Plastic Injection Molding
Injection molding is a popular manufacturing process for producing large quantities of plastic parts from materials called thermoplastics. It’s the process of melting plastic, injecting it into a mold then repeating the process to make thousands or even millions of the same part.
ICOMold provide custom plastic injection molding for customers worldwide, in a variety of industries. We are the low-cost leader for high-quality injection molded plastics with a fast turnaround.
Count on the ICOMold difference. We are the injection molding company of choice for customers worldwide, across various industries. Headquartered in Hartland, Wisconsin, we have been in the plastic injection molding business and a plastic mold maker since 2003. Our customers range from first-time inventors all the way up to Fortune 500 companies. We are an ISO 9001:2008 certified injection molding company, as well as a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) in the state of Ohio.
Low Cost: We leverage an offshore injection mold manufacturing facility with a lower cost structure in order to offer lower pricing than our purely domestic competitors.
High Quality: We are ISO 9001:2008 certified, and our process quality systems ensure that your parts are the highest quality possible for your application.
Quick Turnaround: We offer three different shipping methods, including next day air, to accommodate your timing and budget requirements.
Online Quotes: Our interactive online quotation system provides INSTANT quotes for plastic injection molding, CNC machining and urethane casting.
Plastic injection molding is a manufacturing process for producing large quantities of plastic parts. Injection mold manufacturing is typically used when the same part is being created thousands or even millions of times in succession and a plastic mold maker is needed to handle the production of these products.
ICOMold has been a leading plastic injection molding company since 2003, and is headquartered in Northwest Ohio. We have proudly produced plastic injection molds and plastic parts for companies in the United States, Europe, Australia, Asia and South America. We’ve done custom plastic injection molding projects for various industries including medical, automotive, sports, hunting/camping, electronics, food/beverage, containers, packaging and more.
Our custom molding process begins with our instant online quote system. The online system also provides quotes for CNC machined plastic prototype parts. ICOMold provides inexpensive custom molds and injection mold plastics, and typically charges 30%–50% less than other plastic fabricators.
We offer multiple options for types of injection molds based on their expected production cycles and the warranty they carry. There are various options for our “in-house” injection plastic molds – those which you own but we run your parts in our factory – and for our “export” molds – those which we manufacture and ship to you to run your parts in your facility or a facility of your choosing. For a complete description of all our in-house and export injection molds, please visit the Mold Types page.
We use steel to make a plastics mold as opposed to aluminum for several reasons, including durability and the ability to injection plastic mold complex parts. There are also various types of steel used for a mold for plastic. While P-20 is considered the workhorse of the industry, we will also use other steel types depending on the situation and requirements.
Whether you need a plastic injection molding company to build molds for plastic injection and produce your plastic parts, or you’re just looking for an export mold to produce plastic parts in your own facility, with your own plastics for injection molding, we’re ready to get the job done correctly and quickly.
About Injection Molding
Injection molding is the most common modern method of manufacturing plastic parts. It is used to create a variety of parts with different shapes and sizes, and it is ideal for producing high volumes of the same plastic part. Injection molding is widely used for manufacturing a variety of parts, from the smallest medical device component to entire body panels of cars. A manufacturing process for producing plastic parts from both thermoplastic and thermosetting materials, injection molding can create parts with complex geometries that many other processes cannot.
The first step of getting a plastic part injection molded is to have a computer-aided design (CAD) model of the part produced by a design engineer. The three-dimensional (3D) CAD model then goes to an injection molding company where a plastic mold maker (or toolmaker) will make the mold (tool) that will be fitted into an injection molding machine to make the parts.
Molds are precision-machined usually from steel or aluminum, and can become quite complex depending on the design of the part. Plastic materials shrink at different rates when they cool, so the mold has to be constructed with consideration for the shrinkage rate of the material being used for the parts. In other words, a formula is applied in the construction of the mold to slightly increase the size so that when the plastic shrinkage occurs, the part will be to the dimensional specifications of the CAD model.
Injection Molding Basics
The actual process of plastic molding is just an expansion of this basic process. The plastic goes into a barrel or chamber by gravity or is force-fed. As it moves down, the increasing temperature melts the plastic. Then, the molten plastic is forcibly injected into the mold under the barrel with an appropriate shape. As the plastic cools, it solidifies. The plastic molded like this has a reverse shape of that of the mold. A variety of shapes can be produced by the process. The process of plastic molding is cheap due to the simplicity involved, and the quality of the plastic material is modifiable by changing the factors involved in the custom injection molding basics process:
- The pressure of injection can be varied to change the hardness of the final product. Injection pressure causes the material to flow. Pressure increases as mold filling becomes more complex. There is a direct relationship between injection pressure and injection line pressure.
- The thickness of the mold affects the quality of the part produced. On average, the minimum wall thickness of an injection molded part ranges from 2mm to 4mm (.080 inch to .160 inch). Parts with uniform walls thickness allow the mold cavity to fill more precisely since the molten plastic does not have to be forced through varying restrictions as it fills.
- The temperature for melting and cooling determine the quality of the plastic formed. In plastic injection molding, the temperature of the melt in the cavity is generally between 200 and 300 degrees, the melt is formed in the cavity, cooled, and solidified into a product profile.
The Plastic Mold Manufacturing Process
Plastic injection molding is a manufacturing process where resin in a barrel is heated to a molten state, then shot into a mold to form a part in the shape of the mold. The resin begins as plastic pellets, which are gravity fed into the injection molding machine through a funnel-shaped hopper. The pellets are fed from the hopper into a heated chamber called the barrel where they are melted, compressed, and injected into the mold’s runner system by a reciprocating screw.
As the granules are slowly moved forward by a screw-type plunger, the melted plastic is forced through a nozzle that seats against the mold sprue bushing, allowing it to enter the mold cavity through a gate and runner system. The injection molded part remains at a set temperature so the plastic can solidify almost as soon as the mold is filled.
The part cools and hardens to the shape of the mold cavity. Then the two halves of the mold (cavity or “A” side and core or “B” side) open up and ejector pins push the part out of the mold where it falls into a bin. Then the mold halves close back together and the process begins again for the next part.
Injection Molding Plastic
When it comes to injection molding plastics, there are a few options available in the industry:
- Crystalline Plastics
- Amorphous Plastics
- Imidized Plastics
- Polyethylene (PE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
- Polyoxymethylene (POM)
- Polystyrene (PS)
Choosing the right injection molding plastic for your custom injection molding project is an important decision. Plastic materials look and behave differently based on the characteristics of their chemical makeup. Based on the part’s intended application and functionality, important material properties must be considered, such as durability, flexibility, performance, texture, density and color.
History of Injection Molding
The plastic injection molding process is generally dated back to 1868, when John Wesley Hyatt of billiard ball maker Phelan and Collander was searching for a suitable replacement material for the ivory in billiard balls. Hyatt invented a way to inject celluloid into a mould that processed it into a finished form. In 1872 John and his brother Isaiah patented the first injection molding machine. This machine was relatively simple compared to the complex machines used by today’s injection molding companies. It consisted of a basic plunger to inject the plastic into a mold through a heated cylinder. The industry was slow to adopt the injection molding process, eventually beginning to produce plastic items such as collar stays, buttons and hair combs. Not until the 1940s did the concept of injection molding really grow in popularity because World War II created a huge demand for inexpensive, mass-produced products.
The plastics industry was revolutionized in 1946, when James Hendry built the first screw injection molding machine with an auger design, replacing Hyatt’s plunger. The auger mixes the injection molded material in a cylinder and pushes the material forward, injecting it into the mould. This allowed colored plastic, or recycled plastic, to be mixed in with the virgin material before getting injected into the mould.
Today, screw-type injection molding machines account for 95% of all injection machines. The industry has evolved immensely over the years due to technological advancements and machine automation. It has come from producing combs and buttons, to a multitude of custom injection molded products for virtually every industry including automotive, medical, construction, consumer, packaging, aerospace and toys.
Plastic Injection Molds
Injection molds, or mold tooling, are the formed halves that come together in the injection molding machine to be filled with molten plastic and produce the plastic parts in their image. The cavity side, or “A” side, is typically the half which will form the “best” surface of the part, and the core side, or “B” side, will typically show the visual imperfections caused by ejector pins because the parts get ejected from this half.
Injection molds are manufactured by machining or by Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM). Standard machining was the traditional method of building injection molds with a knee mill. Technology advanced the process, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining became the predominant method of making complex molds, with more accurate details, and in less time than the traditional method.
EDM is a process in which a shaped, copper or graphite electrode is slowly lowered onto the mold surface, which is immersed in paraffin oil. Electric voltage applied between the tool and the mold causes spark erosion of the mold surface in the inverse shape of the electrode. EDM has become widely used in mold making – many injection mold companies now have EDM in-house. The process allows the formation of molds which are difficult to machine, such as those with features such as ribs or square corners. It allows pre-hardened steel molds to be shaped without requiring heat treatment.
Compared to other plastic manufacturing processes such as CNC machining or 3D printing, injection molding has a high up-front investment because the tooling is expensive. However, for large production runs of thousands or even millions of identical parts, injection molding is typically less expensive in the long run, despite the high initial tooling investment, because of a lower piece price at high volumes. In addition, it is a much faster manufacturing process than the others mentioned.
Molds can be made of pre-hardened steel, steel that is hardened after the mold is produced, aluminum, and/or beryllium-copper alloy. The choice of mold material is determined in part by the number of parts to be produced.
Steel molds will generally have a longer lifespan, so a higher initial cost will be offset by longevity – it will be capable of producing a higher number of parts before wearing out. Pre-hardened steel injection molds are less wear-resistant than those hardened by heat treatments after they are machined, so they are used for lower volume part requirements.
Depending on varying economic conditions and material origin, aluminum molds can in some cases cost substantially less than steel molds. Aluminum molds have a quick build time, and can produce faster cycle times because of better heat dissipation than steel. Beryllium copper can also be used in areas of the injection molds that require fast heat removal, or in areas where the most shear heat is generated.
Additional complexity can be added to injection molds in order to produce more complex plastic parts. In the basic process of injection molding, the two mold halves separate at the end of the molding cycle and the part is ejected. In this simple case, the part design cannot have any overhanging or undercut part features, because the mold halves would catch on each other when pulling apart.
So, to accommodate part features such as undercuts, molds can be augmented with side-pull mechanisms called slides. Slides move into a cavity in a perpendicular direction from the draw of the mold halves to form the undercut feature, then stationary angle pins on the stationary mold half pull the slides away when the mold is opened. The pins enter a slot in the slides, and cause them to move backward when the moving half of the mold opens, like a cam. Then the part is ejected, the mold closes, and the slides move forward along the angle pins as a result of the closing action of the mold.
Multiple-Cavity Molds (Family Molds)
In addition to a single plastic part being produced in a molding cycle, the mold can also be designed to produce multiple numbers of the same part in a single shot. A tool with one impression is often called a single impression (cavity) mold, whereas a custom injection mold with two or more cavities of the same part is referred to as a multiple impression (cavity) mold. The number of impressions in the mold is often incorrectly referred to as cavitation. Some extremely high-volume molds – like those for bottle caps – can have over 128 cavities.
A multiple impression (cavity) mold may also be referred to as a “family” mold. However, a family mold is more accurately defined as one which can produce multiple, like-sized parts in the same quantity, color and material. Family molded parts are often part of an assembly, such as a mating top half and bottom half.
Overmolding is a plastic injection molding process which is very useful for producing multi-material parts with some unique properties. For instance, this process can be used to add a second part, of a different material, for a handle or grip. Picture a power tool with a grip made out of a softer material than the body of the tool. Similarly, a game controller can be manufactured with different textures of plastics on the body of it.
Basically, a previously injection molded part of one material (the substrate) is re-inserted into an injection molding machine, and a different material (the overmold) is injected to form a new layer over the first part.
Some specialized injection molding machines have two or more injection units that can “overmold” in a single molding cycle. For example, “two-shot,” or “multi-shot” injection molds first mold a basic shape in a base color of plastic material, then the second material, of a different color, is injected into the remaining open spaces to produce a one-piece, multi-color plastic part.
Overmolding is not as straightforward as injection molding a part out of a single material, and it is not without its limitations. One consideration is that the two materials must be compatible, chemically and thermally. Since plastic materials have different melt temperatures, the substrate material must have a higher melt temperature than the overmolding material, otherwise the original part would melt and deform when the overmolding material is injected.
Metal, ceramic or plastic pieces can be inserted into the molten thermoplastic to form multi-material, robust parts with additional functionality. For example, threaded metal inserts can be molded into the parts to allow them to be attached to other parts.
Insert molding can reduce cost by embedding secondary parts into the plastic injection molding process, as opposed to installing the parts after molding. By integrating the inserts at the time of molding, the parts become more robust compared to staking the pieces in post-molding. Of course, the insert pieces must be able to withstand the high temperature and pressure of the injection molding process.
Insert molding is naturally a more complex process that standard injection molding, so some injection molding companies are more experienced in the process than others. For low-volume production runs, a machine operator may load the inserts into the mold by hand, prior to the plastic injection cycle. For high-volume production runs, however, it is common to use automated machinery to place the inserts into the mold.
Molding Cycle Time
The sequence of events during the manufacturing is called the cycle. It begins when the mold closes and the polymer is injected into the mold cavity. When the cavity fills, the mold maintains a holding pressure to account for material shrinkage.
Then, the screw turns, and the next shot moves to the front of the screw. This causes the screw to react, and, once cooled, the mold opens and the plastic part removed.
A formula can be used to determine the cycle time of injection molding. The time it takes to make a part using injection molding is calculated as:
Total time = 2M + T + C + E
(2M) = Twice the Mold Open/Close Time
(T) = Injection Time (S/F)
(C) = Cooling Time
(E) = Ejection Time (E)
(S) = Mold Size (in3)
(F) = Flow Rate (in3/min)
The mold closing and ejection times of injection molded parts can last from less than a second to a few minutes, depending on the size of the mold and machine. The cooling time, which dominates the process, depends on the maximum thickness of the part.
Optimizing the injection molding process is essential because it affects cost, quality, and productivity. Some of various optimization checks include:
• Optimize the holding time by conducting gate seal or gate freeze studies
• Conduct a cooling time study to optimize the cooling time for an injection molded part
• Pressure drop studies determine if the machine has enough pressure to move the screw at the set rate
• Perform viscosity curves to determine injection speeds
• Vary the melt temperatures and holding pressures to optimize the process window
When an injection molding job is being set up for the first time and the shot size for that mold is unknown, a molding trial will be conducted to get everything “dialed in.” The mold technician will usually start with a small shot weight and fill the mold gradually until it is 95 to 99% full. Then a small amount of holding pressure is applied, and the holding time is increased until gate freeze off (solidification time) occurs on the injection molded part. Gate solidification is important because it determines cycle time, and cycle time is a crucial determinant in the efficiency, and therefore the economics, of the production process. If the parts have sink marks, the holding pressure will be increased until they are minimized and the part weight is achieved. Once the settings are settled in and the injection molding machine is making good parts, a setup sheet is produced for standardizing the process for future production runs.
Advantages of Injection Molding
The major advantage of plastic injection molding is that it is very cost effective and fast. Unlike a “cutting” manufacturing process, injection molding reduces the possibility of undesired sharp edges. This process produces smooth and finished products that require no further finishing. Not only is the injection molding process simpler and more reliable than others methods, but it is also extremely efficient. Here are some of the top advantages of the injection molding process:
Fast and efficient: The plastic injection molding process is extremely fast compared to other methods and the high production output rate makes this process even more efficient and cost-effective. Once the injection molds have been designed to specifications the actual molding process is very fast compared with other methods of molding, allowing for more parts to be manufactured from a single mold. Manufacturing speed is dependent on the complexity of a mold design, but on average only about 15 to 30 seconds pass between cycle times.
Complexity of part design: Injection molding can handle extremely complex parts, and uniformity, as well as the ability to make millions of virtually identical parts. Since the plastic injection molds are subjected to extremely high pressure it is possible to add a large amount of detail to the part’s design.
Waste reduction: A high-volume injection molding company shares a commitment to quality, sustainability, and optimal safety. The benefit to the environment is by only using required amount of plastic to build parts. Recycling excess plastic benefits environment and minimizes waste.
Lower labor costs: Much of the injection molding process is automated and controlled by a single operator or mold technician. This keeps labor costs at a minimum. The molding equipment typically runs with a self-gating, automatic tool to keep operations streamlined and production ongoing, requiring minimal supervision.
Strength: While it is possible to use fillers in the injection molds, these fillers reduce the density of the plastic while being molded and help add to its finished strength after the molding process. Finding the proper balance of design considerations determine the part’s need for strength and stability. The strength and durability of plastics has increased over the years. Modern lightweight thermoplastics can withstand even the most rugged environments.
Versatility in materials and color: Choosing the right material and color for a project are two of the essential factors in creating plastic parts. One mold can produce may variations of your product. Color and material type are relatively easy to change in injection molding machines.
Equipment for Plastic Injection Molding
Plastic injection molding machines – called presses – consist of a material hopper, a screw-type plunger and a heating unit. Presses clamp the mold to the platen of the machine, where plastic is injected through an orifice to create the finished plastic injection-molded piece.
Plastic injection molding machines are rated by tonnage, which calculates the amount of clamping force the machine can exert. Such force keeps the mold closed during the plastic mold manufacturing cycle. The projected area of the part being molded determines the total tonnage needed. This area is then multiplied by a clamp force of 2 to 8 tons per square inch of the projected areas. The stiffer the plastic material, the more clamp tonnage is required to hold the mold closed. Generally, 4 to 5 tons per inch are used or most plastic injection molding projects.
Today, electric injection molding machines are favored over traditional presses. Electric presses require 80% less energy consumption and offer nearly 100% repeatability. Though the cost of electric presses is 30% higher, greater demand for plastic injection-molded parts has largely closed the gap on cost.
Injection Molds: Aluminum vs. Steel
The choice of material to construct a plastic injection molded part is often a question of budget and the desired end-product.
Historically, injection molds were created from steel and were expensive to manufacture. They were typically only used in large-scale productions when thousands of parts needed to be produced.
Today, aluminum molds cost substantially less than traditional steel injection molds. When higher-grade aluminum like QC-7 or QC-10 is used with modern computer equipment, it can economically mold thousands of parts. Aluminum molds offer faster cycles and quick turnaround because of enhanced heat dissipation.
Steel molds cost more to build, but their longer lifespan often offsets higher initial costs. High-grade steels like H-13 and S-7 are tough metals, withstanding wear and constant pressures of plastic injection molding. Steel grade PAS940 is prime for transferring heat. Stainless steel injection molds are commonly used for larger components or clear parts, like lenses.
Whether we use aluminum or steel to make your mold, ICOMold uses cutting-edge CNC machining and electrical machining to meet your exact specifications.
Cost of Plastic Injection Molding
The cost of manufacturing plastic molds depends on numerous factors, like the size of the mold/parts, complexity of the design and the number of cavities in the mold. While the initial manufacturing cost might seem high, the price-per-piece is relatively low. In short, the final cost correlates with quantity – greater quantities mean overall price decreases. Learn more about injection molding cost.
Variations of Plastic Injection Molding
Most plastic injection molding processes are covered by the methods described above. However, several important molding variations include, among others:
- Co-injection molding
- Thin-wall molding
- Rubber injection
- Low-pressure plastic injection molding
- Inset and outset plastic molding
Plastic Injection Molding Companies and Services – Why Choose ICOMold
Whether you’re engineer, industrial designer or a vehicle parts manufacturer, you may have a need for an injected-molded plastic part. And it’s difficult to confidently move forward with the design and manufacture of the part when you have minimal experience.
Count on the ICOMold difference – we have a strong plastic injection molding foundation, which gives us the ability to avoid common mistakes, make smart decisions and execute your next part project with ease.
We’re ISO 9001:2008 certified, which means we’ve streamlined our process and produce fewer defects when compared to the competition. These quality systems also allow us to offer top-notch plastic mold manufacturing at competitive prices.
Go to our plastic injection molding and CNC machining case studies page to see how we helped customers on their projects.