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technology | In-line compounding PHOTO: KRAUSSMAFFEI

Above and right: IMC is used for automotive parts such as technical front ends, as well as large non-auto parts like pallets

following cooperation with the University of Toronto, Krauss- Maffei began offering IMC with the Trexel Mucell physical foaming process, which the machinery maker markets within its CellForm brand of physical and chemical foaming technologies. KraussMaffei does not say

how many systems it has sold, only noting that IMC technology is in use worldwide. Most units are understood to be operating at customers in Europe, many of them making automotive parts. In principle, IMC can be used for producing and

processing various types of compounds, but today most systems are used with long fibre reinforced compounds (LFTs). Stefan Fenske, Technology Manager for IMC (and also for KraussMaffei’s FiberForm technology for production of parts by overmoulding of thermoformed “organic” sheets or tapes—typically continuous fibre reinforced polyamide), says it is best suited for produc- tion of parts with high shot weights. “The higher the shot weight, the higher the material cost saving potential,” he explains, adding that IMC also appeals to companies with requirements for special compounds.

Meeting expectations Fenske says IMC has met KraussMaffei’s expectations and believes there is considerable potential for further development, such as the process combination with physical foaming. He says KraussMaffei is working on further developments in processing of LFTs, particu- larly polyamide-based types, taking advantage of the ability of the process to incorporate in-line drying. There is also a development focus on carbon fibre processing. KraussMaffei is carrying out joint research and development with customers for special blends and

38 INJECTION WORLD | September 2016

compounds, too. “A lot of institutes and universities in Germany and worldwide have an IMC to perform their own research and development. Here, customer trials are possible as well,” Fenske says. The company recently, for instance, highlighted the installation of an IMC system at the Automotive Centre Südwestfalen (ACS) in Germany, a research and knowledge transfer centre focused on alternative materials and new technologies for weight reduction in cars. So what does Fenske think has stopped rival equipment companies being successful with similar development paths? Has it been superseded by processes for direct incorporation of continuous fibres into injection moulding machines without the need for a separate compounding unit, the rise of ready-made LFT compounds, and processes such as KraussMaffei’s own FiberForm? Not the latter, at least. “The IMC has its own target

group,” Fenske says. “The main advantage is to save costs on material cost level compared to

standard injection moulding with fibre-

reinforced injection moulding material (LFT pellets). FiberForm is a technology to increase the mechanical

properties of plastic parts tremendously by the introduc- tion of an organic sheet. IMC has not been superseded by the FiberForm, or any other KraussMaffei technology, but rather fits in seamlessly in our overall technology portfolio.”

Alternative solutions Other companies have developed rival systems with varying degrees of success. Husky unveiled a system in 2006 using a compounding extruder operating discon- tinuously but, since it decided to concentrate on packaging applications for its injection moulding machines, that project has died. Husky partnered with Coperion (Coperion Werner & Pfleiderer at the time) in developing the “ILC” system, which combined a Husky Quadloc machine and Coperion ZSK70 twin screw extruder. At least one system was installed at a global Tier 1 automotive supplier. PlastiComp, a pioneer in LFT technology, launched Pushtrusion direct inline compounding and moulding of LFTs in 2006. This combined its well-known pultrusion- type process for impregnating continuous rovings with a thermoplastic directly with a standard injection moulding machine. At the time, PlastiComp said Engel would make Pushtrusion technology available as an option on its Combi series injection moulding machines


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