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Keywords of this article:  injection molding 
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injection mold 
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Compare withcompression or transfer molding, injection molding produces rubber parts withshorter cycle times. Rubber injection molding machine builders further advancetheir machines with more automatic and intelligent functions to boost an evenmore efficient production process.

The MAPLAN horizontal machine MHF 700D/300 with a 6-axis robot.
The MAPLAN horizontal machine MHF 700D/300 with a 6-axis robot.

More productive with fully automated solutions

Elastomer injection molding machine maker Maplan, headquartered in Austria, introduced two fully automatic, Industry 4.0-compatible production cells at the German Rubber Conference DKT 2018 held in July.

Using a MTF vertical machine and a MHF horizontal machine combined with handling robots, processing peripherals and the C6000 machine control unit, the potential of increasing rubber injection production efficiency was demonstrated.

The MTF 1500/280 vertical machine for manufacturing molded rubber parts has a maximum injection volume of 1,500 ccm and a clamping force of 2,800 kN. It is part of the redesigned series of fully hydraulic vertical machines with a new, optimized clamping unit concept, which has been enhanced by a very ergonomic operating height, a minimal platen deflection and high level of plane parallelism.

Thanks to a tie bar clearance of 680 mm, there is a lot of space for manual and automated manipulation of molded parts. The machine is equipped with a 1500 cm³ FIFO injection unit, but could alternatively be combined with units of up to 4,000 cm³.

Maplan produced luggage tags as a give-away at the Conference, using a multi-cavity mold with a valve gate cold runner. To remove the parts from the mold, the cavity plate is extended using a sliding frame, and the molded parts are pneumatically demolded before a conveyor belt taking the parts for further processing.

Another highlight was the horizontal machine MHF 700D/300 with 3000 kN clamping force and a 725 FIFO cm³ injection unit. The large support of the hydraulic clamping unit enables flexible securing of tools with large and small mold heights. For more demanding applications, for example in combination with cold runners, the machine offers space for up to 6 temperature control units that are integrated into the machine frame.

The machine works with HTV silicone. A silicone stuffer unit with a hydraulic locking mechanism is used to supply the silicone to the plasticizing unit. This produced ice cube trays using a 4-cavity cold runner mold at the Conference. The 4-cold runner nozzles are each electrically controlled, allowing their filling behavior to be adapted. A 6-axis robot, which is positioned directly on the injection side-machine platen to save space, uses a twofold Mexbert gripper system to extract the molded parts and place them on a conveyor belt.

Most importantly, the machines are Industry 4.0-compatible and currently possible in the direct machine environment. The starting basis for this is the C6000.webmachine control unit, which communicates with robots and peripheral devices via the OPC/UA industry-standard interface. It can also be linked to MES systems to exchange data within company networks.

Achieving precision with integrated robot and control system

In multi-component processing with elastomers and thermoplastics, precision and efficiency can be achieved with hydraulic and all-electric injection molding machines. ENGEL underlined these potentials at DKT 2018.The ENGEL roto feeder offers continuous, bubble-free and constant-pressure material feeding in the processing of solid silicone.

In an ENGEL flexseal 500/300 servohydraulic machine with a clamping force of 3000 kN, PBT inserts were sheathed in solid silicone (HTV) and the two-component membranes tested for quality inline immediately after production with the help of a vision control system.

The roto feeder developed and produced by the company is used for material feed. Its rotating hopper with counter-rotating screw transports the solid silicone continuously at a constant pressure and free from bubbles, thereby ensuring a very high level of process security and stability.

In the integrated version, the machine and robot have common control logic and the manufacturing cell can be controlled as a whole from the injection molding machine's operating panel. This reduces the complexity immensely. A further advantage is that the manufacturing cell is planned right from the start taking the robot's interference areas into account, resulting in especially compact overall solutions.

The flexseal injection molding machine was adapted specifically to the requirements of manufacturers of O-rings and flat seals. It is suitable for all standard rubber mixtures and silicones and, thanks to the horizontal machine concept with screw injection unit, ensures very high manufacturing precision with the small to mid-sized shot volumes these applications require. The flexseal enables fully automatic processing with conventional brushing devices.

During the Conference, the company also manufactured seals for respiratory masks in an all-electric ENGEL e-mac 170/100 with a clamping force of 1000 kN and integrated ENGEL viper 12 linear robot.

As a system supplier, ENGEL integrates all peripheral liquid silicone rubber (LSR) processes in the e-mac's CC300 control unit so that the complete process can be set and controlled from the operating panel. A reliable, high-precision injection molding machine is prerequisite for the manufacture of demanding liquid silicone rubber products that are low in flash and do not require rework.

To produce a constant high quality even in varying ambient conditions and fluctuations in the raw material, iQ weight control is used. The intelligent assistance system from the company's inject 4.0 series adapts the injection profile as well as the switchover point and the holding pressure profile to the respective conditions individually for every shot, eliminating external influences even before a single reject is produced.                               

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