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Process Control Systems Ensure Consistency and Lot Traceability While Protecting Proprietary Formulations

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Process Control Systems Ensure Consistency and Lot Traceability While Protecting Proprietary Formulations

Users of elastomers and chemical additives require high-performance compounding for the rubber products they manufacture. Many OEMs and fabricators outsource their elastomer mixing and/or formulation development, as well as technical support.

Whether OEMs and fabricators need mixing support or they need assistance with formulation development and processing efficiency, they face common issues and concerns when employing third-party elastomer and chemical additive providers. Among the major concerns are lot traceability, the protection of intellectual property (e.g., proprietary formulations), and the need for consistent mixing.

It’s important for OEMs and fabricators to make sure these issues are addressed when selecting a compounding provider to ensure elastomer quality, batch-to-batch consistency, and security for their formulations, and that these services are provided at a fair value.

Leading compounding providers, such as HEXPOL, often handle thousands of formulas for multiple customers. To address OEM and fabricator concerns, HEXPOL:

• Makes significant investments in information technology

• Ensures precision process control throughout the compounding process

• Implements leading testing and quality procedures

• Securely links process control systems among multiple locations

This means implementing PC network-based process control systems. The best custom mix providers make sure that every step of each process is standardized across all of the provider’s manufacturing facilities to meet precise user specifications for every lot. 

Investments in Information Technology

Proprietary process control and testing systems facilitate the ability to develop and manufacture high-performance compounds, and are vital for delivering product quality and batch-to-batch consistency.

Prism® and Spectrum® are proprietary systems developed by HEXPOL. Prism is a master formula maintenance and machine instruction module and Spectrum is a process control system that collects, monitors, and controls information during the manufacturing process. As part of our quality control program, we rely on advanced laboratory management information systems. 

The integration of these systems links production schedules, inspection plans, and machine interfaces, resulting in databases and COA (Certificate of Analysis) generation that enables multi-site data collection and automated testing.

Precision Process Control

Tracking begins immediately and continues throughout the entire compound manufacturing process, enabling HEXPOL to track every lot. Bar coding provides full traceability of the material from the date of receipt. Bar coding also validates the use of correct raw material, prevents the use of incorrect or dated material, and documents specific information per weightment/batch – to quickly track each raw material used by a specific batch. 

HEXPOL’s Prism® includes: 

• Formulations and set-up control

• Scale designations

• Mixer and milling instruction

• Packaging procedure

• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements and safety

• Record of changes and process history

Through electronic interfacing among the computer systems, Spectrum, the distributed control system for the manufacturing process, downloads necessary Prism data to workstations on the manufacturing floor. 

HEXPOL Spectrum® functions include: 

• Data acquisition and control for lot/incoming raw materials

• Production monitoring

• Scale system and weightment of raw materials

• Compound mixing

• Milling

• Packaging

• Production and SPC reporting

Leading elastomer providers, such as HEXPOL, use the latest technology in mixers and provide open roll mixing, calendars and auxiliary operations, such as pellets and diced material. Finish forms include slab, strip, pellets, pre-forms, and sheet.

Testing and Quality Control

Testing capabilities are available that collect and analyze valuable information for engineers and programmers in a variety of ways to ensure quality and consistency. ISO 9001 certified facilities, such as HEXPOL’s, often use a combination of traditional and advanced testing equipment and methods.

At HEXPOL, we’ve integrated Alpha technology software with the Spectrum process control system to test material properties before, during, and after cure. Testing for predictive process performance during the manufacturing operation facilitates precise machine set up, less downtime, and significant scrap reduction.

Systems such as Spectrum ensure front to back real-time process and diagnostic control to deliver quality and error prevention – from raw materials to finished customer products. Errors are identified, prevented and/or corrected immediately to eliminate expenses and delays further down the processing chain.  Most polymer providers claiming to have a comprehensive process control system, in fact, only have localized control at the mixer. 

The Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing third-party elastomer and chemical additive providers, OEMs and fabricators should practice due diligence to make sure the provider will take measures to secure proprietary formulations, ensure product quality, batch-to-batch consistency, and provide lot traceability. 

Selecting a leading provider with the latest in process control will result in optimization of formula mix for quality, consistency, reliability, and superior rubber products for end users. Leading providers, such as HEXPOL, are well suited for demanding and challenging applications in a variety of industries – all for a competitive market price.