Foam sealing with FIPFG processes
The industry standard for many sectors
Foam sealing with FIPFG (Formed In-Place Foam Gasket) dispensing technology is markedly more efficient and economical than conventional insert seals (EPDM, TPE, NBR).
The fluid or thixotropic two-component sealant mass is applied directly (“in place”) to the component via a usually movable dispenser head, where it reacts at room temperature to form a foam seal.
From natural to synthetic sealing
Mankind has been capable of sealing of joints and gaps for many centuries, e.g. when caulking ships’ planks. Beeswax, tree resin or tar was used.
The story of modern sealants starts with polymer chemistry in the 1930s and the development of synthetic plastics and sealants. And the history is still being written. Today a multitude of different materials and technologies is available for sealing components.
For modern industrial production, another crucial requirement has been set: the sealing process must ideally be fully automated. This automated sealing process for foam sealing is generally known as FIPFG sealing technology (Formed-in-Place Foam Gasket).
The chemistry makes it possible
The reaction substances in Sonderhoff products consist of a fluid to paste-like A-component (polyol) with varying molecular chain lengths for soft and hard foams and a hardener, the B-component (MDI). Sonderhoff polyurethane material systems are grouped under the brand name of FERMAPOR®. Silicone-based products bear the name of FERMASIL®.
A polymer is a material whose molecules are made up of chains of monomer units. The longer the molecule chains of the polyol (A-component), the more flexible the soft foam. Through a chemical reaction with water and the hardener (B-component) a cross-linked structure of molecule chains is formed. During this process, carbon dioxide is produced as a cleavage product, which is responsible in the low-pressure process for the foaming of the material. A soft foam seal is formed which cures at room temperature, without the use of a tempering furnace.
2-Component material systems
The A-component (polyol) determines the chemical and physical properties of the sealing foam. The B-component (isocyanate) initiates the chemical reaction and influences above all the reaction speed. That is why we speak of “2K” or 2-component material systems. The mixing ratio of A and B-components plays a vital role here.
Approximately 90% of Sonderhoff’s foam sealing systems are 2K PU material systems, which are developed with the use of polyurethane polyols. This substance is particularly versatile in its uses.
According to the choice of polyol and isocyanate, polyurethanes can have the widest variety of attributes. Depending on chain length and branching in the polyol, the mechanical properties can be positively influenced.
Silicone is used primarily if a high resistance to chemicals, solvents, very high temperatures and atmospheric influences is required.
Pot life and expansion time
The duration of workability in a reactive substance is known as its pot life. In foam sealing it is the time spent mixing A with B-components in the mixing chamber before dispensing on to the part. Figuratively speaking it is the period in which the substances can still be taken out of the “pot” and processed. Usually the end of the pot life is signalled by a marked increase in viscosity, preventing further processing. The length of the pot life depends on the chemical properties of the components used and on the environmental conditions.
Thus giving the pot life of a substance only makes useful sense if the quantity, amount of mixing, surrounding climate (temperature and humidity) and vessel shape are also given.
The expansion time in the FIPFG process is the period after the pot life, in which the homogeneously mixed sealant mass of the particular material system used foams up into a seal.
With the chemical reaction between isocyanate and water in the polyol component, the propellant CO2, essential for foam production, is created as a cleavage product. Through the rise in temperature engendered by the (exothermic) reaction, the CO2 gas foams up the sealant mass.
At the end of the expansion time the propellant has done its job and can escape through the mixed-cell structure of the polyurethane foam.
Fluid seals, in-situ foam seals, cured in place – FIPFG!
Traditionally, parts were sealed with pre-made foam rubber seals or through the application of sealing cord. Today, with automation taking off, foam seals are made directly on the part using dispensing systems on location. There they cure at room temperature. The concepts of the moment are in-situ foam sealing, the application of fluid seals on a part on location, formed-in-place and cured-in-place (CIP) The last consists of the curing of the foam seal at room temperature.
The FIPFG process has been recognised as the industry standard for the most varied component applications. Vital for the FIPGF process are the interplay of material system and machine technology, as well as application-specific understanding of the process.
The FIPFG foam sealing process
Chemical or physical foaming
During the chemical reaction of components A (polyol) and B (isocyanate) with water, CO2 is produced, which acts as a propellant and foams the material. A mixed-cell soft foam seal is formed.
During physical foaming a closed-cell polyurethane foam seal is formed by the direct introduction of air into the dispenser head mixing chamber. These Sonderhoff systems can be recognised by their “CC” affix, standing for “closed-cell”.
No shaping tools are needed for either process. The soft foam seal comes into being on the surface or in the groove of the part simply through free foaming.
An elegant and highly efficient process:
Mixing, dispensing, foaming.
The foam components A and B are mixed homogeneously together in the mixing chamber of the dispensing system in a pre-determined ratio. For this process, various different agitator designs are used depending on recipe and requirements.
Immediately after this, the fluid or thixotropic 2-component sealing mass is precisely applied via the CNC-controlled mixing head of the dispensing system directly onto the pre-programmed component edge. The precisely contoured line of sealant then foams up to more than three times its original volume as a liquid.
After only a few minutes at room temperature, a soft, seamless foam seal is formed. In contrast to inlaid sealing cord or foam rubber gaskets, there is no joint through which e.g. damp can enter the part. FIPFG sealing is suitable for any part geometry and compensates for measurement tolerance. The join at both ends of the line of sealant is practically invisible.
With the right machine it practically does it itself
Fully automatic, precise, reproducible
Because of the precise, fully automatic control of the dispensing system, the foaming process can be repeated exactly, any time. The linear robot moves the mixing head with a reproducible accuracy of +/- 0.1 mm over the surface of the part. The controls of the dispensing system co-ordinate the dispensing of the sealing mass with the processing speed of the linear robot.
The formed-in-place foam seals can be made by thixotropic (paste-like) sealing systems with high viscosity on flat or 3D surfaces, even without a groove. Even extreme slopes are possible with FIPFG foam sealing, without the material flowing back or off the side.
Sonderhoff system 2: Optimal interplay of material and machine for your production process
As FIPFG experts we ensure the accuracy of sealing processes with our dispensing systems. In special machine construction we build the dispensing systems specially to fulfil your requirements, so as to integrate them as fully as possible into your production concepts.
Different automation solutions can be realised for both 2D and 3D parts. With 3-axis linear robots a processing area for the mixing and dispensing head of up to X/Y/Z 3,000 x 1,000 x 500 mm is achievable. With the implementation of 6-axis robots, there are practically no limits left, and with the use of material systems of a suitable viscosity, even upside-down application is possible.
Modular construction for individual configuration
For foam sealing according to the FIPFG process, Sonderhoff offers mixing and dispensing systems in open and closed construction, to provide space for the larger and smaller parts. For mixed-cell foam seals we offer our customers the very successful and tried-and-tested low-pressure systems. For closed-cell foam sealing the exclusive world-first medium-pressure systems are available.
The dispensing systems carry out the tasks of material preparation, application via the mixing head, automation and process control. Fluid, medium- and high-viscosity reaction substances of polyurethane, silicone and epoxy resin can be processed exactly using these systems.
Reacting flexibly to customer requirements with FIPFG
With FIPFG sealing technology we fulfil the high requirements of our customers as regards seal quality and precision sealing of parts.
Our over 1000 material formulations offer a broad range of characteristics. Adhesion, temperature stability, elasticity, mechanical load bearing and chemical resistance are the most commonly required characteristics for polyurethane or silicone foam sealing.
In this way parts for numerous different applications can be optimally protected from the infiltration of air, gases, dust, damp and other media.
Convincing reasons for FIPFG sealing technology
- Fully automatic, reliable, flexible
- Fast, economical and efficient
- Low personnel expenditure through extensive automation
- Short production cycles and high production speeds
- Reproducible quality in seamless, precise foam seals
- Practically invisible self-levelling join locations
- Freely dispensing application process – no forming tools needed as in 2K spray moulding
- Cost-effective alternative especially for complex part geometries
- Highest possible material utilisation – no stamping waste as with insert seals
- Maximum flexibility through re-programmability – changes during running production, even complete model alterations possible in an instant
- Also suitable for the smallest batches because of free programmability of the dispensing system
- Mixed-up, “chaotic” part production with part-recognition in the dispensing system
- Excellent integration into existing production processes
The saving potential of foamed seals
With the FIPFG (Formed-In-Place Foam Gasket) process, much money can be saved in comparison with the manual insertion of pre-prepared seals. Especially where high production quantities are required and the parts can be provided with a traditional rubber seal only relatively labour-intensively (like EPDM or NBR), the direct foaming of a seal – the automated FIPFG process – offers clear advantages.
With the following example calculation the cost effect can be made clear in principle. Even if it represents a simplified overview, as a first estimate it can also be adapted to other applications.
In the following example an electronics box should be considered, production quantity 2,000,000 items per year, with a sealant length of 30 cm and a sealant thickness of 4 mm.
Calculation of the costs of a traditional manual sealing process
The essential costs are material and labour.
The material costs are calculated from the necessary sealing cord quantity (2,000,000 parts x 30 cm) and the material price (EPDM cord on roll 1,000 m for 300 €). Reckoned per unit, the material costs then runs to 0.09 € for each traditional seal.
The work time per sealing cord is often not exactly known. It is estimated from the number and hours of the necessary employees. In this example, 3 workers work in each of 2 shifts, 8 hours a day, 250 working days a year, to produce 2,000,000 parts – and even then have only 21 seconds’ time to mount a seal. The hourly wage is 20 €. From this arise labour costs of 240,000 € per year, or 0.12 € per part.
Through addition of the material and labour costs we arrive at a total price for manually inserted seals of 0.21 € per seal or 420,000 € per year.
Calculation of the costs by automated FIPFG process
To arrive at the labour costs we have to work out the cycle time for the foaming of a part. The cycle time can be roughly approximated from the estimated robot speed. The maximum robot speed is 58 m/min. As this value, however, is never achieved during application and as certain waiting and rinsing times have to be factored in, we can realistically expect that a part needs on average approx. 7 s to be sealed.
2 shifts x 250 days x 8 h x 3,600 s/h ÷ 7 s/part = approx. 2,000,000 parts
The machine is loaded and unloaded by a single employee per shift. This means labour costs of 0.04 € per part. For additionally incurred costs for energy, water, maintenance, waste disposal and material losses an extra cost of 10% is factored in, i.e. 0.01 €/part.
The sum of the individual seal costs comes to a total per seal of 0.11 €. This means for 2 million parts a year costs of 220,000 €.
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Summary of the cost comparison
Comparing the costs of the above example calculation clearly shows the savings made possible by FIPFG.
At the same time, it is an idealised comparison. Costs for electricity, pressurised air, water, replacement parts, scrap parts etc. were only applied for FIPFG technology, and there only with a flat rate of 10%. In real life, every situation must be considered and compared.
In our experience, however, investment in a machine usually pays itself off after a year’s production of about 50,000 parts, and a cost comparison should be carried out.