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April 1, 2002

3 Min Read
Removing the magic from MIM

By: Carl Kirkland

Ample evidence of the profitable business growth being enjoyed by Polymer Technologies Inc. (PTI) is apparent when touring the company's factory in Clifton, NJ. You saw it yourself if you joined us in our tour of PTI in the November 2001 issue of IMM (p. 86). A molder of exotic plastics and a MIM molder of equally exotic heavy metals for military, aerospace, and medical markets, PTI has never been content to rest on its laurels. It continues to push the leading edge of the technological envelope for itself and for others, and has continued to do so since our tour.

This new 300 Series pusher from CM Furnaces will be used by PTI and its strategic allies to develop the world's first closed loop furnace control system to take the black art out of sintering.

The first new thing you notice out on the manufacturing floor is a brand-new 150-ton tiebarless Engel injection molding machine with Engel's advanced CC 100 controls. Like the other 16 presses at PTI, the new Engel is custom built to PTI's proprietary specifications for running either plastics or feedstocks. Unlike the others, the new 150-tonner represents the results of a project financed by a grant from the NIST (the U.S. Dept. of Commerce's National Institute of Standards & Technology). PTI's project goal in this case was to develop nothing less than an ideal MIM machine.

The Engel is equipped with a special screw and barrel codesigned by Engel and PTI to make the machine capable of molding feedstocks with higher solids loadings than are presently used. Higher loadings mean less shrinkage and that means faster overall cycle times and more predictable results. The machine has only recently arrived, so PTI has yet to put it through its paces. Meanwhile, PTI has petitioned the NIST for funding for yet another ambitious project, and is confident that it will be successful.

Working with several strategic allies, PTI has taken the lead in developing what it calls "an innovative knowledge-based system for the rapid expansion of the net-shape manufacturing industry via PIM." The goal of this project is to develop the world's first fully closed loop control system for MIM furnaces. If successful, the project could take the guesswork out of sintering, and grow the PIM marketplace for everyone.

Magic No, Science Yes

PTI and Engel have codeveloped an injection molding machine specially designed for molding MIM feedstocks with higher solids loadings to improve productivity.

There are eight members of the strategic alliance PTI has formed to pursue this goal. They include end-use customers, OEMs like CM Furnaces Inc. (Bloomfield, NJ, www.cmfurnaces.com), and the Center for Innovative Sintered Products at Penn State (University Park, PA, www.cisp.psu.edu). Also involved is CompAS Controls Inc. (Indiana, PA, www.comp-as.com), a software developer for the thermal processing industries.

Hill Nandi, president of CompAS, says batch furnaces tend to be much easier to control than continuous furnaces. There is a lot more potential for variations in higher-volume continuous furnaces, and a lot more black art is brought to bear to make the process more repeatable and reliable.

CompAS is developing software to model what goes on inside a continuous furnace, use data from sensors to measure the temperature inside parts moving through, compare them to optimum settings, and make on-the-fly changes to the control systems in real time to achieve best results. It also is developing an easy-to-use Windows-based GUI that can interface with any furnace OEM's system.

"I believe closed loop control could save end users anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 per year in production costs by improving productivity and part quality," Nandi says. Like the work being done with the Engel press, the closed loop furnace control technology will be disseminated throughout the PIM industry.

Contact information
Polymer Technologies Inc.
Clifton, NJ
Neal J. Goldenberg
(973) 778-9100, ext. 103


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