Injection moulding is a manufacturing process that allows for parts to be produced in large volumes. It works by injecting molten materials into a mould . It is typically used as a mass production process to manufacture thousands of identical items. Injection moulding materials include metals, glasses, elastomers and confections, although it is most commonly used with thermoplastic and thermosetting polymers.
The first stage of injection moulding is to create the mould itself. Most moulds are made from metal, usually aluminium or steel, and precision machined to match the features of the product they are to produce.
Once the mould has been created by the mould-maker, the material for the part is fed into a heated barrel and mixed using a helical shaped screw. Heating bands melt the material in the barrel and the molten metal or molten plastic material is then fed into the mould cavity where it cools and hardens, matching the shape of the mould. The cooling time can be reduced through the use of cooling lines that circulate water or oil from an external temperature controller. Mould tools are mounted on plate moulds (or ‘platens’), which open once the material has solidified so that ejector pins can eject the part from the mould.
Separate materials can be combined in one part in a type of injection moulding called a two-shot mould. This technique can be used to add a soft touch to plastic products, add colours to a part or produce items with different performance characteristics.
Moulds can be made of single or multiple cavities. Multiple cavity moulds can have identical parts in each cavity or can be unique to create parts of different geometries. Aluminium moulds are not best suited to high volume production or parts with narrow dimensional tolerances since they have inferior mechanical properties and can be prone to wear, deformation and damage due to the injection and clamping forces. While steel moulds are more durable they are also more expensive than aluminium moulds.