Melt Fracture in Plastics

Liquid plastics are often extruded–or pressure-driven through a die–during manufacturing. Early on manufacturers discovered that they could only extrude plastic at low flow rates, otherwise the plastic’s surface begins undulating in what became known as melt fracture. These corrugations result from the viscoelasticity of the plastic. Viscoelastic fluids have a response to deformation that is part viscous–like any fluid–and part elastic. At low flow rates, viscous forces dominate in the plastic, but at higher speeds, elasticity increases and the polymers in the plastic get stretched along the direction of flow. In response to this stretching, the polymers exert normal stresses, much like a rubber band that’s being stretched. Because this force acts only along the flow direction, different parts of the fluid are experiencing different forces, and these internal stresses cause the plastic to change shape. (Image credit: D. Bonn et al.)

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