Francisco Alvarez

Meet Our Pro

Francisco Alvarez

Senior Technical Service Engineer

As its new polyethylene plant in Monaca, USA, gets closer to opening, Shell Polymers has been hiring a team of industry experts, aka Polymer Pioneers and Polymer Pros, with proven track records in polyethylene. In this article, Senior Technical Service Engineer, Francisco Alvarez, shares industry insights from his wealth of experience and four tips for maximizing polymer molding efficiency.

History of Innovation, Experience and Customer Care

For more than 20 years, Francisco has worked to innovate resin processing. His plastics processing experience is mainly in injection and blow molding, but it is supported by solid experience in sheet-extrusion thermoforming and rotational molding. Francisco is using this expansive knowledge and understanding of converters’ needs to oversee Shell Polymers’ resin design.

“I am heavily involved in defining which type of resins we will produce and what their performance and characteristics will look like, so that we have relevant products for the markets that we want to address,” he says.

Extensive Industry Knowledge and Technical Insights

Using his two decades of experience, Francisco is currently preparing training tools for both the Shell Polymers team and its customers. These tools will focus on different topics related to injection and blow molding operations.

Francisco’s experience across the polymer industry enables him to provide unique insights and meaningful contributions to the different aspects of resin designs and their in-use performance.

Leveraging Equipment and Experience for Problem Solving

Over the years, Francisco has been gathering experience into the most effective tools for troubleshooting processing or part quality issues. He says infrared thermometers can be very useful for checking the temperature of the melt, and portable infrared imaging equipment has also proven its value by helping to identify issues such as fluctuations in heating bands, and hot or cold spots in the machine.

Sometimes though, he relies more on his trained eye. “I like to carry a magnifying loupe, similar to the ones used for jewelry,” he says. “It has often helped me to identify foreign contaminants that show as specks in a part.”

"If the nature of the speck can be determined, it is often possible to work on solutions during the trial without the need to wait for laboratory testing."

Committed to Delivering an Unrivaled Customer Experience

Technical service engineers, highly trained polymer scientists, and applications technologists all pledge to align with Shell Polymers core values to care for and respect each other, the community, their customers, and their partners. Francisco says this team commitment is a huge motivator and a fantastic guideline to ensure everyone working in the Shell Polymers team delivers an unrivaled customer experience.

Francisco’s Top-Four Tips for Polyethylene Processing

  • Understand Your Processing Conditions

    Since polyethylene is a semicrystalline material, when flowing in the molten stage the polymer chains align in the direction of the flow. During cooling, they relax and form organized structures (crystals). This phenomenon determines the shrinkage and is affected by the processing conditions. Understanding the effect of the processing parameters means you can better control the shrinkage and other properties of the polyethylene.

  • Know Your Pigments

    Some types of pigments can cause different crystal growth orientations, so it is important to know the chemical composition of the pigment being used. With this information, certain processing conditions can be adjusted or external aids can be used to counter the effect of the pigment. In some situations, it may be necessary to change the type of pigment to avoid warpage.

  • Keep Your Cool

    A mold with proper cooling enables you to produce good parts at fast cycle times. If the mold temperature is not uniform, the part may present warpage issues. If there are fluctuations in the cooling temperature, this can cause variations in the dimensions from part to part. Ensuring that the mold has sufficient cooling channels and having a properly-maintained cooling system are essential for consistently producing uniform, high-quality parts.

  • Lower the Transport Velocity

    If the pellets are transported at high velocity in the air conveying systems, there is a high probability of causing material attrition which generates angel hair. Angel hair in the pneumatic system can cause blockages and other issues upstream, which translates into costly shutdowns. Reducing the travel distance and using modern conveying systems that operate at lower velocities can help to reduce this type of issue.

Helping Converters Implement Best Practices

Maintaining proper housekeeping is now more important than ever, not just for safety reasons and to keep a good work environment, but also because of the big push towards having more sustainable and circular plastics operations. Ensuring clean recovered materials enables a better quality regrind and reprocessing to secondary operations.

“If during our daily operations we have good handling practices for the resin, parts, melt patties, short shots in injection molded parts, flash from blow-molded bottles and so on, we will avoid introducing contaminants to the recycle streams,” Francisco says.