Injection molding has been increasing for decades its share in the production of polymer components, in comparison to other manufacturing processes, as it can assure a cost-efficient production while maintaining short cycle times. In any production line, the stability of the process and the quality of the produced components is ensured by frequently performed metrological controls, which require a significant amount of effort and resources. To avoid the expensive effect of an out of tolerance production, an alternative method to intensive metrology efforts to process stability and part quality monitoring is presented in this article. The proposed method is based on the extraction of process and product fingerprints from the process regulating signals and the replication quality of dedicated features positioned on the injection molded component, respectively. The features used for this purpose are placed on the runner of the moldings and are similar or equal to those actually in the part, in order to assess the quality of the produced plastic parts. For the purpose of studying the method’s viability, a study case based on the production of polymer microfluidic systems for bio-analytics medical applications was selected. A statistically designed experiment was utilized in order to assess the sensitivity of the polymer biochip’s micro features (μ-pillars) replication fidelity with respect to the experimental treatments. The main effects of the process parameters revealed that the effects of process variation were dependent on the position of the μ-pillars. Results showed that a number of process fingerprints follow the same trends as the replication fidelity of the on-part μ-pillars. Instead, only one of the two on-runner μ-pillar position measurands can effectively serve as product fingerprints. Thus, the method can be the foundation for the development of a fast part quality monitoring system with the potential to decrease the use of off-line, time-consuming detailed metrology for part and tool approval, provided that the fingerprints are specifically designed and selected.
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