3D-Blow Molded Step Tubes for Automobiles

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1 3D-Blow Molded Step Tubes for Automobiles Michael Speranza Penn State Erie The Behrend College 3/29/2013

2 Abstract Step tubes, or running boards, are seen on many vehicles on the road today. These products are commonly made from steel, which leads to long term problems. It is possible to improve this product by co-extruding a step tube with a Glass-Filled Nylon core and a Surlin exterior layer. With the new plastic step tubes, the problems of the existing steel products are solved. Introduction In this day and age, everyone wants to add their own personal touch to everyday items. The automotive industry is a good example of the consumer wanting to incorporate individual style. Truck and SUV owners are a specific demographic that spend money to customize their rigs. The customizing commonly includes making their vehicles more functional, while keeping a desired look. Many new trucks have a tall stance. Running boards or step tubes are aftermarket parts that make it easier to enter and exit the cab. Step tubes are a common solution to add functionality while keeping a sporty style. These step tubes are currently made from steel and can be painted or chromed. Rust is a major problem that is encountered with these tubes. The rust can cause the product to fail, and more commonly, makes the product lose aesthetic appeal. A blow molded step tube would eliminate any potential for rust or aesthetic loss. The attachment methods to the truck frame can be modified to function with the new blow molded design. More attachment locations can be added to compensate for the decrease in modulus from switching from steel to plastic. An example of the plastic step tube can be seen in Figure 1-A. This example has dimensions that match the requirements for a certain number of vehicles, as seen in Figure 1-B. Different molds will be needed in order to manufacture step tubes for every vehicle model. Figure 1-A Plastic Step Tube Figure 1-B Plastic Step Tube Dimensions Background and Product Specifications Blow molding is an efficient way to produce hollow parts out of plastic. Hollow parts such as bottles and jars are rarely produced through injection molding because of difficulty of getting the solid core out of the molded object. Blow molding uses air pressure to shape the inside of the plastic object while a mold shapes the outside [1]. This process can make simple parts like bottles, to complex parts used in automotive applications or office automation equipment [2]. Blow molding can be broken down into two subcategories: injection blow molding and extrusion blow molding. Extrusion Blow Molding It is important to know the differences between the injection and extrusion blow molding processes. Injection blow molding is more expensive than extrusion blow molding and injection molding because it requires two molds. A parison is injection molded; then the parison is blown into its final shape through blow molding. Extrusion blow molding extrudes a plastic parison which is immediately blown into its final shape. A parison is a tube of plastic that is extruded for extrusion blow molding. Injection blow molding can produce tighter tolerance parts and produces less scrap than extrusion blow molding [1]. Scrap is extra processed material that must be cut away to form the final part. In most cases, the scrap can be added back into the process at a specified ratio of virgin material to regrind. Extrusion blow molding can produce more part designs than injection blow molding. It is capable of making bottles with handles, offset necks, and dual chambers. An extrusion blow molding machine was used in this experiment because it produces lower tolerance

3 parts than injection blow molding, so it will magnify the effects of the process parameters. Figure 2- Plasticizing Phase of Extrusion Blow Molding (from Polyflexing) To product parts, an extrusion blow molding process goes through three main phases: parison formation, parison inflation, and part cooling and solidification [2]. Figure 1 shows the plasticizing phase in the extrusion blow molding process. Material is loaded into a hopper, which is labeled as three in Figure 2. Gravity causes the pellets to fall down into the barrel, five, where it is mixed by the screw, one. Heater bands, labeled as six, melt the plastic pellets into a molten phase so it can be extruded. The die opening, formed by numbers nine and ten in Figure 1, extrudes a hallow tube of plastic. Figure 3 - Parison Formation and Inflation (from plastic.blogspot) The parison is extruded past the bottom of the mold to ensure a proper seal when the mold closes. The mold forms a pinch off of plastic at the bottom of the bottle as shown in the second picture of Figure 3. The plastic that is pinched off is called trim, which will need to be removed once the process is complete. A guillotine-style knife may cut the parison so the mold can transport it to the blowing station. The mold then moves to the blowing station to allow the next parison to start to form during the blowing phase of the first bottle. A blow pin or needle is inserted into the mold, and blows air into the mold to expand the parison. The mold is cooled with water to help solidify the plastic. Once the part is sufficiently cooled, the mold opens and the bottle is ejected [1]. Parison extrusion can either be continuous or intermittent. In intermittent extrusion, the melt is continuously extruded, so any extra can be fed into an accumulator. Melt can be taken from the accumulator if the system is programmed to release more melt at a given time. This may lead to material degradation because of the thermal history the plastic is exposed to. Continuous extrusion, as used in this research, is usually preferred for packaging applications. It provides higher productivity because the melt is always being extruded. Once the mold clamps the parison, it toggles out of the way for the rest of the cycle so that the next parison can be extruded [1]. Figure 4- Swell (from Plastics Packaging) There are two main phenomena that can dictate parison thickness, swell and sag. The first phenomena to be discussed is swell. When the parison is being extruded, usually the diameter of the parison is almost the same diameter as the finished diameter of the container. The recommended maximum ratio of the container diameter to the parison diameter is 4:1. Once the melt leaves the die, it experiences stress relaxation and elastic memory. This causes the parison to widen in diameter and become shorter in length. The wall thickness of the parison may also increase. This swelling is dependent on the type of polymer, the molecular weight of the polymer, shear rates during extrusion, and length of the die land. Die swell is the percent change in the outer diameter of the parison. Tube wall swell is the percent change in wall thickness of the parison, and flair swell, as seen in Figure 4 above, is the percent change in the inner diameter of the parison. Polyethylene (PE), which was used in this experiment, is known for experiencing a high degree of swell during extrusion. Sag, also known as draw-down, results from tensile stresses caused by gravity. As the parison is hanging from the die, gravity pulls it down, which creates a thin region at the top of the parison. A lower molecular weight polymer will exhibit a greater degree of sag. Increasing melt temperature, suspension time, and parison length can also increase sag [3].

4 3D Extrusion Blow Molding Extrusion blow molding has various types including continuous, intermittent, and 3D. Although the step tube is a simple part, the shape requires a 3D extrusion blow molding process. Other conventional extrusion blow molding processes are limited to the basic straight tube shape. The 3D variation has the same major concepts as other extrusion blow molding processes such as an extruder and parison formation. Where this process differs is how the parison transitions from parison to part. The parison is moved to follow the contour of the mold in order to gain the mold s shape. The process can have either a movable die mold or a movable die head, as seen in Figure 5. This process also makes a stronger part by eliminating the weld line normally formed with typical extrusion blow molding. The process is, adept at making complex parts that eliminate failure-prone parting lines, minimize flash, and enhance wall-thickness uniformity in hollow parts [4]. Figure 5 3D Variations (dupont.com) Since the shape of the tube is ovalized, an ovalized die or madrel is required to try to maintain a uniform wall thickness in the part. Also, since the parison will be heavy due to its size, a parison programmer will be needed to compensate for sag. The existing metal step tubes have common problems among all of the variations. While rusting is an obvious concern, other problems stem from the current design. The steel step tubes have a stepping surface made of plastic that is assembled onto the tube. These plastic surfaces can become dislodged from the step tube, compromising the functionality of the tube. Also, the surface finish of the step tube (painted or chromed) can be easily damaged or scratched. The modified plastic design eliminates the problems of the current steel models. These modifications include being blow molded out of nylon instead of using steel to make the tubular shape. Also, the stepping surface will be part of the actual tube instead of requiring an assembly step. The design will still require some assembly steps, as the tubes will need mounted to a bracket and then mounted to the truck. Different sizes could be molded in order to make the step tubes suitable for different vehicles. It is expected that the plastic design can be manufactured for half of the cost of the existing product. This is mainly due to the reduced cost of materials and manufacturing method. The step tubes will need to withstand the stresses of someone stepping, or even bouncing, on them without deflecting more than one inch. This could be said as the plastic step tube needing to withstand a load of 500 pounds at various temperatures. The step tubes will also need to withstand chemicals such as car wash soap, road salt, oils, and acid rain. UV light will also be exposed to product, so the material needs to be UV resistant. These tubes should last the life of a vehicle which can be upwards of 15 years. The parison will be co-extruded with the surface layer being a DuPont Surlyn and the interior will be a DuPont Zytel 25% glass-filled nylon. The specific grade of the nylon is DuPont Zytel BM 73G25T HSL. DuPont Surlyn Reflections series is a perfect exterior layer for the step tubes. It offers such characteristics as durability, highgloss, impact resistance, toughness, and abrasion/chemical resistance. Surlyn is also easily decorated and painted, which would make it customizable. The Zytel nylon will provide for more strength as well as a good base for the Surlyn. Design Validation The design should withstand a load of 500 pounds on the stepping surface. This will be evaluated by using the results of the FEA analysis on the 3D model. The FEA analysis software package is Ansys Workbench. The design will be required to withstand chemicals commonly exposed to automobiles. An ESCR study will be performed on tensile bars made from the same material in order to gain an understanding of how the chemicals react with the polymer. The design is required to withstand ultraviolet exposure for 15 years. This will be proven by exposing tensile bars of the parts nominal wall thickness to UV light in an accelerated weathering machine for 10 weeks and testing them to insure that they do not have more than a 10% reduction in ultimate elongation. Presentation of Design The FEA results show that the step tube passes the major requirements as previously stated. The stress does not exceed that of the material properties. Ansys shows that the maximum stress is nearly 3,000 psi, as seen in Figure 5, but the stress limit for the material is 10,200 psi. This provides for a factor of safety of 3, which is well above the minimum factor of safety of 1.

5 Future Work The Ansys results show that modification to the overall shape of the step tube could reduce some of the stress concentrations. However, this shape was desired to add consumer appeal. Since the design has been validated, tooling should be built to produce actual parts. The manufactured products can then be tested in real world applications and the design be further validated. References Figure 5 Equivalent Stress Ansys also shows that the step tube only had a maximum deflection of just over half an inch, achieving the requirement of less than one inch. 1. S. E. M. Selke, J. D. Culter, and R. J. Hernandez, Plastics Packaging: Properties, Processing, Applications, and Regulations, 2nd ed. Cincinnatti: Hanser Publications, (2004). 2. G. Q. Huang, and H. X. Huang, Optimizing parison thickness for extrusion blow molding by hybrid method, Journal of Materials Processing Technology, 182, p. 512, (Feb 2007). 3. H. X. Huang and S. Lu, Modeling parison formation in extrusion blow molding by neural networks, Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 96, 6, p. 2230, (June 2005). 4. R.D. Leaversuch, 3D Blow Molding Gains Momentum, Plastics Technology, Close-Up on Technology, (2004). [Online]. Available: [Accessed: Mar. 27, 2013] Figure 6 Total Deformation Conclusions The new design of a blow molded plastic step tube fixes the problems associated with the existing steel design. The plastic step tube will not rust, is easily decorated, is chemically resistant, and is UV resistant. Also, the stepping area is incorporated into the step tube which eliminates an assembly step and eradicates the chances of the step area dislodging. Overall, the blow molded step tubes will provide a long lasting solution to a common everyday problem.

Copyright 1998 Society of Manufacturing Engineers FUNDAMENTAL MANUFACTURING PROCESSES PLASTIC BLOW MOLDING NARRATION (VO): NARRATION (VO):

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