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An Introduction to Injection Molding

Injection molding is a manufacturing process widely used for producing items from toys and plastic trinkets to automotive body panels, water bottles and cell phone cases. A liquid plastic is forced into a mold and cures - it sounds simple, but is a complex process. The liquids used vary from hot glass to a variety of plastics - thermosetting and thermoplastic.

History

American inventor John Wesley Hyatt developed a plastic material he named Celluloid. Together with his brother Isaiah, Hyatt patented the first injection molding machine in 1872. This machine was relatively simple compared to machines in use today: it worked like a large hypodermic needle, using a plunger to inject plastic through a heated cylinder into a mold. The industry progressed slowly over the years, producing products such as collar stays, buttons, and hair combs.

Types of plastic

Injection molding uses a ram or screw-type plunger to force molten plastic material into a mold cavity; this solidifies into a shape that has conformed to the contour of the mold. It is most commonly used to process both thermoplastic and thermoset polymers. Thermoplastics are more prevalent due to characteristics which make them highly suitable for injection molding, such as the ease with which they may be recycled, their versatility allowing them to be used in a wide variety of applications, and their ability to soften and flow upon heating.

How Injection Molding Works

There are two main stages which make up an injection molding machine – injection and clamping. In the injection phase, the plastic in the hopper is in granular form. It is heated to the point of melting. Once in hot liquid form, the ram ('screw') forces the liquid into the tightly clamped mold and the liquid sets. During clamping, the plastic cools as the metal mold conducts heat away and then the press is cycled to remove the molding.

 

 

 

Advantages of Injection Molding

Injection molding enables complex shapes to be manufactured, some of which might be near impossible to produce economically by any other means.

The wide range of materials enables almost exact matching of the physical properties required from the article, and multi layer molding enables tailoring of mechanical properties and attractive visual appearance - even in a toothbrush

In volume, it is a low cost process, arguably with minimal environmental impact. There is litle scrap created in this process, and scrap that is produced can be re-ground and re-used.

Disadvantages of Injection Molding

The investment in tooling - making the mold - typically requires high volume production to recover the investment, though this does depend on the particular article.

Producing the tooling takes development time and some parts do not readily lend themselves to a practical mold design.

The Economics of Injection Molding

A high quality mold, although of relatively high cost, will be capable of turning out hundreds of thousands of 'impressions'.

The plastic itself is quite inexpensive and despite the energy required to heat the plastic and cycle the press (to remove each impression) the process can be economic for even the most basic items such as bottle caps.

 

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