Stop chasing shorts and flash in medical device mould production by using 100% vision inspection

This month we look at the problem of flash and shorts in injection moulded medical device products and what the benefits are of automating an inspection process for flash and short detection. Medical devices are generally made up of an assembly of smaller plastic components, which together form an assembly. This could be part of a syringe system, testing kit, injection pen, sterile pack, caps, inserts, tubes, inhaler and medical tool holders – or a large assembly, such as breathing apparatus, medical machinery or diagnostic kits. Whatever the assembly or medical kit, the tolerances and fit of the medical device are normally of utmost importance, especially as most devices will be filled with a pharmaceutical drug of some kind or be used in a clinical setting. Flash and shorts could cause leakages, changes to the operation of the device, assembly faults or simply look bad to the user. Flashes and shorts in medical device components need to be rejected before they have a chance of reaching the end-user or the pharmaceutical supplier.

There are many things that can cause flash in plastic injection mouldings, such as mismatched parting lines, bad venting, low clamping pressure, low viscosity, and uneven flow. Some of these problems are caused by the tools, while others are caused by how the tools are used in the moulding machine.

Parting Lines that are mismatched: Dust, dirt, contaminants, and leftovers can make it hard for the two halves of an injection mould to fit together properly. If the holes in the mould are worn, they won’t fit together as well either. The metal surfaces of mould plates can also be deformed by pressure, and complicated part shapes can make it hard to close the mould.

Wrong Venting: Vents that are too big or too small can let out too much or too little air, depending on how old and worn they are. If the vents aren’t deep enough, stiff plastics may be able to stick out, and if the vents aren’t thin enough, fluids may be able to pass through.

Low Clamping Pressure: During injection moulding, the pack/hold phase makes sure that the cavity is completely filled, but it can also force the mould open. Even if the mould halves fit together tightly, plastic could leak out of the mould if the clamping pressure isn’t strong enough to stop this force.

Low viscosity and uneven flow: Depending on how the plastic is processed, it may flow too easily or fill the mould too quickly. For example, melt temperatures that are too high, residence times that are too long, moisture left over from drying that wasn’t done well enough, and using too many coolants.

Shorts, also called “short shots,” are parts that aren’t filled with enough plastic and often don’t have any details because of this. Sinks and parts that aren’t packed tightly enough can sometimes be caused by shorts or be a sign that shorts are starting. There are many things that can cause shorts, and it is important to figure out what they are before trying to fix them. A common cause is that the venting isn’t set up right, so gases can’t escape and plastic can’t flow into the cavity. Another common cause is that the non-return valve on the screw isn’t closing properly, which lets plastic flow backwards as the machine injects.

Many of the actions taken to eliminate flash can result in shorts and vice versa. These actions can be made via changes to the process, mould, or combination of the two. Whatever the solution to eliminate flash and shorts, there’s always the possibility they will be introduced into the product at a later date, and so 100% automated inspection of flash and shorts for medical devices is a perfect solution to stop bad products from getting into the market.

So you have your machine set and production running, but many process engineers end up chasing the process and firefighting the moulding processing, and so moving the goalposts between shorts and flash if the process starts to go out of sync. Using automated inspection can help control this problem and reduce the chase! The vision inspection systems can be interfaced directly with the Injection Moulding Machine (IMM), with products falling out of the tooling on the outfeed conveyor, which in turn can be the in-feed conveyor for a vision inspection machine.

Vision inspection of mould defects is achieved by moving the product either directly into a bowl feed for movement passed the cameras or via using a cleated belt conveyor, allowing the IMM robot to deliver the product to pockets which the vision system robot can pick and introduce into the inspection machine.

Vision systems for flash and short detection can find and measure the fault size, and even the XY location of the flash on the part, allowing statistical process control data of the medical device flash and short position to be logged, allowing process engineering to investigate the root cause of the problem. And remember, it is also possible to check for other defects during the inspection process, so if weld lines, chips, cracks, particulates or distortions are also an issue with the process, these can be incorporated into the automated inspection process. Automated inspection should form part of the validated process for medical device production.

The vision system allows 100% inspection of every moulded product, giving reassurance that the final product delivered to the customer is of the correct quality level, will fit, and won’t cause a leak! This allows you to stop the chase, knowing your flash and shorts will be automatically sorted and rejected at source.

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