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Plastic Process -> Compression Molding

Compression Molding


Compression molding is the most common method by which thermosetting plastics are molded. In this method the plastic, in the form of powder, pellet, or disc, is dried by heating and then further heated to near the curing temperature; this heated charge is loaded directly into the mold cavity. The temperature of the mold cavity is held at 1508C�8C, depending on the material. The mold is then partially closed, and the plastic, which is liquefied by the heat and the exerted pressure, flows into the recess of the mold. At this stage the mold is fully closed, and the flow and cure of the plastic are complete. Finally, the mold is opened, and the completely cured molded part is ejected.

Compression-molding equipment consists of a matched mold, a means of heating the plastic and the mold, and some method of exerting force on the mold halves. For severe molding conditions molds are usually made of various grades of tool steel. Most are polished to improve material flow and overall part quality. Brass, mild steel, or plastics are used as mold materials for less severe molding conditions or short-run products.

In compression molding a pressure of 2,250 psi (158 kg/cm2)�00 psi (211 kg/cm2) is suitable for phenolic materials. The lower pressure is adequate only for an easy-flow materials and a simple uncomplicated shallow molded shape. For a medium-flow material and where there are average-sized recesses, cores, shapes, and pins in the molding cavity, a pressure of 3,000 psi (211 kg/cm2) or above is required. For molding urea and melamine materials, pressures of approximately one and one-half times that needed for phenolic material are necessary.

The time required to harden thermosetting materials is commonly referred to as the cure time. Depending on the type of molding material, preheating temperature, and the thickness of the molded article, the cure time may range from seconds to several minutes.

In compression molding of thermosets the mold remains hot throughout the entire cycle; as soon as a molded part is ejected, a new charge of molding powder can be introduced. On the other hand, unlike thermosets, thermoplastics must be cooled to harden. So before a molded part is ejected, the entire mold must be cooled, and as a result, the process of compression molding is quite slow with thermoplastics. Compression molding is thus commonly used for thermosetting plastics such as phenolics, urea, melamine, an alkyds; it is not ordinarily used for thermoplastics. However, in special cases, such as when extreme accuracy is needed, thermoplastics are also compression molded. One example is the phonograph records of vinyl and styrene thermoplastics; extreme accuracy is needed for proper sound reproduction. Compression molding is ideal for such products as electrical switch gear and other electrical parts, plastic dinnerware, radio and television cabinets, furniture drawers, buttons, knobs, handles, etc.

Like the molding process itself, compression molding machinery is relatively simple. Most compression presses consist of two platens that close together, applying heat and pressure to the material inside a mold. The majority of the presses are hydraulically operated with plateau ranging in size from 6 in. square to 8 ft square or more. The platens exert pressures ranging from 6 up to 10,000 tons. Virtually all compression molding presses are of vertical design. Most presses having tonnages under 1000 are upward-acting, while most over 1,000 tons act downward. Some presses are built with a shuttleclamp arrangement that moves the mold out of the clamp section to facilitate setup and part removal.

Compression molds can be divided into hand molds, semiautomatic molds, and automatic molds. The design of any of these molds must allow venting to provide for escape of steam, gas, or air produced during the operation. After the initial application of pressure the usual practice is to open the mold slightly to release the gases. This procedure is known as breathing.

Hand molds are used primarily for experimental runs, for small production items, or for molding articles which, because of complexity of shape, require dismantling of mold sections to release them. Semiautomatic molds consist of units mounted firmly on the top and bottom platens of the press. The operation of the press closes and opens the mold and actuates the ejector system for removal of the molded article. However, an operator must load the molding material, actuate press controls for the molding sequence, and remove the ejected piece from the mold. This method is widely used.

Fully automatic molds are specially designed for adaptation to a completely automatic press. The entire operation cycle, including loading and unloading of the mold, is performed automatically, and all molding operations are accurately controlled. Thermosetting polymers can be molded at rates up to 450 cycles/h. Tooling must be of the highest standard to meet the exacting demands of high-speed production. Automatic molds offer the most economical method for long production runs because labor costs are kept to a minimum.

The three common types of mold designs are open flash, fully positive, and semipositive.

PP.3.1 Open Flash

In an open flash mold a slight excess of molding powder is loaded into the mold cavity (Figure PP.1a). On closing the top and bottom platens, the excess material is forced out and flash is formed. The flash blocks the plastic remaining in the cavity and causes the mold plunger to exert pressure on it. Gas or air can be trapped by closing the mold too quickly, and finely powdered material can be splashed out of the mold. However, if closing is done carefully, the open flash mold is a simple one, giving very good results.

Since the only pressure on the material remaining in the flash mold when it is closed results from the high viscosity of the melt which did not allow it to escape, only resins having high melt viscosities can be molded by this process. Since most rubbers have high melt viscosities, the flash mold is widely used for producing gaskets and grommets, tub and flash stoppers, shoe heels, door mats, and many other items. Because of lower pressure exerted on the plastic in the flash molds, the molded products are usually less dense than when made using other molds. Moreover, because of the excess material loading needed, the process is somewhat wasteful as far as raw materials are concerned. However, the process has the advantage that the molds are cheap, and very slight labor costs are necessary in weighing out the powder.

PP.3.2 Fully Positive

In the fully positive molds (Figure PP.2b) no allowance is made for placing excess powder in the cavity. If excess powder is loaded, the mold will not close; an insufficient charge will result in reduced thickness of the molded article. A correctly measured charge must therefore be used with this moldit is a disadvantage of the positive mold. Another disadvantage is that the gases liberated during the chemical curing reaction are trapped inside and may show as blisters on the molded surface. Excessive wear on the sliding fit surface on the top and bottom forces and the difficulty of ejecting the molding are other reasons for discarding this type of mold. The mold is used on a small scale for molding thermosets, laminated plastics, and certain rubber components.

PP.3.3 Semipositive

The semipositive mold (Figure PP.2c and d) combines certain features of the open flash and fully positive molds and makes allowance for excess powder and flash. It is also possible to get both horizontal and vertical flash. Semipositive molds are more expensive to manufacture and maintain than the other types, but they are much better from an applications point of view. Satisfactory operation of semipositive molds is obtained by having clearance (0.025/25 mm of diameter) between the plunger (top force) and the cavity. Moreover, the mold is given a 2�taper on each side. This allows the flash to flow on and the entrapped gases to escape along with it, thereby producing a clean, blemish-free mold component.

PP.3.4 Process Applicability

Compression molding is most cost-effective when used for short-run parts requiring close tolerances, high-impact strength, and low mold shrinkage. Old as the process may be, new applications continue to evolve compression molding. For example, in the dental and medical fields, orthodontic retainers, and pacemaker casings are now mostly compression molded because of low tool costs. Injection molding tools to produce the same part would cost as much as eight times more. Manufacturers of gaskets and seals who started out with injection-molded products to take advantage of the faster cycle times, are now switching back to compression molding to maintain quality level required for these parts.

FIGURE PP.2 Compression molds. (a) A simple flash mold. (b) A positive mold. Knockout pins could extend through plunger instead of through cavity. (c) Semi-positive mold as it appears in partly closed position before it becomes positive. Material trapped in area b escapes upward. (d) Semipositive mold in closed position.

The use of compression molding has expanded significantly in recent years due to the development of new materials, reinforced materials in particular.Molding reinforced plastics (RPs) requires two matched dies usually made of inexpensive aluminum, plastics, or steel and used on short runs.

Adding vacuum chambers to compression molding equipment in recent years has reduced the number of defects caused by trapped air or water in the molding compound, resulting in higher-quality finished parts. Another relatively new improvement has been the addition of various forms of automation to the process. For example, robots are used both to install inserts and remove finished parts.


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