Plastic Injection Moulding - An Introduction
One of the most common methods of converting plastics from the raw material form to an article of use is the process of Plastic Injection Mold. This process is most typically used for thermoplastic materials which may be successively melted, reshaped and cooled. Injection moulded components are a feature of almost every functional manufactured article in the modern world, from automotive products through to food packaging. This versatile process allows us to produce high quality, simple or complex components on a fully automated basis at high speed with materials that have changed the face of manufacturing technology over the last 50 years or so.
To understand the engineering and operation of modern day injection moulding machines, it is useful to first look at the not too distant origins of the process. The first Automotive Injection Mold machines were based around pressure die casting technology used for metals processing, with patents registered in the USA in the 1870's specifically for celluloid processing. Further major industrial developments did not occur until the 1920's when a series of hand operated machines were produced in Germany to process thermoplastic materials. A simple lever arrangement was used to clamp a two piece mould together. Molten plastic was then injected into the mould to produce the moulded component. Being an inherently low pressure process, it was limited in use. Pneumatic cylinders were added to the machine design to close the mould, although little improvement was made. Hydraulic systems were first applied to injection moulding machinery in the late 1930's as a wider range of materials became available, although the machine design was still largely related to die casting technology.
Large-scale development of Plastic Mold Packaging design towards the machines we know today did not occur until the 1950's in Germany. Earlier machines were based on a simple plunger arrangement to force the material into the mould, although these machines soon became inadequate as materials became more advanced and processing requirements became more complex. The main problem with a straightforward plunger arrangement was that no melt mixing or homogenisation could be readily imparted to the thermoplastic material. This was exacerbated by the poor heat transfer properties of a polymeric material. One of the most important developments in machine design to overcome this problem, which still applies to modern processing equipment today, was the introduction to the injection barrel of a plunging helical screw arrangement. The machine subsequently became known as a 'Reciprocating Screw' injection moulding machine.
The Injection Moulding Cycle
The modern day process has developed and matured significantly to the level where fully automated, closed loop, microprocessor controlled machines are the 'norm', although in principle injection moulding is still a relatively simple process. Thermoplastic injection moulding requires the transfer of the polymeric material in powder or granule form from a feed hopper to a heated barrel. In the barrel, the thermoplastic is melted and then injected into a mould with some form of plunger arrangement. The mould is clamped shut under pressure within a platen arrangement and is held at a temperature well below the thermoplastic melt point. The molten thermoplastic solidifies quickly within the mould, allowing ejection of the component after a pre determined period of cooling time. The basic Plastic Injection Molding process steps with a reciprocating screw machine are as follows.