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The Distribution of

Number of Passes Over


the Flights in Single
Screw Melt Extruders
I. Manas-Zloczower
Department of Chemical Engineering
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN

and
Z. Tadmor
Department of Chemical Engineering
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
Haifa, Israel

ABSTRACT

In single screw melt extruders there is a continuous flow of polymer melt over the flight clearance.

The melt flowing over the clearance experiences


high shear rate and may also experience very high
temperature. This, in turn, may affect polymer
structure and properties. The melt that flows over
the flight is mixed with the bulk of the melt flow-

INTRODUCTION

he flight clearance in a screw extruder is a


focal area of concern in extrusion operation,
yet it received surprisingly little attention in
theoretical analysis. As far as the extrusion process
is concerned, the flight clearance has a n overall
negative effect. Leakage over the flights reduces
pumping efficiency, delays the start of melting and
reduces melting rates, broadens residence time distribution, reduces the heat transfer coefficient on
the barrel, and reduces extensive mixing perfor-

ADVANCES IN POLYMER TECHNOLOGY

ing in the channel. In the extrudate there are fluid


elements that have not passed over the flights and
there are fluid elements that passed over the flight
once, twice, or many times. In this paper, a theoretical model is proposed for calculating the
number of pass distribution function of a melt
stream emerging from a melt extruder.

mance. Thus, as far as the extrusion process is


concerned, the best would be to have a zero flight
clearance. However, with zero flight clearance the
screw would not turn very easily and, when turned
by a sufficiently high torque, it would start to wear
out quickly.
Fortunately, a small flight clearance does not
affect the extrusion process too severely, and the
polymer melt passing over the flights acts as a
lubricant which enables both relatively easy rotation, and by its hydrodynamic action, prevents, to
a large extent, flight tip t o barrel metal contact. As
a result, the screw, supported generally only on
21 3

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS


the drive end, essentially floats in the barrel on
molten polymer films in the flight clearance. The
selection of the flight clearance in the design stage
is a delicate compromise between tolerable power
dissipation levels in the clearances (which are by
n o means negligible) a n d the tolerable detrimental
effects on the process.
Yet in spite of the lubricating effect of the
molten film in the flight clearances, screw flights
d o wear with time and when the clearance gets excessively large, process efficiency deteriorates t o a
point where the screw has to be replaced or its
worn flights rebuilt.
Much of the published work o n flight clearance
effect relates to the effect of leakage flow over the
flight on the extrusion process, rather than t o the
flight clearance flow. However, Winter (1980) recently dealt with this problem. In a n interesting
paper, he analyzed in detail the non-Newtonian,
highly nonisothermal, basically drag flow in the
flight clearance. By numerically solving the
coupled energy a n d momentum equation, he concluded that large temperature-induced pressure
gradients may be generated and that also very
substantial temperature rises may occur. In one
example he calculated a maximum temperature
rise of 100 C above the barrel temperature! The
temperature-induced pressure gradients may cause
film rupture, bringing about metal-to-metal contact and flight tip wear. If the polymer melt that
passes over the flight does indeed experience such
high temperature histories, even for short periods
of time, one would expect shear and thermal degradation of the polymer. The question that arises
is, how significant is this effect? What fraction of
the extruded polymer passes over the flight? Is it
the same material that passes repeatedly over the
flight clearance o r is there a continuous material
renewal. The theoretical model proposed in
this paper attempts t o deal with some of these
questions.

neous flight clearances vary with time due to radial


motion and vibration, and that this variation is a
pseudo-random process. Consequently, the melt
emerging from the flight clearances is wiped off
the barrel in a random manner and mixed into the
melt stream flowing in the channel. The melt in
the channel flows slowly down the channel while
the cross channel barrel velocity component induces mixing a n d cross channel circulation.
The residence time distribution in melt extruders was shown t o be quite narrow by Pinto
a n d Tadmor (1970). This was verified experimentally by Wolf and White (1976). Hence, we can
visualize the flow process, for our modelling purposes, as one of plug flow in the down channel
direction with cross channel mixing and circulation. More specifically, consider a small down
channel increment AZ, as shown in Fig. 1, which
defines a control volume of T H A Z . This control
volume of melt flows down channel at the mean
melt velocity while, d u e to the cross channel circulation, it acts as a well-stirred tank. Melt flows into
the controlled volume over the trailing flight at a
given time average rate, and melt flows out of the
controlled volume over the pushing flight at the
same time average rate. This is shown schematically
in Fig. 2a. As a first order model, we can close the
loop of flight clearance flow as in Fig. 2b. The
model, therefore, is one of a small batch stirred
tank which moves steadily down channel with a
recycle stream.
At any time, the stirred tank contains a
predictable fraction of volume which has not yet
passed over the flight, and predictable volume
fractions which have passed once, twice, o r k times
over the flight. In other words, a t any time t there
will be a distribution of number of passes over the
flight. This distribution function was shown by
Manas-Zloczower et al. (1982), who calculated
passage distribution over internal mixer rotor
clearances, to be given by

THEORETICAL MODEL
where

As mentioned in the introduction, the screw


floats in the barrel o n the molten films in the
flight clearances. In spite of the hydrodynamic
lubricating effect of these films, it is highly
unreasonable to assume that a screw, which rotates
and is exposed to substantial axial loads, is perfectly centered. It is more likely that local instanta21 4

tr
A==t
with t, being the residence time in the extruder,
given (Tadmor and Gogos, 1979) by

VOL. 3, NO.3

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS


where Z is the down channel length of the screw, L
is the corresponding axial distance, V,, is the down
channel barrel velocity component, is the mean
helix angle, Qd is the volumetric drag flow rate,
and Q is the volumetric net flow rate. Equation (3)
is, of course, based on the isothermal Newtonian
extrusion model in constant depth channel.
The mean residence 7 in Eq. (2), is that of a
fluid element in the controlled volume and it is
simply the ratio of the controlled volume WHAZ
to the volumetric leakage flow rate over the flight
Q, over a down channel distance AZ:

FIGURE 1
A controlled
volume element of down
channel length
A 2 shown by
the crosshatched area.
Flow streams
in and out of
the element
shown by arrows.

--

where Q, is the leakage flow over the flight over a


down channel increment AZ given by
1
Q1= -V,,6,AZ

FIGURE 2
Schematic
representation
of the controlled volume by a
well mixed
vessel (a)
entering and
ex it ing
streams shown
by arrows, (b) a
first approximation of the
model made by
closing the
loop between
the exit and
entering
streams.

Substituting Eq. (5) into Eq. (4)gives


a

An expression for the cross flight pressure gradient was derived by Tadmor and Klein (1970) and it
is given by:
6pV,, tan Ob(l + e/W)(l - 6 , l H )
H2[(6,/H)3+ e/W]

+ e/W

Qp/Qd

tan

3.

ii tan eb(i - 6 , / ~ )

(7)

Substituting Eq. (7) into Eq. (6) gives, after some


rearrangement,

which accounts for only drag flow over the flight


clearance.
By substituting Eqs. (8) and (3) into Eq. ( 2 ) we
get

2w
t=-$

'bx

where

where from screw geometry it follows that


L

(L/L,)(l + e / W )
- (1 / x tan eb - H/L,)(T sin i7)

(1 1)

and

ii = tan-l[(cotan 8, - Hn/L,)-l]
For relatively small flight clearance to channel
depth ratios Eq. (9) simplifies to

ADVANCES IN POLYMER TECHNOLOGY

(12)

where L, is the screw lead.


Therefore, the distribution function G , is dependent on the following dimensionless parameters: 6 , / H , LIL,, e l w , H I L , , O,, and the
operating variable Qp/Qd.Assuming a square pit21 5

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS


ched screw, e1W = 0.1 and H I L , = 0.1, Gk is
dependent only on the parameter 6,IH, LIL, and
QpIQd-

The distribution function G for LIL, = 10 (i.e.,


a t the exit of a ten turn long screw) with Q,lQd =
-113 and 6,IH = 0.04, is shown in Fig. 3 (curve
denoted by a = 0), and for 6 , l H = 0.1 in Fig. 4
(curve denoted by a = 0). In the former case,
where the flight clearance is small, simulation
results indicate that about 48% of the melt does
not pass the flight a t all, 34% pass the flight once,
12% pass twice, 4% pass three times, and about
2% pass four times or more. However, when the
flight clearance is increased to 6 , l H = 0.1, the
distribution function changes drastically, with only
9% of the material not passing the flights a t all,
(i.e., 91% passes the flight once o r more), 22%
passing once, 26% passing twice, 21% passing
three times, 12% passing four times, etc.

FIGURE 3
Gk functions
given in Eq.
(22) with 01 = 0
( + ) a = kt,/N
(X) and 01 =
k(tr/N --to) (0)
with e / W =
0.1, H/L, =
0.1, L/L, = 10,
Q/Q = -1/3
and 6f/H =
0.04.

A more realistic pass distribution model should,


however, take into account the fact that the incoming flow over the flight originate from a controlled volume which is one turn downstream,
and outflowing stream over the flight from the
controlled volume feeds into a controlled volume
one turn upstream from the controlled volume
considered. This is shown schematically in Fig. 5 .
Thus, the model is one of a string of interconnected stirred-tank-like-controlled-volumes, which
travel down channel in concert in a plug-type fashion. The inflowing stream of melt over the flight
contains fluid elements of a different number of
pass histories, characteristic to the n+l stirred
vessel (Fig. 5 ) , thus the following differential
balance can be written over the vessel n:

0.501

0*45Pi
0.40

0-251

\\

0.20

0.151

o-ol

0.0 5
I

NUMBER O F P A S S E S

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS

FIGURE 4
Same as Fig. 3
but with 6,/H
= 0.1.

NUMBER O F P A S S E S

FIGURE 5
Schematic
representation
of a model
based on an interconnected
string of stirred vessels.

n- 1

where G; is the volume fraction in vessel n that


have experienced k passes over the flight and V =
WHAZ is the volume of the vessel. Substituting
Eq. (4) into Eq. (13) gives

ADVANCES IN POLYMER TECHNOLOGY

n+1

Now, by the nature of the model we have assumed, the distribution functions in different
vessels are identical in structure but displaced in
time, thus

21 7

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS


where t is the actual time, t, is the total residence
time in the extruder, and N is the total number of
vessels or the number of screw turns
N = -L
L,

(16)

when L is the total screw length. Equation (15)


states that G,-l in vessel n + 1 at time t, is the same
as GI_,in vessel n after B time t

+2
,
where L-is
N
N

the time needed to move in plug-like fashion a


distance of one turn. By substituting Eqs. (1) and
(15) into Eq. (14), by iterative solution the following result is obtained

where a assumes a value of zero for Eq. ( l ) , cy =


kt,/N for Eq. (18) and a = k(t,/N - to) for Eq.
(19). Figures 3 and 4 show a comparison for these
alternative models for 6, / H = 0.04 and 0.1 respectively, with e / W = 0.1, 1 HIL, = 0.1 and a square
pitched screw. For relatively tight flight clearance,
all three models give practically identical results.
But for a relatively larger clearance, the model
based on Eq. ( I ) gives a somewhat different solution than for models based on Eqs. (18) and (19).
Nevertheless, the very simple model of Eq. (1) can
be used to get very good estimates of the G,
function.

SIMULATIONS
where the superscript n was dropped and Gk is
simply the distribution function at time t.
In deriving Eq. (17) the time t,, which takes
fluid elements passing the flight to get mixed into
the vessel was neglected. This time is of the order
t,, = W I Vh,. This time delay can be approximately
accounted for by substituting k t , / N in Eq. (17) by
k(t,/N - t,,).
At the exit of the extruder, the pass distribution
function G , is obtained by setting t = t, where t, is
the mean residence time in the extruder:

If the delay time to is taken into account, Eq.


( 18) becomes

where

Expressing Eq. (20) in terms of the dimensionless


groups derived earlier, we get

Equations (l), (1 8), and (19) can be combined into


a single equation
XL

GI =-(Ik!
21 8

+ cy/t,)k-le-A(l+~rJIrl

(22)

With the aid of Eq. (19), the effect of the various geometrical and operational parameters on
the distribution function G, was investigated.
Figure 6 plots G , with 6, I H as a parameter for a 10
turn long squared pitched screw, with Q,/Qd =
-1 / 3 . With an increasing flight clearance, the
fraction of volume that experiences no passes over
the flight, drops monotonically from 70% to
below 10% in the range tested. When 6 , / H increases to 0.04, G , shows a maximum at k = 1 .
The maximum then shifts slowly to higher k values
as flight clearance is further increased. Figure 7
shows the effect of screw length at a given flight
clearance value. As expected, the longer the screw,
the greater is the chance of fluid elements to pass
over the flights. Figure 8 shows the effect of back
pressure on G , at fixed flight clearance and screw
length. An increase in back pressure increases the
probability of fluid elements to pass over the
flights. Finally, Fig. 9 plots the mean number of
passes k per one turn screw length versus 6, / H with
Q,/Qd as a parameter for a square pitched screw.
By using the curves in this figure, it is possible to
quickly estimate the mean number of passes in a
given extrusion operation. For example, a 10 turn
long screw with 6,IH = 0.07 and Qp/Qd= 0 (pure
drag flow) hasak/(L/L,)valueofaboutO.l, oron
the average, all the melt passes once over the
flight.

DISCUSSION
The theoretical model presented in this paper
enables us to estimate the distribution function of
VOL. 3, NO. 3

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS

FIGURE 6
Gk based on
Eq. (19), with
6,/H as a
par_arneter,
e1W = 0.1,
H/L, = 0.1,
LIL, = 10,
Qp/Qd = -1/3
and square pitched screw.

o-aol
0.60

r/w=0.02

0.40
O* O

0.3 O

o .o

h
n

NUMBER OF P A S S E S

FIGURE 7
Gk based on
Eq. (19), with
LIL, as a
pararnetg,
with e/W =
0.1, H/L, =
0.1, 6,IH =
0.02 and Q P / Q d
= -1/3and
square pitched
screw.

o.eo,

o.ao\

0.60
k

0.30

NUMBER OF P A S S E S

ADVANCES IN POLYMER TECHNOLOGY

21 9

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS

Eq. (19) with


as a
parameter,

Q,/Qd

0.70-

FIGURE 9
Mean number
of passes per
turn k/(L/L,)
versus df/H
with Q,/Qd as
a parameter
and e / W =
0.1, H/L, =
0.1 and square
pitched screw.

2.001

l.601

1.20-

0.401

220

VOL. 3, NO.3'

FLIGHT CLEARANCE IN SINGLE SCREW MELT EXTRUDERS


number of passes over the melt emerging from the
extruder. The function G, is very sensitive to flight
clearance. Thus, screw flight tip wear will have a
profound effect on it. By coupling the function G,
with a detailed solution of the flight flow as suggested by Winter (l980), and some knowledge on
the time-temperature-shear histories on polymer
properties, it is possible, in principle, to predict
the effect of the flight clearance on polymer
properties.
The model incorporates many simplifying assumptions. Specifically, the concept of a pseudorandom motion of screw in the barrel was
assumed, which leads to a random type mixing
process of melt flowing through the flight clearance into the melt channel. I f this assumption is
not correct, then the distribution function shifts
towards a perhaps less desirable situation whereby
a smaller fraction of the volume will experience
much more frequent passes over the flight, with
the bulk of the melt experiencing fewer passes.
Another key assumption in deriving the model is
that the flow in the down channel direction is a
plug type flow. This assumption permits us to
represent the process as a string of interconnected
well-stirred vessels moving at constant speed down
the channel. The assumption of plug flow could,
of course, be alleviated by superimposing on the
model an axial convection term. However, this
would considerably increase the mathematical
complexity, probably without providing a comparable improvement in realistic representation of
the actual system. Finally, the validity of the well
mixed concept across the channel can be questioned. The circulatory flow pattern does not lead
to a truly well-mixed situation, and outside layers
have a better chance to flow over the flights than
the inside ones. This inaccuracy in the assumption
will once again lead to a situation where a small
volume fraction will pass more frequently over the
flight, as compared to a larger fraction which will
experience fewer passes.

ADVANCES IN POLYMER TECHNOLOGY

NOMENCLATURE
e
GI
GI1

H
k
L
L,
N
P
Q
Q,
Qd
Qp
t
t,

T
t,,

Flight width, m
Volume fraction of extrudate which has experienced k
passes over the flight, (-)
= Volume fraction of vessel n which has experienced k
passes over the flight, (-)
= Channel depth, m
= Number of passes, (-)
= Axial screw length, m
= Lead of the x r e w , m
= Number of screw turns, (-)
= Pressure, Nlm2
= Qd + Q,, volumetric flow rate, m'ls
= Volumetric flow rate of melt across flight into controlled value (Eq. 5 ) . m ' l s
= Volumetric drag flow rate, m ' l s
= Volumetric pressure flow rate, m'ls
= Time, s
= Mean residence time in the extruder, s
= \ i / Q , , mean residence time in the controlled volume, s
= WIV,,, approximate time to cross channel, s
=
=

= tc,/tr(-)
= Down

I*

V,,

channel velocity component of barrel surface,

mis

V,,

\i

=
=
=
=
=
=
=

Crosc channel velocity component of barrel surface,


mb

Z
PZ
cy

6,
oh

h
p

H W A Z , controlled volume, m7
Mean channel width, m
Helical length of screw channel, m
Down channel increment, m
Defined in text
Flight clearance, m
Helix angle on barrel surface, rad
= Mean helix angle, rad
= [ , i t , dimensionless time (-)
= Viscosity, N.slm*
= Defined in Eq. (9), (-)

REFERENCES
I . Manac-Zloczower. I..
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Nir, A., and Tadmor, Z. 1982. Rubber


Chemistry and Technology 5 5 : 1250.
Pinto. G . and Tadmor. Z. 1970. Polymer Eng. & Sci. 1 0 279.
Tadmor. Z . and Klein, I . 1970. Engineering Principles oJPlasticating
E.vtrusion. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Tadmor, Z . and Gogo\. C. C. 1979. Principles of Polymer Processing. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Winter, H. H. 1980. Polymer Eng. & Sci. 20: 406.
Wolf. D. and White, D.H . 1976. Am. Inst. Chem. Eng. J . 22: 122.

221