US 20060010884 A1
The present invention relates to a system and a method for cooling extruded and molded materials. The present invention is especially useful to thoroughly cool an extrudate by directing a cooling fluid toward a surface of the extrudate (e.g., an interior surface that defines a hollow portion of an extrudate). Hollows may be created in order to reduce material, weight, and/or processing time. A cooling fluid is diverted toward the surface of the extrudate so as to cool the material and assist in solidification. A baffle may serve to divert the cooling fluid in the desired direction. In another example, the extrudate may be partially or totally immersed in a liquid cryogenic fluid. Increases in production line throughput may result by rapidly cooling the molded material. In addition, the more efficient cooling may be achieved with a lesser amount of the cooling fluid, and the velocity and temperature of the cooling fluid may be reduced. Other uses for the present invention include injection molding, compression molding, gas assist molding, and co-extrusion.
21. A method for cooling a product made from a material, said method comprising:
forcing said material through a die;
directing a cryogenic fluid through said die, said cryogenic fluid having a temperature below about −250 degrees Fahrenheit; and
subjecting said material to said cryogenic fluid as said material exits said die.
23. The method of
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said product has an interior surface; and
said interior surface is subjected to said cryogenic fluid.
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32. A method of cooling a product having a hollow portion, said method comprising:
directing a cryogenic fluid through a die, said cryogenic fluid having a temperature below about −250 degrees Fahrenheit; and
subjecting said hollow portion to said cryogenic fluid as said product exits said die.
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This is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/280,735, filed Oct. 25, 2002, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/131,578, filed Apr. 24, 2002, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,637,213, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/025,432, filed Dec. 19, 2001, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,708,504, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/766,054, filed Jan. 19, 2001, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,578,368, each of which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.
The present invention relates generally to a system and method for cooling manufactured articles and, more particularly, to a system and method for cooling extruded and molded materials with a fluid that is below about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The present invention may also be used in other types of manufacturing techniques in which the output or material must be cooled from a heated state. The present invention includes a system and method for cooling synthetic wood composite materials including, but not limited to, cellulosic-filled plastic composites. In addition, the present invention may also be used to cool other types of pure or mixed materials including, but not limited to, plastics, polymers, foamed plastics, plastic compositions, inorganic-filled plastic compositions, metals, metallic compositions, alloys, mixtures including any of the aforementioned materials, and other similar, conventional, or suitable materials that need to be cooled after being processed. For instance, the present invention may be used to cool polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products and products made from other plastics.
For several reasons, there is a need to find materials that exhibit the look and feel of natural wood. The supply of wood in the world's forests for construction and other purposes is dwindling. Consequently, the supply of wood from mature trees has become a concern in recent years, and the cost of wood has risen. As a result, several attempts have been made by others to find a suitable wood-like material.
Cellulosic/polymer composites have been developed as replacements for all-natural wood, particle board, wafer board, and other similar materials. For example, U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,908,902, 4,091,153, 4,686,251, 4,708,623, 5,002,713, 5,055,247, 5,087,400, 5,151,238, 6,011,091, and 6,103,791 relate to processes and/or compositions for making wood replacement products. As compared to natural woods, cellulosic/polymer composites offer superior resistance to wear and tear. In addition, cellulosic/polymer composites have enhanced resistance to moisture, and it is well known that the retention of moisture is a primary cause of the warping, splintering, and discoloration of natural woods. Moreover, cellulosic/polymer composites may be sawed, sanded, shaped, turned, fastened, and finished in the same manner as natural woods. Therefore, cellulosic/polymer composites are commonly used for applications such as interior and exterior decorative house moldings, picture frames, furniture, porch decks, deck railings, window moldings, window components, door components, roofing structures, building siding, and other suitable indoor and outdoor items. However, many attempts to make products from cellulosic/polymer composite materials have failed due to poor or improper manufacturing techniques.
In the present invention, a product or article is manufactured by a desired technique such as, but not limited to, extrusion, compression molding, injection molding, or other similar, suitable, or conventional manufacturing techniques. The product is then cooled by subjecting it to a cooling fluid including, but not limited to, direct contact with a liquid cryogenic fluid. The present invention can be used alone or in conjunction with other known or later developed cooling methods. Accordingly, the present invention can more thoroughly and efficiently cool the manufactured product or article to a desired level. This can lead to faster production times as well as a product having improved structural, physical, and aesthetic characteristics.
In addition to the novel features and advantages mentioned above, other objects and advantages of the present invention will be readily apparent from the following descriptions of the drawings and exemplary embodiments.
The present invention is directed to a system and method for cooling manufactured articles or products. It is not intended to limit the present invention to particular manufacturing techniques or particular materials. The present invention may be used to cool articles or products made by variety of different manufacturing techniques. Examples of manufacturing techniques that may utilize the present invention include, but are not limited to, extrusion (including co-extrusion), compression molding, injection molding, and other known, similar, or conventional techniques for manufacturing products or articles from plastic, wood, metal, mixtures of these materials, or other materials used to make products.
The present invention is particularly useful for cooling plastics, polymers, and cellulosic/polymer composite materials that have been extruded or molded. The materials that may be used to make cellulosic/polymer composites include, but are not limited to, cellulosic fillers, polymers, plastics, thermoplastics, inorganic fillers, cross-linking agents, lubricants, process aids, stabilizers, accelerators, inhibitors, enhancers, compatibilizers, blowing agents, foaming agents, thermosetting materials, and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials. Examples of cellulosic fillers include sawdust, newspapers, alfalfa, wheat pulp, wood chips, wood fibers, wood particles, ground wood, wood flour, wood flakes, wood veneers, wood laminates, paper, cardboard, straw, cotton, rice hulls, coconut shells, peanut shells, bagass, plant fibers, bamboo fiber, palm fiber, kenaf, flax, and other similar materials. In addition to PVC, examples of polymers include multilayer films, high density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), low density polyethylene (LDPE), chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), ethyl-vinyl acetate, other similar copolymers, other similar, suitable, or conventional thermoplastic materials, and formulations that incorporate any of the aforementioned polymers. Examples of inorganic fillers include talc, calcium carbonate, kaolin clay, magnesium oxide, titanium dioxide, silica, mica, barium sulfate, acrylics, and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials. Examples of thermosetting materials include polyurethanes, such as isocyanates, phenolic resins, unsaturated polyesters, epoxy resins, and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials. Combinations of the aforementioned materials are also examples of thermosetting materials. Examples of lubricants include zinc stearate, calcium stearate, esters, amide wax, paraffin wax, ethylene bis-stearamide, and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials. Examples of stabilizers include tin stabilizers, lead and metal soaps such as barium, cadmium, and zinc, and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials. In addition, examples of process aids include acrylic modifiers and other similar, suitable, or conventional materials.
Depending on the type of cooling fluid and the desired expulsion rate of the cooling fluid, the container 308 may be pressurized. The container 308 may be connected to a compressor, e.g., an air compressor or any other similar, suitable, or conventional compressing device, in order to maintain the desired pressure in the container 308. Additionally, the container 308 may be in fluid communication with a blower or a pump to obtain the desired expulsion rate of the cooling fluid from the container 308. A blower in fluid communication with the container 308 may also be utilized to accelerate the cooling fluid to a desired velocity after it has been expelled.
It should be recognized that
It should also be recognized that the cooling fluid of the present invention may be expelled elsewhere relative to the manufactured product (i.e., other than in a hollow portion of the product). For example,
The die 700 may be heated to a sufficient level to facilitate extrusion and limit premature curing of the extrudate in the die 700. In this example of an in-line system, the passages 710 actually extend through the die 700, intersecting the path of flow of the extruded material through the die 700. In such embodiments, it may be preferable to limit cooling of the die 700 by the cooling fluid in the passages 710. Accordingly, the passages 710 may be insulated by a suitable material. For example, the passages 710 may be lined with ceramic insulation, putty ceramics, or any other similar, suitable, or conventional insulating material in order to limit undesired heat loss by the die 700. In fact, it should be recognized that the transfer device for the cooling fluid in any type of embodiment may be insulated in order to limit undesired cooling of surrounding items.
As best seen in the example of
Any desired cooling fluid may be used in the present invention. In one exemplary embodiment, the cooling fluid, e.g., gas or liquid, may have a temperature below about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, more preferably below about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, still more preferably below about 32 degrees Fahrenheit, even more preferably below about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the temperature may be above about minus 325 degrees Fahrenheit, more preferably above about minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit, still more preferably above about minus 275 degrees Fahrenheit, even more preferably above about minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. However, in some embodiments of the present invention, the cooling fluid may be above about 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below about minus 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of the cooling fluid are air and water. Another example of the cooling fluid is gas or vapor that is produced from a cryogenic fluid. For instance, a cryogenic fluid may have a temperature below about minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of cryogenic fluids include, but are not limited to, liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen, liquid neon, liquid hydrogen, liquid helium, and other similar, suitable, or conventional cryogenic fluids.
In addition to the temperature, the velocity of the cooling fluid may also impact its effectiveness. By selecting a suitable velocity and temperature of the cooling fluid, the inventors have discovered that an entire product can be thoroughly cooled just by injecting the cooling fluid into a hollow portion of the product. The velocity of the cooling fluid may be greater than about 10 miles per hour, more preferably greater than about 40 miles per hour, and it may be less than about 100 miles per hour, more preferably less than about 50 miles per hour. However, it should be recognized that the velocity of the cooling fluid may be less than about 10 miles per hour or greater than about 100 miles per hour in some embodiments.
The efficiency of the present invention may be further increased by diverting the flow of the cooling fluid toward the surface of the extruded product as it exits the die. By concentrating the cooling fluid on a surface of the extrudate, the desired amount of cooling may occur more quickly resulting in the use of less cooling fluid as compared to non-diversion methods. Moreover, the increased cooling efficiency enables the use of warmer cooling fluids and a reduction in the velocity of the cooling fluid as compared to non-diversion methods. For example, this embodiment of the present invention may be particularly useful if it is desired to use a cooling fluid that is warmer than about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it should be recognized that, in many embodiments, it may be desirable to use a cooling fluid below about 80 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal cooling efficiency.
The baffle 820 may be placed in fluid communication with the passage 810 in any suitable manner. In the example of
The inventors have also made the surprising and significant discovery that the efficiency and efficacy of the manufacturing process may be improved by placing a liquid cryogenic fluid in direct contact with the material to be cooled. As a result, the rate of output may be increased, thereby decreasing the unit cost of the manufactured product. In addition, the inventors have discovered that the more rapid cooling providing by direct contact with a liquid cryogenic fluid may improve the structural characteristics of the manufactured product, especially in the case of foam products. In particular, the rapid removal of the heat may help to maintain the desired foam structure.
The features and physical dimensions of the bath 126 may be selected taking into consideration the minimum length of material needed for a specific application, the line speed, the desired amount of heat removal, and other factors relevant to the safety, maintenance, and performance of the system 120. In one exemplary embodiment, the bath 126 may include at least one sizing component (i.e., sizer or sizing box) 128. A sizing component 128 may be partially or totally submersed in the liquid cryogenic fluid during operation of the system 120. The bath 126 may also be equipped with suitable safety and maintenance features. For example, the bath 126 may have a cover 130 to facilitate maintenance of the bath 126. Additionally, the bath 126 may be dual-walled and insulated, and the bath 126 may include a suitable exhaust system.
The bath 126 may include a level of liquid cryogenic fluid sufficient to partially or totally submerse the material to be cooled. For instance, the bath 126 may include a level of liquid cryogenic fluid sufficient to directly contact one portion of the material to be cooled while another portion does not come into contact with the liquid cryogenic fluid. Moreover, it should be recognized that the liquid cryogenic fluid may be transferred into and out of the bath 126 based on the operational status of the system 120. For example, the system 120 may also include a pump 132 and a holding tank 134. The pump 132 may transfer the liquid cryogenic fluid to the bath 126 from the tank 134 approximately when the particular manufacturing process (e.g., extrusion) is initiated or at any other suitable time such that there is a desired amount of liquid cryogenic fluid in the bath 126. Furthermore, the pump 132 may transfer the liquid cryogenic fluid back to the tank 134 after the manufacturing process (e.g., extrusion) is complete or at any other suitable time. The tank 134 may be equipped with any suitable safety and maintenance features including, but not limited to, those included on the bath 126. Additionally, it should be recognized that a suitable safety interlock system may be included to prohibit undesired transfer of the liquid cryogenic fluid between the bath 126 and the tank 134.
At least one additional cooling system 136 may be included subsequent to the bath 126. Examples of a cooling system 136 include, but are not limited to, a water bath, a spray mist, air flow, another cooling system as described herein, or any other conventional or new cooling system. Additionally, it should be noted that a cooling system 136 (or additional manufacturing equipment) may be included prior to the bath 126 without departing from the scope of the present invention.
As mentioned above, many significant advantages may be achieved by placing the material to be cooled in direct contact with liquid cryogenic fluid. In addition to cooling extruded products, the present invention may be used to cool products made by any other methods including, but not limited to, compression molded products and injection molded products. Regardless of the manufacturing method, the output rate may be increased and the unit cost may be decreased due to the dramatic improvement in cooling efficiency. Also, the capital cost of an exemplary system of the present invention may be reduced as compared to conventional gas cooling systems which require some gas velocity. In addition, the increased cooling efficiency may allow shorter manufacturing lines, thereby further reducing the manufacturing cost.
The exemplary embodiments herein disclosed are not intended to be exhaustive or to unnecessarily limit the scope of the invention. The exemplary embodiments were chosen and described in order to explain the principles of the present invention so that others skilled in the art may practice the invention. Having shown and described exemplary embodiments of the present invention, those skilled in the art will realize that many variations and modifications may be made to affect the described invention. Many of those variations and modifications will provide the same result and fall within the spirit of the claimed invention. It is the intention, therefore, to limit the invention only as indicated by the scope of the claims.