Avoiding Design and Engineering Mistakes in Injection Molding

To bring an idea from concept to reality is no small task – ask any engineer, entrepreneur, or inventor. No matter how basic the product, there are a lot of moving parts required to get an idea designed,prototyped, and then manufactured. Avoiding costly mistakes is a must, and one of the biggest mistakes that can be made early on is poor design. A great design and engineering company can help you create a product that is designed for function, aesthetics, assembly, manufacturing, and more. Design for manufacturing is a way to minimize costly mistakes later in the production process, and there are a lot of considerations to take into account – especially when a part will be injection molded.

Injection molding is a common way to manufacture parts made from plastic, and with it comes certain considerations during the design process. In a nutshell, polymers in granule form are gravity fed through a hopper into a heating barrel, which melts the plastic. It is then forced through a nozzle under pressure and injected into a custom-made mold. The material is then allowed to cool, so that it holds its shape when ejected from the mold. Various factors will add to the complexity or cost to manufacture with injection molding, such as what material is used for the molds (steel, aluminum, beryllium copper, etc), how many cycles a mold can withstand, how long each cycle takes, whether gates are trimmed manually or automatically, and more. Injection molding is particularly suited to parts that need to be made in large quantities quickly and reliably. Let’s discuss different factors to check when a product will be injection molded so that costly mistakes are avoided.

Proper gate design, size, and location for injection molding

The gate is the opening in a mold through which molten plastic is injected under pressure. Depending on whatever piece is being created, there may be more than one gate, different types of gates, and gates in different locations. Each of these can have a positive, neutral, or negative effect on the finished piece. For instance, every type of gate will leave a mark of some sort on the part being molded – direct gates leave a large linear vestige, while hot tip gates leave a small raised blister or nub. Does it matter aesthetically or functionally if the scar is on a particular side of the completed part? Or does it need to be on the top or bottom? Poor design when it comes to gate location can result in voids or excessive sink. In addition to gate location, gate size must also be considered; larger gates permit more flow and shorter cycle time, but will also leave larger marks. Smaller gates leave a smaller vestige, but may not be ideal for proper flow and filling. Gates may be automatically or manually trimmed after the material has set. Automatic gate removal when the part is ejected from the mold avoids an additional operational step and therefore may be more cost- and time-effective, but some materials cannot withstand the shear forces required for automatic gate removal, and therefore must have the gate removed manually.

Do you have the proper wall thickness for injection molding?

When at all possible, parts should be designed with uniform wall thickness. Why? An important part of the injection mold process is when the part is cooling down, and thicker walls will take longer to cool than thinner walls. This disparity in hardening time can result in warping, cracking, or other injection molding defects, which are amplified with high shrinkage materials. (Learn about the top ten injection molding defects and how to prevent them here.) If uniform wall thickness absolutely cannot be achieved, it is possible to mitigate some adverse effects by gradually transitioning from one thickness to another. Design features like ribs and chamfers can help, as well as going back to the drawing board in general.

Design to avoid sink marks

As mentioned above, thicker parts will cool at a different rate than thinner pieces, and this can create warping, additional stress, and sink marks. The inner portion of a feature becomes insulated by the already-cooled outside, and different cooling rates mean that the inner portion will shrink inwards. This can be a difficult situation when the strength of a solid piece is required, but solid pieces that are injection molded are much more prone to developing sink marks. One way to mitigate this drawback is to core out the middle of a solid piece and reinforce it with ribs. Another is to design walls as thin as possible; thinner walls cool faster and thus decrease production time (which further decreases costs). It’s also possible to camouflage minor sink with textures…keep reading to learn more about textures.

Using textures in injection molding

As part of the manufacturing process, textures can be added to hide imperfections, increase functionality for the end user, or to lend a certain aesthetic. Texturing might include a certain finish (like gloss or matte), or actually refer to raised patterns molded into the part (crosshatching, lines, checkered, etc). Failing to factor in texturing during the design process can result in costly mistakes later, however. For instance, if a raised pattern is not accounted for during the CAD* phase of design, then ejection problems may occur if there is not enough draft factored in for a textured piece. In turn, this can result in a lot of wasted product and lost time. *Read here for Solidworks tips from the people who use it most.

Designing for stress avoidance in injection molding

To be clear, a certain amount of stress in a part is unavoidable. The very process of injection molding, in which the molecules in a resin are broken down, injected, and then allowed to harden and reform is a weakening process. For obvious reasons, it is not a good use of money to manufacture parts that are stressed to the limits of their functionality. Thankfully, there are multiple considerations throughout the manufacturing process that can counter the potential weakening associated with injection molding. First, a great design and engineering firm is going to select the proper material based on client, safety, aesthetic and functional requirements. Certain plastics are pliable, for instance, others are strong, and still others have a variety of characteristics that may be advantageous for a particular application. (To learn about various plastics commonly used in injection molding, and which might be appropriate for your own project, visit our Plastics page.) Other ways to minimize the stress built into injection molded parts are to ensure gradual transitions between different features, and to create corners that are not hard or sharp.

Be selective when choosing a design and engineering company

There is a difference between simply getting a design from a random design firm, and going to a company that has a lot of experience creating parts that will eventually be injection molded. The former route leaves much more room for error, and increases the chances that there will be a lot of back and forth between the injection molding company and the client. Conversely, design engineers who are very familiar with the injection molding process can design with the particular advantages and disadvantages of manufacturing in mind. The path from concept ideation to hitting the shelves is long and busy; it’s important to settle on the absolutely right design before going to manufacturing. To do otherwise is to lose valuable time, and like most industries, time costs money.

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Design for Affordability and Different Ways to Minimize Costs of Production

There are so many obstacles in getting a product from concept to shelves for consumer use; design, finding the right partners and funding, manufacturing costs, the validation process, competing patents, and more can all combine to make the consumer product process a fairly intimidating endeavor to undertake. That being said, billions of products have made it to market, so there are definitely chances for success. One of the ways in which we aim to help our clients is to share elements of success that we’ve gleaned from decades in design and engineering, and how to optimize for manufacturing and eventually market success!

As you might infer from above, design is a critical component of the consumer product development process, because it is really the first opportunity to create something awesome (and conversely, avoid making costly mistakes later on as a result of poor design). There are a number of objectives to prioritize when designing a part or a product, such as design for assembly, design for manufacturing, and so on. Aesthetics may be more or less important based on the specifics of the project; function is always important. In most cases, the need to design for affordability is a significant factor and an important consideration on the way to success. Let’s discuss different ways to design a part or piece for affordability.

How to design for affordability in the consumer product development process

  • Minimizing parts to the maximum extent possible. Generally, the fewer components there are in a given project, the lower the labor cost to put it together…as well as lower chances of incorrect assembly when 3 parts are used rather than 13. This also means that fewer fasteners are required. Typically, the cost savings from optimization of part assembly considerably exceed the extra costs of mold adjustments and material requirements. Use the KISS method and Keep It Simple in order to meet requirements most effectively. For instance, if snap tabs and fastener locations are done correctly, it’s possible to use only one injection molding tool for a particular assembly. Assess your design for any opportunity to combine functions and thus reduce the final number of parts required for assembly. One good way to get ideas on how to minimize parts is to look at earlier iterations of the same product. Complex tools typically have an origin as simple tools; consider simple mechanisms like levers, gears, and springs and how they may accomplish the same function that multiple parts are currently accomplishing. Bottom line: Minimizing the number of parts in a design will drive down costs, and also decrease chances of improper assembly.
  • Utilize commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) parts as opposed to custom parts. This is an important concept for one major reason: you can leverage the work that has already been done by others in terms of capital/equipment, process development, and process validation. Consider that all of the manufacturing equipment has already been invested in, created, and tested. By using COTS equipment where possible, you can save money on costly procedures that have already been accomplished by someone else. You may pay a slightly higher price for a finished product, but it’s unlikely to be more than the costs you would incur by reinventing the wheel! Another potential downside to using COTS equipment is relying on another company’s product; it would be hard to control upward changes in price or decreased production in the future, so these are risks that need to be accounted for. Bottom line: Using COTS equipment is a smart way to leverage the capital and expertise that others have already invested.
  • Volume, volume, volume. The manufacturing process is time- and capital-intensive. One of the easiest ways to drive down cost per unit is to manufacture higher numbers…think thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of parts. It is expensive to create, alter, or adjust heavy machinery (as well as the energy required to run manufacturing equipment), so it is important to get the maximum amount of use when you’re paying for time and equipment. Take the injection molding process for example. In many cases, a specific mold must be custom created, which costs money and time. The number of parts required will be a driving factor in what sort of material to use for the mold, which will also impact cost; steel molds cost more than aluminum molds, but will generally last much longer. When a product moves into the production phase, it is even more important to be able to mold as many parts in one shot as possible. Molds for production should also have as many cavities as possible without compromising the quality of the parts produced. In a competitive market, a product must be the best it can be while also being affordable. That is why it is advisable to produce as many parts as possible at one time – because it spreads the setup cost out over more parts, thus leaving you with a lower price per piece. Bottom line: Complex machinery is capital-intensive and time is money. Leverage the equipment’s capacity to make thousands of parts to drive down cost per unit. (Pro tip: Use a design and engineering company that has extensive familiarity with the manufacturing process you are going to use. This ensures that any final design is compatible with the process, and common opportunities for mistakes are mitigated.)
  • Reduce weight wherever possible. Excess material means extra cost, so this is definitely an avenue to explore during the design process. Design for affordability must be balanced with design for function – when a particular strength is required, care must be taken to achieve this functionality without also wasting material. Using ribs and gussets to reinforce a product, for example, will save on material consumption, as well as ensuring that the product has uniform wall thickness that is neither too thin nor too thick (which is an important consideration for injection molding in particular).
  • Assess which functions can be accomplished with automation rather than labor. In general, labor is expensive (especially in the United States). Design for affordability may require using manufacturing equipment that is located elsewhere in the country, or in another country entirely. This is especially true if the product is going to be distributed or sold elsewhere (to cut down on transportation and shipping costs, which must also be factored into price per unit). Design for affordability also means to seek out automated processes wherever possible.

As you can see, there are multiple ways to mitigate the costs of the manufacturing process, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list. It may not be feasible to manufacture in another country, or perhaps manual labor is required for a particular application, but there are multiple ways to design for affordability that companies, engineers, and inventors can keep in mind.

How can Creative Mechanisms assist organizations with design for affordability?

As mentioned above, design is one of the first critical points of the product development process. Of course, the concept must be a good one to begin with (read more about that here), but product design really sets the tone for success or failure. There are a few characteristics that are helpful to creating the right solution to a complex problem:

  • An environment that fosters creativity and problem-solving among a team. Creating an environment where team members can brainstorm and constantly iterate on a solution is key to success. Out-of-the-box thinking can present solutions in unexpected ways. One of the ways Creative Mechanisms fosters this environment is through our U-shaped arrangement and the way our team members interact with each other. We also take great care to hire individuals who are passionate about problem-solving and have the skills and tools necessary to innovate. You can get a better idea of this by reading some of our employee profiles (learn about Michael, Nick, and Ersen, just to name a few).
  • Expertise with computer-aided design (CAD) software. CAD is an incredibly important component of the design and engineering world. Our team has proficiency particularly with SolidWorks. We use this software to design solutions, and we then create prototypes for our clients that can be tested, evaluated, changed as necessary, and more. If you would like to learn more about using SolidWorks, read the following blogs:
    • SolidWorks Tips for Design and Engineering
    • Different Design Methodologies in SolidWorks
  • A breadth of experience. One of the characteristics that sets our team apart is the breadth of experience we’ve garnered over the years. We have created solutions for clients in the medical device, consumer products, automotive, personal care, toy industry, and more. We pride ourselves on this diversity, and our ability to transfer skills or lessons learned from one project into another. We have brought multiple products to market, and have assisted countless clients with the same. We can lend assistance as consultants, designers, model-makers, and engineers, and we are passionate about finding the best way forward for clients. But don’t take it from us – read some of the Client Testimonials we’ve collected that you can read here.
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Top 10 Reasons to Use a Professional Design and Engineering Team

Innovative companies use a variety of methods to find design and engineering success in the product development process. Some organizations have in-house designers, others use large industrial design  firms, and still others partner with small, skilled teams like we have at Creative Mechanisms. In this blog, we’ll discuss the merits of using a specialized group of design engineers for product development, as well as the benefits that that smaller firms provide.

Why you should use a design and engineering team to bring an idea from concept to reality.

  • Manufacturing costs will be lower. Every additional part in a mechanism translates into additional costs by way of extra material usage, extra manpower, and extra time to produce. Simply put, the more parts a mechanism has, the more it costs to make. One of the most apparent and immediate benefits of working with a design and engineering team is the reduction in manufacturing costs, because an experienced mechanism design team has “been there, done that” and will be able to find a simple solution that still achieves the desired result. (See some of the solutions we have come up with here.)

    In addition, every part in a mechanism is able to do only so much; known as the “part tolerance,” this must be considered when determining which parts to put together in a mechanism. Years of experience will have taught the mechanism design team which parts work together most effectively and which parts can be combined to achieve the desired motion with the simplest means. Because they have this knowledge, less time will ultimately be wasted tinkering with design options.

  • Your product will be easier to manufacture. The most elegant solution to a mechanism is the one that uses the fewest parts possible to create a series of complex motions. The elimination of excess parts reduces assembly time in addition to manufacturing costs, and it also improves the manufacturability of your mechanism. A design and engineering team must also constantly be aware of the way that the product will be physically assembled on the factory floor. The design of the assembly is just as important as the design of the mechanism, because the mechanism must be tested when it is assembled – without closing the housing. An upside down assembly in which you are able to install all the mechanical parts in the top housing is the best assembly method; your team of mechanism design specialists will be experienced in the tricks and nuances of this technique. (Read our comprehensive blogs Design for Assembly and Design for Manufacturing and Manufacturing Process Improvement.)
  • A small, highly functioning team is more nimble. Bigger is not always better. There are absolutely benefits to working with a large industrial design company, but one of the most critical components to successful product design is being quick to adapt changes and reiterate. How quickly can your design engineers go through the Design – Fail – Learn – Repeat process? The team that can iterate quickly and successfully is most likely to bring in a project on time and on budget. When you have a dynamic team that works well together, but is not burdened by the trappings of bureaucracy, then you have gained a significant advantage over your competition. At a firm like Creative Mechanisms, the sole purpose of our design team is to engineer solutions and communicate with clients…no additional duties, no red tape, and no lengthy decision-making process.
  • The odds of developing better features for your product will increase. When you approach a design and engineering team, chances are that you have one thing on your mind: getting your product to market as quickly as possible. Even if improving product design is on your mind, it’s probably not at the forefront; you’ve spent so much time working with this product that you feel like your design is finished – and now you want to make as many as possible in the least amount of time. Meeting with a group of mechanism design engineers, however, is akin to meeting with a group of muses; if you let them use their deep wells of knowledge and experience to think of new designs for your product, they might even discover that your design can do completely new functions that you never considered. If you embrace the opportunity to consult with a design and engineering team, their creativity and imagination can only heighten and improve the uniqueness and functionality of your design, especially in the conceptualization stage. Each member of the team will interpret problems differently, and these concepts can be presented to the client to create a “super” concept, which combines the best elements of multiple solutions.  Your product may have more potential than you imagined.
  • Get a better functioning design. A good design and engineering team will evaluate all the possible ways of achieving your desired function. They know more methods of achieving that function because of their experience. They have seen and made a wider variety of mechanisms simply because they do this day in and day out. They have a tried and true process for evaluating options and determining the best solution based on cost, manufacturing, reliability, consumer preference, and ergonomics.

 

  • You can shorten your time to market. A good team of specialists works so well together that your design can be passed around in such a way that the most efficient person for each stage of design and production is hard at work on that portion of the project. Having multiple people – especially experienced people – working on a project simultaneously means that your project will be finished more quickly. And because each step has been assigned to the best person for the job, you know that each phase of making your design a reality is being completed in the most efficient manner possible. In addition, multiple people working on a single project prevents boredom; energy and enthusiasm will remain high and your product will be finished and to market more quickly than if you worked on the project by yourself or with only one specialist. Read our comprehensive guide on bringing products to market.
  • Your ideas and designs will be treated with ultimate discretion. Signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is an industry standard for design and engineering teams. But you will also benefit from the accumulated knowledge that designers accrue after working on various projects in various industries for years. While we can’t always share our success stories publicly, we can adapt lessons learned from previous projects into a better solution for you.
  • Your product will be of higher quality. Why try to solve a problem multiple times when you can get it right the first time? An experienced mechanism design team has had multiple opportunities and projects that allowed them to experiment with a product similar to yours, which means that the testing has been done, the mistakes have been made, and now, instead of working to make your product right, you can work to make it better. This means you can work on reducing parts, finding parts with higher tolerances, and other things that will improve your mechanism design.
  • You’ll have a greater opportunity for Intellectual Property Ownership. Many mechanisms are rooted in fundamental mechanical concepts,
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3 Basic Steps of the Injection Molding Process

Injection molding is a popular manufacturing method for many reasons. It has proven especially valuable to those in the consumer product development sector, since plastics are a primary component of many consumer products, and injection molding is one of the best ways to manufacture plastics. Let’s take a quick look at the three major phases of the injection molding process, and then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the process.

Injection Molding Process, Basic Step 1: Product Design

Design is one of the most important facets of the production process because it’s the earliest opportunity to prevent expensive mistakes later on. (Of course, determining whether you have a good idea in the first place is also important, but more on that here.) There are many objectives to design for:function, aesthetics, manufacturability, assembly, etc. The right design is one that accomplishes the required objectives to a satisfactory level, but it may take a lot of creativity to get there. Product design is most often accomplished with computer aided design (CAD) software, like SolidWorks. (Click herefor nine pro tips on how to best use SolidWorks in design and engineering.) Proficiency with CAD software is vital because it allows for quicker iterations and more accurate prototyping if necessary.

 

Some specific ways to avoid costly mistakes during the product design process are to plan for uniform wall thickness whenever possible, and to gradually transition from one thickness to another when changes in thickness are not avoidable. It is also important to avoid building stress into the design, such as corners that are 90 degrees or less. (Read more about Injection Molding Defects here.)

A skilled team of design engineers will be able to brainstorm, design, and improve upon a variety of solutions to meet the particular complexities of a specific project. The design team at Creative Mechanisms has combined decades of experience creating elegant solutions to complex problems. Meet some of our team here, here, or here, or visit our Customer Testimonials page to see what previous and current clients have to say about our product design capabilities. We think you’ll be impressed.

Injection Molding Process, Basic Step 2: Mold Design

After a looks-like, feels-like design has been tested and slated for further production, the mold (or die) needs to be designed for injection mold manufacturing. Molds are commonly made from these types of metals:

  • Hardened steel: Typically the most expensive material to use for a mold, and generally the longest-lasting (which can drive down price per unit). This makes hardened steel a good material choice for products where multiple hundreds of thousands are to be produced.
  • Prehardened steel: Does not last as many cycles as hardened steel, and is less expensive to create.
  • Aluminum: Most commonly used for single cavity “Prototype Tooling” when a relatively low number of parts are needed for testing. Once the injection molded parts from this tool are tested and approved, then a multi cavity steel production tool is produced. It is possible to get many thousands of parts from an aluminum tool but typically it is used for lower quantities.
  • Beryllium-Copper alloy: Typically used in areas of the mold that need fast heat removal or where shear heat is concentrated.

Just as with overall product design, mold design is another opportunity to prevent defects during the injection molding process. We have previously written blogs on the Top 10 Injection Molding Defectsand Avoiding Mistakes in Injection Molding, but here are some examples of how poor mold design can be a costly mistake:

  • Not designing the proper draft: This refers to the angle at which the finished product is ejected from the mold. An insufficient draft can lead to ejection problems, costing significant time and money.
  • Improperly placed or sized gates: Gates are the openings in a mold through which thermoset or thermoplastic material is injected. Each will leave a vestige (scar), which can create aesthetic or functional problems if not properly placed.

The number of parts (cycles) required, as well as the material they will be made of will help drive decision-making as to how and with what materials to create the mold.

Injection Molding Process, Basic Step 3: The Manufacturing Process

When a product has been properly designed, approved, and die cast, it’s time to start the actual manufacturing! Here are the basics of the injection molding process…

Thermoset or thermoplastic material in granular form is fed through a hopper into a heating barrel. (Learn more about the differences between plastics in our PLASTICS course.) The plastic is heated to a predetermined temperature and driven by a large screw through the gate(s) and into the mold. Once the mold is filled, the screw will remain in place to apply appropriate pressure for the duration of a predetermined cooling time. Upon reaching this point, the screw is withdrawn, the mold opened, and the part ejected. Gates will either shear off automatically or be manually removed. This cycle will repeat over and over, and can be used to create hundreds of thousands of parts in a relatively short amount of time.

injection molding process.png

photo courtesy of substech.com

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Mold Flow Analysis is Critical to the Consumer Product Development Process

old flow analysis is an often overlooked but important step in the injection molding process, and it’s absolutely critical to do whenever a large number of parts are going to be produced. Let’s learn more about this process, and how it can improve Return on Investment (ROI) for engineering companies, and simplify the consumer product development process. But first…

The basics of injection molding and why it’s a great manufacturing process:

Injection molding is a manufacturing process for producing parts in large volume. It is most typically used in mass-production processes where the same part is being created thousands or even millions of times in succession. Once the initial costs for design and tooling have been paid, the price per unit during injection molded manufacturing is extremely low. The price also tends to drop drastically as more parts are produced. Injection molding is most often used for parts made from various types of plastics. Visit our Plastics page, or take our PLASTICS course which are two of the most comprehensive resources available to learn about plastic characteristics, uses, and more.

Thermoset or thermoplastic material in granular form is fed through a hopper into a heating barrel. The plastic is heated to a predetermined temperature and driven by a large screw through the gate(s) and into the custom designed mold. Once the mold is filled, the screw will remain in place to apply appropriate pressure for the duration of a predetermined cooling time. When cooling is complete, the mold is opened, and the part ejected. Gates will either shear off automatically or be manually removed. This cycle will repeat over and over, and can be used to create hundreds of thousands of parts in a relatively short amount of time. Read our blog Avoiding Design and Engineering Mistakes in Injection Molding.

What is mold flow analysis?

Mold flow analysis is the process of simulating an injection molding cycle with a particular plastic and analyzing the results. Mold flow analysis should occur before the injection molding process ever begins, through the use of specialized software that simulates the design of the part to be manufactured. Since the flow of the liquid material in the mold makes a massive difference to the behavior of the product, this step can save a great deal of effort down the road. This software creates color maps of different properties of the design as they would be reflected in the actual mold flow. These may include heating/cooling, fill pattern, injection pressure, potential air traps, shear stress, fiber orientation, and many more properties. Mold flow analysis is a careful, hands-on-process meant for experts.

How does mold flow analysis improve the injection molding and manufacturing process?

The consumer product development process is much more complex than just creating a design and having a machine spit out material in a desired shape; plastics are not as inert as they seem and do not operate like static building blocks. The color maps created by mold flow analysis assist in adaptive changes of the design in order to create a quality product before the molding process actually occurs. This ensures that when a prototype or product goes into production, it is going to perform and behave optimally. Despite the overhead that it adds to the process, mold flow analysis more than makes up for this in terms of final quality. In fact, it has been considered a factor in keeping North American manufacturing competitive in the face of cheaper product development processes elsewhere. Furthermore, it demonstrates a commitment to quality, and is a good indicator of design and engineering firms who are competent, reliable, and produce quality solutions.

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Next Level Product Development

Companies that develop product on a continual basis are well served by doing a regular review of their product development process. Try to identify areas where there is a gap between where you are now and where you would like to be. Each companies process is different but some of the general segments to evaluate are:

Concept Development
Mechanical problems
Production Costs
Speed of Development
General Innovation
Design for Manufacturability
Transparency
Collaboration and Communication
What segments of the process have the largest gap? Which segment are the easiest to work on first? Typically, you want to see improvements in the quality of the output, the speed in which that quality work happens and the efficiency of that segment.

Looking at Concept Development for example you will want to see a greater variety of innovative concepts produced in a shorter time. With Mechanical development you will want to quickly develop mechanisms that are reliable, use the fewest parts and deliver the desired result efficiently.

Improvements in the process will come from identifying the area’s most in need. Evaluating each step of the current process and being open to doing things differently is the required mindset for improvement. The worse thing someone can say during this examination is “that’s the way we have always done it.” There is always room for improvement. There is also always a cost for those improvements, usually in time, money and human resources. The trick is to work on the areas where you’re going to get the biggest return on your investment.

Evaluating each step and identifying ways to consolidate them while increasing the quality of the output is not easy. Some of the ways to accomplish this are eliminating nonproductive steps, upgrading the tools used, and of course bringing more collaboration and teamwork to solve problems. The process of self-evaluation is certainly challenging but when you are talking about a long product development cycle small increases in efficiency can reap large rewards.

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Prototype Iterations in product development

People experienced in developing new mechanical product know that it is an iterative process. You concept, develop and then iterate a product. The prototype iteration process starts with the development of a Solidworks File that defines all parts of the assembly. A model is made of the assembly from 3D prints or CNC cut parts of each piece of the assembly. That prototype is evaluated and tested to find every improvement possible at the stage. These changes are then incorporated back into the Solidworks file and new model is built. The process is repeated until the product is ready for manufacturing.

The variety of acceptance of this process is interesting to me. There are those who don’t iterate and those who iterate too much. The more inexperienced developers get frustrated by the fact that problems even exist on a first prototype and focus on blame rather than on discovery. The other end of the spectrum is a very experienced person that can’t stop the process even as the changes proposed have diminishing returns.

The inexperienced developer that expects everything to be perfect after the first round of prototyping is usually reacting to the cost of prototyping and views having to spend money on a second round of prototyping as some sort of failure that should have been prevented. We in the service industry have the responsibility of educating our clients that iteration is expected. It is not a failure. You can’t foresee every aspect of how something is going to work by looking at the model on a screen. The transition from screen to reality brings unexpected problems and challenges. That needs to be clear from the onset. The value of making a better product by making changes in the early stage is clear. It is far more expensive to make changes after the product has been launched. Sometimes it is even too late. In today’s instant social media age, a bad reputation happens so quickly. It is much better to spend the time and money up front than to move forward with a product that you know has problems, but you don’t want to take the time and money now to fix.

On the other end of the spectrum is someone who can’t stop the process. Granted there are always going to be improvements that can be made. Losing site of the big picture though can sink a product for no good reason. You must ask yourself “is moving that button over .100 really going to sell any more product”? Will any body but you notice that change when using the product. Are you making this change to improve the usability, aesthetic or functionality of the product? Will it lower product or distribution cost, ease assembly or improve the return on investment in any way? If the answer is no, then why are you spending time and money on it? Analysis to paralysis is very real for some people, teams and companies. Nothing is perfect but there is appoint of diminishing returns.

Take your iteration process to the next level. Develop a product you are proud of. Create something that people will use and enjoy using. Invest in a product that will bring you a return on that investment. If you have produced a product that does these things then perhaps it will have a long enough life that you will have an opportunity to make a second generation incorporating all the learning that you have gathered along the way.

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Manufacturing Problems and Solutions

Product development concerns problem solving. Most products are conceived by identifying a problem and envisioning a product as the solution. The development of that product from the initial vision to the retail shelf proceeds through a series of problems and solutions. Experience solves some problems and trial and error solves others. Problems that arise during manufacturing present some of the most frustrating areas in the product development process. This is especially true for injection molded products.

The development process for injection molded products is usually long and arduous. By the end of that process, you’ve spent a lot of time and money on development and tooling. Now you face a production deadline that looks a bit scary, especially when you finally get the parts from the molder and they just aren’t right. Stay calm! A little bit of advanced planning, some knowledge of often underutilized technologies, and a good part review and troubleshooting process can alleviate some of that stress.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to schedule first, second, and third shot reviews of injection molded parts. These reviews should be an expected part of the process. In today’s fast-paced, low-cost environment, optimism leads to skipping this necessary process.

First shots are the first complete parts off the injection molding machine. The designer reviews these parts and checks their dimensions against the files that were provided to the toolmaker. Expect to make adjustments from this review. Second shots are the parts made after those adjustments. With luck, everything has been addressed and your parts are good at this point; however, it is possible—and expected from a scheduling standpoint—that another round of adjustment is necessary.

Another issue is that all today’s available tools and information are not utilized. I have seen molds made improperly because the manufacturer did not read the data sheet for the material to be molded and the length of the runner was too long. Material suppliers possess a great deal of knowledge and material-specific literature for mold design and processing. Use it. Mold flow analysis software is also widely available now. It should be used during the part design and the mold design processes. This software simulates how the plastic will flow through the mold. It will even show the optimal location where the plastic should be injected (gate location). The cost of molds today should mandate this step in every mold build. Another fairly new technology, “scientific molding,” involves the separate control of the molding parameters that yields very consistent parts. Discuss this technology with the molder to see if the parts being molded would benefit from its use.

The part review and troubleshooting process directly affects the bottom line. The parts need to be right. Parts rarely come out completely as expected. It doesn’t much matter why the parts are not the way you expected. With time as your enemy, all that matters is fixing it. This can mean adjusting the mold only a few thousands of an inch to make a snap work better or a latch engage properly. In a best-case scenario, the adjustments are “steel safe,” meaning that you add plastic to the part by removing material from the mold. If you must reduce material from the part, then you must weld material onto the mold and machine it down—a much lengthier process.

Product development entails a series of problems and their solutions. The stress at the end of the process sometimes makes the last steps the most frustrating. Planning for that, doing everything you can to prevent the problems before they happen, and having a good process in place for part review and troubleshooting make it all a bit less painful.

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Edited by Leafly Mould Provides Injection Mold, Plastic Mold, Injection Molding, Die Casting Mold, Stamping Mold

What is Engineering For Manufacturing

Engineering for manufacturing is the process of providing the information the manufacturer needs to produce the product. Typically, that information takes the form of 3-D CAD files. These files define every part with all the detail necessary for the manufacturing process. The files also display the assembly of those parts to show the complete product, list a bill of materials (BOM), and show an exploded view. The manufacturing process to be used to make each part requires that each part be design by an engineer who has a thorough understanding of that manufacturing process. In addition to designing a part that can be produced, good engineering for manufacturing focuses on cost reduction and reliability. Reducing the parts count and simplifying the assembly process play important parts of engineering for manufacturing.

Plastic injection molding factories used to require 2-D control drawings, but most now only require 3-D CAD files to make their molds today. The molds are CNC-cut directly from the CAD files. Some industries do require full sets of 2-D drawings, which can be expensive to produce. Many sheet metal vendors specify 2-D drawings with tolerances specified for all parts and also require that the Bill of Materials and the exploded view accompany the drawings.

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Hot & Cold Runners For Injection Molding

“Hot runner” is a term used in injection molding that refers to the system of parts that are physically heated such that they can be more effectively used to transfer molten plastic from a machine’s nozzle into the various mold tool cavities that combine to form the shell of your part. Sometimes they are called “hot sprues.” You can contrast the term “hot runner” with its opposite, and the historically more common “cold runner.” Cold runners are simply an unheated, physical channel that is used to direct molten plastic into a mold tool cavity after it leaves the nozzle. The primary difference is that hot runners are heated while cold runners are not.

Injection Molding Hot Runner Assembly

While hot runners are not required for injection molding processes, they can be useful to ensure a higher quality part. They are particularly beneficial with challenging part geometries that require lower margin of error in the flow properties of the molten plastic (i.e. where inopportune cooling or temperature deltas might result in uneven flow). Further, hot runners can be beneficial in reducing wasted plastic during high volume shoots. Because cold runners are unheated, the channel needs to be larger and thus more plastic needs to be shot during each cycle. If you are shooting a large number of parts while iterating to get the design correct you could easily run up the cost of plastic above the cost of a hot runner assembly. The downside to hot runner technology, absent the aforementioned example, is that it is more expensive by default than a cold runner setup.

The advantage of hot runners is that, if designed properly, the plastic will flow from the machine’s nozzle more uniformly into the gate locations. A gate location is the point at which molten plastic enters the injection mold tool cavity. Gate location, plastic temperature, the design of internal mold cavities, and the material properties of the plastic itself as well as that of the mold tool all have an important impact on the success or failure of the injection molding process. Hot runner technology has been around since the middle of the 20th century but it was used only sporadically until technological improvements and market forces surrounding the price of material inputs made it more viable in the 1990s.

Hot runners are designed to maximize manufacturing productivity by reducing cycle time. One of the reasons they didn’t take hold when they first came out is that they needed to maintain the molten plastic at a uniform temperature while the injection mold cavity is simultaneously being cooled. This requires a fair level of complexity. The initial (now obsolete) designs implemented internal heating with isolated heaters inside channel cavities. Internally heated hot runner designs resulted in solidified plastic on the internal boundaries of the channel with molten plastic much more localized to the specific heater location. By contrast, externally heated runners utilize heated nozzles and a heated manifold and based on the high thermal conductivity of metal they are able to maintain much more even flow properties for the internal plastic.

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Edited by Leafly Mould Provides Injection Mold, Plastic Mold, Injection Molding, Die Casting Mold, Stamping Mold