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by Timothy W. Womer Director of Research & Development Spirex Corporation
Opening Discussion The first thing we want to know about a plastic extruder is what it is and what it does. An extruder is made of many components (See Figure I) including: ( I) a gear box mounted to a fabricated base; (2) a DC drive motor, driving the box; (3) an integral thrust bearing; (4) a feed throat section; (5) an electrically heated barrel which is either air or water cooled; and (6) the heart of the extruder - the plasticating screw which is the topic of this paper.
Figure 2 accomplished by starting with an increased lead in the feed section and gradually decreasing in pitch as it went toward the discharge end of the screw. In the early days of plastics, rubber extruders were used and were found that the screws for rubber were not adequate enough to put ample amounts of shear into the polymer. (See Figure 3) The resultant screw designs had a constant pitch with varying depths. They would start deeper in the feed and gradually taper shallower in the metering section to apply more work on the polymer as it was going from the feed to the discharge.
What do you want your extruder to do for you? Primarily you want it to produce a continuousshaped product out of selected material or materials. The screw has to lower the material's viscosity so that it will conform to the required shape, and the screw also must generate pressure to force the material into that required shape. Early screws were used to process rubber. (See Figure 2) The rubber screws had very short LIDs and, in order to compress the air out of the rubber. the screws had varying pitches. The varying pitch is what gave the screw its compression. This is
Before we continue, we will clarify some common nomenclature used in screw descriptions. (See Figure 4). The first part of the screw where the material enters through the feed throat in a pellet form or powder form is known as the feed section.
simultaneously are (I) consistent feeding of the resin: (2) uniform melting of the resin; (3) steady pumping of the resin; and (4) homogeneous mixing of the resin. Feeding Mechanism Starting with the feed section, pellets enter the feed throat through the hopper and into the feed section of the screw. Solids conveying takes place at this point. (See Figure 5) Solids conveying is the axial forwarding of the plastic pellets in a downstream direction. (See Figure 6).
Figure 4 This is where the material is conveyed forward and is slightly compacted to start the melting process. As it leaves the feed section it enters the transition section where the root of the screw gradually increases in diameter to apply the needed shear on the material to produce the uniform melt desired. Once the material passes through the transition section it enters a constant depth metering section that is used to pump material against the pressures developed by the downstream die. These three sections in combination are known as the flighted length. Addinz b a common term used in describing ~ screws is their LID ratio. The LID ratio is calculated by dividing the flighted length by the outside diameter of the screw. For example, if a 2 1/2" screw has a fl ight length of 60", the LID ratio of this screw would be 24: I. Another commonly used term in screw description is the compression ratio. The compression ratio is the feed depth divided by the metering depth. For example, if a screw had a feed depth of .450 and a metering depth of .150 it is said to have a compression ratio of 3: I. Four main functions of the extruder screw discussed in this paper that must take place
Figure 6 In order for uniform feeding to take place, the resin must stick to the barrel and slip on the screw to gain maximum output that is known in the feeding mechanism as plug flow. If by chance the material would happen to stick to the root of the screw and slip on the barrel, a melt plug would develop and there would he no forwarding of the resin in the downstream direction. In some cases, some materials feed very poorly. For example polypropylene, some nylons and high molecular weight polyethylene all have very poor feeding characteristics. There are some applications where barrel grooving is necessary. These grooves
picking up heat from the external heating clements. The resultant melt film is then collected uniformly on the push side of the flight. Once it reaches the end of the transition, solids bed breakup occurs and the final amounts of polymer
Figure 7 enhance solids conveying by forcing the pellets to be moved downward in an axial direction. (See Figure 7) Grooving can be done several ways either in axial grooves or helical grooves. Helical grooves typically give 10-15% more efficiency and produce much higher internal pressures than do smooth feed sections. Grooves will increase output by at least 20%. This is done by developing high internal pressures immediately at that start of the feed zone. These high internal pressures enhance the feeding and enhance the melting of the material in the transition section of the screw. Melting Mechanism We have come to the second portion of the screw which is the transition section. (See Figure 8).
Figure 9 are melted through convection heat that surrounds the unmelted particles. The solids bed transitions up the barrel in a helical transition that allows the material to be forced against the barrel uniformly where the solid melt interface and the melt film polymer shear against each other, causing the melt to be collected on the push side. Circular flow occurs in the melt pool due to the pressure differentials that occur in the channel. The push side of the flight has greater pressure and the trailing side of the flight will have a reduced pressure. These pressure differentials are what cause the circular flow of the polymer in the melt pool. As plastic processing became more sophisticated, so did screw design. Back in the late 1950's -early 1960's barrier screws came into play. A barrier screw is a mechanism that increases melting capacities of a screw. Primarily the purpose is to separate the solids bed from the melt pool by a mechanical barrier flight. At the end of the feed section the secondary flight is introduced which is used to capture the molten material formed on the push side of the flight. This is done by means of a barrier that is separating the solids and melt pool. The barrier flight is slightly undercut from the major O.D. of the screw, allowing the melt film on the solids bed to pass over and be collected in the melt channel. There is a variety of barrier screws. The one discussed in this paper
Figure 8 The transition section of the screw is where most of the melting takes places. (See Figure 9) As the resin transitions up the incline of the transition section the pellets are forced against the barrel wall, causing shear on the material as well as
was developed through the Dray-Lawrence patent. The Dray-Lawrence design is designated as a parallel barrier. Spirex's version of this concept is the MeltPro design. (See Figures 10 and II) This screw allows the solids bed width to be held constant and the melt channel is formed by increasing the lead of the main flight lead in the barrier section. This increased lead allows the melt channel to be formed while the barrier flight is held parallel with the primary flight. As the solids channel volume is decreased by becoming shallower, the melted material passes over the barrier flights and into the ever-deepening melt
Figure 13 does not produce as high internal pressures at the end of the transition section as do barrier screws. The barrier screw has a clearance at the end of the barrier, typically equivalent to the barrier flight undercut. Therefore, all the material must pass over a barrier before it exits the barrier section. As a result, 100% melt can be produced before it enters the metering section; whereas in a general purpose screw, 100% melt is not necessarily completed even at the end of the screw. Pumping Figure 11 channel. By deepening the melt channel, less and less shear is applied to the material, therefore reducing the amount of work on it and reducing the amount of shear heat being applied to the material. This type of design gives a more uniform melt temperature as it leaves the barrier section and enters the metering section of the screw. (See Figure 12) Barrier screws, due to their mechanism of melting, produce higher internal pressures through the barrier section helping to increase the melting of the material. (See Figure 13) Whereas a general purpose screw Pumping is the main function of the metering section of the screw. There are three main components that govern the net output of the screw. One component is the drag flow which is positive, the next component is a negative vector caused by the die pressure or the pressure flow, and another negative vector that is the leakage flow or the amount of material that might pass over the primary flight. The length of the metering or pumping section is determined by the head pressure and material viscosity. Mechanism
= n2D2Nh (sin¢)(cos¢)
ideally designed for shear-sensitive materials such as ABS, polycarbonate and rigid PVc. It has very good self-cleaning action and very little dead spots due to the design features. The channels are cut on a helix, therefore, allowinz continuous pumping through the mixing section with little pressure drop and loss of flow rate. Another one of Spirex's mixing devices is the Z-Mixer (Patent #5,318,357). (See Figure 15) The Z-Mixer is primarily designed for polyolefins
Early attempts to deliver a more homogenous melt pool were developed by some pioneers in screw design. One such design was a Dulmaze mixing section that is a multi-flight section tl~lt gives distributive mixing by breaking up the single flow channel in the metering section into a multi-channel flow. Another type of mixing typically used were mixing pins that cause flow disturbances in the melt pool in the metering section. Later, Union Carbide engineers developed what is known as the Union Carbide mixer. A Carbide or Maddock mixer is a dispersive mixer, where the molten material comins off the b metering section is split into many flows. Each flow channel then has to pass over a barrier and exits through the parallel channel into the die. Spirex has done much work in recent years on improving mixing for single screws, both for extrusion and injection molding. One of its earliest patents was the Pulsar® mixing screw (Patent #4,752,136). (See Figure 14) The Pulsar® mixer is a distributive mixer, and is
Figure 15 and styrenics such as high impact polystyrene. This mixer is both a distributive and a dispersive mixer. It first gives the polymer a distribution by taking the single melt flow coming out of the metering section and divides it into three channels. Once it has been divided into three channels it is then dispersed by passing over a barrier land in each channel. Once it has passed over the barrier land it is redistributed again by backflow through flight interruptions in the primary flight. This redistribution occurs many times, leaving a well dispersed melt pool exhibiting properties such as excellent temperature and color homogeneity. Another Spirex mixing device is known as the Flex Flight (Patent #5,071,256). (See Figure 16) The Flex Flight mixing section has a variable pitch barrier flight that passes through the metering section or the screw in between the primary flights. This variable pitched barrier flight is undercut from the primary flight whereby allowing the polymer to be pushed back and forth as the flight varies its pitch through the metering section. It allows the polymer to pass back and
Nomenclature D h N P L e f.l screw diameter metering depth screw speed in rev.!sec. pressure differential through metering length metering length axial flight width resin viscosity helix angle clearance between screw flight and barrel I.D. per side
Figure 16 forth from one side of the channel to the other side of the channel over the barrier, putting shear onto the compound and allowing work to be done for better dispersive mixing. One of the primary features of this mixing section is that it is easily adapted and added to an existing general purpose screw that has poor mixing. The barrier flight can be welded onto the root of the screw and machined to the proper tolerances and clearances to give the mixing needed. Conclusion The plasticating screw is the heart of the extruder and has to perform four main functions: (a) feeding or axial forwarding; (b) uniform melting of the resin; (c) steady, consistent pumping of the melt; and (d) homogenous mixing of the melt pool. Constraints such as head pressure, throughput rates and product quality determine the proper screw design for the application. Recent research on the melting and homogenization of the resin make for better designs and should be explored to stay competitive in today's global market.
References (I) Bernhardt, "Processing of Thermoplastic Materials", Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company
(2) Spirex Corporation, "Plasticating Components Technology", © 1992 Youngstown, Ohio (3) Rauwendaal, "Polymer Hanser Publisher Extrusion",
8469 Southern Blvd .• P.O. Box 9130 • Youngstown, OH 44513 USA (330) 726-4000 • Fax (330) 726-9437 • E-mail: spirex firstname.lastname@example.org • www. spirex.com
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