Complex MIM Part on AR-15 Rifle Wins Design Award

While the domestic firearms market declined in 2015, new applications are emerging for metal injection molded (MIM) parts.

One example is a front sight base used on the controversial AR-15 rifle. The MIM-4605 low-alloy steel part is much larger than the typical MIM part and has a complex geometry. The switch from a part machined from bar stock to the MIM part resulted in savings of more than 30 percent.

Molding machines at AFT.

Molding machines at AFT.

It won the Grand Prize in the Aerospace/Military Category in the recently announced winners in the annual awards program held by the Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF). The molder is Advanced Forming Technology, an ARC Group Worldwide Company based in Longmont, Colorado. AFT has electric, hydraulic and hybrid machines that range from 17 to 106 tons of clamping force and produce injection capacities up to 185 g.

According to the MPIF annual report on business conditions, the decline in the firearms market began during late 2014. Firearms represented 21 per cent of MIM demand (determined by cumulative part weight) in 2015, down from previous years.

The MPIF report stated: “Knowledgeable observers forecast the market increasing in 2016 to a more normal growth pattern, or possibly spiking again. Recent mass-casualty shootings in North America have impacted firearms sales as citizens seek personal protection options and react to proposed tougher gun controls. Overall, the majority of members of the Metal Injection Molding Association (MIMA) forecast business increasing in the 5–10 percent range in 2016.”

Complex molded metal part replaced machined bar stock in AR-15 rifle. (MPIF)

Complex molded metal part replaced machined bar stock in AR-15 rifle. (MPIF)

Defense, Design, Metal Injection Molding, Metal Injection Molding (MIM), North America

Engel Adds US Tech Centers, Builds Capacity

Engel is stepping up its U.S. presence with two technology partnerships in the Detroit area.

The partnerships fit into the machine builder’s strategy to grow market share by focusing on cells that offer integrated automation and specialized mold technology. The approach often involves advanced technology, such as low pressure compression injection molding (“coinmelt”), MuCell foam injection or special composite processes.

Engel calls the new Technology Center at the Hi-Tech Mold & Engineering facility in Rochester Hills, Michigan, “a model for Industry 4.0, smart factory initiatives: maximizing productivity, flexibility and quality of the manufacturing process through a fully integrated, automated and optimized production flow.”

The center will include Engel machinery ranging from 340 to 3500 US tons, each with an integrated linear (3-axis) robot. One of the goals of the Technology Center is to improve the integration of mold and machine to increase production efficiencies and part quality.

The SA Engineering Technology Center in Livonia, Michigan, is equipped with five Engel injection molding systems, including a 3,500 ton press. Trexel, the developer of MuCell, is also a partner.

“The SA Engineering Technology Center is primarily automotive focused, but not necessarily. It brought together our desire to create a center of development for advanced injection molding technologies with Engel’s constant push to expand the envelope of injection molding techniques,” said a spokesperson for SA Engineering.

In advance of K2016, Engel this month announced several expansion projects, with a focus on increasing capacity for large machines in Austria and general machine manufacturing in Shanghai. The company’s capital expansion budget for its current fiscal year is $113 million. Sales last year were $1.4 billion.

Engel’s focal point at K2016, which will be held in Düsseldorf, Germany, Oct. 19-26, will be the “smart factory” or “Inject 4.0”

Process conditions on networked machines will automatically adjust to changes in molding conditions. The exhibit will incorporate the latest developments into technologies that Engel has been working on for several years.

One example is mold temperature control. The company introduced an electronic temperature-control water manifold system at K 2010. The newer e-flomo system monitors and documents all cooling and temperature control circuits of injection molds and independently regulates either the flow volumes or differences in temperature.

New for K 2016, the e‑flomo and temperature control unit merge at controller level to form a single unit. With the help of the new iQ flow control software, the pump speed is adapted automatically to current requirements based on measurement values determined by e-flomo. The temperature control units are  made by HB-THERM of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Also new at K2016 will be an energy module on the company’s proprietary plant monitoring system that provides details and analysis on energy consumption.

Engel is working to establish OPC UA (Open Platform Communication Unified Architecture) as a shared information system in the plastics sector, even in the field of condition monitoring.

Engel will expand manufacturing capacity for large machines at St. Valentin, Austria.

Engel will expand manufacturing capacity for large machines at St. Valentin, Austria.


Injection Molding

Strong Machinery Sales: Is The Party Almost Over?

The market for injection molding machinery in the United States was very strong for the past two quarters, according to data released this week by the SPI Committee On Equipment Statistics (CES).

The shipments value of injection molding machinery rose 25.2 percent in this year’s first quarter compared with the same period in 2015. The shipments value of injection molding machinery jumped 18.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared to the year-earlier quarter. For 2015 as a whole, shipments of injection molding machinery were up 6.4 percent when compared with the total from 2014.

“This year got off to a good start. There has been a strong upward trend in the machinery data since the recession hit bottom in 2009, but this trend hit a plateau during the first three quarters of 2015. It re-emerged in the fourth quarter of last year, and the momentum was sustained in the first quarter of this year,” according to Bill Wood, of Mountaintop Economics & Research, Inc. Wood analyzes the plastics machinery market for the CES.

It seems unlikely that the strong sales pace can continue.

U.S. manufacturing dropped 0.4 percent last month. Motor vehicle production—a key indicator for plastics production—plunged 4.4 percent.

Management, Markets, North America ,

Lessons Learned: Boeing Advances Composites in 777X

Use of carbon composites in the Dreamliner 787 was a huge breakthrough in aircraft design and materials technology.

In the Boeing 777X, Boeing is taking the technology to a higher level.

Start with design. Boeing engineers are taking advantage of the ability to curve composites to improve aerodynamics. Boeing VP Eric Lindblad says: “If you watch eagles fly, their wings are very curved up in the air. This is the most optimum shape to achieve aerodynamic  lift.” The 777X incorporates a curving shape. That combines with the inherent flexibility of carbon composites compared to traditional aluminum wings.

Boeing 777X

Boeing 777X

The wings are also longer than tradtional wings—about 20 per cent longer, making the plane almost glider like. Twelve-feet wing tips will fold so that current ground equipment can be used.

Manufacturing has also advanced. Carbon fiber lay-up will be done by giant robots that function like 3-D printers in the sense that layers are sequentially added.

The 114-feet long and 23-feet wide composite wings will be produced with Electroimpact gantry-style automated fiber placement machines designed specifically for large aerospace parts.  Spars will also be made in the plant as a single piece, another significant advance. The machine can lay down a full lengthwise layer along the spar in approximately 10 minutes.

Lay-up takes place in the cleanroom of a newly opened manufacturing plant in Everett, Washington. The other half of the plant houses giant, newly designed autoclaves for bonding the tape layers and an area for trimming and drilling the cured wings.

The fact that the parts will be manufactured by Boeing in Washington is also an interesting development. Boeing had spread the enormous financial risk of the Dreamliner by using a global supply chain to manufacture components. An assembly plant was built in South Carolina to take advantage of lower labor costs and tax breaks. Boeing selected the Everett site as a part of a deal (and eight-year contract extension) with the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 751. As part of the contract extension, the company agreed to fabricate the parts for, and assemble, the 777X composite wings in the Puget Sound region.

Boeing says that the 777X will be the largest and most efficient twin-engine jet in the world, with 12 percent lower fuel consumption and 10 percent lower operating costs than competitive planes.

The 777X program has received commitments for 320 airplanes from six customers worldwide. Production is set to begin next year.

Aircraft, Carbon Composites, Epoxy, North America , ,

Engel ‘Coinmelt’ Process Produces Difficult Part

Engel will demonstrate a new application for its low-pressure injection molding process—called coinmelt– at a technology seminar near Detroit June 29.

An Engel duo 16050/1650 WP US machine, with an integrated Engel viper 60 robot, will produce luggage compartment covers designed for use in a Daimler vehicle.

In the coinmelt injection compression molding process, lower clamping forces are said to allow output of thinner parts with reduced distortion than standard injection molding. Tooling for the application was developed by Georg Kaufmann Formenbau, Busslingen, Switzerland.

A special approach was required because the three-dimensional complex part geometry is strongly ribbed and has several undercuts. “Here, the injection compression process allows an excellent fine structure reproduction without warpage,” according to Engel.

In the injection compression molding process, the polymer melt is injected into the gap for the compression stroke, requiring less injection pressure compared to conventional injection molding. Just before the polymer melt flow stops, the clamping unit starts to close with controlled parallelism and a specific clamping force.

The sealing pressure replaces the post-injection pressure of the conventional process and is distributed along the entire length of the part.

One of the prerequisites of the process is a very precise opening stroke of the moving mold mounting platen, which is assured by the individually controlled short stroke pressure pads of the Engel duo machine.

The seminar, which will be held at the Laurel Manor Banquet & Conference Center in Livonia, Michigan, is part of Engel’s Trend Scout series.



Automotive, Injection compression , ,

Is There Any Fire Behind The HP Smoke?

HP Inc., one of two successor companies to Hewlett-Packard, this month announced a few details on its much-anticipated venture into the 3D printing business.

Here are a few highlights:

  • HP says it is the “world’s first production-ready 3D printing system”.
  • The hardware will cost $130,000, a price that HP maintains is half what competitive systems cost.
  • HP says its technology is 10 time faster than competitive 3D printers.
  • Machine deliveries are expected to begin later this year.

You would think such a development would put a big stir in the stock prices of the top two players: Stratasys and 3D Systems. The stock price for both have actually gone up a bit since the HP announcement was made in mid-month.

Investors may feel that all of the hype being generated by HP is actually increasing awareness of 3D printing and will expand the market. Plus, the HP printer has a long, long way to go.

“Our 3D printing platform is unique in its ability to address over 340 million voxels per second, versus one point at a time, giving our prototyping and manufacturing partners radically faster build speeds, functional parts and breakthrough economics,” said Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3D printing business. “The new HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution delivers a combination of speed, quality, and cost never seen in the industry. Businesses and manufacturers can completely rethink how they design and deliver solutions to their customers.”

One of the companies that will beta test the printer is BMW.

“BMW is a pioneer and early adopter of innovative technologies in the field of additive manufacturing, especially for prototyping in concept cars and series-like approval builds. For our future roadmap toward serial part production and personal customization, we see major potential in our partnership with HP to investigate this new kind of 3D printing technology at an early stage. As one of the first partners, we had the chance to see the constant evolution of the machines over time from the first prototype approximately five years ago to the market ready product that is available now,” said Jens Ertel, head of the BMW Group Additive Manufacturing Center.

A few thoughts:

  1. HP must actually demonstrate that its machine can do what it says it can do. The machine will be beta tested by BMW, Nike, ProtoLabs and others.
  2. According to HP, its new printer can make parts in 12 to 15 hours compared to days for competitive systems. Well, 12 to 15 hours is not production speed. That’s about the amount of time it would take a small block of ice to melt on a May day in Wisconsin.
  3. Where are the materials? Right now, there are no production materials for the HP printer. Some thermoplastics are under development, but this can be a long process, particularly for production validation. By contrast, the new Arburg FreeFormer uses currently available resin.




Additive manufacturing ,

Plastic Wheel: Is It In Your Car’s Future?

Plastic automotive wheel rims may be getting closer to prime time. And the payoff could be big in overall vehicle weight savings.

BASF this month was awarded a U.S. patent for a new concept that overcomes problems with previously developed plastic wheels.

From the patent: “It is already known from DE-U 297 06 229 to produce rims for a motor vehicle from a fiber-reinforced plastic. However, on account of the great forces that are transmitted at the rim, the plastic of the rim does have a tendency to creep, which leads to deforming of the rim.”

The patent drawing depicts attachment of a plastic wheel to a wheel mounting such as brake drum (not shown). The fastener is shown as 9. (USPTO)

The patent drawing depicts attachment of a plastic wheel to a wheel mounting such as brake drum (not shown). The fastener is shown as 9. (USPTO)

Too much fiber loading creates cracks in the rim, which may lead to rupturing.

One of the keys in the new approach is the use of an adaptor for fastening the rim to the wheel mounting. The goal of the design is to transmit force directly from the wheel mounting to the adapter, avoiding formation of damaging stress peaks in the plastic. In the BASF invention, “The force is transmitted to the plastic more uniformly, whereby the risk of damage to the plastic, in particular crack formation, is minimized.”

The rim could be made of any of a number of plastic compounds. The preferential compound comprises a blend of at least two types of polyamides and a high loading of random long glass fibers (45 to 65 percent by weight). One candidate is already commercially available: BASF’s Ultramid Structure, which consists of PA6 and PA66 grades as well as specialty polymers with long glass fiber-reinforcement of 40 to 65 percent.

The adaptor, which could be insert molded, could be titanium, ceramic or some other material. The preferred production method is injection molding or casting.

BASF’s first public venture into plastic wheels was in 2011 when smart and BASF exhibited the first all-plastic wheel rim in the smart forvision, a concept vehicle. The wheel was shown at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt/Main and at the plastics trade fair Fakuma in Germany.

The smart all-plastic wheel rim was said to be over 30 percent lighter than a standard production aluminum wheel. Savings are even greater compared to a steel wheel

Automotive, Design, Europe, Injection Molding, Polyamides , ,

GM Targets SLS For Conformally Cooled Molds

General Motors is developing new mold making technology that reduces skill levels required to design optimum conformal cooling channels as well as improves cooling times.

The technology is interesting for several reasons, including the automaker’s plan to use selective laser sintering (SLS) to produce conformal cooling channels, presumably to mold large interior parts. Use of direct metal SLS in mold making has been slow to develop because of the cost of the equipment and the lack of expertise in its use. Its potential value has never been in question.

Fins (functioning as structural stanchions and designated as 56) are shown in coolant flow cavities. (USPTO)

Fins (functioning as structural stanchions and designated as 56) are shown in coolant flow cavities. (USPTO)

GM’s new approach is outlined in U.S. Patent Application 20160052185 published Feb. 25. The inventors are Jeff Konchan, engineering group manager at GM and Julien Mourou, lead engineer-Advanced Vehicle Development at General Motors.

Layout of conformal cooling channels is traditionally determined by trial and error, a time-consuming process highly dependent on the skill of the mold designer. GM says it has developed an optimization algorithm that can accurately predict where the channels should be located for best cooling performance to reduce cycle times. The method is based on the calculated temperatures of the tool surface elements.

One of the interesting design elements of the invention is the use of “fins” or pillars that act as a structural support for the tool and bear pressure loading during the molding process. They are positioned to establish the coolant flow paths and are sized to ensure that tensile stress, shear stress, and deflection of the tool element are below predetermined maximum limits.

The capability to produce such intricate internal features is only possible with additive manufacturing processes such as SLS.


Additive manufacturing, Automotive, Molds & Moldmaking, South America , , ,

Apple Eyes Expanded Use of Molded Metal Parts

Increased use of molded specialty metal parts appears very much to be in Apple’s future.

In the biggest buzz, Apple will use metal injection molded hinges in a new ultra-thin MacBook, according to sources citing DigiTimes. The report has the business going to Amphenol, which operates metal injection molding in divisions in China and Korea. Business at the China division increased 20 fold since being acquired by Amphenol in 2005.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to impressively ramp up its intellectual property in the bulk amorphous metals technology it licenses from Liquidmetal. Surface topology is manipulated in one new patent application (20160102391) that tackles issues with the difficult processing technology in high aspect ratio parts such as thin sheets. The lead inventor is Chris Prest, director of product design engineering at Apple.

In another interesting new technology in U.S. Patent 9,302,319, Apple describes a process to use a bulk metallic glass feedstock with a dissimilar sheath. The goal of the inventions seems to be the better preservation of the mechanical properties of Liquidmetal finished parts.  


Amorphous Metals, Electronics, Metal Injection Molding (MIM), North America , ,

Igus Expands 3D Printing Services To Include SLS

Igus, a privately owned company based in Cologne, Germany, is rapidly expanding its 3D printing product offerings and services—all focused on its core business of bearings and other motion control products.

The company, a major captive injection molder and specialty plastics compounder, is introducing a new tribological grade of plastics for selective laser sintering (SLS) and will offer printing services on the machine for outside customers starting this summer. The new plastic for wear resistant applications, designed iglidur I3-PL, is said to have at least three times higher abrasion resistance than other SLS materials.

Igus already owns four FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers, and formally launched its FDM services a year ago at Hannover Messe.

3D printed worm gear. (igus)

3D printed worm gear. (igus)

“The laser sintering is known in 3D printing for a much higher precision compared to the FDM process,” says Tom Krause, product manager at igus. “Another advantage of our new material is also that the parts can achieve a much higher strength due to the pressure in the SLS method.”

No support structures are needed in SLS because powder not melted by the laser provides support. As a result, less finishing work is required.

Igus is already offering prototypes and small volume production for four FDM grades of material: iglidur I180-PF, iglidur I180-PF BL, iglidur I170-PF and iglidur J260-PF. Two more materials will be introduced at this month’s Hannover Messe.

Igus operates more than 10 3D printers, some of which are used for internal purposes. One of its machines is an Arburg FreeFormer, which can make complex parts from standard plastics as well as the company’s own proprietary formulations.

One of the company’s applications for its new 3D capabilities is a right-abrasive filament allowing lubricant and maintenance-free movement in a racing car.

A printed component enables new positioning of the suspension stabilizer in a race car developed by a student team at a Bavarian technical high school.

“The teams in the race series ‘Formula Student’ try every season to optimize their cars by new designs and improvements in their vehicles to get advantages over competitors,” says Krause. “By attempting in their race car to run the chassis for the first time through the empty hood the student team how the rod of the suspension stabilizer may be attached. In order to keep the workload and the weight of the car as low as possible, while ensuring the necessary tolerances, the students opted for a solution from the 3D printer.”

Additive manufacturing , ,