Steam-assisted molding is taking on physical and chemical foaming as a preferred way to lightweight automotive components.
The technology is already well established in Asia to make parts for consumer electronics, such as television frames.
For example, there are more than 500 installations globally of Yudo Sun’s Rapid Isolation Cooling & Heating – (RICH) Steam Heating Technology. Major customers include Samsung and LG electronics.
Yudo has an integrated Steam Generator (Electric Boiler System) that can produce saturated steam at pressures of up to 25 BarG giving a Maximum Steam Temperature of 225 Celsius (437F)
It’s a variation of “heat/cool” that involves bringing the mold cavity surface temperature close to the plastic melt temperature to improve the component surface aesthetics. The mold is heated by flowing steam through channels located close to the cavity surface. Steam is replaced with chilled water in the same mold channels to cool the mold.
A new generation of RICH Equipment was launched last year in which (on the larger models – RICH5–R and RICH7-R) the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System is integrated into the main cabinet with steam generation and control equipment. A heat exchanger was incorporated to utilize the energy from steam coming back from the mold tool..
Raymond Foad, a UK representative of the technology, tells The Molding Blog that development efforts are focusing on automotive components that can be lightweighted. That’s an area where foaming technologies such as MuCell have been making headway. Foad claims that the steam-assisted approach can achieve a better surface finish.
He says there are also process advantages: “Reducing the wall section of a plastic part typically increases the plastic filling pressure significantly however, with RICH technology, the retardation of the instantaneous frozen skin layer can result in filling pressure reductions of over 50 percent.”
There are no royalty requirements, a lesson Foad learned from the gas-assist business.
The RICH system is not being used now in series production in the United States or Canada. Trials are under way, however.
There are several suppliers of steam heating auxiliary equipment in Asia.