mentioned here.
Material Damage and Business Interruption Hazards
Features always present
Overheating during the production process. ¡ Modern well maintained machinery, over temperature cut-out protection. ¡ No combustible materials to be stored in close proximity to machinery. ¡ Good housekeeping around filling hopper e.g. spillages removed quickly.
Storage of raw material and finished goods. ¡ Consider excessive storage of raw material and in particular finished
goods, where plastic film reel storage – contributing to a high fire load.
Business interruption due to long reinstatement periods of extrusion plant.
¡ Consider third party outsourcing on a reciprocal basis.
Features sometimes present
Unattended operation – blown film line is an automated process. ¡ Should not be run unattended.
Printing with flammable inks. ¡ Adequate vapour extraction systems. ¡ Fire suppression system in drying tunnel (depending upon exposure). ¡ Acceptable storage arrangements for flammable liquids.
Reliance on single process plant resulting in increased interruption in the event of loss.
¡ Business Impact Analysis (BIA) to highlight risk and to consider methods to reduce risk. This might include major changes such as duplication of operation or more local controls including PPM and Fire Protection (where possible).
Manufacturing intelligence: Plastics 5
Hazards and Precautions
Employer’s Liability, Public and Products Liability
Dangers posed by machinery requiring guarding/interlocking – particularly in running nip sheet rollers and access around the roller haul off
machinery e.g. for maintenance and reel changing.
Injuries as a result of faulty guarding.
Breakdown/cleaning ‘Safe System of Work’ including machinery isolation.
Burns through contact with hot surfaces e.g. dye heads or barrel unit/screw.
¡ Insulation of hot parts. ¡ Fixed or interlocking guards, splash guards. ¡ Risk assessments. ¡ Method statements. ¡ Training/Certification/and record keeping. ¡ PPM and predictive maintenance. ¡ Control of guarding should be ensured with frequent checks and
adequate staff training.
Injuries occurring from working at height. ¡ Risk assessment. ¡ Training/records. ¡ Safe access stairs and platform edge protection/guarding.
Storage of raw materials and finished goods.
Handling and storage activities.
¡ Safe stacking arrangements e.g. bags of granules or reels of finished film.
Failure to perform, particularly in food packaging applications.
Contamination of packaging from maintenance activities or poorly managed maintenance regimes.
¡ ISO accreditation preferable. ¡ Quality control procedures. ¡ Product identification and recall procedures. ¡ Proper consideration of cleaning as an integral part of
The table below highlights some specific hazards present in plastic environments, along with the associated controls to help prevent significant injury or third party property damage. Generic risks arising as manual handling, warehousing or any work away from the premises are not mentioned here.
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