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MIM (Metal Injection Moulding

)

1. INTRODUCTION

Metal injection moulding (MIM) has over the past decade
established itself as a competitive manufacturing process
for small precision components which would be costly to
produce by alternative methods.

It is capable of producing

• in both large and small volumes

• complex shapes

• from almost all types of materials including
metals, ceramics, intermetallic compounds, and
composites

Metal injection moulding (MIM) is a development of the
traditional powder metallurgy (PM) process and is rightly
regarded as a branch of that technology.

• The standard PM process is to compact a
lubricated powder mix in a rigid die by uniaxial
pressure, eject the compact from the die, and
sinter it.

Quite complicated shapes can be and are regularly being
produced by the million, but there is one significant
limitation as regards shape.

• After compaction in the die the part must be
ejected, i.e. pushed out of the die cavity.

It will be obvious, therefore, that parts with
undercuts or projections at right angles to the
pressing direction cannot be made directly.

That limitation is substantially removed by the
metal injection moulding process developed during

can be handled safely and sintered in much the same way as traditional die compacted parts.000 pieces to $0. for that reason. COMPARISON WITH COMPETITIVE TECHNOLOGIES MIM (Metal Injection Moulding) is essentially a technology for producing complex shape parts in high quantities. generally superior to those of traditional PM parts. for the smallest part weighing 4. and most of us come into contact with them in some form or other every day. if the required number of complex parts is higher than a certain amount MIM is cheaper than machining. However.ceramic or metal powders . for example. although fragile. MIM would in most cases be too expensive.2 for 3 million or more. The use of injection moulding for the production of quite intricate parts in a number of plastic materials has been known for many years. Some improvement is made possible by the use of solid fillers .but the real breakthrough occurred when it was found possible to incorporate a very high volume fraction of metal powder in a mix so that.5g the cost per part falls from $1. After sintering densities of 95% or more are reached and the mechanical properties are. The effect of the volume production on cost shows that. for engineering applications these thermo-plastic materials have quite inadequate mechanical properties. One important feature of such parts is that they are relatively cheap . instead of a filled plastic part. the last decade and now expanding rapidly. for example. If the shape allows the production of the part by. • A typical competing process to MIM is investment . 2. Careful removal of the plastic binder leaves a skeleton of metal or ceramic which.4 for an annual production of 250. This figure also shows the influence of part size on the cost factor .000 and 3 million pieces. conventional pressing and sintering. However. a plastic-bonded metal or ceramic part is produced.the bigger the part the smaller is the gap between the cost of 250.

however.and many shapes that are possible by MIM cannot be produced by other routes.In this way it is not difficult to ensure close dimensional tolerances. MIM PROCESS Fundamental requirements of MIM in each step of the process: • Metals Powders • Binders • Mixing • Moulding • De-binding • Sintering • Post-sintering operations Mechanical properties of MIM • components Carbonyl Iron Powder CS(Courtesy of BASF. the situation is quite different. as the as-moulded part is called. casting and the table below compares the characteristics of parts produced by the two processes. • The 'green' compact. In regard to many features MIM comes out on top. With injection moulding. 3. MIM certainly has advantages compared with investment casting in the case of high part numbers of castings. contains a high volume . However this does not tell the whole story. Germany) Introduction In the traditional PM process it is normal to produce after sintering a part having dimensions very close to those of the original compact. and of course in non-castable alloys. Table: Comparison of parts manufacturing processes in terms of shaping capabilities.

plain and low alloy steels. the mix must become rigid on cooling. stainless steels.as much as 50% . Aluminium is an exception because the adherent oxide film that is always present on the surface inhibits sintering. the granulometry of the powder. high speed steels. and to some extent. therefore. percentage of binder . However. o However. o The viscosity at the moulding temperature must be such that the mix flows smoothly into the die without any segregation. is also uniform.and during sintering a large shrinkage occurs. though large. It is. if the mix has been made correctly. . and the viscosity should be as constant as possible over a range of temperature. MIM has an advantage over conventional PM in so far as the density of the metal in the compact is. Carbonyl Iron Powder OM (Courtesy of BASF. uniform throughout and the shrinkage. magnetic alloys and hardmetals (cemented carbides). o This eliminates the possibility of warpage that can result from non-uniform density in a die-compacted part. o The rheological properties of the feedstock. are of major importance. superalloys. Germany) Metal Powders Almost any metal that can be produced in a suitable powder form can be processed by MIM. These requirements dictate the properties of the binders used. that is the powder/binder mix. The list of metals that have been used includes many common and several less common metals and their alloys . a major requirement of the sintering process to ensure that this shrinkage is controlled. • In this regard. the most promising candidates from the economic point of view are the more expensive materials. Let us look first at the powders. intermetallics.

sinter more readily than coarser powders would. which means that powders having a high packing density are indicated. but there are a number of limiting factors. Average particle size and particle size distribution are also important : • Fine powders which. but the risk of the skeleton going out of shape during the debinding process is increased: (there is no metallurgical bonding between the particles as happens in a die pressed compact). unlike alternative processes that involve machining. In the real world. This is accounted for by the fact that. seem to be desireable. for high packing density and low cost ( (mixture of lower cost large particles and higher cost small particles) • No agglomeration predominantly spherical (or equiaxed) particle shape sufficient interparticle friction to avoid distortion after binder removal • Probably a an angle of repose over 55 degrees small mean particle size for rapid sintering. the choice is restricted to what is available. therefore. . therefore. The term 'suitable powder form' deserves clarification. • Spherical or near spherical shape should. as is well known. Ideal powder is said to be as follows: • Tailored particle size distribution. and it can be seen that the issue is not clear cut .there are conflicting requirements. Scrap is of lesser significance in the case of inexpensive metals. The table below compares the different powder production techniques and their relative cost for MIM powders. be preferred. there is practically no scrap which helps to offset the high cost of producing the powder in the required form. below 20 micron dense particles free of internal voids minimized explosion • Toxic hazards clean particle surface for predictable interaction with the binder. of course. Particle shape is important for a number of reasons: • It is desireable to incorporate as high a proportion of metal as possible. but growing demand has stimulated a major effort by powder manufacturers to produce powders to meet the special requirements of MIM.

It is. • A major objective is to ensure that the whole of the surface of each particle is coated with binder. For these it is necessary that a shearing action takes place. Moulding The machines used for this part of the MIM process are substantially the same as those in use in the plastics industry. These pellets can be stored and fed into the moulding machine as required. however. As has been indicated earlier the least possible amount of binder should be used. the saving must be such that it more than offsets the increased cost of the mould. To be worthwhile. The screw from which the mix is extruded into the die cavity is heated and the nozzle temperature carefully controlled to ensure constant conditions. • A method of reducing the unit cost of parts is to use a mould with multiple cavities so that several parts are produced at each injection. In industrial practice.it must be low enough to ensure that the compact is rigid when it is removed.Mixing • Tumbler mixes . but the appropriate volume ratio of binder to powder depends on the powder characteristics. therefore.7. • The die temperature also is controlled . • Here it is usual to convert the mix into solid pellets by a process referred to as granulation.such as are widely used for the dry blending or mixing of powders are of little use for MIM mixtures.double cone mixers for example . more relevant when very large quantities of a particular part are to be produced. De-binding The removal of the binder from the green part is a key stage of the process and one that requires . • Several different types are available: • Z blade and planetary mixers are examples. the ratio varies from about 0.5 to 0.

Other less commonly used binding processes use gelation. and freezing of an aqueous slurry containing also organic ingredients.at a temperature below the melting point of the metal.  The second debinding process applicable to certain binder systems only. and equipment has been developed whereby catalytic debinding and sintering can be executed on a continuous production basis. e. During debinding the strength of the compact decreases markedly and great care is necessary in handling the 'brown' parts as they are called.  This must be done with great care in order to avoid disruption of the as-moulded part. . the time being dependent. The recent introduction of catalytic debinding of polyacetal MIM feedstock using gaseous nitric acid or oxalic acid has greatly reduced the time for debinding. and/or evaporate.sometimes in vacuum . on the thickness of the thickest section.  The process normally takes many hours. and in this connection the use of binders with several ingredients which decompose or evaporate at different temperatures is advantageous. There are two basic processes:  Heating of the green compact to cause the binder to melt. with mixtures of cellulose and gums. Sintering This is the name given to the heating process in which the separate particles weld together and provide the necessary strength in the finished product.most careful control. Normally heating is required as a final step to complete the removal by evaporation. decompose. • Because it is essential to avoid oxidation of the metal. inter alia. is to dissolve out the binder with suitable solvents such as trichlorethane. the atmospheres used are generally reducing. • Sintering in MIM is substantially the same as that used for traditional PM parts. • The process is carried out in controlled atmosphere furnaces .g.

• The fact that the powders used are very much finer in MIM than those used in PM means that sintering takes place more readily by reason of the higher surface energy of the particles. • The final part has a density closely approaching theoretical.e. of course. such atmospheres have the further advantage of reducing any oxide existing on the surfaces of the powder particles. if at all. . the atmosphere must contain a carbon compound or compounds so that it is in equilibrium with the steel. • As the 'brown' part is extremely porous. below those of wrought metal of the same compositions Post-Sintering Operations The properties of MIM components can be improved by many of the standard processes that are applicable to wrought metals and/or PM components Mechanical Properties of MIM Components The attached table lists typical mechanical property data for a range of materials processed by MIM. Apart from protecting the metal. usually greater than 97%. This surface oxide is. it must neither carburise nor de-carburise the steel. greater in total the finer the powder and so is of greater significance in MIM than it is with traditional PM. and the mechanical properties are not significantly. For many metals a straightforward atmosphere containing hydrogen is all that is required. a very large shrinkage occurs and the sintering temperature must be very closely controlled in order to retain the shape and prevent 'slumping'. • The exact composition of the sintering atmosphere used depends on the metal being sintered. but in the case of steels which have carbon as an essential alloying element. i.

MIM PRODUCTS Metal injection moulding (MIM) has over the past decade established itself as a competitive manufacturing process • for small precision components which would be costly to produce by alternative methods. eject the compact from the die. pushed out of the die cavity. intermetallic compounds. • After compaction in the die the part must be ejected. . that parts with undercuts or projections at right angles to the pressing direction cannot be made directly. but there is one significant limitation as regards shape. business equipment. therefore. and sinter it. • The standard PM process is to compact a lubricated powder mix in a rigid die by uniaxial pressure.e. but the data in the table below are indicative. chemical. and composites. MIM and Powder Metallurgy Metal injection moulding (MIM) is a development of the traditional powder metallurgy (PM) process and is rightly regarded as a branch of that technology. i. • It is capable of producing in both large and small volumes • complex shapes • from almost all types of material s including metals.Comparison with wrought materials is not straightforward because data for identical compositions are not available. 4. computer hardware. ceramics. aerospace. It will be obvious. bio-medical and armaments. Components made by MIM technology are finding new applications in industry sectors such as automotive. • That limitation is substantially removed by the metal injection moulding process developed during the last decade and now expanding rapidly. • Quite complicated shapes can be and are regularly being produced by the million.

• One important feature of such parts is that they are relatively cheap. a plastic-bonded metal or ceramic part is produced. generally superior to those of traditional PM parts.ceramic or metal powders . • Careful removal of the plastic binder leaves a skeleton of metal or ceramic which. Metal and Ceramic Material Some improvement is made possible by the use of solid fillers . although fragile. can be handled safely and sintered in much the same way as traditional die compacted parts. for engineering applications these thermo-plastic materials have quite inadequate mechanical properties. instead of a filled plastic part. • However.Plastic Material The use of injection moulding for the production of quite intricate parts in a number of plastic materials has been known for many years. After the feedstock has hardened there. the mould is opened by opening the clamping unit. for that reason. 5. It is then injected under high pressure into the cavity of the mould inserted into the clamping unit. • After sintering densities of 95% or more are reached and the mechanical properties are. the moulded part is ejected by the ejector and is .but the real breakthrough occurred when it was found possible to incorporate a very high volume fraction of metal powder in a mix so that. MIM WORK SEQUENCES ANIMATION Click here to start downloading the animation Information courtesy of ARBURG GmbH The Injection cycle consists of several stages The production of an injection-moulded part from the feedstock is comparable with the injection- moulding of plastics. The binder component of the compound is melted in the injection unit and is again kneaded through the screw during dosage. and most of us come into contact with them in some form or other every day.

by way of special hardening or alloys). and the nozzle out of which the compressed and heated material is injected under pressure into the mould. and also a moving mounting platen. Finally. reject and good parts can be identified and automatically separated. Click here to start downloading the animation . due to the abrasive properties of the powder / binder melts. As early as during the production process. thereby guaranteeing that executed production cycles can be reproduced. the heating system which controls the temperature of the compound. a normal screw-type injection moulding machine consists of a clamping unit. All defined adjustment parameters can be saved on data mediums. The wide range of automation possibilities means that uncomplicated series production of components made of metal powder is easily possible. The structure of an injection moulding machine In general. However. The mould. the moulded part can be removed The structure of the injection unit The machine's injection unit principally consists of the screw.g. the material can be injected. such as sliding bars. cavity pressure transducers etc. the controller coordinates all movement and production sequences of the powder injection moulding machine. is securely fitted in the clamping unit. If the mould is opened due to the clamping unit being open.picked up by a robotic handling unit. it is possible to use moulds with the features normally used for working plastics. unscrewing units. The injection moulding machines are equipped with computer controllers and monitors to allow ease of use. core pulls. When the clamping unit and therefore the mould is closed. attention should be paid to providing protection against wear (e. The clamping unit itself has a stationary platen. Due to the fact that material and mould changing can be carried out manually in as short a time as under 20 minutes allows just-in time production in line with requirements. referred to as the fixed mounting platen. The mould To inject powder materials. which transports the compound and compresses it so that is free of bubbles. an injection unit and a controller. consisting of two halves.