Upon scouring the internet this morning I came across this article that talks about processing resins. That is to say the process of getting the box of pellets to become beautiful plastic parts that do everything that they were designed to do. So much goes in to getting great parts out of the mold press that will perform as designed. Check it out, and a big thank you to the author. He’s clearly done his homework.
Article: Injection Molding: Why understanding processing is vital for success
Injection molding is a process which accounts for a huge range of different plastic components which are manufactured globally. As a process suited to automated mass production, understanding the materials, process and set-up are key to its success.
By Andrew Hulme
With many plastic products, a vast amount of time and resources go into the design and development phase, to ensure that the product will meet its requirements and perform for its expected life. However, all of this effort can be wasted when the product moves to the manufacturing stage.
From Smithers Rapra’s experience, poor processing has been a significant factor in at least 40% of all product failures. This may cause immediate problems with components that are identified at an early stage before they are released on the market. In the worst case, the potential for failure remains unseen and occurs after a period of time and during service. It may be that the component is of low value and is simply discarded by the consumer when it fails. However, for high value and safety critical components the potential costs of failure can be very large in terms of recalls and loss of market share.
Processing and Material Behaviour
Unfortunately, with injection molding there is a distinct lack of understanding surrounding the effects of processing on material behavior. The fundamental behavior of thermoplastics is commonly overlooked due to this lack of knowledge. Simply passing the manufacturing of a component over to a molder can be a recipe for disaster. In some cases, corners are cut to increase profitability, other times the molder may be inexperienced with the material and not have the required equipment. However, with some basic knowledge and independent assistance, a more robust product can be manufactured.
Drying of granules prior to molding often seems unnecessary, but excess moisture will create steam within the melt leading to voids or silver streaking. For some polymers the effects of moisture during molding is far more serious as hydrolytic degradation occurs, resulting in a brittle molding. In the case of hydrolytically sensitive polymers, the drying regime recommended by material suppliers should be adhered to e.g. using desiccant or vacuum driers.
Excessive heating of a polymer melt increases the rate of thermal degradation, which again will lead to a brittle molding. Wrong machine sizing can give an over-long residence time in the barrel, stabilizers within the polymer are consumed and the polymer degrades When a molding appears difficult to fill due to a requirement for high pressure, many fall into the common trap of increasing temperatures to reduce the melt viscosity and injecting more slowly. Consequently, the part now appears easier to fill but the polymer had degraded. The viscosity of a polymer melt is more reactive to shear than it is to temperature. Therefore, a quicker fill rate is more effective for filling and packing the cavity.
Cycle times will always be shortened to increase productivity. Cooling off the polymer melt quickly is one way to achieve this. It is also an easy way to achieve dimensionally accurate parts, at least for a short period of time after de-molding. Yet, thermoplastics do not like to be rushed and prefer to be cooled at their own rate. Non-uniform cooling rates lead to differential shrinkage which in turn can lead to dimensional inaccuracies or high residual stress. If the mold temperature is low and the gate size small then the gate will freeze-off very quickly leaving the melt in the cavity isolated and free to shrink. If this is the case and the molding cycle has a long holding phase at high pressure, all that will be achieved is a nicely packed out runner and a lot of wasted energy.
Tool configurations can also introduce a wide variety of features which can have a dramatic effect on part performance. The effect of gate location on the ability to fill parts and weld line locations are often all that is considered. Gate sizing has a big influence on the shear rate of the polymer melt and its resulting viscosity. The best way to evaluate the effect of gate size and location is by undertaking injection molding simulation. By doing this the correct configuration can be determined before any metal is cut and minimizing the trial and error of mold tool commissioning. For fiber reinforced engineering materials the location of the gate is critical in terms of the orientation of fibers. Changes in geometry and wall thickness disrupt the shear in the polymer melt and fibers tend to align only in the direction of high shear stress. As a result, fiber may not be aligned in the direction required for maximum strength and shrinkage may not be as expected.
Overall, by being considerate to the behavior of a thermoplastic during injection molding it is possible to produce very high quality and durable components for demanding applications. This can be achieved through the use of molding simulations, effective specification, and quality checks and independent audits of the process. In the majority of cases, the applications are not so demanding that it is possible to get away with poor quality moldings. The downside can be that the optimally molded component may cost marginally more to produce. But this may be a cost worth bearing in comparison with the total cost of product failure due to shortcomings in the molding process.
PEACE, LOVE AND PLASTIC !