Correlation between Processing Parameters, Morphology, and Properties of Injection-Molded Polylactid Acid (PLA) Specimens at Different Length Scales
Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most promising bioplastic representatives that finds application in many different areas, e.g., as single-use products in the packaging industry, in the form of mulch film for agriculture, or in medical devices. For the development of new areas, especially in terms of long-term applications and the production of recyclable products, the material properties controlled by processing must be known. The state of the art is investigations at the global scale (integral values) without consideration of local structure inhomogeneities and their influence on the material properties. In this work, morphological, thermal, and mechanical properties of injection-molded PLA tensile bars are investigated at different length scales (global and local) as a function of processing parameters. In addition to the processing parameters, such as melt temperature, mold temperature, and cooling time in the mold, the influence of the D-isomer content on the crystallization behavior and the resulting material properties are investigated. The material was found to form crystalline structures only when cooled in a mold tempered above Tg. In addition, PLA with a lower content of D-isomer was found to have a higher degree of crystallinity. Since the mechanical properties obtained by tensile tests could not be correlated with the degree of crystallinity, detailed analysis were performed showing a characteristic inhomogeneous morphology within the tensile bars. By means of micromechanical investigations on samples with different microstructure ranges, the relationship between local morphology and failure behavior could be explained.