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Ultrasonic Plastic Welding Basics

By Janet Devine, President Sonobond Ultrasonics

This ultrasonic welding primer will help you understand how joint design requirements
and selection of welding machine frequency affect the finished product.
MANUFACTURERS constantly search for equipment that will increase
production, reduce reects and otherwise impro!e their efficiency" Ultrasonic weldin# $$
used in the medical, electrical, automoti!e, pac%a#in#, toy, housewares, cosmetics and
other industries $$ achie!es those o&ecti!es"
Ultrasonics can &e used to insert metal fasteners in thermoplastic materials, to form a
plastic ri!et, to de#ate plastic parts and to cut and seal films and fa&rics, as well as to oin
plastic parts to#ether"
'ow does it wor%( Ultrasonic !i&rational ener#y at the interface of the plastic parts &ein#
oined causes the plastic to soften and flow in a fraction of a second" )hen the material is
pressed to#ether and resolidifies, the &ond is made"
No #lues or sol!ents are needed" Toolin# can &e desi#ned to secure and ali#n the parts"
'eatin# is confined to the interface area so the assem&led part is not too hot to handle"
Equipment can &e inte#rated into automated lines"
There are two &asic techniques* plun#e weldin# and continuous weldin#" +n plun#e
weldin#, the parts are placed under a tool or horn, the horn descends to the part under
moderrate pressure and the weld cycle is initiated" +n the continuous weldin# process, the
horn may -scan- the part, or, with films and fa&rics, the material is passed o!er or under
the horn on a continuous &asis"
Principles of Operation
Every ultrasonic unit contains the following five elements:
A power supply that takes line power at 50/60 cycles and changes
it to a high ultrasonic frequency of 20000 cycles per second or
A converter or transducer that contains pie"oelectric crystals that
change the incoming high#frequency electrical signal to mechanical
vi$ration of the same frequency!
A $ooster that transmits the vi$rational energy and increases its
A horn to deliver the vi$ration energy $y contact with the parts to
$e welded!
An anvil or nest to support the workpiece! %or $onding of
te&tilesthe pattern wheel replaces the anvil!
Fi#" / $ Ultrasonic weldin# equipment such as this Sure)eld line from Sono&ond comes in a !ariety of si0es and styles, includin#
microprocessor$controlled units, modular units and hand$held !ersions"
Systems ha!e e!ol!ed into a ran#e of si0es and styles to suit a wide ran#e of applications
$ Fi#" /" The most common type is a press" The weldin# press is equipped with a
pneumatic system to supply the necessary contact force and the head is mounted on a
slide so it can &e raised and lowered to contact the part to &e welded" +t is important the
press &e ri#id so &endin# deflections do not affect the weld consistency"
The head is usually acti!ated &y a palm &utton set" The ultrasonic ener#y can &e started
ust &efore the horn contacts the part, after contact &ut &efore full pressure is reached or
when full preset pressure is reached" After the ultrasonic ener#y is stopped, there is
usually a short delay &efore pressure is released to permit solidification of the plastic to
Many units are a!aila&le with microprocessor controls" These permit control of the weld
&y time, ener#y or distance, whereas the con!entional weldin# machine is controlled &y
time only" Microprocessor$equipped systems May also ha!e a port to transfer data to a
printer or computer for stora#e or for further analysis" Some systems can recei!e data
from an e1ternal computer permittin# remote control"
Modular units are a!aila&le, suita&le for incorporation into automated equipment for
special$purpose machines" Some small units are a!aila&le in handheld !ersions"
2ower le!els for 34$%'0 equipment are a!aila&le at as hi#h as 5444 )" Most equipment
sold falls into the 644$3444 ) ran#e" 7esi#n requirements dictate that the hi#her the
frequency the smaller the unit" This also means hi#her frequency units ha!e less power
handlin# capacity and are suita&le for the smaller, more delicate or precision parts"
Equipment is a!aila&le with frequencies of 34, 58, 94 and :4 %'0"
For continuous weldin# of film and fa&ric, the ultrasonic system may &e &uilt into a ta&le
that resem&les a sewin# machine" The system is equipped with a rotatin# wheel that can
em&oss or cut the fa&ric with a wide ran#e of patterns" ;ther arran#ements include
multiple head systems used for wide roll #oods, these may &e used to quilt, slit or em&oss
The horn is the part of the ultrasonic system that contacts the parts to &e oined" The horn
is desi#ned to resonate at the frequency of the ultrasonic system" )hen the horn !i&rates
it stretches and shrin%s in len#th &y a small amount" This motion is referred to as the
amplitude of the horn"
Amplitude is measured as the pea%$to$pea% motion at the face of the horn" +ncreasin# the
!olta#e to the transducer or chan#in# the &ooster or the #eometry of the horn can chan#e
this !alue" Some plastics respond &etter at hi#her amplitude"
The material of which the horn is made must ha!e #ood acoustical and mechanical
properties" These properties are usually found in low$density materials such as aluminum
or titanium" 'owe!er, steel or nic%el alloys are sometimes used when wear is a factor"
Aluminum can &e chrome plated and titanium may &e car&ide coated or car&ide tipped to
reduce wear"
Horn Geometry
The shape and si0e of the parts to &e welded usually dictate the horn face" The
requirement that the horn &e a resonant mem&er of the system dictates some constraints
The most commonly used horns are stepped cylinder or stepped &ar horns
$Fi#" 3" These are simple to machine and capa&le of hi#h #ain <#ain is ratio of input
amplitude to output amplitude="
'orn #eometries include circular flat$faced horns, circular hollow horns,
rectan#ular horns and compound horns $Fi#" 5" A compound horn is made up of a
rectan#ular or circular &loc% horn with e1tender horns attached &y a stud to the &loc%
horn face" This allows access to recessed weld sites or clearance for protrusions on the
part to &e welded"
Sharp transitions and tool mar%s should &e a!oided &ecause they can cause stress risers
that lead to crac%in# of the horn" To pre!ent unwanted !i&ration in the width direction,
horns wider than 5$in" <:">3 cm= may need to &e slotted" Slots are located symmetrically
across the horn with the slot endin# at least 8?6 in" </8"6:8 mm= from the face and from
the threaded stud hole" Slots are radiused at the ends and ed#es to a!oid stress risers"
After a horn is made, its resonant frequency is chec%ed" 'orn analy0ers are a!aila&le for
this measurement" The frequency can &e adusted &y remo!in# material from the horn"
The horn at idle should pull !ery low current from the horn analy0er" +f it does not, it may
&e crac%ed or out of frequency ran#e" Most weldin# machines will indicate a fault if the
horn is defecti!e"
Fi#" 3 $ Stepped cylinder or stepped &ar horns are the most commonly used horns"
Fi#" 5 $ 'orns come in a !ariety of #eomtetries, includin# hollow cylinder horns, cylinder horns with rectan#ular faces and compound horns"
Weldable Materials
The term plastic may &e used for thermoplastic or thermoset materials" The latter will
&urn when heated and cannot &e ultrasonically oined" ;nly thermoplastic materials are
candidates for ultrasonic weldin#" Thermoplastics can &e further cate#ori0ed as
amorphous or crystalline"
Amorphous resins e1hi&it random, spa#hetti$li%e structure" They do not #reatly dampen
ener#y introduced into the material" As heat is applied, they soften and do not ha!e a
sharply defined meltin# temperature" Amorphous resins include A@S, acrylic,
polycar&onate, polystyrene and polysulfone" Crystalline resins ha!e an orderly pattern,
li%e coiled sprin#s" Aust as metal sprin#s dampen !i&ration, so do crystalline materials"
They also ha!e a well$defined meltin# temperature" Crystalline materials include acetal,
nylon, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene and polyphenylene sulfide"
Alloys?&lends are com&inations of amorphous and?or crystalline polymers and the
com&inations seem endless"
Many trade names, e"#", Be1an <a polycar&onate=, are a!aila&le in differin# formulations
usually indicated &y a num&er or alphanumeric desi#nation" Most plastics manufacturers
offer e1tensi!e technical ad!ice"
7ifferin# materials can &e ultrasonically welded if their meltin# tempera$ are within 54CF
and their composition is compati&le" Fi#ure 9 indicates welda&ility and compati&ility of
!arious plastics"
The use of fillers and additi!es selecti!ely e1tends the performance and
properties of thermoplastics" These include colorants, flame retardants, lu&ricants,
minerals, mold release a#ents, plastici0ers and UD sta&ili0ers that can act to lu&ricate the
surface and a&sor& moisture, either of which can ma%e ultrasonic weldin# more difficult"
;n the other hand, if at low le!els, the addition of #lass fi&ers, impact modifiers and
re#rind material may increase welda&ility"
Fi#" 9 $ Compati&ility of thermoplastics for ultrasonic weldin#"
Joint Design
To ensure that plastic assem&lies are adequately oined, they should &e desi#ned at
inception with a suita&le oint desi#n" Many factors are ta%en into consideration* the
material to &e &onded, the ultimate use of the product, the cost and ease of moldin# and
the location of the oint surface relati!e to the horn"
The oint surface should &e appro1imately perpendicular to the !ertical a1is of the
ultrasonic system and parallel to the face of the horn" The oint surface should &e in one
plane" The distance &etween the horn face and the oint should &e within /?9 in" <>"58
mm= of the horn face" This is referred to as a near field weld" Far field weldin# is the term
used when the oint is farther away and is only done when the plastic material can
efficiently transmit the ultrasonic ener#y to the oint location" +n #eneral, this limits far
field weldin# to ri#id amorphous materials, althou#h some semicrystalline materials can
&e welded far field #i!en a fa!ora&le #eometry"
The oint #eometry should &e tailored to the end product use" The parts must not fit so
ti#htly &efore oinin# that they inhi&it the !i&ration needed to induce weldin#" Thin cross
sections may crac% under the action of !i&ration, and delicate parts, such as fine wires,
may &ecome dama#ed when their enclosures are welded" ;&!iously, the ideal conditions
are not always attaina&le and compromises can &e made"
The simplest type of oint desi#n uses a trian#ular or, less frequently, a rounded
proection called an ener#y director" The function of the ener#y director is to pro!ide a
site to initiate the rapid plastici0ation of the oinin# surface &y concentration of the
Trian#ular ener#y directors ha!e an an#le of >4 or E4 de#rees and a hei#ht from 4"446 to
4"494 in" <4"3 to /"43 mm=, dependin# on the material, the wall thic%ness, the
requirements for the oint and the li%elhood that e1cess melted plastic, call -flash- will
occur" The ener#y director is usually centered on one of the parts to &e oined and may &e
discontinuous around the ed#e of the part" +n some cases, usually when the wall thic%ness
is wide, two ener#y directors are used, side &y side, or sta##ered"
The choice of which molded part carries the ener#y director is usually not important"
)hen weldin# materials of different ri#idity, the ener#y director is usually placed on the
softer part"
The molded parts should &e desi#ned such that they retain their relati!e position durin#
weldin#" This can &e done &y a centerin# pro!ision desi#ned into the parts" Clearance
&etween the two parts should &e small &ut at least 4"443 in" <4"48 mm=" +f pro!ision for
centerin# the parts is not present, then the nest or holdin# fi1ture must pro!ide this
feature, althou#h this is not the preferred method"
+f the parts ha!e thin walls that may &ul#e under pressure, it is ad!isa&le to support the
part up to the oinin# 0one"
)hen weldin# with an ener#y director, the idea is to melt and collapse the ener#y
director" +t is important the molded parts, the an!il or the stro%e limitation of the press
does not impede this motion"
A num&er of oint desi#ns usin# a E4$de# ener#y director are shown in Fi#" 8"
These include &utt oints, step oints and ton#ue and #roo!e oints" The E4$de# ener#y
director is suita&le for most amorphous resins &ut >4$de# is preferred for polycar&onate,
acrylics and semicrystalline materials"
Crystalline materials may recei!e incomplete fusion when an ener#y director is used
&ecause material displaced from the ener#y director may solidify &efore it flows across
the oint to form a seal" For this reason, shear oints are often preferred" A carefully
desi#ned shear oint can also achie!e lea%ti#ht oints"
Fi#" 8 $ @asic ener#y director desi#ns"
A shear oint uses an interference fit &etween the walls of the parts to &e
oined $ Fi# >" This necessitates the meltin# and mo!in# of molten plastic at the oint as
the parts are simultaneously su&ected to ultrasonic ener#y and downward force" @ecause
a shear oint melts lar#er amounts of material, it may require hi#her power and lon#er
time than a oint made usin# an ener#y director" The shear oint also tends to impart
sideways motion into the part, so the side walls should &e well supported &y the nest or
holdin# fi1ture" +f necessary, the fi1ture can &e split to permit easier loadin# and
unloadin# of the parts"
The shear oint should also ha!e a lead$in to pro!ide self$ali#nment of the parts" The
initial contact area at the &ase of the lead$in should &e small" The desi#n shown in Fi#" >
is for a medium$si0e part of up to 3 in" <8"46 cm= in diameter" Smaller parts should ha!e
reduced interference fit F4"446$4"4/3 in" <4"3$4"5 mm= per sideG and lar#er parts an
increased interference fit of up to 4"434 in" <4"8 mm= per side"
+n #eneral, semicrystalline parts up to a&out 5 /?3 in" <6"6E cm= in diameter can &e welded
with a shear oint, &ut amorphous materials may &e lar#er"
A com&ination shear oint and ener#y director is sometimes used to produce a hi#h$
stren#th, lea%ti#ht weld"
Fi#" > $ A shear oint desi#n"
Other onsiderations
Part !i"e
2art si0e has an influence on the power le!el required and the frequency of the weldin#
machine selected" For lar#e parts #reater than / /?3 in" <5"6/ cm= in diameter, or with any
weldin# dimension lon#er than 3 in", select a 34$%'0 weldin# machine" The power le!el$$
typically a!aila&le at a&out /444, /844, 3444 or 5444 )$$depends on the si0e of the weld
area, type of oint and the material to &e welded"
Smaller parts may use a 58$ or 94$%'0 weldin# machine" These are a!aila&le in power
ran#es of 944$/444 )"
For !ery small welds, a :4$%'0, /44 ) system is a!aila&le in press form or a hand$held
!ersion" This system has &een used for hi#h$speed ultrasonic sta%in# of plastic
proections for 58$mm film cartrid#es and for sin#le$use cameras"
Part #eatures
Sharp corners may fracture or melt when e1posed to ultrasonic !i&ration" To reduce such
stress fractures, corners and ed#es should &e radiused"
2roections or ta&s may fracture and e!en fall off" This tendency is reduced if the unction
&etween the ta& and the &ody of the part is radiused" Sometimes it is necessary to thic%en
the part, li#htly clamp it or, if possi&le, use a hi#her frequency weldin# machine <58 or 94
%'0= to reduce &rea%a#e"
Si0a&le holes, sharp an#les or &ends within the part may also create pro&lems &ecause the
ultrasonic ener#y may &e deflected, lea!in# a section with little or no fusion"
Thin, unsupported sections on a part may !i&rate or diaphra#m" +f the fle1in# is se!ere, it
may cause a hot spot in the material, e!en causin# a hole in the part" +ncreasin# the
section thic%ness or switchin# to a hi#her$frequency weldin# machine may reduce this
pro&lem" Sometimes reducin# the amplitude of !i&ration will help"
Ultrasonic weldin# is widely used for !arious component assem&ly applications in the
medical, chemical and electrical industries as well as others" These include liquid &earin#
!essels, +D components, hearin# aids, filter assem&lies, monitors and dia#nostic
Ultrasonic te1tile oinin#, primarily in nonwo!ens is used in medical #owns, &ooties,
caps, face mas%s, hy#iene products, incontinence products, &ed protectors, sur#ical
drapes, pillow co!ers and filter media"