The melt flow index (MFI) is a measure of the ease of flow of the melt of a thermoplastic polymer. It is defined as the mass of polymer, in grams, flowing in ten minutes through a capillary of a specific diameter and length by a pressure applied via prescribed alternative gravimetric weights for alternative prescribed temperatures. Polymer processors usually correlate the value of MFI with the polymer grade that they have to choose for different processes, and most often this value is not accompanied by the units, because it is taken for granted to be g/10min. Similarly, the test conditions of MFI measurement is normally expressed in kilograms rather than any other units. The method is described in the similar standards ASTM D1238 and ISO 1133.
Melt flow rate is an indirect measure of molecular weight, with high melt flow rate corresponding to low molecular weight. At the same time, melt flow rate is a measure of the ability of the material’s melt to flow under pressure. Melt flow rate is inversely proportional to viscosity of the melt at the conditions of the test, though it should be borne in mind that the viscosity for any such material depends on the applied force. Ratios between two melt flow rate values for one material at different gravimetric weights are often used as a measure for the broadness of the molecular weight distribution.
Melt flow rate is very commonly used for polyolefins, polyethylene being measured at 190 °C and polypropylene at 230 °C. The plastics engineer should choose a material with a melt index high enough that the molten polymer can be easily formed into the article intended, but low enough that the mechanical strength of the final article will be enough for its use.
The flow parameter that is readily accessible to most processors is the MFI. MFI is often used to determine how a polymer will process. However MFI takes no account of the shear, shear rate or shear history and as such is not a good measure of the processing window of a polymer. It is a single-point viscosity measurement at a relatively low shear rate and temperature. Earlier, it was often said that MFI give a ‘dot’ when actually what is needed is a ‘plot’ for the polymer processors.