Columbia launches powder metal injection venture
One of the oldest plastics manufacturing companies in Pacific Canada has invested in a leading-edge forming technology for making parts from powdered stainless steel.Columbia Plastics (Surrey, B.C.) h...
One of the oldest plastics manufacturing companies in Pacific Canada has invested in a leading-edge forming technology for making parts from powdered stainless steel.
Columbia Plastics (Surrey, B.C.) has obtained a license from Powder-Flo, a division of Honeywell, to use the technology, and has incorporated a separate company, Columbia Powder Injection Molding Inc., to develop and market parts made by the process. According to Columbia president Greg Howard, the process went into official production about seven months ago, after two years of development work. Howard says the new company already has several commercial applications for internal engine components in the aerospace industry, and as well recently obtained its first non-aerospace customer.
Like other metal forming processes involving the injection process, the Powder-Flo system offers design and cost advantages in comparison to traditional metal forming methods such as die-casting. Unlike some of the metal injection processes, however, it can be run on standard injection presses with slight modifications. Also, unlike other powdered metal injection technologies which produce a green or soft part, Powder-Flo requires only one-step to debind and sinter, rather than two, resulting in substantial cost savings.
An all-electric injection molding machine is used to mold the green parts because its higher repeatability makes it better suited for the process, according to Howard. The green parts are sintered at approximately 1300 C in a hydrogen atmosphere in an Elnik furnace. The furnace, which cost approximately one-half million dollars, plays a critical role in the success of the process, as highly accurate control of temperature is necessary to obtain good parts.
Howard emphasizes that custom injection molding of plastic products for consumer and industrial markets is still Columbia’s main business. It has 28 injection molding machines in the range of 20 to 550 tons of clamping force. The presses are mix Kawaguchis and Engels.
The company makes variety of parts for computers and other electronic equipment from high-end engineering resins. “We like doing the internal parts of computer — the guides, shutters, support rails and other components,” says Howard. Because of the high heat-stability and electrical performance properties required of these parts, some of the resins the company uses can be quite exotic.
“We’ve molded Teflon,” Howard says. Other resins they mold regularly include PEEK, polycarbonate and custom blended materials with electrical conductive properties needed for EMI shielding requirements.
Founded in 1945, Columbia has traditionally supplied solely to Canadian customers, but now has several U.S. customers and is seeking to develop more export markets.
Full service capabilities are also a priority at the company.
“We’re doing a heck of a lot more value added work like assembly, electronics testing, pad printing and decorating,” says Howard. “Also, more of our work is being produced from smaller, flexible work cells. It’s a more efficient way to run and allows us to make quick adjustments and changeovers.”CPL