High performances for biopolymers, too

One of the production units of iHR Solution, specialists in injection systems, hot runners and control units

Hot runners have a decisive impact on the cost-effectiveness and quality of moulded parts, and it is therefore crucial to choose the right one

by Gianandrea Mazzola

Innovation imposes shorter and shorter times to market. Therefore, when embarking on a new business venture, it is strategically important, particularly when it comes to building a new production plant, to choose partners capable of offering both design and technological expertise. Accordingly, Ancona-based Plasteel Group, specifically targeting those who espouse this philosophy, provides the mould and injection moulding sector with all-round support, ranging from the construction of moulds to the supply of technical products and services. iHR Solution, one of the four companies comprising the group (see box at page 37), specialises in the design and production of hot runner injection systems, an area in which it has proprietary technology, including several patented features.

Faster colour changes and lower energy consumption

This Marche-based company is justifiably proud of its technical department, which boasts a considerable depth of know-how as well as a PDM system that allows it to work highly efficiently, reducing design times and eliminating the possibility of errors. «Our expertise translates into solutions providing high added value and uncompromisingly high quality» says Michele Ranco, CEO of Plasteel Group.

“Our hot runner systems, for the user, are reflected in numerous operational and process benefits”
Michele Ranco

«Our hot runner systems stand out for several very clear strengths that, for the user, are reflected in numerous operational and process benefits.
One of the main ones is that colour changes can be carried out in half the time compared to the traditional solutions available on the market. This is made possible by technology developed and patented by iHR, such as the Topless T tip».
Another advantage, equally interesting and positive, is the lower energy consumption; this stems from the careful attention paid to the development of the injection systems. «They are designed with screwed nozzles; moreover, the geometries and masses are optimally sized and proportioned in order to minimise energy dissipation and provide greater thermal insulation, so as to protect the mould.
These are characteristics that allow our injection systems to work, on average, at 15-20% of the machine’s installed power» Ranco points out. What is more, the technical department has further optimised these levels of efficiency and performance by managing to convey the plastic material inside the mould cavity, reducing pressure drops to a minimum, especially towards the gate. «The front gate area uses an innovative and patented system that, thanks to the low pressure drop, keeps material stress to a minimum, and this has the benefit of ensuring greater thermal uniformity of the polymer» the manager goes on.

More efficient PLA moulding
From 2021 onwards, all disposable plastic products for which there exist alternatives will be banned. This means no more plastic cutlery, plates, cotton buds, straws, drink stirrers, balloon sticks, and so on. This ban has not given rise to any undue alarm among industry operators, who are already taking steps to find a solution, so as not to lose this market. One such operator is Florida of Grottazzolina (Fermo, Italy), which has decided to increase its range of plastic – and other – items for bars and ice cream parlours by adding a line of compostable polylactic acid (PLA) ice creams tubs and spoons. Resistant to fats, oils and many chemicals, this biopolymer has good barrier properties against oxygen and aromas, although it is a poorer barrier against water vapour. It is also perfectly transparent and resistant to temperatures of up to about 45°C, and is therefore ideal for producing containers with aesthetic and mechanical characteristics similar to those of polystyrene, but suitable only for drinks and cold foods. Its disadvantages include its moderately corrosive effects and the abrasive effects of the additives added to the compound. The production conversion process began with the mould, whose design and construction Florida entrusted to iHR Solution. The project entailed both the creation of a new mould and the adaptation of an existing system for PLA moulding, with the two operations following same construction criteria. Both applications demanded a careful study of the materials, in order to choose the correct balance and minimise the pressure drop inside the system. The technicians also took meticulous care over special surface treatments for the mould cavity and the development of an ad hoc hot runner injection system, capable of ensuring very precise temperature control. The material chosen was stainless steel, in order to avoid wear and corrosion problems. The mould for the tubs (1 mm thick) was equipped with a hot runner from the iSystem 12 line, which features four gates directed on the component, whereas the mould for the spoons (15 cm long) has an iSystem 7 hot manifold system, with a special manifold balanced on the 24 gates. The project also entailed the creation of containment plates and Hot-Half systems to provide an advanced interface with the mould, comprising three plates for the tub and two for the spoon respectively.

Ease of maintenance

iHR Solution pays particular attention to productivity and efficiency. «Each of our hot runner injection systems is designed and built as a single piece that, as far as the components subject to wear are concerned, can be very easily maintained.

And it is this simplicity that keeps the global performance of the system constant over time» Ranco explains. It is also worth noting that the hot runners developed by the company are characterised by a high level of technological flexibility, which means that they can easily be adapted to operational requirements. «The system can be rapidly upgraded to match any change in requirement«» he continues. «For example, a customer might start off using the system in a pin gate modality, and subsequently switch to the more performing needle-valve modality. Obviously, the system needs to be correctly prepared and set up beforehand, but the time frame and costs of the work are unambiguous. In short, it ensures maximum versatility and interchangeability of components to perfectly reflect the growing needs of the customer» Ranco underlines.

More efficient PLA moulding
• fast colour changes
• lower energy consumption
• low operating pressures
• thermal uniformity of the material
• simple installation and maintenance
• versatility and interchangeability of components

 

More than just nozzles and Hot-Half systems

iExpert-C control unit

The iHR Solution product range, in addition to hot runners, includes screw-type single nozzles, Hot-Half plates, as well as electronic and electrical monitoring components and equipment, specifically «Temperature control units that govern our hot runner systems and carefully monitor the application parameters, providing us with useful data and information, also in relation to alarms, as well as direct evidence of actual energy savings» Ranco says. In detail, iHR’s single nozzles can be divided into four categories, called: Single standards, Individual Eco-Line, Individual Mini-Mould and Multi-Tip. These different solutions allow the company to meet all kinds of needs, ranging from requests for the most economical solutions, for the moulding of commonly used amorphous polymers, to solutions for high-performance technical polymers, able to ensure an excellent finish at the injection point and elimination of all possible material loss. «We also offer Hot-Half systems as an advanced interface with the mould. In this way, through a specific design, we are able to meet the increasingly pressing needs coming from the plastic moulding world» Ranco continues.

These Hot-Half systems are produced completely wired, assembled and tested, in order to maximise their performance. This makes for faster assembly on the mould and faster maintenance. «On the basis of individual needs, we can design the best Hot-Half solution, adaptable to any type of mould holder, thereby eliminating all possible installation errors».

About Plasteel Group
With a growing turnover amounting to more than 13 million euros and a staff of around 90 people, Plasteel Group (Ancona, Italy) is a partner able to meet the needs of both moulders and mould manufacturers, offering them, through its four companies, a wide and diversified range of solutions. These four companies are: iHR Solution (injection systems, hot runners and control units), Ranco (standard components and special products for moulds destined to the processing of plastics and sheet metal), Tecnostar Group (Serie Europa and Piastre P platens) and Technology & Solution (laser machines for welding, hardening and engraving). The group places its expertise and know-how at the service of both the Italian and the international markets, with exports accounting for 20% of its business. In a bid to become even more competitive, the group has launched a campaign to streamline its production processes, in which it invested 2.5 million euros in 2018 and is expected to make further investments in 2020.

The added value of simulation

Another important aspect to underline is the support that iHR Solution offers, in the form of simulations, rheological analyses and feasibility studies, to those wanting to control, improve and optimally manage the moulding process and moulded parts. «The initial analysis allows us to verify, in a virtual way, the functionality of the injection system itself, and thus to identify the best possible configuration, reducing errors and any loss of time. It also allows the customer to optimise the mould design and anticipate problems that may arise during the moulding phase» Ranco says.

iHR Solution offers the opportunity of simulating the injection process of the part as an integrated aspect of its technology

Injection simulation, combined with the specific expertise developed by the company, which is always in close contact with its customers/partners through co-design and co-engineering activities, serves to bring the virtual world, like that of CAE analysis, closer to the real one. In this way, simulating alternative technical solutions makes it possible to reduce the project start-up costs related to its actual implementation phase. «Because we have the possibility of simulating the use conditions of needle-valve systems, without having to wait for the actual moulding, we can optimise the positions and the balancing of the sequential closing of the needles from as early as the initial design stage. Investing in preventive analyses is becoming more and more important and strategic as a factor contributing to the success of a project.

The possibility, through the software, of changing the design, process and hot channel in the initial phase will translate into considerable savings, both of time and money. Because, this way, the mould and the injection system are correctly designed and constructed from the very start» concludes Michele Ranco

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