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Plastic extrusion is used in the three primary processes of producing a plastic part – extrusion, injection molding and blow molding. There is a uniqueness to each primary process. Extrusion is continuous, injection molding is discontinuous and blow molding would also be considered continuous. Because of these differences, each process presents its own challenges but for this post we will focus on extrusion.
Extrusion is a continuous process of converting a solid plastic mass, pellet or powder into a melted form where it is pushed through a die into a shape. This shape is then moved through various secondary operations where it is cooled then cut, coiled or experiences a variety of other possible operations. Extrusion can be broken into specific sub-processes which are sheet, blown or cast film, profile, pipe or pelletizing.
What is Plastic Extrusion?
Plastics extrusion is a high-volume manufacturing process in which raw plastic is melted and formed into a continuous profile. Extrusion produces items such as pipe/tubing, weatherstripping, fencing, deck railings, window frames, plastic films and sheeting, thermoplastic coatings, and wire insulation.
This process starts by feeding plastic material (pellets, granules, flakes, or powders) from a hopper into the barrel of the extruder. The material is gradually melted by the mechanical energy generated by turning screws and by heaters arranged along the barrel. The molten polymer is then forced into a die, which shapes the polymer into a shape that hardens during cooling.
What is the process of Plastic Extrusion?
Plastic extrusion is used to produce a wide range of products on the market, from building materials to consumer products to industrial parts. Pipes, window frames, electrical covers, fence, edging, and weather stripping are just a few of the common items made by plastic extrusion, along with thousands of custom profiles.
The process itself is highly technical. However, it can be summed up in just five steps.
Step 1: Raw plastic materials like granules, pellets, or powder are loaded into a hopper and then fed into a long heated cylindrical chamber called an extruder. It is moved through this chamber by a revolving screw. Some extruders can have either one or two revolving screws.
Step 2: The raw materials flow from the hopper down through the feed throat and onto a large spinning screw operating within a horizontal barrel.
Step 3: Not all materials have the same properties, so the raw material is processed by a heating temperature specific to the type of raw material being passed through. At the end of the heated chamber, the molten plastic is forced through a small opening called a die to form the shape of the finished product.
Step 4: As the plastic is extruded from the die, it is fed onto a conveyor belt for cooling. Cooling can happen by air or water. The process is similar to the injection moulding process except that the melted plastic is forced through a die instead of into a mould.
Step 5: The die for an individual plastic profile is designed so that the plastic flows smoothly and evenly from the cylindrical profile of the extruder into the final profile shape. Consistency in this flow is critical to achieving an end product with integrity.
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