Tooling for plastics processing defines the shape of the part. It falls into two major categories, molds and dies. A mold is used to form a complete three-dimensional plastic part. The plastics processes that use molds are compression molding, injection molding, blow molding, thermoforming, and reaction injection molding (RIM). A die, on the other hand, is used to form two of the three dimensions of a plastic part. The third dimension, usually thickness or length, is controlled by other process variables. The plastics processes that use dies are extrusion, pultrusion and thermoforming. Many plastics processes do not differentiate between the terms mold and die. Molds, however, are the most predominant form of plastics tooling.
PP.2.1 Types of Mold
The basic types of mold, regardless of whether they are compression, injection, transfer, or even blow molds, are usually classified by the type and number of cavities they have. For example, Figure PP.1 illustrates three mold types: (a) single-cavity, (b) dedicated multiple-cavity, and (c) family multiplecavity.
Single-cavity mold (Figure PP.1a) represents one of the simplest mold concepts. This design lends itself to low-volume production and to large plastic part designs. The multiple-cavity molds may be of two types. A dedicated multiple-cavity mold (Figure PP.1b) has cavities that produce the same part. This type of mold is very popular because it is easy to balance the plastic flow and establish a controlled process. In a family multiple-cavity mold (Figure PP.1c), each cavity may produce a different part. Historically, family mold designs were avoided because of difficulty in filling uniformly; however, recent advances in mold making and gating technology make family molds appealing. This is the case especially when a processor has a multiple-part assembly and would like to keep inventories balanced.
PP.2.2 Types of Dies
Within the plastics industry, the term die is most often applied to the processes of extrusion (see EXTRUSION). Extrusion dies may be categorized by the type of product being produced (e.g., film, sheet, profile, or coextrusion), but they all have some common features as described below.
FIGURE PP.1 Three basic types of molds. (a) single-cavity; (b) dedicated multiple-cavity; (c) family multiple-cavity.
- Steel. The extrusion process being continuous, both erosion and corrosion are significant factors. Hence the dies must be made of a high-quality tool steel, hardened so that the areas that contact the plastic material do not erode. Additionally, many dies have a dense, hard chrome plating in the area where plastic melt contacts the die.
- Heaters. Extrusion dies are to be heated in order to maintain a melt flow condition for the plastic material. Most of the heaters are cartridge-type elements that slip fit into the die at particular locations. In addition to the heaters, the dies have to accommodate temperature sensors, such as thermocouples.
- Melt Pressure. Many sophisticated dies are equipped with sensors that monitor melt pressure. This allows the processor to better monitor ad control the process.
- Parting Line. Large extrusion dies must be able to separate at the melt flow line for easier fabrication and maintenance. Smaller extrusion dies may not have a parting area, because they can be constructed in one piece.
- Die Swell Compensation. The polymer melt swells when it exits the die, as explained previously. This die swell is a function of the type of plastic material, the melt temperature, the melt pressure, and the die configuration. The die must be compensated for die swell so that the extruded part has the corrected shape and dimensions. Molds and dies for different fabrication processes will be described later in more detail when the processes are discussed.
PP.2.3 Tool Design
The design of the tooling to produce a specific plastics part must be considered during the design of the part itself. The tool designer must consider several factors that may affect the fabricated part, such as the plastics material, shrinkage, and process equipment. Additionally, competitive pressures within the plastics industry require the tool designer to consider how to facilitate tool changeovers, optimize tool maintenance, and simplify (or eliminate) secondary operations.
Historically, plastics molds and dies were built by toolmakers who spent their lives learning and perfecting their craft. Today the void created by the waning numbers of these classically trained toolmakers is being filled by the development of numerically controlled (NC) machinery centers, computer-based numerically controlled (CNC) machinery centers, and computer-aided design (CAD) systems. Molds and dies can now be machined on computer-controlled mills, lathes, and electric discharge machines that require understanding of computers and design, rather than years of experience and machining skills. The quality of tool components is now more a function of the equipment than of the toolmaker skill.
The high costs of molds and the fact that many production molds are built under extreme time constraints leave no room for trial and error. Though prototyping has been widely used to evaluate smaller part designs when circumstances and time allow, prototyping is not always feasible for larger part designs. There are, however, several alternatives to prototyping, e.g., CAD, finite-element analysis (FEA), and rapid prototyping. While CAD allows a tool designer to work with a three-dimensional computer model of the tool being designed and to analyze the design, FEA allows the tool to be evaluated (on a computer) for production worthiness. The mold is then fabricated from the computer model, a process called computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).
Rapid prototyping is a relatively new method of producing a plastics part by using a three-dimensional computer drawing. A sophisticated prototyping apparatus interprets the drawing and guides an articulating laser beam across a specific medium such as a photopolymer plastic or laminated paper, the result being a physical representation of the computer-based drawing. Prototyped parts can be produced in less than 24 h, and part designs can be scaled to fit the size of the prototyping equipment. Another trend is the introduction of molds that accept interchangeable modules. Modules take less time to manufacturing, and in turn, cut down on the delivery time and costs. In addition, it usually takes less time to change the module than the entire mold frame.