Micromoulding poster.. - The Micromoulding Interest Group

builderanthologyAI and Robotics

Oct 19, 2013 (4 years and 8 months ago)


injection moulding (micromoulding) is a new and rapidly evolving technology which allows
the production of components with a scale and intricate level of detail not possible using
conventional injection moulding techniques. The field has seen considerable growth in recent
years as manufacturers become aware of the potential to produce components for such
applications as medical implants and Micro Electro
Mechanical Systems (MEMS) for a fraction
of the cost of current fabrication techniques.


Process Data Measurement

The machine used in this study is the Battenfeld Microsystem50, which is one of the first
machines designed specifically to meet the demands of the micromoulding process. A number of
innovations in the machine offer improvements over conventional injection moulding machines
such as integrated clean room and handling modules, high precision shot dosing, minimal melt
residence times and low material waste. The injection unit consists of a 14mm plasticising screw
combined with twin 5mm diameter metering and injection plungers. The metering plunger offers
very accurate dosing control and the injection plunger can attain injection velocities up to
800mm/s, which means the material is introduced into the cavity very rapidly and ensures a
complete product despite the very short freezing times inherent in the process.


Plasticating screw

volume ~6cm, low melt residence times

Metering plunger

max shot volume 1375mm

@ 150Bar back pressure

off valve

prevents back flow of material into screw during transition
from metering to injection chamber

Injection plunger

max velocity 780 mm/s


terminates at the split plane of the mould allowing sprue
moulding and reducing material waste

Rotating Moving Platen

twin mould operation allows handling/packaging
during injection of subsequent shot, reducing cycle times

Handling unit

incorporates machine vision optical assessment allowing
process quality monitoring.

Figure 3: Cut
away diagram showing features of Microsystem50 machine

Figure 1: 0.008g Watch Gear (in production)

Figure 2: 1
µg 5
tooth gear on a rice grain (Accuromm/Juken)

A data acquisition suite was installed on the machine to quantify the injection dynamics of the
system and to monitor the process. The system incorporates the following sensors:

Temposonics R
series magnetostrictive displacement/velocity transducer attached to the
injection plunger.

Dynisco piezo force transducers mounted behind injection plunger and cavity ejector pin
allowing injection/cavity pressure measurement.

type thermocouples providing detailed mould temperature measurements.

The sensor data was recorded using National Instruments E
series data acquisition hardware
linked to a laptop PC running a custom
built application created using Labview software.
Currently four 0
10V inputs and four thermocouple signals can be recorded at sampling rates up
to 30kHz.


A process run manufacturing stepped plaque components using a HDPE
based Hapex
(Hydroxyapatite bone analogue supplied by Queen Mary and Westfield College, London)
material was performed on the Microsystem. In order to assess the sensitivity of injection/cavity
pressure measurements to variations in the process, three different mould set temperatures were
used. The recorded data can be seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Process data indicates cavity pressure readings much more sensitive than injection
pressure readings to process variation

Figure 5: Injection Pressure Curves

Figure 6: Cavity Pressure Curves

Figure 7: Product Masses

Micromoulding Product Assessment

One of the major challenges associated with micromoulded products is how to quantify the
mechanical and morphological properties of the products. The physical size of these products
negates the use of conventional weighing, mechanical property and dimensional testing
methods and alternatives must be sought. Three methods are adopted at the University of

Machine Vision, Atomic Force Microscopy and Nano

Little work has been performed to date exploring the dynamics of the process and the influence
that the high hear rates and rapid cooling may have on the properties of the end product. To
address the knowledge deficit, a two year EPSRC
funded programme based at the University of
Bradford has been completed which has studied many aspects of the technology including cavity
manufacture, process characteristics, materials and product assessment.

It is interesting to note that while the mould temperature variation has a clear influence on the
cavity pressure data, there is no discernable effect on the peak injection pressure values. In
conventional injection moulding, injection pressure data is often used as an indicator of variation
in the process but it is apparent that cavity pressure measurement provides a much more
sensitive tool for micromoulding process monitoring. Measurement of the product masses
showed a distinct variation between the products moulded at each temperature.

Figure 8: Handling unit and CCD camera installation; MV application; 0.0034g ‘top hat’ product; CCD image

Machine Vision Systems

Recent years have seen a large increase in the use of machine vision applications to monitor
manufacturing processes. The systems typically employ a high resolution CCD camera combined
with specialised software applications which are able to identify geometric or surface quality
variations of a product. The installation on the Microsystem50 interfaces with the control system
and allows product quality assessment during the moulding cycle. Products which do not meet the
specified quality criteria can be selectively placed in a reject receptacle for subsequent analysis.

The technology is particularly well suited to the micromoulding process where the small product
dimensions and rapid cycle time make visual inspection by an operator impractical and inefficient.
However, the systems are only able to analyse dimensional properties and cannot provide
information describing the morphology and mechanical performance of the product.

Atomic Force Microscopy

AFM is a surface measurement technique which has evolved since the mid
1980s. An AFM
consists of a probe which holds a micro scale silicon device consisting of a flexible cantilever with
a very fine tip at the unconstrained end. The tip is traversed across a sample material and the
deflection of the tip is monitored using a laser and position sensitive detector.


Nanoindenting is a process in which a very small diamond point is driven into a sample surface
at a constant rate to a specified depth. The force applied to the tip is recorded and the resulting
force/displacement curve gives information which can be used to determine material properties
such as modulus and hardness.

Figure 9: Schematic of Atomic Force Microscope

Figure 10: Microscope image of micro
milled cavity; product surface near gate; product surface 20mm
downstream. Scan size


x 75

Surface roughness and feature replication are of great
interest to the micromoulding community, particularly for
medical implant applications where the surface has a
large influence on the bioactivity of the product. The AFM
has been used to assess the surface replication on a 25
x 2.5 x 0.25mm test plaque component. The cavity was
created with a micro
milling technique using a 0.2mm
cutter rotating at 75 000rpm. It was deliberately left in an
unpolished state so that the transfer of cavity surface
detail to the product could be assessed. Figure 10
indicates that tool scroll mark features of ~6

clearly replicated in the gate region, but were not as well
defined downstream where the pressure was lower.

The morphology of the products was examined by sectioning samples and etching the exposed
surface with a potassium permanganate solution to remove amorphous material and expose the
crystal structure. The resultant surface was then examined using AFM.

Figure 11: Morphology variation of HDPE component ranging from the centre (0.125mm from cavity wall) to
the outer surface

The experiment shows that the rapid heat flow from the melt at the cavity wall prevents the
formation of crystal structures but in the centre of the moulding the formation of banded
spherulites is apparent.

Figure 12: AFM nanoindenting tip

Indenters are available as stand
alone devices, or as
modules which can be installed on an AFM. Indentation
cantilevers are thicker, wider, and longer than standard AFM
cantilevers and are composed of stainless steel, as compared
with silicon or silicon nitride, but are still able to operate as a
standard AFM tip which allows an indent to be performed and
then subsequently imaged by the system in scanning mode.

Figure 13: Modulus and hardness values for 25 x 2.5 x 0.25mm test plaque; thermal image of fixed mould plate

Analysis of both faces of a test plaque component was
performed which showed a variation in mechanical properties

along the length, attributed to the presence of a temperature gradient on the surface of the fixed
half cavity plate, which was affecting the morphology of the product (Figure 13).