SelecTech, Inc., a privately held company committed to changing the flooring industry for the betterment of the environment, has partnered with Mack to produce flooring made of hard-to-recycle PVC. The high-performance floor tiles install via an interlocking design rather than using adhesives, and are 100 percent recyclable.
The two companies have worked together for about two years to further develop and refine the process used to injection mold the tiles. Today, they are molded of recycled post-industrial flexible vinyl, including flexible films, roofing membranes and swimming pool liners. They are molded on two 500-ton presses at Mack’s Cavendish, Vt., facility. Now commercially available, over 70 SKUs are currently being produced, and that number is growing.
PVC Compounds Challenging
There are several processing challenges that must be overcome to get the floor tiles to market. Chief among them is the inconsistency of the material itself. As a recycled material, the resin is never the same twice. Sometimes the differences are subtle; but when they’re not, process changes are required, including melt temperature and injection pressure adjustments, altering the conductive blend for the static control product, and right-sizing the cosmetic laminate layer that is over-molded onto the interlocking substrate or backing.
Processing recycled resins also requires a change in thinking, according to SelecTech Founder and President Thomas Ricciardelli. “Typically, manufacturers want highly specified materials so that everything can be totally measurable and quantifiable,” he says. “Anything short of that makes the job harder. So when molding recycled material, which has a fairly large process window, there’s a level of subjectivity and art to it. And most manufacturers don’t want that.”
The second challenge stems from using a broad-spec material to meet the precise cosmetic and visual requirements of the end product – not only how each individual tile appears, but also how it’s going to be viewed in use. “To simulate end-use conditions, we have set up testing areas on the manufacturing floor where tiles can be viewed from specific distances, under varying light angles, and in worst-case conditions,” explains Plant Manager Gene Birmingham.
The third challenge has been to link economic success with environmental improvement – a problem that continues to hinder the recycling industry. Mack has just redesigned the molds to reduce tile thickness, which not only helps meet cosmetic specs, but eliminates weight by roughly 30 percent without impacting performance. Less material and lower shipping costs result in savings.
“We’ve also modified the geometry on the core side of the tool to improve the filling pattern, which produces a flatter, thinner part,” says Program Manager Thom McMahon. Engineers used mold-filling analyses and SolidWorks to help with this DFM improvement over the original design. “The flatter edges of the tile and improved interlock fit result in easier installation for the customer,” he adds.
The new tools are also plated for improved chemical resistance and long-term durability for molding recycled PVC compounds. In addition to refining tools, research and development is ongoing regarding other recyclable materials that could be appropriate for the application.
Founded in 1993 by Thomas Ricciardelli and Michael King, SelecTech has remained true to its original mission: to create valuable products from scrap plastics, and to do so in a way that is both environmentally sound and cost-competitive.
The company has evolved from a manufacturing model that created a 98 percent pure polypropylene stream from used and disinfected syringes to a factory that made decorative, clay-like planters from recycled pallet wrapping, and lane dividers from recycled wiring. Approached by a DuPont business to develop technology that would recycle waste carpet into flooring, SelecTech has developed patented technologies and proprietary processes to solve complex environmental waste problems.
Remaining true to its commitment to change the flooring industry in a way that would help better the environment, SelecTech today offers products that boast maximum recycled content, 100% cradle-to-cradle recovery, no adhesives or VOCs, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) eligibility.
Contact: Thom McMahon, Program Manager