Abstract

There are two processes used in the production of thermoplastic foams, namely, foam extrusion and structural foam injection molding (Benning 1969; Frisch and Saunders 1973). Foam extrusion, in which either chemical or physical blowing agents are used, is the focus of this chapter. Investigations of foam extrusion have dealt with the type and choice of process equipment (Collins and Brown 1973; Knau and Collins 1974; Senn and Shenefiel 1971; Wacehter 1970), the effect of die design (Fehn 1967; Han and Ma 1983b), the effect of blowing agents on foaming characteristics (Burt 1978, 1979; Han and Ma 1983b; Hansen 1962; Ma and Han 1983), and relationships between the foam density, cell geometry, and mechanical properties (Croft 1964; Kanakkanatt 1973; Mehta and Colombo 1976; Meinecke and Clark 1973). Chemical blowing agents are generally low-molecular-weight organic compounds, which decompose at and above a critical temperature and thereby release a gas (or gases), for example, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide. Examples of physical blowing agents include nitrogen, carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons (e.g., trichlorofluoromethane, dichlorodifluoromethane, and dichlorotetrafluoroethane), pentane, etc. They are introduced as a component of the polymer charge or under pressure into the molten polymer in the barrel of the extruder. It is extremely important to control the formation and growth of gas bubbles in order to produce foams of uniform quality (i.e., uniform cell structure). The fundamental questions one may ask in thermoplastic foam processing are: (1) What is the optimal concentration of blowing agent in order to have the minimum number of open cells and thus the best achievable mechanical property? (2) How many bubbles will be nucleated at the instant of nucleation? (3) What is the critical pressure at which bubbles nucleate in a molten polymer? (4) What are the processing–property relationships in foam extrusion and structural foam injection molding? Understandably, the answers to such questions depend, among many factors, on: (1) the solubility of the blowing agent in a molten polymer, (2) the diffusivity of the blowing agent in a molten polymer, (3) the concentration of the blowing agent in the mixture with a molten polymer, (4) the chemical structure of the polymers, (5) the initial pressure of the system, and (6) the equilibrium (or initial) temperature of the system.

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