Readers looking for fresh perspectives on injection molding will soon find a new and helpful resource in the pages of Plastics Engineering, starting with the July/August issue and repeating five times per year: a regular column titled (and subtitled), “Question Everything… If injection molding means a lot to your business.”
As announced at ANTEC® Indianapolis 2016, the editor and lead author of the column will be veteran molding expert John Beaumont, president and CEO of Beaumont Technologies and the American Injection Molding (AIM) Institute. Occasional guest authors will also contribute their knowledge about new injection molding technologies and problem-solving.
John Beaumont has authored several books on injection molding and is an SPE Fellow, a member of the Plastics Pioneers, and a 2015 inductee to the Plastics Hall of Fame. He’s a former professor and chair of the Plastics Engineering Technology Program at Penn State Erie, and founder and director of the Plastics CAE Center at Penn State. His earlier industrial credits include management positions for Moldflow’s U.S. operations and Ciba Vision Corp.
He now heads both Beaumont Technologies, a pioneer and world leader in in-mold rheological control technologies, and the AIM Institute, which he founded in 2015 with the mission to help advance the injection molding industry by providing high-level educational programs to its practicing professionals.
SPE coordinated with Beaumont to create the “Question Everything…” column’s concept and focus, so Plastics Engineering asked Beaumont and SPE managing director Russell Broome for their thoughts on the state of injection molding—and the industry’s needs for more information about it.
Plastics Engineering: Why is now the right time for creating a regular magazine column devoted to injection molding innovation, issues, and solutions?
Beaumont: Only by questioning what we do today can we advance.
The plastics injection molding industry is nearly 150 years old. During this time there have been significant technological, scientific, and societal advancements. Certainly there have been advancements in the injection molding industry—but most of these are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Also, advancements in the injection molding industry are often dwarfed when contrasted with those made in other industries, such as aerospace, electronics, software, computer science, medical, etc.
For years I have pointed out that in the 1960s we put a man on the moon and an artificial heart in a man—yet today we still can’t even capture actual melt temperatures in a mold. Despite all our hoopla and technologies, we still expect every brand new mold to fail. It’s an accepted standard that the start-up of a new mold is the beginning of a long and costly iterative process of sending the mold back and forth between the molder and mold builder.
The injection molding industry is one of the most complex part formation processes on the planet. We are dealing with a highly complex, [heat-], pressure-, and shear-sensitive non-Newtonian fluid which is simultaneously flowing and freezing as it travels through a mold. The morphology, residual stresses, shrinkage, and warpage of molded parts are significantly influenced by the polymer, mold design, gating strategy, part design, and process.
As a result, too many practicing professionals are willing to accept superficial symptomatic solutions to a problem rather than seek a more complex root cause solution. The root cause solution often is buried in the abstract complexities of injection molding, and requires an investment in time.
In industry, time is money and therefore short-term solutions often will generally suffice. Though many of these can provide relief, these short-term symptomatic solutions can become the norm. They grow into accepted standards and become recognized as state-of-the-art. At this point they are no longer helping—they have become a roadblock to our ability to recognize that there could be a better way.
The best way to advance the industry is to start questioning some of our most coveted standard practices, techniques, and technologies. Question what we think we know. Seek a higher level of knowledge that spreads the think-tank mentality to every practicing professional. With awareness, a critical eye, and higher-level knowledge, one can attempt to solve problems through critical thinking rather than applying paint-by-number industry practices.
Broome: SPE is embracing change in many areas, and one of those is to increase our practical, hands-on information exchange. We are not abandoning the academic, theoretical, R&D niche, but rather expanding our value to a larger sector of the plastics industry: the processor. We will also be even more focused on the materials side of the business, which is of great importance to not only the processor but also the specifier, OEM, or brand owner. When I was a young engineer, I searched for editorial content like [“Question Everything…”].
PE: Injection molding has seen a lot of innovation in recent decades—but so have other plastics conversion processes (thermoforming, extrusion, blow molding, etc.). So why is injection molding so often the first production method mentioned whenever someone talks about “plastics processing”?
Beaumont: I expect it’s partly because injection molding is used more in high-precision, critical applications. Also [these applications] are often the most visible envelopes of both our everyday and high-tech products—from smart phones and computers to coffee makers. It’s often the appearance of these injection-molded packages that gets us to buy a product; they also play a very important role regarding the functionality of nearly everything we touch (look around your desk, office, car, or home).
Other than bottles (for drinks, detergent, soap), most products made by these other methods are not as visible to us—though they may be very important to us. Also they are not normally as sexy. Consider the thin-walled drink bottle vs. the cell phone. We regularly handle both of them, but one is commodity—the other high tech.
Broome: While they are all important processes thriving with innovation, injection molding continues to be the largest sector when it comes to tons of resin processed, machinery sold, and employees involved. This is even evident when looking at demographic numbers within the SPE membership. The injection molding division is the largest at 15%—and twice the size of any other division.
PE: John, what kind of concerns or misunderstandings about injection molding do students of your AIM Institute courses typically have?
Beaumont: Most do not truly understand the complexity of our industry, and with that, do not understand what they do not know. Often they are also expecting a traditional seminar like a training class, rather than an educational program directed to help develop the depth of knowledge that provides for critical thinking and innovative thought.
Many part and mold designers view their subjects from a very mechanical view point—with a limited knowledge and appreciation of the complex contributions and interaction with the polymer and process. Similarly many process engineers and molding technicians have a limited understanding of the complex interaction of the process with the polymer, mold design, and part design. Some are relatively new to the industry, and some are highly trained, skilled individuals with significant experience.
PE: Russell, what have you been hearing from SPE members about the kinds of molding productivity issues they’re dealing with?
Broome: There is a lot of theoretical knowledge available to students and young professionals, but there is a real need to complement that with more hands-on, practical knowledge as well. Many schools are establishing state-of-the-art molding labs or improving existing labs to assist in this manner so the young technician and engineer is best prepared for their first manufacturing job. In a parallel manner, companies are also desperately seeking the next generation of talent to have this kind of practical experience as well. This [magazine column] is one small way SPE can assist in meeting those needs.
PE: What’s an example of a critical technological issue in injection molding nowadays that molders have to understand better, if they’re to stay in business and thrive?
Beaumont:Injection molding will continually become more competitive and technically challenging. Despite this, many of the accepted injection molding process methods taught and practiced today were developed 10 to 20 years ago. Though these practices have played a valuable role, they need to be questioned and further developed. This is one of those industry focus areas where we have become complacent.
Part design practices are heavily based on the use of simple, irrelevant material data, as well as general design guidelines and rules-of-thumb. A higher-level understanding of both design practices and polymer materials is needed. This is significantly challenged by the limited availability of quality, multipoint polymer data that include the influence of temperature, strain, strain rate, time, moisture, and process.
PE: Russell, in addition to his experience and honors, why is John Beaumont a great choice for creating this column for Plastics Engineering?
Broome: Mr. Beaumont, for a long time, has been considered one of the top experts in the plastics industry when it comes to injection molding innovation and troubleshooting. I am always interested in challenging the status quo and shaking things up, which I believe these articles will definitely accomplish.
Look for “Question Everything… If injection molding means a lot to your business” in next issue of Plastics Engineering. Initial topics will concern molding simulation, shrink and warp, using single-point materials data and standards, product design and development, in-mold melt management, process optimization, and, as Beaumont puts it, “bridging materials, part design, mold design, and the process.”