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Extrusion is a process used to create objects of a fixed cross-sectional profile. A material is pushed or pulled through a die of the desired cross-section. The two main advantages of this process over other manufacturing processes are its ability to create very complex cross-sections, and to work materials that are brittle, because the material only encounters compressive and shear stresses. It also forms parts with an excellent surface finish
Extrusion may be continuous (theoretically producing indefinitely long material) or semi-continuous (producing many pieces). The extrusion process can be done with the material hot or cold.
Commonly extruded materials include metals, polymers, ceramics, concrete, play dough, and foodstuffs. The products of extrusion are generally called "extrudates". Drawing metal is the main way to produce wire and sheet, and bar and tube are also often drawn.
Hollow cavities within extruded material cannot be produced using a simple flat extrusion die, because there would be no way to support the center barrier of the die. Instead, the die assumes the shape of a block with depth, beginning first with a shape profile that supports the center section. The die shape then internally changes along its length into the final shape, with the suspended center pieces supported from the back of the die.The extrusion process in metals may also increase the strength of the material.
Extrusion of a round blank through a die.
The process begins by heating the stock material (for hot or warm extrusion). It is then loaded into the container in the press. A dummy block is placed behind it where the ram then presses on the material to push it out of the die. Afterward the extrusion is stretched in order to straighten it. If better properties are required then it may be heat treated or cold worked.
The extrusion ratio is defined as the starting cross-sectional area divided by the cross-sectional area of the final extrusion. One of the main advantages of the extrusion process is that this ratio can be very large while still producing quality parts.
Hot extrusion is a hot working process, which means it is done above the material's recrystallization temperature to keep the material from work hardening and to make it easier to push the material through the die. Most hot extrusions are done on horizontal hydraulic presses that range from 230 to 11,000 metric tons (250 to 12,130 short tons). Pressures range from 30 to 700 MPa (4,400 to 101,500 psi), therefore lubrication is required, which can be oil or graphite for lower temperature extrusions, or glass powder for higher temperature extrusions. The biggest disadvantage of this process is its cost for machinery and its upkeep.
Cold extrusion is done at room temperature or near room temperature. The advantages of this over hot extrusion are the lack of oxidation, higher strength due to cold working, closer tolerances, better surface finish, and fast extrusion speeds if the material is subject to hot shortness.
Materials that are commonly cold extruded include: lead, tin, aluminum, copper, zirconium, titanium, molybdenum, beryllium, vanadium, niobium, and steel. Examples of products produced by this process are: collapsible tubes, fire extinguisher cases, shock absorber cylinders and gear blanks.
Warm extrusion is done above room temperature, but below the recrystallization temperature of the material the temperatures ranges from 800 to 1800 °F (424 to 975 °C). It is usually used to achieve the proper balance of required forces, ductility and final extrusion properties.
Surface cracking occurs when the surface of an extrusion splits. This is often caused by the extrusion temperature, friction, or speed being too high. It can also happen at lower temperatures if the extruded product temporarily sticks to the die.
Pipe – A flow pattern that draws the surface oxides and impurities to the center of the product. Such a pattern is often caused by high friction or cooling of the outer regions of the billet.
Internal cracking – When the center of the extrusion develops cracks or voids. These cracks are attributed to a state of hydrostatic tensile stress at the centerline in the deformation zone in the die. (A similar situation to the necked region in a tensile stress specimen)
Surface lines – When there are lines visible on the surface of the extruded profile. This depends heavily on the quality of the die production and how well the die is maintained, as some residues of the material extruded can stick to the die surface and produce the embossed lines.
A horizontal hydraulic press for hot aluminum extrusion (loose dies and scrap visible in foreground)
There are many different variations of extrusion equipment. They vary by four major characteristics:
Movement of the extrusion with relation to the ram. If the die is held stationary and the ram moves towards it then it is called "direct extrusion". If the ram is held stationary and the die moves towards the ram it is called "indirect extrusion".
The position of the press, either vertical or horizontal.
The type of drive, either hydraulic or mechanical.
The type of load applied, either conventional (variable) or hydrostatic.
A single or twin screw auger, powered by an electric motor, or a ram, driven by hydraulic pressure (often used for steel and titanium alloys), oil pressure (for aluminium), or in other specialized processes such as rollers inside a perforated drum for the production of many simultaneous streams of material.Typical extrusion presses cost more than $100,000, whereas dies can cost up to $2000.
Plot of forces required by various extrusion processes.
Direct extrusion, also known as forward extrusion, is the most common extrusion process. It works by placing the billet in a heavy walled container. The billet is pushed through the die by a ram or screw. There is a reusable dummy block between the ram and the billet to keep them separated. The major disadvantage of this process is that the force required to extrude the billet is greater than that needed in the indirect extrusion process because of the frictional forces introduced by the need for the billet to travel the entire length of the container. Because of this the greatest force required is at the beginning of process and slowly decreases as the billet is used up. At the end of the billet the force greatly increases because the billet is thin and the material must flow radially to exit the die. The end of the billet (called the butt end) is not used for this reason.
In indirect extrusion, also known as backwards extrusion, the billet and container move together while the die is stationary. The die is held in place by a "stem" which has to be longer than the container length. The maximum length of the extrusion is ultimately dictated by the column strength of the stem. Because the billet moves with the container the frictional forces are eliminated. This leads to the following advantages:
A 25 to 30% reduction of friction, which allows for extruding larger billets, increasing speed, and an increased ability to extrude smaller cross-sections
There is less of a tendency for extrusions to crack because there is no heat formed from friction
The container liner will last longer due to less wear
The billet is used more uniformly so extrusion defects and coarse grained peripherals zones are less likely.
The disadvantages are:
Impurities and defects on the surface of the billet affect the surface of the extrusion. These defects ruin the piece if it needs to be anodized or the aesthetics are important. In order to get around this the billets may be wire brushed, machined or chemically cleaned before being used.
This process isn't as versatile as direct extrusions because the cross-sectional area is limited by the maximum size of the stem.
In the hydrostatic extrusion process the billet is completely surrounded by a pressurized liquid, except where the billet contacts the die. This process can be done hot, warm, or cold, however the temperature is limited by the stability of the fluid used. The process must be carried out in a sealed cylinder to contain the hydrostatic medium. The fluid can be pressurized two ways:
Constant-rate extrusion: A ram or plunger is used to pressurize the fluid inside the container.
Constant-pressure extrusion: A pump is used, possibly with a pressure intensifier, to pressurize the fluid, which is then pumped to the container.
The advantages of this process include:
No friction between the container and the billet reduces force requirements. This ultimately allows for faster speeds, higher reduction ratios, and lower billet temperatures.
Usually the ductility of the material increases when high pressures are applied.
An even flow of material.
Large billets and large cross-sections can be extruded.
No billet residue is left on the container walls.
The disadvantages are:
The billets must be prepared by tapering one end to match the die entry angle. This is needed to form a seal at the beginning of the cycle. Usually the entire billet needs to be machined to remove any surface defects.
Containing the fluid under high pressures can be difficult.
Most modern direct or indirect extrusion presses are hydraulically driven, but there are some small mechanical presses still used. Of the hydraulic presses there are two types: direct-drive oil presses and accumulator water drives.