Innovative Plastics and Molding (IPM) has added a Canadian patent to its U.S. patent for a technology that utilizes fluid assist to produce molded parts with a high natural-fiber content for a superior stiffness-to-weight ratio, as well as cost advantages. Robert Joyce, IPM's founder and inventor of the process technology, told PlasticsToday that his technology allows loading of natural fibers, like jute or wood flour, at levels of up to 40%-50%. In addition to reducing part weight and boosting fiber content, the process speeds cycles by augmenting cooling. The fluid-assist technology, which preferably utilizes nitrogen, according to Joyce, is key for producing molded parts with high natural-fiber content.
In addition to targeting thick-walled parts, Joyce said the process imparts higher heat-deflection temperatures to its compounds, particularly for natural fibers, getting up to 300°F. Joyce's work on the technology goes back a decade, with initial research involving calendaring sheet. He was granted the Canadian patent (2,547,523) on Sept. 14, 2010 for a molded article with a cellular wall having cavities comprised of a wood flour and polyolefin. The U.S. patent (7,214,420) was awarded in May 2007.
By forcing the melt against the tool-cavity walls, Joyce said his technology also promotes heat transfer from the part and serves to reduce sink and warpage, with 40% reduction in cycle time possible. The fluid-assist technology also improves fiber dispersion while eliminating weld lines on the part surface.
In terms of potential applications, within automotive Joyce thinks load floors, headliners, cargo trays, seats, doors, and appliqués are likely targets. Within furniture, frames, seat backs/bottoms, and arms hold promise, while in building and construction, he thinks floors, walls, siding, windows, doors, cabinets, and acoustical ceiling tiles are workable. The company is also working on designs for luggage, trays, containers, and pallets.