Applications For Injection Molding Technologies

By Henry A. Parker

Think injection molding (IM) and you immediately think, plastic;sackfuls of little green army men and building blocks. However, metal, glass and even chocolate can be used in this process. Everything from DVD holders to Easter Bunnies is manufactured using IM technology.

Chocolates, futuristic plastic chairs, dustpans and even shoes may be made by injecting some material into a mold. Molds are designed by designers and engineers and then handed over to a moldmaker to transform the design into a metal mold, which is finally precision-machined. The process, which has been around since the middle of the 19th century, is extremely versatile and gives rise to an infinite number of widgets and parts for sewing machines, automobiles and rocket ships.

One application for the art is in the manufacture of collectible toy soldiers and military miniatures. If there was a war, chances are there are miniature toy soldiers for some enthusiast to recreate it. A horseback-mounted Duke of Wellington can set a collector back in the realm of $200. Intricately detailed and meticulously painted, lesser soldiers can be acquired for a much more reasonable price. Of course, when you are purchasing hundreds of the brave soldiers, it adds up pretty fast.

Electric train enthusiasts are another market for this genre of art and technology. Along with little engineers and little villagers, trees and parts of buildings can be manufactured in this manner. The level of detail and authenticity can be very impressive. These are usually the product of a metalworking process.

The starting material, whether polymer, metal or thermoplastic, is pulverized into a fine dust and, in the case of metal, mixed with what is called a binder to produce what is called feedstock. The feedstock is fed through a hopper and passed through a heater while being fed through a tube by a linear actuator. The material is melted into a liquid and then fed into a mold and then cooled.

The vast range of objects that can be produced using IM is astounding. The injecting and molding machines are themselves built from parts that are the product of IM technology.

A surprising number of feeder industries are part of the IM process. Computer software programmers, polymer manufactures, the chemical industry that makes binders and other additives and the makers of molding machines all contribute to the art and science of the IM process. One thing that will be fun to watch in the coming years is how the IM industry will develop as the field of three-dimensional printing becomes more common.

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