Texas Research Institute Austin Inc. (TRI) developed advanced injection molding and mold design techniques for highly abrasive, high heat capacity injection molding materials that support the manufacturing of both very large injection molding parts such as composite munition canisters for tank rounds, and very small injection molding parts. With Army SBIR funding, TRI improved injection molding technology which resulted in the development of long glass fiber filled injection molded composite munition canisters and a new material called Ecomass. Through the injection molding process, Ecomass combines metallic powders and thermoplastic materials to achieve a wide-range of densities by using high-density metallic powders combined with a low density thermoplastic material. The density of the molding material can be highly controlled and tailored to the specific needs of the customer.
The first Ecomass formulations combined tungsten powder with thermoplastic materials to form a non-toxic substitute for metallic lead. Ecomass compounds can be as heavy as metallic lead, but are non-toxic and as easy to fabricate as plastics. Toxic high-density materials can be duplicated without the exposure to the toxicity. TRI commercialized the Ecomass technology (www.ecomass.com) by working with startup company Ideas to Market, LP. Ideas to Market, LP worked to identify and enter markets where Ecomass compounds could be used to replace traditional materials. These metal materials have certain adverse physical properties including environmentally hazardous toxicity and the lack of frangibility in projectile applications.
Frangible bullets are designed to disintegrate into very small particles when they hit the target or other hard surface to minimize penetration of other nearby objects. Small particles are rapidly slowed by air resistance, and are less likely to cause injury or damage to persons and objects other than the target. They are often used during close quarters combat training to avoid ricochets. The frangibility of Ecomass projectiles is accomplished by using metal powder instead of solid metal slugs. Since inception, Ideas to Market, LP has generated over $45M in Phase III funding, primarily from the sales of its products to the commercial and government sectors.
The Ecomass projectiles can support the government’s plans to phase out lead bullets by 2018, The U.S. Army invested $50K for further research and development of these nontoxic, lead free projectiles leading to purchases of over $26.6M. The U.S. Army uses millions of small arms ammunition rounds for training every year. Moreover, Ecomass frangible projectiles are produced using a highly controlled injection molding process able to meet the strictest of military tolerances ensuring repeatable performance with full function and reliability. They are a 100 percent ballistic match to lead based projectiles at 25m for pistol ammunition and 100m for rifle ammunition.
Ecomass compounds have been used successfully as frangible projectiles for military training ammunition and 40mm door breaching grenade projectiles for law enforcement personnel. In the commercial sector, the Ecomass non-toxic high density golf compounds helped golf club manufacturer PING Inc. engineers develop variable weights of the same part geometry and volume, cutting costs by eliminating the need for different raw materials, secondary machining operations and varying final part dimensions. Ideas to Market, LP continues to expand Ecomass applications with additional injection molding products. This includes a new process developed to achieve a shiny, silver metallic finish on Ecomass parts and applications. One example is a weight for luxury car key fobs.