Most plastic parts that we use in every-day life are injection moulded. In this article we explore what injection moulding is, where it is used throughout various industries, and what its advantages and disadvantages are.
What is Injection Moulding?
Injection moulding is the most common manufacturing process used to produce plastic parts. The process utilises an injection moulding machine, raw material, and a mould of the product part being produced to consistently manufacture high volumes of identical objects at a fast rate.
Injection moulding machines are categorised and rated based on their clamping pressure or tonnage. The higher the clamping pressure, the larger the machine, and the larger the parts that it is able to fabricate. Clamping pressures vary anywhere from 5 tons to 6000 tons. The clamping pressure required to give optimum results for a product part is determined by the projected area of the part in the mould. Using clamping pressures that are too high or too low for a certain part can lead to defects such as flashing, where molten material seeps out of the mould and solidifies, leading to an unwanted thin layer of material forming around the part.
The raw materials used are chosen based on the function and specifications of the final product part. However, each material also has various parameters that need to be considered in the injection moulding process. Most polymers can be used in the process, including all thermoplastics (nylon, polystyrene, polyethylene) and some thermosetting plastics (epoxy, phenolic). Though being mainly used for the production of plastics, other materials may also be used with injection moulding.
The main components of the process are described below:
The Injection Moulding Process
- Moulding – A mould in the shape of the product part is designed using CAD, manufactured, and split into two halves.
- Clamping – The two halves of the mould are pushed and held securely closed by the clamping unit of the machine. Larger machines will require a longer time than smaller machines to carry out this step.
- Injecting – The raw materials, usually in the form of pellets, are melted by heat and pressure, then injected into the mould very quickly, filling the entire space within it. The build-up of pressure packs and holds the material together. The exact amount of material injected in the mould is referred to as the shot.
- Cooling – The molten material within the mould begins to cool as it makes contact with the mould surfaces, solidifying into the shape of the desired part.
- Ejecting – The clamping unit separates the two halves and the cooled, finished part is ejected from the mould via the ejection unit.
The production cycle is very short, usually lasting between 2 seconds and 2 minutes. Upon the completion of step 5, the cycle restarts at step 2, manufacturing a replica of the part.
Uses of Injection Moulding
Injection moulding is the preferred production method for most mass-produced plastic products, due to its high output rate and consistency of quality. These products include but are not limited to:
- Automotive parts – dashboards, bumpers, grilles.
- Electronic components – electrical connectors, enclosures, protective sleeving.
- Medical devices – syringes, valves, dishes.
- Consumer plastics – mobile phone cases, bottle caps, toys.
- Furniture parts – seat cushions, chairs, seat covers.
Advantages of Injection Moulding
- Ability to use multiple materials simultaneously, including multiple types of plastic as well as multiple colours.
- Ability to design and manufacture intricate and complex geometrical shapes – as a result of the exceptionally high pressures that the moulds are applied with in the process.
- Fast production, leading to a high output rate and efficiency.
- Low labour costs due to the process being highly machine orientated.
- Repeatable process, leading to a consistent quality of products.
- Environmentally friendly process with little waste – scrap plastic is reground and re-used in the process.
- Produced parts need little work after the ejection since they have a more-or-less finished appearance.
Disadvantages of Injection Moulding
- High initial cost to set up the machinery properly.
- Not as cost effective if used to produce only a low volume of parts.
- Moulds need to be designed to a high standard, which takes skilled workers.