Emerging Injection Moulding Trends
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Insight: Emerging Injection Moulding Trends
Hi and welcome to this week’s Insight video.
As engineers it always pays to keep abreast of what is happening in production. So today I’m going to take a look at some of the key trends in the world of injection moulding and how they will affect you over the next few years.
Let’s dive straight in.
The first thing on my list is environmentally friendly additives and plastics. Working in injection moulding the growing concern over the use of plastics is a topic that is hard to dodge. We’ve all seen images of plastic washed up on our beaches.
So, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of research going into bioplastics at the moment. These materials are made from natural biodegradable materials like corn, sugarcane and seaweed.
While they offer mechanical properties that are similar to petroleum-based polymers, they do have some limitations. For example, they often need combining with non-recyclable polymers to increase their strength, which means that these hybrid bioplastics need specific composting conditions to decompose quickly.
This brings me onto the second point in my list. Sustainability. Now obviously the development of bioplastics is a factor in this, but the whole subject of sustainability is way more complex than that.
It brings in questions such as, what is the life time sustainability of the part or product? To answer this you need to ask things like how much energy is needed to get the raw material? How much energy is expended in producing the part and/or product? How long will the part or product last? And what about it’s in service energy costs?
And the answers to these questions are not always obvious. For example, an organic farming group actually found out that it is more environmentally friendly to use plastic crates instead of wood when they factored in the number of times that they used them.
For many industries a more sustainable product often needs lighter weight parts – I’m thinking of the aerospace and automotive industries for instance. Which brings me neatly to an increased demand for lightweight materials.
In the aerospace industry a gram of weight saving can save kilos of fuel over an aircrafts’ life.
We also see this trend to light weighting in medical device manufacturing for joint replacements and stents – although at this point, we are in danger of straying into another amazing production technology, 3D printing.
Of course, light weighting is only part of the answer for applications like this, you also need strength. Which bring me neatly onto high performance materials.
There are loads of resins that provide excellent mechanical properties. A good example is Polyether Ether Ketone or PEEK which is a high-performance resin that has a very high heat resistance and flame retardancy; excellent strength and dimensional stability; and good chemical resistance. The aerospace and automotive industry use it for all sorts of applications.
Another trend in material technology is to using composite materials in injection moulding.
This is simply a mix of two or more materials that together make a stronger overall product. Common examples include adding glass or carbon fibres to the surrounding polymer matrix.
Many of these materials have much higher strength to weight ratios than high performance materials like steel. I think you can expect to see more and more of these composites used over the next few years.
Okay we’ve talked about some market trends and what’s happening to materials, what about the process itself?
Two things I’m going to tackle here. First how you can get more from your moulds and second how we can make the process more efficient.
The first is fairly obvious and becoming more common. Instead of getting a single part from a mould more people are designing what we call multi cavity and family moulds to get a number of parts out of a single press.
What’s the difference between these two? Well, multi cavities produce more than one of the same part from each mould, so you might get 2, 4, 6 or more parts – which will cost you more for the mould but typically reduce your overall price per part.
A family tool on the other hand will produce different parts from the same mould.
There are limitations to this. Obviously, all the parts need to be manufactured from the same material, they should be of a similar size, they can’t be too big, and it does involve some extra thought about designing the mould.
As for process efficiency, one of the biggest trends is automation. This is worthy of a whole video on its own, so I’ll try and keep it brief.
It’s all about the use of software, machine learning and advanced analytics leading to faster production cycles. I’m sure you already know about how we have used this to speed up the front-end process so that you can upload your CAD and get it checked for manufacturability within a couple of hours and then control the details of your order, such as material selection, volume, delivery date and so on.
But another area commonly used by suppliers is mould flow analysis. This uses software to simulate the injection moulding cycle and predict how the mould will be filled. This is really useful during the design stage and is a key part of our own DFM.
And that brings me to the end of my list. All of these trends are worthy of far more research and discussion. Some we have tackled in separate videos and for those that we haven’t, well watch this space.
Anyway, it’s time for me to say goodbye now. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you again next Friday.
With special thanks to Natalie Constable.