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Blow molding

Blow molding or blow forming is a manufacturing process by which hollow plastic parts are formed. In general, there are three main types of blow molding; Extrusion Blow Molding, Injection Blow Molding, and Stretch Blow Molding.  

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Blow molding of plastics represents a logical progression from the tradition of making glass bottles by blowing a bubble of molten glass into a mold.

U.S. Patent 237,168  was issued on February 1, 1881, to Celluloid Novelty Co. and Celluloid manufacturing Company, New York. This was the first patent for the processing of extruded polymer into a parison for blow molding.

The first applications for blow molding were for cellulose nitrate, and later, in the 1930s, for cellulose acetate. Blow molding remained a relatively small part of the plastics manufacturing scene until the introduction of Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) in the 1940s. The production of LDPE squeeze bottles by Monsanto caused a rapid expansion of the industry, with containers produced to replace glass bottles for shampoos and liquid soaps.

The mass production of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) in the 1950s led to a further increase in blow molding demand, for applications such as liquid detergents, motor oil, water and milk. The lightweight HDPE one gallon milk container revolutionized the dairy industry, as glass bottles and paperboard were quickly replaced.

The production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) led to the viability of reheat stretch blow molding. The strain hardening properties of PET allowed the high volume production of bottles able to resist the carbonation pressure in soft drink applications. The high clarity and economics of PET stretch blow molding have made this a popular production method for bottles for water, detergents, and other products.

Extrusion blow molding

  In Extrusion Blow Molding (EBM), plastic is melted and extruded into a hollow tube (a parison). This parison is then captured by closing it into a cooled metal mold. Air is then blown into the parison, inflating it into the shape of the hollow bottle, container or part. After the plastic has cooled sufficiently, the mold is opened and the part is ejected.

EBM processes may be either continuous (constant extrusion of the parison) or intermittent. Types of EBM equipment may be categorized as follows:

Continuous Extrusion Equipment

Intermittent Extrusion Machinery

Examples of parts made by the EBM process include dairy containers, shampoo bottles, hoses/pipes, and hollow industrial parts such as drums.

Basic polymers, such as PP, HDPE, PVC and PET are increasingly being coextruded with high barrier resins, such as EVOH or Nylon, to provide permeation resistance to water, oxygen, CO2 or other substances. In dairy applications, it is possible to extrude a black light-blocking layer in the center layer of containers, with opaque white resin used in the inner and outer layers.

Compared to injection molding, blow molding is a low pressure process, with typical blow air pressures of 25 to 150 psi. This low pressure process allows the production of economical low-force clamping stations, while parts can still be produced with surface finishes ranging from high gloss to textured. The resulting low stresses in the molded parts also help make the containers resistant to strain and environmental stress cracking.

Injection blow molding

The process of Injection Blow Molding (IBM) is used for the production of hollow glass and plastic objects in large quantities. In the IBM process, the polymer is injection molded onto a core pin; then the core pin is rotated to a blow molding station to be inflated and cooled. This is the least-used of the three blow molding processes, and is typically used to make small medical and single serve bottles. The process is divided into three steps: injection, blowing and ejection.

The injection blow molding machine is based on an extruder barrel and screw assembly which melts the polymer. The molten polymer is fed into a manifold where it is injected through nozzles into a hollow, heated preform mold. The preform mold forms the external shape and is clamped around a mandrel (the core rod) which forms the internal shape of the preform. The preform consists of a fully formed bottle/jar neck with a thick tube of polymer attached, which will form the body.

The preform mold opens and the core rod is rotated and clamped into the hollow, chilled blow mold. The core rod opens and allows compressed air into the preform, which inflates it to the finished article shape.

After a cooling period the blow mold opens and the core rod is rotated to the ejection position. The finished article is stripped off the core rod and leak-tested prior to packing. The preform and blow mold can have many cavities, typically three to sixteen depending on the article size and the required output. There are three sets of core rods, which allow concurrent preform injection, blow molding and ejection.

Another application of injection blow molding is in the production of soft elastic gelatin capsule for pharmaceutical applications. Two strips of gelatin are pressed together in a rotary die which cuts out the desired shape of capsule while the fill liquid is injected. Afterwards, they are cooled and dried to yield a firm, strong capsule.

Stretch blow molding

In the Stretch Blow Molding (SBM) process, the plastic is first molded into a "preform" using the Injection Molded Process. These preforms are produced with the necks of the bottles, including threads (the "finish") on one end. These preforms are packaged, and fed later (after cooling) into an EBM blow molding machine. In the SBM process, the preforms are heated (typically using infrared heaters) above their glass transition temperature, then blown using high pressure air into bottles using metal blow molds. Usually the preform is stretched with a core rod as part of the process. The stretching of some polymers, such as PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) results in strain hardening of the resin, allowing the bottles to resist deforming under the pressures formed by carbonated beverages, which typically approach 60 psi.   The main applications are bottles, jars and other containers. The Injection blow molding process produces bottles of superior visual and dimensional quality compared to extrusion blow molding. The process is ideal for both narrow and wide-mouthed containers and produces them fully finished with no flash. A sign of injection blow molding is the seam where the two halves of the mold meet.

This picture shows what happens inside the blow mold. The preform is first stretched mechanically with a stretch rod. As the rod travels down low-pressure air of 5 to 25 bar (70 to 350 psi) is introduced blowing a 'bubble'. Once the stretch rod is fully extended, high-pressure air of up to 40 bar (580 psi) blows the expanded bubble into the shape of the blow mold.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Blow_molding". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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