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Metal injection molding
Metal Injection Molding (MIM) is a variation on traditional plastic injection molding that enables the fabrication of solid metal parts utilizing injection molding technology. In this process, the raw material, referred to as the feedstock, is a powder mixture of metal and polymer. For this reason, MIM is sometimes referred to as Powder Injection Molding (PIM). Using a standard injection molding machine, the powder is melted and injected into a mold, where it cools and solidifies into the shape of the desired part. Subsequent heating processes remove the unwanted polymer and produce a high-density metal part.
Metal injection molding is best suited for the high-volume production of small metal parts. As with injection molding, these parts may be geometrically complex and have thin walls and fine details. The use of metal powders enables a wide variety of ferrous and non ferrous alloys to be used and for the material properties (strength, hardness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, etc.) to be close to those of wrought metals. Also, because the metal is not melted in the MIM process (unlike metal casting processes), high temperature alloys can be used without any negative affect on tool life. Metals commonly used for MIM parts include the following:
Low alloy steels
Metal parts manufactured from the MIM process are found in numerous industries, including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, medical/dental, and telecommunications. MIM components can be found in cell phones, sporting goods, power tools, surgical instruments, and various electronic and optical devices.
The metal injection molding process consists of the following steps:
Feedstock preparation - The first step is to create a powder mixture of metal and polymer. The powder metals used here are much finer (typically under 20 microns) than those used in traditional powder metallurgy processes. The powder metal is mixed with a hot thermoplastic binder, cooled, and then granulated into a homogenous feedstock in the form of pellets. The resulting feedstock is typically 60% metal and 40% polymer by volume.