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Keywords of this article:  injection molding 
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CO2-loaded pellets are prepared and fed completely automatically by an integrated peripheral solution from ProTec consisting of dryer, autoclave and conveying unit. <i>(Source: ProTec Polymer Processing)</i>
CO2-loaded pellets are prepared and fed completely automatically by an integrated peripheral solution from ProTec consisting of dryer, autoclave and conveying unit. (Source: ProTec Polymer Processing)
Photo: 123

In collaboration with Kunststoff-Institut Lüdenscheid and Linde AG, ProTec Polymer Processing GmbH is currently developing a peripheral system which enables straightforward integration of a novel physical polymer foaming process into existing injection molding lines.

The innovative process involves loading dried pellets with CO2 in a pressure vessel and then feeding them to the injection molding machine. Thus, it combines the ease of handling of chemical foaming processes with the high foaming pressure of physical foaming, achieving good foaming results and considerable materials savings even with thin-walled moldings, according to ProTec.

External CO2 loading has already been tested on various types of plastics which remain reproducibly foamable over a number of hours. The company said it will soon make this innovation industrially viable for a wide range of users.

The new system can be quickly integrated into their manufacturing lines, since existing injection molding machines, depending on the particular model, will require little or no modification, according to ProTec.

The pellets are prepared and fed completely automatically thanks to an integrated peripheral solution from ProTec consisting of dryer, autoclave and conveying unit. Since the peripheral can supply a number of machines simultaneously, manufacture of both small and large batches is economically viable.

The integrated unit is operated via a network-compatible PLC controller which is already fitted to all dryers and dosing units from ProTec's SOMOS product lines.

The novel foaming solution is particularly suitable for manufacturers in the automotive industry wishing to produce lightweight components in order to cut consumption of resources and emissions or to increase the range of electric vehicles. In addition to weight savings, other benefits of the process include improved thermal and acoustic insulation due to the cellular structure of the moldings.

It is also of interest to other sectors where there is a desire to reduce materials usage, for example for the electrical, electronics and furniture industries or manufacturers of domestic appliances and leisure articles. Previous testing suggests that weight savings of up to 60% can be made, ProTec stated.

Further advantages of the physical foaming process include a lower viscosity of polymer, resulting in improved flow characteristics. This means lower mold filling pressures can be used. Under certain circumstances, the same process can be carried out using an injection molding machine with a lower closing force or a less rigid tool.

At the same time, for many plastics better dimensional stability is achieved than in conventional injection molding because the foaming reduces anisotropic shrinkage. If high surface quality is required, a gas counterpressure process may for example be used.

The process developed by Kunststoff-Institut Lüdenscheid and Linde combines the strengths of physical and chemical foaming, the latter being considered relatively uncomplicated since a blowing agent is merely added to the polymer prior to injection molding and no changes to the injection molding machine are required.

Physical foaming, on the other hand, permits high foaming pressures and avoids deposits caused by residues arising during chemical reactions. In the past, the blowing agent has conventionally been directly injected into the plastics melt, which has normally required machine modifications such as new screws, a different injection unit and back pressure control. But not with the new process: its only requirement is for the machine to have a needle valve nozzle.

At Fakuma 2017, Kunststoff-Institut Lüdenscheid will premiere the process at its booth, while ProTec will be showing a central module of the future hardware solution: the RDM series mobile resin dryer with integrated dry air conveying that will be combined with an autoclave which is under development to form a single peripheral.

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