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Virtual Injection Moulding for improving production efficiency, quality and time-to-market speed

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Virtual reality enhances manufacturing of plastics

EU-funded researchers developed a valuable simulation tool for the plastics and elastomers industries that promises to revolutionise manufacturing practice.

Industrial Technologies

Materials that become soft when heated and hard when cooled are thermoplastic – ‘thermo’ indicating the role of heat and ‘plastic’ the ability to change form. Certain plastics and elastomers are among these now ubiquitous thermoplastic materials, with plastics typically having more rigid shapes and elastomers having rubber-like qualities (more elastic in nature). Plastics can be found virtually everywhere, from drink bottles and detergent containers to computer monitors and car parts. Thermoplastic elastomers are also growing rapidly in market coverage, finding uses in the medical, electronics and automotive industries, to name only a few. Plastics and elastomeric products are typically produced via injection moulding, a process whereby the liquid material is forced into a mould, cooled and removed to create the finished product. Much like a cake batter poured in a pan and removed in solid form from the oven, thermoplastics retain the shape of the mould used to form them. However, making thermoplastic components is not as easy as baking a cake given the extensive variety of materials that can be used, the necessary processing parameters and the mould characteristics among others. European researchers supported by funding of the ‘Virtual injection moulding for improving production efficiency, quality and time-to-market speed’ (VIM) project sought to simplify the process by creating a simulation tool particularly aimed at European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The VIM tool incorporated models of both resistance to flow (viscosity), important during the heated injection phase, and of solidification related to the cooling phase. The models significantly enhanced understanding and prediction of polymer flow, shrinkage and warpage. Researchers also investigated the behaviour of numerous polymeric materials via the VIM tool as well as optimisation of various mould characteristics. Widespread adoption of the VIM tool by European SMEs employing injection moulding of plastics and elastomers could greatly increase competitiveness, transforming this more conventional industry into a knowledge-based one. The tool offers great potential for increasing process efficiency, product quality and time-to-market thus providing substantial savings to European SMEs.

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