Injection moulding is a complex manufacturing process during which molten plastic is injected into a mould to create a finished product. Several materials, including glass and metals, can be used, but it is most commonly associated with plastics. Since the process is so versatile, it is used in various industries; it has numerous applications and can be used for objects of many different shapes and sizes, from large ones, such as car panels, to tiny internal components inside machinery.
Most of the plastic products available today, from bottles and packaging to storage containers, gear components and even parts of musical instruments, are created through injection moulding. And while its versatility is second-to-none, much like all other industries, this one is also subjected to changes. As technology develops, different tools and processes have entered the injection moulding sector, making it more efficient and extending its area of expertise. Here are some of the most noteworthy.
Sustainability is a chief concern of most companies nowadays, as most have become acutely aware of their environmental impact. Manufacturers and entrepreneurs have observed that in order to increase their business reputation, they have to align with the wishes of their buyers, many of whom are dedicated to committing to actions and mentalities that minimise the impact of human activities on the natural world.
Plastic, the favourite material of injection moulding, has long been one of the preferred materials for a variety of products. However, given its effects on the environment, many producers are increasingly looking to make the shift towards one of the alternatives. The problem with plastic is that it is highly resistant and able to survive for hundreds if not thousands of years in a landfill, depending on the conditions. Even afterwards, it breaks down into microplastic, an insidious substance that ends up in the water and even in the air and whose effects on the human body are not yet fully understood.
One of the most common alternatives is plant-based materials, which are infinitely more eco-friendly and naturally decompose after they’re no longer useful. Corn and flax are two of the preferred options. The currently used thermoplastics are also recyclable and can sustain repeated heating and softening without losing their properties.
Recycling and reusing are important as it decreases the amount of raw materials used and ensures that environmental hazards are averted. The natural world is better protected when solid waste is disposed of appropriately.
Even as changes in the types of materials used continue to appear, one of the constant aspects is the necessity for high-strength, high-quality materials. An injection moulding company produces items that can withstand corrosion, successive exposure to the elements, chemicals, abrasions and elevated temperatures. Many large products, such as electronics, furniture, medical devices, dashboards, door panels, and vehicle components, such as bumpers or truck side steps, are manufactured this way.
Using structural foam moulding during the process allows some of the disadvantages of the traditional, high-pressure method to be avoided. The main difference is the addition of a blowing agent, generally CO2 or N2, which activates after the plastic reaches the melting point. Structural foam has several advantages, including the reduced risk of damage, more options for products with various degrees of thickness and more design options compared to high-pressure moulding.
Due to these enhanced characteristics, this process is particularly employed in creating products that must be highly resistant, including automotive products and industrial equipment. There’s also the added bonus of the materials resulting from this process being up to 20% lighter than their traditionally-derived alternatives, despite the extra strength.
Thin wall moulding
This type of injection moulding is focused on mass-produced components that are typically very light. The cycle time is meant to be short, which in turn creates lower costs, all while improving output. The industries that most commonly use this method are:
- Food packaging: Plastic bags, as well as lids and containers
- Medical: Single-use devices such as syringes
- Information technology: Computer cases containing the hardware of a PC
- Automotives: Structural car parts
Thin wall moulding is a challenging process, as the lighter plastic gets, the more difficult it is to manufacture successfully. High pressure is required to fill the mould; even then, there can be errors, and the resulting products might not be fit for usage. New solutions are being developed, including resins that would perform better under the conditions and gas-assisted tech to make the entire process easier.
Production has many advantages, including the fact that it is clean and safe. The delivery period is reduced, as thin wall plastics are produced much faster compared to thick wall alternatives. Some of the disadvantages include the potential for environmental litter. However, this can easily be averted by using sustainable, eco-friendly materials and ensuring the plastic used is recycled. For instance, many of the plastics used in food packaging are derived from reusable polypropylene.
This wall moulding also uses fewer natural resources, which helps cut emissions, including those resulting from fuel consumption, which in turn helps promote sustainability.
AI can be used in many different ways across all industries, with the tech believed to be the answer to solving all inefficiencies, optimising procedures and helping cost savings. Injection moulding is no exception, and the industry is set to undergo changes as a result of AI integration as well. Quality control is one of the most critical aspects, as artificial intelligence can provide better solutions to ensure all product components have consistent quality levels. If errors are discovered, the problem can be singled out more quickly and solved systematically with fewer resources. It can also minimise waste by optimising the quantity of materials used.
Using predictive maintenance tools enables producers to reduce downtime and prolong the life of the machinery they use by ensuring there’s a follow-up on maintenance work. And machine learning guarantees new processes can be employed faster and more efficiently.
While injection moulding is nothing new, the process continues to develop and become more refined, integrating new technological solutions and beginning to focus on greener techniques and materials.