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1. (WO1991017034) VARIABLE OPENING DIE MEANS
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VARIABLE OPENING DIE MEANS

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
The invention pertains generally to a variable opening extruder die face pelletizer for utilization at the outlet of a polymer processing extruder. Apparatus of this general type is typically characterized by die plate means having a plurality of extrusion orifices. Heat-plastified polymeric material is supplied to the die plate means from a polymer processing extruder , typically a drying extruder, and is extruded through the orifices due to the rotating feed screws of the extruder having pressurized the material upstream of the die plate means. The apparatus further includes a rotatable cutter which is disposed downstream of the die plate means. The cutter is generally provided with a plurality of cutting blades projecting radially from a cylindrical body and extending longitudinally therealong . The cutting blades are operatively disposed with respect to the downstream face of the die plate means such that rotation of the cutter causes the heat-softened polymeric material extruded through the orifices to be sheared off into pellets. A treatment fluid introduced downstream of the die plate means carries the dried pellets away from the cutter to the next step in the overall rubber finishing process.
Devices of the foregoing type, as they are presently known in the art, utilize die plate means having adjustable or variable opening extrusion orifices. The predominant type of die plate means possessing the latter feature comprises a pair of concentric hollow cylindrical die plates , one cylindrical die plate being disposed inside the other cylinder die plate. Each of the die plates is provided with a number of extrusion openings. One of the die plates is rotatable with respect to the other of the die plates such that the extrusion openings formed in the respective die plates are capable of being totally aligned, or respectively misaligned to varying degrees. Selective changes in the relative rotational position of the die plates, and the corresponding misalignment of their respective extrusion orifices, in combination with the feed rate of raw material to the extruder, will determine and control the pressure and temperature changes in the polymer drying extruder upstream of the die plates, thereby serving to maintain a substantially constant rate of extrusion for the material. In this manner, the extrusion rate is able to be kept constant by adjusting extrusion back pressure by varying the available die area. Moreover, the die openings are varied in order to control the pressure and temperature in the extruder for the purpose of controlling the extrusion product moisture content. Utilization of relatively rotatable die plates serves further to obtain uniform pellet size by allowing the flow obstruction to occur at the inner face between the die plates, allowing the cross-section of the material at the downstream face of the die, proximate the cutter, to be constant.
Prior art devices as previously characterized possess numerous isadvantages. For instance, the rotatable die cylinder is very difficult to turn, requiring great force and resulting in a short operating life for the die cylinder. Indeed, prior art devices are known to frequently become inoperable after only several weeks of service. Thus, it is necessary to replace worn die plates very often, requiring shut-down of the rubber drying extruders. The latter procedures obviously give rise to costly and time consuming interruptions in the rubber drying process over the operating life of the extruders.
Additionally, the ability of prior art devices to successfully respond to extruder pressure and temperature conditions demands precise adjustments in the relative position of the nested die cylinders. Obtaining the required precision with prior art die plates, however, is extremely difficult and unpredictable. The relative position for the nested cylindrical ie plates is typically indicated by appropriate markings on the rotating cylinder. Unfortunately, observation of the indicia is most difficult and, consequently, an accurate determination of the die plate position is rarely attained. Moreover, rubber leakage commonly fills the observation port or indicia viewing area, and it is often impossible to ascertain the true position of the die plates. Furthermore, such precise adjustments involve relatively complex operational mechanical or motorized controls and, hence, are not favorably disposed to manual operation in an industrial environment.
Another significant drawback to prior art devices involves their operating costs. In addition to the above-noted costs, tangible and intangible, which accrue due to the necessity of replacing worn die plates, the two-cylinder die plate system even further increases operating expenses. In particular, foreign matter, such as "tramp" metal, can be expected to enter the extrusion system and plug the extrusion orifices, thereby rendering the die plates inoperable. The latter occurence necessitates removing the die plates from the extruder system, dismantling the two cylindrical dies and cleaning the extrusion orifices. This protocol not only necessitates detrimental system shut-down, but is also very costly and labor intensive. Furthermore, the cylindrical die plates tend to distort and gall and, therefore, must be similarly dismantled for repair or replacement.
As discussed herein, the mechanical and operational deficiencies associated with the concentric rotatable cylindrical die plate arrangement makes accurate adjustment of the die openings ambiguous and, indeed, sometimes impossible. Because the die openings provide the primary control in the extrusion drying process, in terms of responding to extruder conditions, the imprecision in die opening adjustment means that the effectiveness of the primary control is defeated, thereby resulting in the production of a lower quality product.
The present invention addresses and overcomes the foregoing enunciated deficiencies by providing a variable opening extruder die, in the form of an axially movable die rod, which is intended to replace the conventional cylinder-within-a-cylinder design. The die rod requires less force to move than the rotational effort required by prior art die plates. Additionally, position indication for the die rod is susceptible of marked enhancement, in that the die rod is capable of being successfully equipped with an indicator clearly displaying its position. Indeed, a position transmitter may be attached to the die rod to remotely indicate or record its position as, for instance, in a control room. Because the die rod may be hydraulically or electrically powered, standard manual or automatic remote control equipment may be applied for die rod operation and control. Furthermore, a significant attribute of the subject invention is its simplicity. More specifically, the die rod is able to be individually separated from the system without removal of surrounding members from the extruder, thus greatly facilitating repair and maintenance. Finally, the "variable opening extruder die of the present invention not only restores primary control capability to the rubber processing system, but can be readily actuated from a control room and, as such, is susceptible to future automation in the rubber drying process.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side elevational view of the die means of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a rear elevational view of the present invention;
FIG. 3 is a top plan view of the present invention;
FIG. 4 is an end view of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a sectional view of the present invention taken along line 5-5 of Fig. 2; and
FIG. 6 is a partial sectional view of the present invention as depicted in Fig. 5 but showing the housing as it appears with the die rod removed therefrom.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is directed to a variable opening die rod for utilization in a polymer drying process, by means of which polymeric extrudate, such as a rubber, is extruded through the die openings or the extrusion orifices formed in the die rod and is presented to a cutting area where it is sheared off and "pelletized" . The invention comprises a housing defining an inlet chamber adapted to be disposed downstream of the polymer drying extruder so as to receive the extrudate material. A vertically disposed die means passage is formed in the housing interiorly and downstream of the inlet chamber. A larger, vertically disposed cutter means passage is formed in the housing downstream of the die means passage.
A channel of elongated oblong cross-section is formed in the housing from above a central rear wall of the inlet chamber, and extending transversely through the housing from the inlet chamber to the cutter means passage. A second like channel is similarly formed in the housing below the central rear wall of the inlet chamber in vertical alignment with the upper channel.
A die rod is intended to be disposed in the die means passage. The die rod is provided with upper and lower openings of elongated oblong cross-section, corresponding to and located so as to be aligned longitudinally with the upper and lower channels formed in the housing. The upper and lower openings provided in the die rod each terminate in a rear wall located in the interior of the die rod. Each of the rear walls is provided with a plurality of extrusion orifices which lead to the cutter means passage when the orifices are aligned with the channels formed in the housing.
A cylindrical cutting member is adapted to be disposed within the cutter means passage, being provided with a cutting edge disposed adjacent the upper and lower channels leading from the extrusion orifices. Thus, pressure generated in the extruder chamber by the rotating feed screws of the extruder causes the heat-plastified polymeric extrudate to be presented to the inlet chamber of the housing, and thereafter to be extruded through the extrusion orifices in the die rod and presented to the cutting member. The cutting member is adapted to be rotated such that its cutting edge shears off the extruded material entering the cutter means passage, thereby forming pellets. An air stream is intended to be introduced into the cutter means passage to sweep away the rubber particles and to transport the pellets pneumatically for further processing.
The die rod of the invention is capable of being moved axially, by mechanical, hydraulic or electrical means, within the die means passage for purposes of varying the number of extrusion orifices which are aligned with the upper and lower channels formed in the housing. The die rod thus serves as a variable opening die which is able to be adjusted in response to extruder conditions in order to maintain primary control in the rubber drying process.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
With reference to the drawings and, in particular, with reference to Figs. 1 and 2, the variable opening extruder die means, indicated generally at 10, comprises a lower housing 12 having side extensions 14 provided with through holes 16. The side extensions enable the housing to be associated with the housing of a polymer drying extruder such as a rubber drying extruder, and to be suitably secured to the extruder housing or otherwise by means of securing means associated with the through holes. It should be noted that the rubber drying extruder may be operatively connected to the housing 12 in any acceptable manner and, therefore, the exact configuration for the housing 12 may vary from that depicted herein, depending upon the particular means adopted for securing it to the extruder system. Fig. 1 illustrates the housing as it appears when positioned with respect to a portion of the rubber drying extruder, namely, a pair of extruder feed screws 18, the feed screws 18 being shown in phantom.
The interior of the housing is best illustrated in Figs. 2, 3, 4 and 6. With particular reference to Figs. 3 and 6, the housing is provided with a generally cylindrical vertically extending die means passage 20 and a larger generally cylindrical vertically extending cutter means passage 22. It can be further seen in connection with Figs. 3, 4 and 6 that the housing is provided at one end with a generally circular inlet opening 24, merging with inwardly tapering wall 26, which tapers to and terminates in a reduced central circular rear wall 28. Opening 24, together with tapering wall 26 and rear wall 28, define an inlet chamber 30 which is adapted to be positioned downstream of the rubber drying extruder, as broadly depicted in Fig. 1, so as to receive heat-plastified polymeric material from the extruder. The aforementioned vertical die means passage 20 is disposed in the housing interiorly of the rear wall 28 of the inlet chamber 30. The vertical cutting means passage 22 is oriented parallel to and is disposed in the housing interiorly of the first passage 20. It should be noted that the housing need not comprise a unitary member as illustrated herein but may, if desired, include separable components which, when assembled, form die means and cutter means passages. A first upper channel 32 is formed in the tapered wall 26 of the housing above the circular rear wall 28, transverse to the die and cutter means passages, and extending from the inlet chamber 30 to the die means passage 20, thereby providing communication therebetween. A first lower channel 34 is similarly formed in the tapered wall 26 below the circular rear wall 28, as shown in Fig. 6, with the upper and lower channels 32 and 34 being vertically aligned. Referring to Fig. 4, the cross section of the upper and lower channels 32 and 34 is seen as being of a narrow elongated oblong configuration. Second similarly configured upper and lower elongated oblong channels 36 and 38 are respectively formed in the interior of the housing between the die means and cutter means passages and in longitudinal alignment with channels 32 and 34, so as to provide communication therethrough between the die means and cutter means passages 20, 22 and, hence, between inlet chamber 30 and cutter means passage 22.

The cutter means passage 22 is adapted to receive a cutting member 40, shown in phantom in Fig. 5, having longitudinal edges in the form of cutter blades, and being adapted for rotation about its longitudinal axis within the cutter means passage. As further depicted in Fig. 5, the cutting member is intended to be located within the cutter means passage so that its cutting edge is positioned adjacent to each of the second upper and lower transverse channels 36, 38 which provide communication from the die means passage 20 and from the upstream inlet chamber 30.
A hollow cylindrical tube sleeve 42 is adapted to be disposed within the die means passage 20. This sleeve, as illustrated in Fig. 5, is provided on one side with first upper and lower elongated oblong apertures 44 adapted to be longitudinally aligned with, respectively, the first upper and lower channels 32, 34 formed in the housing. The tube sleeve is provided, on the side directly opposite the first apertures

44, with second upper and lower elongated oblong apertures

45. Apertures 45 are adapted for alignment, longitudinally, with respect to the second upper and lower channels 36, 38 formed in the housing.
A cylindrical die rod 46, best shown in Fig. 5, is provided for insertion into the die means passage 20, within the tube sleeve 42. Although generally solid, the die rod is provided with an upper elongated oblong inlet opening 48 having an upper wall 50 which tapers inwardly and downwardly to an elongated oblong rear wall 52 provided in the interior of the die rod. The rear wall 52 is not continuous, however, being provided with a plurality of transverse upper extrusion orifices 54 extending through the die rod from the rear wall. A second lower tapered inlet opening 56 and lower extrusion orifices 58 are provided in the die rod in the manner previously discussed, spaced from and beneath, but vertically aligned with, the first inlet opening 48 and first orifices 54. The die rod is adapted for orientation within the die means passage of the lower housing, and within the tube sleeve, so that the upper and lower inlet openings 48 and 56 are generally aligned longitudinally with the respective first upper and lower channel 32, 34 formed in the housing between the inlet chamber 30 and the die means passage 20. Similarly, the upper and lower sets of extrusion orifices 54 and 58 are adapted for respective longitudinal alignment with the second upper and lower channels 36 and 38 formed between the die means and cutter means passages 20, 22. It is to be understood that the extrusion orifices 54, 58 can be of many geometrical shapes such as round slots or continuous slots. Hence, communication is adapted to be established from the inlet chamber 30, through the first upper and lower channels 32, 34 through the die rod by means of upper and lower inlet openings 48, 56 and upper and lower sets of extrusion orifices 54, 58, and thereafter through second upper and lower channels 36, 38 to the cutter means passage 22. It can be seen that, in this manner, the heat-softened rubber material which is supplied from the rubber drying extruder to inlet chamber 30 is extruded through the upper and lower sets of extrusion orifices in the die rod due to the pressure generated by the rotating feed screws of the extruder, and is presented to the cutting means disposed in the cutter means passage adjacent the second upper and lower channels 36 and 38 formed in the housing.
The upper end 60 of the die rod is threadedly connected, as depicted in Fig. 5, to the lower end of a rod knuckle member 62. The upper end of the rod knuckle member is, in turn, operatively associated with a ram member 64 of a heavy duty hydraulic cylinder 66. With reference to Figs. 1 and 2, the ram member and cylinder are suitably supported with respect to and above the housing by means of a suitable supporting frame 68.
In operation of the invention, inlet chamber 30, which is disposed directly downstream of the rubber drying extruder, is supplied by the extruder with heat-softened rubber extrudate. Treatment fluid in the form of a liquid or gas may be admitted into the inlet chamber through radial passages 70 formed in the housing in communication with the inlet chamber, as depicted in Figs. 3 and 4. As previously acknowledged.

pressure generated in the extruding chamber due to rotation of the extruder feed screws causes the extrudate to be forced into the first upper and lower channels 32, 34 formed in the housing. The extrudate is thereafter forced into the aligned upper and lower inlet openings 48, 56 formed in the die rod, and is extruded through the upper and lower plurality of extrusion orifices 54, 58. The extruded material exits the extrusion orifices and is thence presented through second upper and lower channels 36, 38 to the cutter means passage 22. Because the cutting edge of the rotating cutting member 40 is disposed in the cutter means passage directly adjacent the second upper and lower channels 36, 38, the exiting material is sheared off by the cutting blade of the rotating cutting member and is thus "pelletized" . The pelletized rubber is swept away from the cutting member by an air stream introduced into the bottom of the cutter means passage, and is pneumatically transported from the housing through tubing member 72 to subsequent processing and/or packaging stations.
In order to provide a uniform pressure of extrusion, consistent particle size and high-grade product, the die rod 46 is adapted for axial movement within the die means passage 20, by means of the hydraulic ram and cylinder, for purposes of raising or lowering the die rod with respect to the die means passage to vary the number of extrusion orifices which are in alignment with the first and second upper and lower oblong channels formed in the housing. The die rod is thereby capable of varying the number of die openings in communication with the inlet chamber and, correspondingly, with the cutting area, in order to provide a primary control in the extrusion process. The alignment or misalignment of the extrusion orifices, or die holes, is exactly indicated by means of an indicator 74, in conjunction with appropriate indicia 76, provided on the die rod, or elsewhere suitably located. Additionally, vent means 78, in the form of a passage which communicates through the housing between the die means and cutter means passages, is provided for eliminating rubber entrapment in the die means passage by allowing communication between it and the air stream in the cutter means passage. An access port 80 is provided on the support frame to facilitate separating the ram member 64 from the upper end of the rod knuckle member 62.
The die rod, it is to be noted, may, alternatively, be operated manually via a gear arrangement, or may be powered by an electric drive system. The die rod of the present invention requires less force to actuate than that required by the conventional nested cylinder arrangement. Additionally, the die rod has an attached indicator clearly showing its position, and may incorporate a standard position transmitter to indicate or record die rod position remotely from the apparatus. Because the die rod may be hydraulically or electrically powered, and its position transmitted, standard remote manual or automatic control equipment may be applied for controlling its operation. The instant invention also simplifies and reduces the cost of maintenance procedures entailing removal of the die rod, such as might be required to remove foreign materials, such as "tramp" metal, from the extrusion system. In contrast to prior art devices, the die rod of the present invention may be pulled from the remainder of the system without necessitating removal of the housing from the extruder. Moreover, the nested die plates of prior art devices tend to distort and gall, thereby requiring frequent repair and replacement. Elimination of the problematic cylinders in the subject invention consequently reduces maintenance and operating costs. Finally, the ability of the present invention to precisely adjust the die openings affords effective primary control in the extrusion drying process, and lends itself to future automation of the rubber drying process.
While the invention has been described herein in connection with a preferred embodiment, it is apparent that various modifications and changes may be made in the details of construction and in the functional and structural relationship of the components without departing from the spirit and the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.