Increasing the energy efficiency of injection molding process

21/08/2019

Summary

The main objective of the project idea is to develop an innovative solution according to Industry 4.0 requirements for increasing the energy efficiency in injection molding process and thus optimization of energy and material consumption inside the injection molding production cycle, when producing complex metal-plastic parts. After reviewing existing solutions in the tool-and-plastic market, there is currently no such solution available that would specially focus also on metal inserts since majority of solutions is focused strictly on the mold and injection molding machine side.

Technology Description

When producing different complex plastic parts, the optimal energy consumption in injection molding process plays a significant role that affects production efficiency and economical aspect of final produced parts. In injection molding heating of mold, metallic inserts and plastic material needs to be precisely controlled to prevent excessive energy consumption. In case of plastic parts in which metal insert needs to be correctly inserted/positioned using a robot and injected, the optimal temperature of metal insert plays a significant role that affects the final part quality. Precise temperature control during heat-up and steady state along with IR temperature feedback measurement on metal inserts and mold surface is a precondition for producing quality parts with visually acceptable surface. The reduction of electrical energy usage along with plastic material and carbon footprint is one of the priorities that are in line with the EU's commitments to reduce excessive emissions and achieve environmental goals.

The main objective of the project idea is to develop an innovative solution according to Industry 4.0 requirements for increasing the energy efficiency in injection molding process and thus optimization of energy and material consumption inside the injection molding production cycle, when producing complex metal-plastic parts. After reviewing existing solutions in the tool-and-plastic market, there is currently no such solution available that would specially focus also on metal inserts since majority of solutions is focused strictly on the mold and injection molding machine side.

The heat increase that is introduced inside the mold once the correctly heated metal insert based on artificial intelligent (AI) algorithms and temperature measurements with IR camera is inserted inside the mold would allow for smart balancing of temperature field inside the mold, and also lower electrical energy and material consumption. Lower electrical energy consumption would be reached by special AI algorithms that would constantly control the temperature of metal inserts and mold. Lower material consumption would be reached by optimized process parameters in real time that are constantly monitored using the appropriate communication protocols that would help also to increase the overall effectiveness of production (OEE).

Main advantages

  • Reduce the time interval for the start-up phase of the mold from heat-up of metal insert and its precise mold positioning to production of functionally and aesthetically relevant products by 30% as a result of implemented AI algorithms
  • Increase of overall energy efficiency by minimum 10% due to precise heat-up prior and during production of complex metal-plastic parts
  • Decrease of the final product price by 12% due to lower amount of waste and polymer material usage, and consequently reduction of CO2 emissions into the environment
  • 10% decrease in total production costs due to integrated operation in the company's information ecosystem (just-in-time ordering of material, exact time of service, automatic reservation of free capacity of machines and optimisation of machine utilisation, temperature control of the machine and tools ...)
  • 8% increase of production efficiency due to real-time adjustment of real-time process parameters
  • Significant improvement of quality control processes due to the complete traceability of technological information during the production process.

Short payback period of investment in this solution is approximately 2.5 years

Stage of development

The technology is in the TRL 3- experimental proof of concept.

Up to now the entire model of the cell is prepared, sensors and measurement systems have been tested, also the communication between 6-axis robot with the injection molding machine is done, still some accuracy issues due to vibrations need to be solved with other robot grippers along with above mentioned AI algorithms for the optimization of the injection molding process. The special AI algorithms that would be further developed would allow efficient temperature control of inserts, mold and polymer material heating and thus lower the energy and material consumption by taking into account also the real-time process parameters obtained from the injection molding machine.

 

Challenge and needs

The proposed mechatronic system is an innovative solution for producing complex metal-plastic parts in accordance with I4.0 guidelines and is intended for increasing the energy efficiency during and after metal inserts heat-up, and thus optimization of energy and material consumption in the injection molding production cycle. It responds to the needs of the economy, is an innovative and economically profitable investment that stands out for technically fully automated excellence in plastics processing sector. It allows the reduction of production setup time, increased overall energy and production efficiency, decrease of total production and part costs, more than 12 % reduction of CO2 emissions and cost-effective investment with short payback period. Inventors are focused on plastics sector and tool production sector which are both related to automotive sector where their biggest market niche lies. Here different metal-plastic parts need to be precisely manufactured in order to be properly installed inside the car.

Intellectual property

Technology is protected by a patent P-201300358.

Potential markets and targets

The proposed innovative mechatronic system can be potentially used in conventional and other more professional approaches of injection molding, such as two or more component injection molding, foam, gas and water injection molding etc... The main target is highly concentrated on the plastics and tooling production sector in Slovenia and abroad.

The proposed project idea is fully in line with the development strategies of Slovenia and will make a significant contribution to the implementation of the strategic development goals defined in the national strategy documents. The project is in line with the Operational Program for the Implementation of the European Cohesion Policy for the period 2014-2020, in particular with the thematic objectives of priority axis 1, priority investment 1.1. "Strengthening research, technological development and innovation", which predicts a greater focus on target markets and less fragmentation of scientific and technological development in Slovenia. The project focuses on the key development and technological challenges of modern times, that is, the digitisation of production, which requires significant interdisciplinary and complementary research and development activities.

Potential partners

Potential partners that could co-develop this technology (proposed project idea), are mainly small and medium-sized enterprises whose goal is to research and develop flexible robot cells that can be easily connected to injection molding machines, innovative mechatronic system and the companies which can offer its technical know-how on injection molding machine communication and AI algorithms. Welcome are also partners who have the potential and experience in developing modern and innovative solutions in the area of automatization and optimization of the injection molding processes.

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