Q&A: Solving the problem that 'didn't exist'
John P. Beaumont, founder of Beaumont Technologies, a leader for in-mold rheological control technologies, is also an inventor, educator and author. But Beaumont, who was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 2015, sees his greatest contribution as the critical thinking he instills in others to continue advancing the injection molding industry.
Beaumont discussed his career with PMM correspondent Lisa JoLupo.
Just the facts
WHO IS HE: John P. Beaumont, founder, president and CEO of Beaumont Technologies Inc.
HEADQUARTERS: Erie, Pa.
EMPLOYEES: About 25
FAMILY MATTERS: Son Alex Beaumont oversees sales and marketing, and daughter-in-law Mandy Beaumont is in marketing.
In your 40-plus years in the industry, you’ve been an educator, an inventor and an entrepreneur. How did you get started in plastics?
Beaumont: I had started college intending to pursue a career in botany. I wanted to discover the plant that would feed the planet of the future. Then, while at a library looking at career options, I discovered the plastics program at Lowell Technological Institute — it just struck my fancy. After graduating with a B.S., I entered the plastics industry and married my high school sweetheart, Betty. Over a decade later, I earned my M.S. in plastics engineering.
After a number years working as a process and project engineer, I joined Moldflow Pty. Ltd., as technical manager, North America. The company was still in its infancy, a think tank where we were not only introducing the new Moldflow simulation software technology, but learning what the new information it provided meant and how to best use it.
While at Moldflow, I was approached by Penn State University and asked to help start a new plastics program. I was happy at Moldflow, so initially I had no real interest in leaving, but within about 24 hours, it just clicked. I saw there was really no bigger way to make an impact in the industry. I would not only have the opportunity to work with students, but also to research a lot of the theories we’d developed at Moldflow. I felt kind of like Johnny Appleseed: I could make much more of an impact by educating young people and sending them out to be successful vs. what I could accomplish as an individual.
At Penn State you made an industry-changing discovery. Can you tell us about that?
Beaumont: After joining Penn State, I quickly founded and directed the Plastics Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) Center, which was helping to advance the application of the emerging injection molding simulation technologies. I was working with students on research projects when we ran into a case where the technology completely broke down. It was a problem that’s been there for over 100 years and has existed in every mold ever built. The research led to the discovery of a phenomenon that seemed to be at the root of so many of the problems of injection molding today, but it took a number of years to come up with a solution — particularly because I was seeking a solution to a problem that no one knew existed. All the state-of-the art of the day, all the know-how said this problem didn’t exist.
What was the problem?
Beaumont: The problem that didn’t exist was that a melt from a molding machine can be perfectly homogeneous, but once it is injected into a mold everything is completely undone. That is, when you inject it through the sprue and runner of a mold, the shearing forces on the melt are so extreme that it creates a huge temperature differential between the outer boundary laminates and those in the center. Even in a one-eighth-inch-
diameter runner, there can be a differential of more than 100 degrees [Fahrenheit]. This problem was being caused by the state-of-the-art “naturally balanced” runners used in nearly all injection molds, but was completely missed by the industry.
I had just come out of an emerging, state-of-the-art industry focused on understanding and simulating flow in a mold, but we had completely missed it, too. The many problems that it was creating had always been explained away as resulting from other molding issues, that have now been proven to be wrong. There was no method of measuring the temperature rise in the outer flowing laminates in the mold’s runner. In fact, that technology still doesn’t exist today; we put an artificial heart in a human nearly 50 years ago but we can’t accurately measure melt temperature in a mold. Seems crazy!
How did you discover it?
Beaumont: I was working with a member company of the CAE Center at Penn State doing simulations. We were working with an application in a simple, eight-cavity mold producing a critical component for an automotive airbag. It had a very tight weight spec, but we were seeing a variation appear in the cavities where parts from the inside cavities were heavier than those from the outside cavities. The simulation was not seeing it, and after a number of studies we ruled out all the common industry explanations for this type of molding variation.
I began to theorize what could be happening, then designed and built a test mold that could clearly separate all the phenomena that had been used for decades to explain the imbalances that were occurring in molds. We were able to rule out all the classic explanations, such as mold deflection, cooling, venting, etc. Then, finally, with the results from the test mold and understanding laminar flow and rheology, I was able to think through it and discover the temperature differential issue. It is similar to black holes in space. As with the temperature variations, these cannot be seen, but from their influence on things around them, we know they exist.
It took several years to come up with a solution. But when I did, it was one of those eureka moments — I was looking past the problem and saw the solution. I put it into a test mold and, boom, there it was, the solution.
And that technology became Beaumont’s MeltFlipper?
Beaumont: Yes, our patented MeltFlipper provides [a] means of controlling material property variations between cavities and within a cavity. As melt is driven through a mold’s runner at high injection pressures, this energy is converted into frictional heating of the outer flowing laminates that are dragging along the runner channel walls. The center laminates do not see this high energy and are not shear-thinned or heated. The result is a significant thermal and viscosity variation between the center and outer flowing melt. As flow is laminar, these differences remain separated. Once I recognized the differences existed, my first intent was to try to get rid of them. But you can’t. It’s basic physics. But if it is impractical to get rid of them, then possibly they can be managed. That’s where the lightbulb started going off.
I realized I needed to control the position of melt variations. We developed the ability to rotate the high- and low-shear laminates in any position, so when they divide at a branch, each gets equal amounts of hot and cold material, and in a cavity, the melt flows as best suited to the piece. As time went on, we recognized the problem continued into the part, forming cavities and creating havoc, which led to ongoing developments replacing our early work. Today, we marry design and process to control shrinkage and warpage of parts, filling patterns within a cavity and even [part] cosmetics.
If you were working at Penn State during the discovery, doesn’t it belong to the university?
Beaumont: Yes, it did. Because I was an employee of Penn State, the university owned it. But since I had solved a problem that no one really knew existed, they didn’t know what to do with it. I figured if I didn’t do something with this, it would die on the vine, and would be lost forever. So, I decided to try to buy the patent rights from the university. I spent almost a year negotiating, but eventually was able to get the rights. And that was the beginning of Beaumont Runner Technologies, that later became Beaumont Technologies, which I founded with John Ralston, a former student of mine.
You contributed a great deal to education within the plastics industry. Why is this important?
Beaumont: I worked with the Penn State program for 25 years, by which time it was really stabilizing and I felt I had done my job. But I also realized that there was still a huge void in the industry, especially in injection molding, where I would guess 95 percent of the professionals never intended to be in this industry. They all ended up in this industry, but there was nothing for them to advance themselves beyond on-the-job training and training classes.
But training is very different from education. Training is intended to transfer a specific skill set from the instructor for the student to echo; education enables one to gain a broad foundation, and develop critical thinking and more robust root-cause solutions.
The lack of education opportunities is one of the things that has held back our industry. Professionals who have entered this industry have no outlet to pursue relevant foundational knowledge. So, in 2014, I retired from Penn State and founded the American Injection Molding (AIM) Institute, which is designed for people in the industry. Participants come to the institute to take a progression of four classes that provide an in-depth understanding of the complex interactions of plastic materials, mold design and engineering, injection molding, and part design.
Tell me about your books.
Beaumont: My first book was “Successful Injection Molding,” but it was the second book, “Runner and Gating Design Handbook,” that I see as of greater importance. The runner probably has more influence than any other part of the injection molding process, but its influence is significantly underappreciated.
Although I can’t verify or measure that the outer laminates of the melt traveling through a runner can spike well over 100 degrees [Fahrenheit], our indicators come from research and highly detailed simulations in collaborative studies with Autodesk Moldflow. But because the variations get spread in all different directions from runner branches and cavity geometry influences, the industry sees their influences as random. But, in actuality, so much of the randomness and chaos comes from the runner. So, the book was intended to help educate the industry in some of these things that happen.
What do you see as your legacy?
Beaumont: I’d like to think I did something to motivate and enable others to advance the industry; to get people to look beyond accepted state-of-the-art practices of today, and be willing to never stop learning. I would hope that all my students, whether from the college or the AIM Institute, can be better than me. Education can do that; training can’t. It’s not intended to.