The mold consists of two primary components, the injection mold (A plate) and the ejector mold (B plate). Plastic resin enters the mold through a sprue or gate in the injection mold; the sprue bushing is to seal tightly against the nozzle of the injection barrel of the molding machine and to allow molten plastic to flow from the barrel into the mold, also known as the cavity.:141 The sprue bushing directs the molten plastic to the cavity images through channels that are machined into the faces of the A and B plates. These channels allow plastic to run along them, so they are referred to as runners.:142 The molten plastic flows through the runner and enters one or more specialized gates and into the cavity:15geometry to form the desired part.
The amount of resin required to fill the sprue, runner and cavities of a mold is a shot. Trapped air in the mold can escape through air vents that are ground into the parting line of the mold, or around ejector pins and slides that are slightly smaller than the holes retaining them. If the trapped air is not allowed to escape, it is compressed by the pressure of the incoming material and squeezed into the corners of the cavity, where it prevents filling and can also cause other defects. The air can even become so compressed that it ignites and burns the surrounding plastic material.:147
To allow for removal of the molded part from the mold, the mold features must not overhang one another in the direction that the mold opens, unless parts of the mold are designed to move from between such overhangs when the mold opens (utilizing components called Lifters).
Sides of the part that appear parallel with the direction of draw (The axis of the cored position (hole) or insert is parallel to the up and down movement of the mold as it opens and closes)are typically angled slightly, called draft, to ease release of the part from the mold. Insufficient draft can cause deformation or damage. The draft required for mold release is primarily dependent on the depth of the cavity: the deeper the cavity, the more draft necessary. Shrinkage must also be taken into account when determining the draft required. If the skin is too thin, then the molded part will tend to shrink onto the cores that form while cooling and cling to those cores, or the part may warp, twist, blister or crack when the cavity is pulled away.
A mold is usually designed so that the molded part reliably remains on the ejector (B) side of the mold when it opens, and draws the runner and the sprue out of the (A) side along with the parts. The part then falls freely when ejected from the (B) side. Tunnel gates, also known as submarine or mold gates, are located below the parting line or mold surface. An opening is machined into the surface of the mold on theparting line. The molded part is cut (by the mold) from the runner system on ejection from the mold.Ejector pins, also known as knockout pins, are circular pins placed in either half of the mold (usually the ejector half), which push the finished molded product, or runner system out of a mold.
The standard method of cooling is passing a coolant (usually water) through a series of holes drilled through the mold plates and connected by hoses to form a continuous pathway. The coolant absorbs heat from the mold (which has absorbed heat from the hot plastic) and keeps the mold at a proper temperature to solidify the plastic at the most efficient rate.
To ease maintenance and venting, cavities and cores are divided into pieces, called inserts, and sub-assemblies, also called inserts, blocks, or chase blocks. By substituting interchangeable inserts, one mold may make several variations of the same part.
More complex parts are formed using more complex molds. These may have sections called slides, that move into a cavity perpendicular to the draw direction, to form overhanging part features. When the mold is opened, the slides are pulled away from the plastic part by using stationary “angle pins” on the stationary mold half. These pins enter a slot in the slides and cause the slides to move backward when the moving half of the mold opens. The part is then ejected and the mold closes. The closing action of the mold causes the slides to move forward along the angle pins.
Some molds allow previously molded parts to be reinserted to allow a new plastic layer to form around the first part. This is often referred to as overmolding. This system can allow for production of one-piece tires and wheels.
Two-shot or multi-shot molds are designed to "overmold" within a single molding cycle and must be processed on specialized injection molding machines with two or more injection units. In the first step, the base color material is molded into a basic shape, which contains spaces for the second shot. Then the second material, a different color, is injection-molded into those spaces. Pushbuttons and keys, for instance, made by this process have markings that cannot wear off, and remain legible with heavy use.
A mold can produce several copies of the same parts in a single "shot". The number of "impressions" in the mold of that part is often incorrectly referred to as cavitation. A tool with one impression will often be called a single impression(cavity) mold.:398 A mold with 2 or more cavities of the same parts will likely be referred to as multiple impression (cavity) mold.:262 Some extremely high production volume molds (like those for bottle caps) can have over 128 cavities.
In some cases multiple cavity tooling will mold a series of different parts in the same tool. Some toolmakers call these molds family molds as all the parts are related. Examples include plastic model kits.
Manufacturers go to great lengths to protect custom molds due to their high average costs. The perfect temperature and humidity level is maintained to ensure the longest possible lifespan for each custom mold. Custom molds, such as those used for rubber injection molding, are stored in temperature and humidity controlled environments to prevent warping.
Tool steel or beryllium-copper are often used. Mild steel, aluminum, nickel or epoxy are suitable only for prototype or very short production runs. Modern hard aluminum (7075 and 2024 alloys) with proper mold design, can easily make molds capable of 100,000 or more part life with proper mold maintenance.
Molds are built through two main methods: standard machining and EDM. Standard machining, in its conventional form, has historically been the method of building injection molds. With technological development, CNC machining became the predominant means of making more complex molds with more accurate mold details in less time than traditional methods.
The electrical discharge machining (EDM) or spark erosion process has become widely used in mold making. As well as allowing the formation of shapes that are difficult to machine, the process allows pre-hardened molds to be shaped so that no heat treatment is required. Changes to a hardened mold by conventional drilling and milling normally require annealing to soften the mold, followed by heat treatment to harden it again. EDM is a simple process in which a shaped electrode, usually made of copper or graphite, is very slowly lowered onto the mold surface (over a period of many hours), which is immersed in paraffin oil (kerosene). A voltage applied between tool and mold causes spark erosion of the mold surface in the inverse shape of the electrode.