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How to Design for Rapid Prototyping

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is a technique used in the product development process to quickly create a physical prototype of a product or part using computer-aided design (CAD) data.

This process allows designers and engineers to test and validate their designs before moving into full-scale production.

Rapid prototyping can include techniques such as 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection moulding. These rapid prototyping methods create functional prototypes in a fraction of the time and cost compared to traditional manufacturing processes.

What is the Role of Design in Rapid Prototyping?

Design plays a crucial role in the rapid prototyping process as it lays the foundation for creating a successful prototype.

Design helps to define the functionality, form, and appearance of the prototype, ensuring that it meets the specified requirements and objectives.

In specific terms, design is important in rapid prototyping for several reasons:

Visualisation: Design helps to visualise the final product and enables all stakeholders to see and understand what the prototype will look like. This helps to align expectations and ensure that everyone is working to the same brief.

Iteration: Design allows for quick iterations and modifications to the prototype. By creating multiple design concepts and testing them, designers can quickly refine and improve the prototype to meet the desired specifications.

Feasibility: Design helps to identify potential challenges and constraints early in the prototyping process. By addressing these issues during the design phase, designers can avoid costly rework and wasted time.

Communication: Design serves as a visual communication tool that helps to convey ideas, concepts, and requirements to team members, clients, and stakeholders. It facilitates effective collaboration and decision-making throughout the prototyping process.

Overall, design plays a critical role in rapid prototyping by guiding the development of the prototype and ensuring that the final product meets the intended specifications.

Key Principles When Designing for Rapid Prototyping

Define clear objectives: Before starting the rapid prototyping process, it is important to clearly define the objectives of the project. This will ensure that the design process stays on track, and that the prototype can be measured against the pre-defined outcomes.

Start with sketches: Begin the design process with rough sketches to explore different ideas and concepts. This will help to identify the most effective design solutions.

Use prototyping tools: Utilise prototyping tools such as Sketch, Adobe XD, or Figma to create interactive prototypes that simulate the functionality of the final product. These tools allow for quick testing and refinement of designs.

Focus on user experience: Prioritise user experience by considering how users will interact with the prototype. Pay attention to usability, accessibility, and overall user satisfaction.

Iterate and refine: Rapid prototyping is an iterative process, so designers should be prepared to make changes based on feedback and testing. This will allow designers to continuously improve the prototype before moving to full scale production.

Test early and often: Conduct usability testing with real users throughout the prototyping process to gather valuable appraisals and insights, and to make informed design decisions.

Maintain consistency: Use consistent design elements, such as colours, fonts, and navigation patterns, throughout the prototype to create a cohesive and polished user experience.

Stay flexible: Be open to making changes and adjustments to the prototype as required. If the final product is to be successful in meeting the agreed objectives, product designers will need to accept constructive criticism and embrace new ideas.

Top Ten Design Tips for Rapid Prototyping

  1. Simplify design: Avoid overcomplicating the prototype with unnecessary features or details. This can make the prototype difficult and time-consuming to create, as well as potentially increasing its cost. Keep the design simple and focused on core functionality.
  2. Material selection: Choose the appropriate materials for rapid prototyping, taking into consideration factors such as strength, flexibility, and cost.
  1. Design for ease of assembly: Make sure the prototype can be easily assembled and disassembled for testing and modifications.
  1. Incorporate feedback: Design iterations should be based on feedback from stakeholders and users to continually improve the prototype.
  1. Consider manufacturability: Design for rapid prototyping techniques, such as 3D printing or CNC machining, to ensure efficient production of prototypes.
  1. Test functionality: Verify that the prototype functions as intended through testing and evaluation before moving on to the next design iteration.
  1. Cost-effectiveness: Consider the costs associated with rapid prototyping (i.e. material and production costs) in order to stay within budget constraints.
  1. Scalability: Design prototypes that can be easily scaled up or down to meet future production needs.
  1. Collaboration: Work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, and clients, to ensure a holistic approach to prototyping and to ensure alignment with project goals.
  1. Documentation: Keep detailed records of the design process, including changes, tests, and results. This will help to track progress and will also inform future design iterations.

Common Design Mistakes in Rapid Prototyping

Neglecting to optimise the design for prototyping: Designing a part with the specific requirements of prototyping in mind can lead to faster and more cost-effective results.

Overlooking ergonomics: Consider ergonomic factors such as comfort and usability. Failing to address these items can result in a prototype which is not user-friendly.

Choosing the wrong prototyping process: Each rapid prototyping process is different. It’s important to choose the right one relative to the specific requirements of the project.

Neglecting aesthetics: The importance of aesthetics should not be overlooked. A visually appealing prototype can help to convey a design concept more effectively.

Designing parts with sharp corners or thin walls: Sharp corners and thin walls can be difficult to produce using rapid prototyping techniques. It’s important to design parts with rounded corners and appropriate wall thicknesses.

Failing to consider post-processing requirements: Some rapid prototyping processes may require additional post-processing steps, such as finishing or painting. It’s important to consider these requirements when designing the part.

Poor communication: Clearly communicate your design intent to the prototyping team. Miscommunication can lead to errors and delays in the prototyping process.

Ignoring feedback: Ignoring feedback can lead to the development of a prototype that does not meet the needs and expectations of the end users.

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Low Volume Manufacturing

What is Low Volume Manufacturing?

Low volume manufacturing is a production method used to create a small number of products, typically ranging from 1 to 1,000 units.

This process is often used for custom or niche products which do not require large-scale production.

Low volume manufacturing is cost-effective for small businesses, startups, or companies who want to test new products before scaling up production. It allows for design flexibility, customisation, and rapid prototyping.

What Technologies are Used for Low Volume Manufacturing?

3D Printing: Also known as additive manufacturing, this technology allows for the production of custom parts in small quantities with minimal setup time and costs.

CNC Machining: Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are used to produce parts by subtracting material from a block of raw material. This method is cost-effective for low volume production runs.

Injection Moulding: Injection moulding can also be used for low volume manufacturing with the right setup and tooling. Rapid tooling methods allow engineers to market-test products and troubleshoot the manufacturing process before committing to production tooling.

Laser Cutting: This technology is often used for cutting and engraving materials such as metal, plastic, and wood, making it ideal for low volume manufacturing projects.

Vacuum Casting: This method is used for producing small batches of parts using silicone moulds and polyurethane resins. It is a cost-effective way to replicate high-quality prototypes and small production runs.

What are the Production Scenarios for Low Volume Manufacturing?

Customised or specialised products: Low volume manufacturing is ideal for producing customised or specialised products that have unique specifications or features that are not easily mass-produced.

Prototyping and testing: Low volume manufacturing is often used for prototyping and testing new products before full-scale production. This allows for adjustments to be made quickly and cost-effectively.

Limited market demand: If there is limited market demand for a product, low volume manufacturing can be used to produce a smaller quantity of units to meet the specific needs of the target market.

Seasonal or niche products: Products which are only in demand during certain seasons or which cater to a niche market may be better suited to low volume manufacturing to avoid excess inventory and waste.

Early-stage startups: Startups may opt for low volume manufacturing to minimise the initial costs and risks associated with scaling up production. This will allow them to trial certain concepts and ideas before making a large financial commitment to the production process.

Aftermarket parts: Low volume manufacturing is agile and flexible, and it can be employed to create components on demand to improve the performance of existing products.

Spare parts: Low volume manufacturing can be utilised to produce replacement or spare parts for discontinued products. This is particularly useful if an OEM has stopped manufacturing a particular product which is still widely used by consumers. Innovative technologies such as 3D printing, which relies on the original CAD design, can be used.

Regulatory compliance: Products which require strict adherence to regulatory requirements or certifications may benefit from low volume manufacturing to ensure compliance. This mitigates the risk of producing non-compliant units in large quantities.

What are the Benefits of Low Volume Manufacturing?

Reduced upfront costs: Low volume manufacturing allows companies to produce smaller quantities without having to invest in expensive production equipment or high minimum order quantities (MOQs). This helps to reduce the initial capital expenditure required for production, making it more accessible for smaller businesses or startups.

Flexibility: Companies can easily modify product designs, incorporate customer feedback, or introduce new features during low volume manufacturing processes. This flexibility enables businesses to quickly respond to market demands.

Customisation: Low volume manufacturing is ideal for the production of bespoke or custom products which meet the specific needs and requirements of customers.

Faster time to market: With low volume manufacturing, companies can bring products to market more rapidly. As the production volume is smaller, the turnaround time for manufacturing is shorter. This speed-to-market advantage is particularly beneficial for businesses operating in fast-moving industries, or for products which have short lifecycles.

Reduced inventory risks: Producing in smaller quantities helps to minimise the risk of excess inventory. This is especially important for industries where demand is uncertain or rapidly changing. Low volume manufacturing allows companies to produce products based on current demand, reducing the need for excessive stock and associated storage costs.

Lower risk experimentation: Low volume manufacturing provides an opportunity for companies to test new ideas, innovations, or prototypes. This allows businesses to analyse product performance and refine designs without incurring substantial manufacturing costs.

Cost-effective for niche markets: Low volume manufacturing is particularly favourable for niche markets with limited demand. Customisation options and lower production costs allow companies to cater to specific customer needs without compromising profitability.

Reduced waste and sustainability: Low volume manufacturing helps to minimise waste and excess materials by producing fewer units. Such sustainable production practices are good for the environment and have become increasingly important to consumers and regulators.

Utilisation of advanced technologies: Low volume manufacturers often leverage advanced manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing and CNC machining, to efficiently produce small quantities of products with high precision and quality.

Which Industries Typically Employ Low Volume Manufacturing?

Aerospace and Defence: Due to the complex and unique nature of components required in aerospace and defence applications, low volume manufacturing is often preferred to produce specialised parts and equipment on a smaller scale.

Automotive: The automotive industry utilises low volume manufacturing for prototype development, customisations, and limited production runs of specialty vehicles or parts.

Medical Devices: Many medical devices require precision engineering and customisation, making low volume manufacturing a cost-effective solution for producing small batches of specialised equipment. They also require stringent testing before rolling out full production.

Electronics: The electronics industry often requires low volume manufacturing for producing prototypes, custom components, and small batches of specialised products.

Consumer Goods: Consumer goods companies use low volume manufacturing to produce limited edition items which do not have mass-market appeal but cater to a niche audience.

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Corporate Branding for Injection Moulded Parts

Corporate Branding for Plastic Parts

Corporate branding for injection moulded plastic parts refers to the process of adding the company’s name, logo, or any other relevant information on to surface of the finished product.

This process plays a crucial role in establishing the identity of the company and its products. Incorporating the company’s name or logo on to the plastic component has several benefits, including enhanced brand recognition, aesthetic appeal, and competitor differentiation.

Design Considerations for Corporate Branding

When adding company lettering, branding, or logos to plastic injection moulded parts, several design considerations need to be taken into account. These considerations include:

Size and Placement: The size and placement of the lettering, branding, or logos should be carefully chosen to ensure optimum visibility. It’s important to consider the available surface area on the part to avoid overcrowding or interference with other product features.

Material Compatibility: The plastic material should be compatible with the desired lettering or branding. Some plastics may have limitations in terms of texture, colour, or surface finish. It is advisable to consult with a materials specialist or a designer to ensure compatibility.

Mould Design: Designing the mould with proper cavities, inserts, or sliders can ensure accurate reproduction of the desired branding on the moulded part. Mould design should consider factors like parting line placement, draft angles, and overall mould complexity.

Embossing, Engraving, or In-Mould Decoration Techniques: Various techniques can be employed to add lettering or branding during the injection moulding process. Embossing or engraving can be used to create raised or recessed logos, while in-mould decoration techniques, such as in-mould labelling or in-mould painting, can provide high-quality branding directly on to the surface of the part.

Contrast and Colour Selection: The colour contrast between the part and the lettering or branding should be carefully considered to ensure readability and visual appeal. High contrast can make the branding stand out, enhancing its visibility and brand recognition.

Durability and Longevity: The lettering or branding on plastic parts should be designed to withstand its intended use and environmental conditions. Factors such as UV resistance, abrasion resistance, adhesion strength, and overall durability should be considered to ensure that the lettering stays intact and remains legible over time.

Regulatory Compliance: There may be specific industry regulations in relation to the placement, size, colour, or content of lettering or branding. These regulations must be upheld to ensure compliance.

How to Achieve Corporate Branding

Some techniques for achieving corporate branding on injection moulded parts include:

Mould engraving: Branding can be directly engraved on to the surface of the injection mould. This allows the logo or text to be imprinted on to each plastic part consistently.

Mould insert: A pre-made mould insert, usually made of steel or another durable material, can be inserted into the injection mould. The insert contains the desired lettering or branding on its surface, and when the molten plastic is injected into the mould, it will mould around the insert, transferring the branding on to the plastic part.

Mould-On Lettering: A separate mould is used to create the lettering or branding elements. These moulded pieces are then placed on to the plastic parts and bonded using adhesives or ultrasonic welding techniques. This allows for more flexibility in terms of changing the branding elements if required.

Hot stamping: This process involves using a heated metal stamp or die, which contains the desired lettering or branding, to transfer the design on to the plastic part. The stamp is pressed on to the heated plastic surface, leaving a permanent mark as it cools and solidifies.

Pad printing: Pad printing is a versatile technique used to transfer a design on to irregular or curved surfaces. In this process, a pre-made stamp, made of silicone or other flexible material, is inked with the desired logo or text, and is then pressed on to the plastic part.

Laser etching: Laser etching is a non-contact process that uses a laser beam to remove the plastic material from the surface, creating the desired lettering or branding. This method provides high precision and flexibility. It also allows for intricate designs and small details.

Each of these methods offers different advantages and considerations, such as cost, durability, and complexity. The choice of method depends on factors such as appearance, production volume, budget, and design.

The Value of Corporate Branding

There are many benefits to adding branding to an injection moulded part. These include:

Brand Identification: Branding allows products to be easily associated with a specific company. This improves brand recognition and enhances brand visibility in the marketplace.

Professional Appearance: Corporate branding adds a professional and polished look to a part. This increases credibility and enhances the customer’s perception of product quality.

Promotional and Marketing Benefits: Branded parts can act as promotional tools by serving as a constant reminder of the company’s products or services.

Anti-Counterfeiting Measures: Adding proprietary logos, holograms, or other security features on plastic moulded parts helps to deter counterfeit products. It allows customers to easily identify genuine products, thus protecting the integrity and reputation of the brand.

Increase Perceived Value: Branding can increase the perceived value of a product by leveraging already-established consumer trust. This is one of the reasons why new products from market leaders can justify a higher price point than similar products from new entrants.

Potential Issues with Corporate Branding

There are also some drawbacks to applying corporate branding to injection moulded parts. Some of these issues include:

Compromised Structural Integrity: Adding lettering or logos to a part can weaken its structural integrity. The addition of raised lettering, for example, can create stress points, reduce wall thickness, or cause uneven distribution of material. These factors may lead to part failure or decreased performance.

Increase in Cost: Incorporating intricate logos or branding may require additional tooling, design modifications, or specialised equipment. This may render the process economically unfeasible for companies with limited resources or for small production runs.

Aesthetic Concerns: Adding company lettering or branding can sometimes harm the desired appearance of a moulded part, which can result in an unattractive or inconsistent product.

Reusability/Recyclability: If a part is intended for reuse or recycling, adding lettering or logos can create issues. These elements can make it difficult to cleanly separate and reprocess the material, potentially reducing the part’s lifecycle and compromising the recycling process.

Intellectual Property Protection: In some cases, companies may choose not to include branding or logos to maintain secrecy about their products or manufacturing processes. Especially for patented or proprietary technologies, minimising visible branding can help to protect intellectual property and prevent counterfeiting.

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Plating for CNC Machined Parts

What is Plating for CNC Machined Parts?

Plating is a surface finishing process for CNC machined parts.

Plating involves depositing a thin layer of metal on to the surface of a part through electroplating.

Plating can be done with various metals, including nickel, chrome, zinc, gold, and silver. The part to be plated is immersed in an electrolytic bath along with a metal salt solution, and a direct current is applied to initiate the deposition of the metal on to the part’s surface.

Plating can improve the durability, appearance, and functionality of CNC machined parts.

What is the Process for Plating a CNC Machined Part?

Plating a CNC machined part involves applying a protective or decorative layer of metal on the surface of the part. The process generally consists of the following steps:

  1. Preparing the surface: The CNC machined part is cleaned and prepared by removing any dirt, grease, or contaminants from the surface. This is done by using chemical cleaners, solvents, or ultrasonic cleaning methods.
  1. Surface activation: To ensure proper bonding of the plating material, the surface of the part needs to be activated. This is typically done by etching or treating the surface with a chemical solution, such as an acid or alkaline bath.
  1. Electroplating: The part is then immersed in an electrolyte solution containing metal ions of the desired plating material. The part acts as a cathode, while an anode made of the plating metal is also present in the solution. A direct electrical current is passed through the solution, causing the metal ions to be deposited on to the surface of the part. The plating metal may vary depending on the intended outcomes (i.e. corrosion resistance, conductivity, or aesthetics etc).
  1. Controlling plating thickness: The plating thickness can be controlled by adjusting the current density, plating time, and other variables. This ensures a uniform and desired thickness across the surface of the part.
  1. Post-plating treatments: After the desired plating thickness is achieved, the part may undergo additional processes to enhance the plating’s properties. This may include rinsing to remove any residual plating solution, heat treatments for improved adhesion and hardness, or applying a protective coating such as a clear lacquer.
  1. Quality control: Finally, the plated part undergoes quality control measures to ensure it meets the desired specifications. This can involve checking plating thickness, adhesion, appearance, and any functional requirements.

It is important to note that the plating process may vary depending on the type of plating material, the part’s material, and the intended application. Different plating techniques, such as electroless plating or electrochemical deposition, may be used in certain cases.

What are the Different Types of Plating Processes?

There are several types of plating options for CNC machined parts, including:

Electroplating: This is the most common type of plating process, which involves depositing a thin layer of metal on to the surface of the part. It provides increased corrosion resistance, improved wear resistance, and enhanced aesthetic appearance.

Anodizing: Anodizing is an electrochemical process used to treat aluminium and its alloys. It forms a durable oxide layer on the surface of the part, improving corrosion resistance and providing a decorative finish.

Powder coating: Powder coating involves applying a dry coloured powder to the surface of the part, which is then heated to create a durable and attractive finish. It provides excellent resistance to corrosion, impact, and chemicals.

Nickel plating: Nickel plating offers high corrosion resistance and provides a smooth, glossy finish. It can be used as an undercoat for other platings, or as a standalone coating.

Zinc plating: Zinc plating, also known as galvanizing, is a process in which a protective layer of zinc is applied to the part. It offers corrosion resistance and can also act as a sacrificial coating to protect the underlying metal.

Chrome plating: Chrome plating is used to provide a high level of hardness, corrosion resistance, and reflectivity. It is commonly used for decorative purposes, especially on automotive parts.

Tin plating: Tin plating is used to increase corrosion resistance, provide solderability, and improve the part’s appearance. It is commonly used on electronic components and food contact surfaces.

The Benefits of Plating a CNC Machined Part

There are several benefits of plating a CNC machined part. Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits in more detail:

Improved surface finish: Plating can enhance the appearance and aesthetics of a CNC machined part by providing a smooth and polished surface.

Increased corrosion resistance: Plating can provide a protective layer on the surface of the machined part, preventing it from being affected by environmental factors like moisture, chemicals, or oxidation.

Enhanced durability: Plating can improve the mechanical properties of the part, making it more resistant to wear, abrasion, and corrosion. This can extend the lifespan of the part and reduce the need for frequent replacements.

Better electrical conductivity: Plating can also enhance the electrical conductivity of the part, making it suitable for applications that require good electrical contact, such as electronics or electrical connectors.

Improved solderability: Plated surfaces are often more compatible with soldering processes, making it easier to join the machined part with other components in an assembly.

Enhanced adhesion: Plated surfaces generally have better adhesion properties, allowing for improved bonding with paints, adhesives, or other coatings if required.

Customisable appearance: Plating can be done with various materials and finishes, allowing for customisation of the part to meet specific design or aesthetic requirements.

Reduced friction and wear: Plated surfaces can have lower friction coefficients, which can help to reduce wear and increase the efficiency of moving parts in mechanical assemblies.

Regulatory compliance: Plating can be done with materials that comply with specific industry standards or regulations, ensuring that the machined part meets the necessary requirements for its intended application.

Overall, plating a CNC machined part can provide numerous functional and aesthetic benefits, making it a valuable finishing process for many applications.

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How is Colour Used in Injection Moulding?

The Role of Colour in Injection Moulding

For some plastic parts, colour is a vital but often overlooked part of the injection moulding process.

While many parts do not have a colour requirement, for some parts the inclusion of colour in the manufacturing process is a crucial element of the component build.

Colour can greatly enhance a product by providing several aesthetic and functional benefits.

For some parts, colour can also improve the marketability of a product, making it memorable and appealing, whilst also serving brand identity and competitor differentiation.

In this article, we will explore these issues in more detail, examining how the process is achieved, and asking why colour uniformity is so essential to the success of the operation.

Why Might Colour be Needed for Injection Moulded Parts?

Let’s look in more detail at why colour might be needed for some injection moulded parts:

Aesthetics: Injection moulding allows for a wide range of vibrant and attractive colours, which can make the final product more engaging and aesthetically pleasing to customers.

Branding: Colour can be used to align the injection moulded parts with a specific brand. By using corporate colours, products become easily recognisable and help to reinforce brand identity.

Differentiation: In industries where multiple manufacturers produce similar products, colour can play a crucial role in differentiating one product from another. It allows customers to quickly distinguish between different brands and models.

Safety and warning indications: Colours are frequently employed to convey safety-related information or warning signs on products. For example, injection moulded parts in medical devices may use specific colours to indicate different functions or to easily identify different parts during assembly.

Product traceability: In certain industries, colour coding is used to track and identify products. By assigning specific colours to different products or manufacturing batches, it becomes easier to manage inventory, track defects, or perform quality control checks.

Functional purposes: Colour may serve a functional purpose. For example, specific colours may be used to minimise heat absorption or to indicate temperature-sensitive parts.

When is Colour Added in the Injection Moulding Process?

Colour can be added to parts during or after the injection moulding process.

During the injection moulding process, colorants can be mixed with the plastic material before it is melted and injected into the mould. This is called “in-mould colouring” or “colour compounding.” The colorants are typically in the form of pellets or granules, which can be pre-mixed with the plastic resin or introduced as a separate stream during the injection moulding process. The melted plastic with the colorants is then injected into the mould cavity, thus producing coloured parts.

Parts can also be coloured through various post-processing methods, including painting, coating, or applying surface treatments. These secondary operations are typically performed after the initial injection moulding process is completed.

The choice between adding colour during the injection moulding process or applying it afterwards depends on factors such as cost, production volume, desired colour accuracy, and part complexity.

How is Colour Achieved in Injection Moulded Parts?

Colour is achieved in injection moulded parts through various methods, including:

Masterbatch: This is the most common method of adding colour to injection moulded parts. Masterbatch is a concentrated pigment or dye that is mixed with the base polymer material before the injection moulding process. The masterbatch is typically added in small quantities to achieve the desired colour. It disperses uniformly throughout the material during the moulding process, resulting in a consistent and even colour.

Colour Compounding: In this method, specific colorants or dyes are mixed with the base polymer during the compounding stage. Colour compounding allows for greater control over the colour and can produce a wider range of shades and hues. It is often used when intricate or custom colour requirements are needed.

Liquid Colorant: Liquid colorants are mixtures of pigments or dyes dispersed in a liquid carrier. They are added directly into the injection moulding machine, either through the hopper or a separate dosing unit. Liquid colorants offer flexibility in colour selection and can be easily changed.

Dry Pigment: Dry pigments, in the form of powders or granules, can be added to the base polymer before the injection moulding process. The pigment particles are typically mixed with the polymer in a blender or mixer. Dry pigments are commonly used for large-scale production where consistent colour is required.

Regardless of the method used, it is essential to maintain proper colour consistency throughout the injection moulding process. This includes controlling factors like temperature, pressure, and residence time, which can affect the colour result. Additionally, colour testing and quality control measures are typically employed to ensure the desired colour is achieved in the final moulded parts.

How is Colour Uniformity Achieved in Injection Moulding?

Colour uniformity is essential to the overall presentation of the final component or product. It can affect perceptions of product quality and customer satisfaction, as well as being an essential element of upholding brand status and loyalty.

Colour uniformity in plastic injection moulding can be achieved using several techniques:

Material selection: Choosing a high quality colour masterbatch or pigment which is compatible with the base plastic resin ensures consistent colour distribution throughout the moulded part.

Mixing: Properly mixing the colorant or masterbatch with the base resin is essential to achieve colour homogeneity. This can be done using specialised mixing equipment or by ensuring thorough dispersion during the melt phase.

Injection moulding process control: Maintaining consistent process parameters, including temperature, pressure, and injection speed, helps to ensure uniform colour distribution. Optimum processing conditions, including properly calibrated injection moulding machines, help to prevent degradation of pigments or resin, while reducing defects and ensuring colour uniformity.

Mould design: An optimised mould design can facilitate uniform flow of melted plastic and minimise any visual blemishes or colour streaking. Consideration must be given to gate locations, cooling channels, and venting to ensure even filling of the mould cavity.

Material testing: Conducting regular material testing, including melt flow index (MFI) and colour dispersion analysis, ensures that the colorant or masterbatch performs consistently. The testing helps to identify any variations in colour distribution.

Quality control: Implementing a robust quality control process, including regular inspections and colour matching checks, helps to identify and rectify any problems with colour uniformity during production. This can involve visual checks as well as colour measurement using specialised instruments.

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The Manufacturing Supply Chain

A supply chain is a network of individuals and companies who are involved in a product’s lifecycle, from conception all the way through to final delivery.

In manufacturing terms, the supply chain is the process of converting raw materials or components into fully assembled working products which are then sold to customers.

There are many different types of customers involved in the manufacturing supply chain, including materials suppliers, manufacturers, product designers and end users.

The manufacturing supply chain in the UK has become an increasingly challenging environment for companies, especially small-medium sized enterprises. These challenges include costs, scarcity of materials, increased competition, and geopolitical turbulence.

This article will examine the supply chain from the perspective of the manufacturer, exploring the challenges, opportunities, and benefits which exist for modern companies.

Supply Chain Challenges in the Manufacturing Sector

Raw Material Sourcing: Fluctuations in commodity prices, poor availability, and shipping delays have made the sourcing of raw materials extremely challenging for manufacturers.

Production Delays: Delays in production due to machine breakdowns, labour shortages, or other issues can disrupt the supply chain and lead to missed deadlines and increased costs.

Inventory Management: Balancing inventory levels to meet demand without overstocking or understocking can be a challenge for manufacturers. Poor inventory management can lead to excess costs and product obsolescence.

Transportation Costs: Rising transportation costs, including fuel prices and shipping rates, can impact upon the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the supply chain.

Quality Control: Ensuring product quality throughout the manufacturing process is essential for meeting customer expectations and preventing costly recalls or returns.

Globalisation: Manufacturers who source materials or sell products internationally face challenges such as currency fluctuations, tariffs, and trade regulations. These factors can have a domino effect on the wider supply chain.

Sustainability: Increasing pressure to operate sustainably can create challenges for companies in terms of sourcing environmentally friendly materials and minimising waste.

Cybersecurity: As manufacturers adopt digital technologies and connect their supply chain systems online, they may become more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats such as data breaches and ransomware attacks. Protecting sensitive information and ensuring the security of the supply chain is a big challenge for manufacturers in today’s marketplace.

Increased Utility Costs: Manufacturers often rely on large workforces, heavy duty machinery, and large production facilities to carry out their work. The rising costs of gas, electricity, and heating have created a squeeze on profit margins for many companies.

How Can Companies Successfully Manage the Manufacturing Supply Chain?

Companies can successfully navigate and manage the manufacturing supply chain by implementing the following strategies:

Establish Strong Supplier Relationships: Building strong relationships with suppliers can help to ensure a steady supply of materials and components. Effective communication, transparency, and collaboration with suppliers can help to reduce lead times, improve quality, and foster innovation.

Implement Supply Chain Visibility and Transparency: Utilise technology such as supply chain management software to gain real-time visibility into inventory levels, production status, and transportation. This can help identify potential bottlenecks, which in turn will help manufacturers to anticipate disruptions, and to make more informed decisions.

Diversify Suppliers and Sources: Relying on multiple suppliers can help to mitigate some of the risks involved, including supply shortages, price fluctuations, and geopolitical instability. Companies should regularly assess their supplier network and consider alternative options.

Optimise Production Processes: Implement lean manufacturing principles, just-in-time inventory management, and other efficiency-improving techniques to minimise waste, reduce lead times, and improve overall productivity. Continuous process improvement and automation can also help to streamline operations.

Invest in Workforce Training and Development: A skilled and knowledgeable workforce is crucial for managing a complex manufacturing supply chain. Companies should invest in training programs to enhance employee skills and expertise in supply chain management.

Monitor and Measure Performance Metrics: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to track supply chain performance, such as on-time delivery, inventory turnover, and cost efficiency. Regularly analyse data and metrics to identify areas for improvement and to optimise supply chain operations.

Proactively Manage Risks: Identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them, such as developing contingency plans for supply disruptions, implementing risk management protocols, and conducting regular risk assessments.

By implementing these strategies and continuously improving supply chain management practices, companies can navigate the complexities of the manufacturing supply chain successfully and achieve operational excellence.

What Are the Opportunities for Companies in the Manufacturing Supply Chain?

Enhanced Efficiency and Productivity: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can improve their efficiency and productivity by streamlining processes, utilising advanced technologies, and adopting best practices. This can reduce costs, maximise output, and enhance their competitiveness in the market.

Innovation and Product Development: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can innovate and develop new products to meet changing customer demands and market trends. By investing in research and development, they can create unique products which provide competitive differentiation and attract new customers.

Global Expansion: Companies in the manufacturing supply chain can expand their global operations and tap into new markets. By establishing partnerships and collaborations with international partners, they can increase their market reach and grow their business.

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility: With increasing focus on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, companies can seize the opportunity to adopt eco-friendly practices, reduce their carbon footprint, and contribute to a more sustainable future. This can attract customers and investors, leading to long-term success and growth.

What are the Benefits to Manufacturers of Being Part of a Supply Chain?

Increased Efficiency: Being part of a supply chain allows manufacturers to streamline their operations and reduce waste, ultimately improving their overall efficiency.

Cost Savings: By working closely with suppliers and distributors, manufacturers can negotiate better pricing on raw materials and transportation, leading to cost savings.

Improved Quality Control: Being part of a supply chain enables manufacturers to closely monitor and control the quality of their products throughout the production process.

Enhanced Flexibility: Collaborating with suppliers and distributors allows manufacturers to respond quickly to changing market demands and adjust production schedules accordingly.

Access to New Markets: Supply chains provide manufacturers with access to new markets and distribution channels, helping them to expand their customer bases and drive sales.

Risk Mitigation: By diversifying their supplier bases and increasing collaboration with other partners in the supply chain, manufacturers can reduce their exposure to all kinds of risks, including unforeseen disruptions in the supply chain or sudden fluctuations in demand.

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Reverse Engineering

What is Reverse Engineering in Manufacturing?

Reverse engineering in manufacturing is the process of analysing the design and structure of a manufactured product in order to understand its construction and functionality.

It is a deductive process which often involves disassembling the product, studying its components and materials, and figuring out how it functions and is produced.

Reverse engineering can be used to gain valuable insights into the manufacturing process. It is also employed to improve upon existing products, create compatible parts, and investigate competitor products for market advantage. It may involve the use of various tools such as 3D scanning, computer-aided design (CAD), and computer numerical control (CNC) machining.

How Does Reverse Engineering Help in Injection Moulding?

Reverse engineering assists in the injection moulding process in the following ways:

Mould creation: Reverse engineering assists in creating accurate moulds by capturing the intricate details, dimensions, and specifications of an existing part. This precision helps to produce moulds which replicate the original product.

Product analysis and improvement: Reverse engineering allows manufacturers to enhance existing products by identifying design flaws or weaknesses. By analysing and understanding the construction and materials used in specific parts, engineers can suggest modifications to improve performance, durability, or manufacturability.

Cost/time benefits: Reverse engineering can save time and costs during the product development process. Instead of starting from scratch, engineers can study existing products and can understand more quickly how to create similar components with improved features.

Obsolescence management: When a component or product becomes obsolete due to discontinued production or unavailable spare parts, manufacturers can reverse engineer the part to replicate it, ensuring the continued production of the product.

Competitor analysis: By deconstructing and analysing competitor products, manufacturers can gather valuable feedback, and can innovate based upon their findings.

Reverse Engineering and Injection Moulding – The Step-by-Step Process

  1. Part acquisition: Obtain a sample of the desired part that needs to be reverse engineered. This can be an existing plastic part or a prototype.
  1. 3D scanning: Use a 3D scanner to capture the part’s geometry/dimensions. The scanner can be contact or non-contact, depending on the complexity and fragility of the part.
  1. Point cloud generation: The 3D scanner creates a point cloud data set, which is a collection of millions of 3D points that represent the surface of the part. This point cloud can be further processed to obtain a more usable format.
  1. CAD modelling: Import the point cloud data into a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software to convert it into a 3D CAD model. The CAD model should accurately represent the geometry and dimensions of the original part.
  1. Cleanup and feature extraction: Refine the CAD model by removing any noise or errors from the scanned data. Identify and extract key features, such as holes, curves, fillets, and other details that are essential for the injection moulding process.
  1. Design modification (if required): The 3D CAD model is modified or optimised to meet specific requirements, such as reducing weight or enhancing manufacturability.
  1. Mould design: Using the CAD model, the mould design should be created to produce the reverse-engineered part. The mould design should consider factors like parting line, draft angles, gate locations, ejection system, and cooling channels.
  1. CAM programming: Generate the Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) program that defines the toolpath for the CNC machines used to manufacture the injection mould. This program ensures that the mould is machined accurately and precisely.
  1. Mould manufacturing: Use the CAM program to machine the injection mould from suitable materials, such as steel or aluminium. The mould should be fabricated with high precision to ensure proper functioning and durability.
  1. Part production: Once the injection mould is ready, it can be used to produce the plastic parts through the injection moulding process. This involves melting plastic material, injecting it into the mould cavity, and allowing it to cool and solidify before ejecting the finished part.
  1. Quality control: Inspect the reverse-engineered parts to ensure they meet the required specifications and quality standards. This may involve dimensional measurements, visual inspection, and mechanical or functional testing.

What are the Challenges of Reverse Engineering in Injection Moulding?

Lack of original design information: It can be particularly challenging to accurately recreate or replicate a product without the original design information, as detailed specifications, dimensions, and material compositions will be unavailable.

Complex geometries: It may be difficult to reproduce injection moulded parts with intricate features and complex geometries through reverse engineering. It may not be possible to achieve dimensional accuracy and to replicate fine details.

Manufacturing processes: Parameters such as temperature, pressure, cooling rates, and tooling design can significantly affect the final product’s quality. Understanding and recreating these specific manufacturing processes accurately can be a complex task.

Cost and time constraints: Re-engineering a product from scratch can require significant investments in terms of time, resources, and expertise. It may involve the use of specialised equipment and software, as well as extensive testing and validation.

Addressing these challenges requires a combination of technical expertise, access to advanced tools and equipment, and a thorough understanding of the injection moulding process. It is essential to have a multidisciplinary team that includes engineers, material specialists, and skilled technicians to successfully overcome these manufacturing challenges.

Factors Affecting the Reverse Engineering Process

Material Properties: The properties of the original material can impact the reverse engineering process. The material’s melting temperature, shrinkage, and flowability must be considered when selecting a suitable material for the reverse-engineered mould.

Mould Design: The mould design of the original part can influence the reverse engineering process. The complexity, number of parts, wall thickness, and surface finish of the original part must be carefully analysed to create an accurate mould design.

Equipment and Tools: The availability and precision of the equipment/tools used in reverse engineering can greatly impact the success of the mould creation. These include advanced scanning technology, computer-aided design (CAD) software, and CNC milling machines.

Skill and Expertise: The skill and expertise of the engineers can significantly affect the reverse engineering process. Expert knowledge of injection moulding, CAD software, and mould making techniques is necessary to ensure accurate replication of the original part.

Time and Cost: The complexity of the part, availability of resources, and the urgency of the project can impact the timeline and budget for the reverse engineering process.

Intellectual Property: Reverse engineering a part may create legal or ethical issues, especially if the part is protected by intellectual property rights. Companies must adhere to legal requirements and obtain permissions before engaging in reverse engineering activities.

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Top 10 Design Tips for Injection Moulding

Designing for Injection Moulding

Designing injection moulded parts is never a simple task. There are so many different factors to weigh up and consider.

The objective is to produce the best quality product or component, and the design will play a fundamental role in whether or not this is ultimately achieved.

For designers, however, there are several other key variables to consider in addition to product quality. These include items such as lead times, cost, and final product application.

Producing the right design will not only help to produce the best quality part, but it will also help to ensure that the manufacturing process is as streamlined as possible, which will mean shortened production cycles, reduced costs, and improved end user experience.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 design tips for all designers out there who are looking to design a product for the purposes of injection moulding.

10 Design Tips for Injection Moulding

  1. Design for ease of mouldability: Ensure that the design can be easily moulded and that it does not contain any unnecessarily complex geometries or undercuts. Avoid sharp corners or thin sections that can cause manufacturing issues.
  1. Use draft angles: Incorporate draft angles into your design to allow for easy ejection of the part from the mould. This prevents sticking or damage to the part during demoulding.
  1. Wall thickness: Maintain uniform wall thickness throughout the part to avoid sink marks or warping. Thick sections can take longer to cool, while thin sections can easily break.

 

  1. Gate placement: Position the gate (the point at which molten plastic enters the mould) in an area that allows for efficient filling and proper flow through the part. Avoid placing the gate in visible areas to prevent gate marks.
  1. Ribs and gussets: Use ribs and gussets to reinforce the structure of the part. These features improve strength and stiffness without adding excessive material. They also reduce costs and diminish the potential for warping.
  1. Fillets and radii: Incorporate fillets or radii into designs to avoid stress concentrations. These rounded transitions distribute stress evenly, reducing the likelihood of part failure.
  1. Material selection: Choose a material suitable for injection moulding based on its flow properties, shrinkage rate, and mechanical properties. Consult with material suppliers or injection moulding experts for guidance.
  1. Avoid undercuts: Design parts without complex undercuts which may prevent easy demoulding. If undercuts are necessary, consider using mechanical side-actions or slides in the mould.
  1. Consider assembly requirements: If your part requires assembly, design the features in such a manner as to facilitate easy alignment and assembly. Incorporate snap-fit features or mating surfaces for efficient and secure assembling.
  1. Parting line placement: Choose the parting line location carefully, as it will affect the appearance and dimensional accuracy of the final part. Place the parting line in non-critical areas or in hidden locations to minimise its visibility.

Want to Find Out More?

If you’re a designer who’s about to embark on the product development process and you need to speak with a reliable manufacturing partner, we could be the ideal solution for you.

Please contact us for an informal chat and we’d be happy to speak to you about your project.

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Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

What is Design for Manufacturing (DFM)?

Design for Manufacturing (DFM) is the process of designing a product in a way that optimises its manufacturing efficiency and quality.

The aim is to create a design that can be easily and cost-effectively manufactured, assembled, and serviced.

DFM takes into consideration variables such as materials, production techniques, tooling, equipment, and resources.

By considering manufacturing processes early in the design phase, DFM seeks to reduce or eliminate potential issues and increase overall production efficiencies. This helps to minimise costs, shorten lead times, and improve product functionality.

DFM involves collaboration between designers, engineers, and manufacturers to ensure that the design meets all manufacturing requirements and is suitable for mass production.

It may also involve making design modifications, as well as selecting appropriate materials, standardising components, minimising the number of parts, and ensuring ease of assembly.

What is the Process for Design for Manufacturing (DFM)?

The Design for Manufacturing (DFM) process will depend on the product, its requirements, and its intended application.

Here are some of the typical steps in the DFM process:

  1. Understanding customer requirements: The first step is to understand the customer’s requirements for the product. This includes understanding its function, performance, and any specific design constraints.
  1. Design concept development: The design concept will then be developed and will include initial sketches, visualisations, or 3D models to capture the look and feel of the product.
  1. Design analysis: Various design analyses are conducted to evaluate the performance of the product. This may include stress analysis, tolerance analysis, finite element analysis (FEA), or any other relevant analysis to ensure the design meets the required specifications.
  1. Design optimisation: Based on the analysis results, the design is then optimised. This may involve making changes to the product geometry, materials, or manufacturing processes.
  1. Design for manufacturability assessment: This involves analysing how easily the design can be manufactured using available manufacturing processes, equipment, and materials. The goal is to identify any potential manufacturing issues, such as complex geometries or difficult-to-manufacture features, so that the necessary design modifications can be made.
  1. Design validation: Once the design is optimised and assessed for manufacturability, it is validated through prototype testing. This may involve creating physical prototypes or using computer simulations to test the product’s performance and functionality.
  1. Iterative design improvements: Based on the prototype testing results, any necessary design improvements or modifications are made. This iterative process continues until the design meets all the required criteria.
  1. Documentation preparation: Once the design is finalised, detailed documentation is prepared, including manufacturing drawings, specifications, bills of materials (BOM), and assembly instructions. These documents provide all the necessary information for the manufacturing team to produce the product.
  1. Manufacturing process planning: The manufacturing team develops a detailed plan for manufacturing the product. This includes selecting the appropriate manufacturing processes, equipment, and materials, as well as determining the production schedule and quality control measures.
  1. Production: The product is manufactured by following the manufacturing process plan. This may involve various stages, such as material procurement, machining or fabrication, assembly, and quality assurance.
  1. Continuous improvement: Feedback is collected from the manufacturing team to identify any issues or opportunities for improvement. These insights are used to refine the design, manufacturing, and quality control processes for future iterations of the product.

The Benefits of Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

Cost reduction: By simplifying the manufacturing process, companies can achieve cost savings in labour, materials, tooling, and equipment.

Faster time to market: With DFM, products can be designed to be manufactured more efficiently, resulting in reduced lead times. The elimination of design flaws, manufacturability issues, or the need for multiple design iterations helps to speed up the overall process.

Improved product quality: Designing products with manufacturing in mind ensures that potential issues such as part failures, assembly problems, or quality defects are addressed early in the design phase. DFM maximises the likelihood of creating a product that meets quality standards and performs reliably.

Enhanced product functionality: By considering the manufacturing process beforehand, designers can take advantage of manufacturing techniques, materials, and production capabilities to improve the functionality, durability, and performance of the product.

Simplified maintenance and repair: Products designed with DFM principles are often easier to assemble, disassemble, and repair. This reduces downtime and the costs associated with maintenance or repairs, as well as improving user experience.

Increased production scalability: DFM ensures that a product’s design can be easily scaled up or down for larger or smaller production volumes. By minimising design constraints and manufacturing complexities, companies can respond more effectively to changing market demands and ramp up production quickly when required.

Improved supply chain management: DFM can lead to better collaboration and communication between design teams and manufacturing partners. By involving manufacturers early in the design process, they can provide input on feasibility, potential issues, and suggestions for improvement. This collaboration streamlines the supply chain, reduces the risk of delays or production bottlenecks, and fosters stronger partnerships.

Examples of Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

Simplified assembly processes: Designing products with easy-to-follow assembly instructions and minimising the number of components involved can greatly increase efficiency.

Standardised parts: Standardised parts can reduce costs/lead times by allowing manufacturers to use existing resources and minimise the need for custom manufacturing.

Designing for scalability: Creating designs that can easily scale up or down in production volume helps manufacturers to efficiently adjust to changing market demands.

Material selection: Selecting materials that are readily available, cost-effective, and easy to work with can simplify the manufacturing process and reduce production costs.

Minimising waste: Designing products with minimal material waste can lead to cost savings during manufacturing and will contribute to sustainability efforts.

Designing for automation: Incorporating features that facilitate automation, such as the use of robotics or assembly line equipment, can improve efficiency and reduce labour costs.

Designing for inspection and testing: Incorporating features that facilitate quality control inspections and product testing can help manufacturers to ensure that products meet the required standards before leaving the production line.

Ergonomics and user-friendly design: Designing products that are ergonomic and intuitive to use can improve manufacturing efficiency by reducing mistakes and assembly time.

Designing for cost-effective packaging and shipping: Considering packaging and shipping requirements during the design phase can help to minimise transportation costs, protect the product during transit, and reduce packaging waste.

Designing for maintenance and repair: Designing products which are easy to maintain and repair can reduce downtime and costs associated with servicing and troubleshooting.

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Surface Finish for Injection Moulded Parts

What is Surface Finish in Injection Moulding?

Surface finish for injection moulded parts refers to the final appearance and texture of the part’s surface after the moulding process.

It can be influenced by several factors, such as the type of mould used, the material being injected, and any additional post-processing techniques applied.

What are the Different Types of Surface Finish for Injection Moulded Parts?

There are several types of surface finish for injection moulded parts, including:

Smooth or high gloss finish: This is the most common surface finish and provides a smooth and shiny appearance to the part. It is achieved by using a polished mould surface.

Textured finish: Textured finishes are used to create specific textures or patterns on the surface of the part, ranging from fine textures to coarse textures.

Matte finish: A matte finish provides a low-gloss appearance to the part. It is achieved by using a bead-blasting or chemical treatment on the mould surface.

Leather grain finish: This finish replicates the texture and appearance of leather. It is commonly used in automotive interiors and consumer goods.

Metallic finish: Metallic finishes are used to create a metallic appearance on the surface of the part. It can be achieved by using a paint or coating specifically designed to mimic metal.

Polished finish: A polished finish provides an extremely smooth and reflective surface to the part. It is achieved by using high-speed polishing techniques on the mould surface.

Patterned finish: Patterned finishes are used to create a specific pattern or design on the surface of the part. It can range from geometric patterns to custom designs.

Moulded-in colour finish: The desired surface finish can be achieved by incorporating colour directly into the part during the injection moulding process. This eliminates the need for secondary painting or coating.

Grainy or stippled: This type of surface finish has a rough texture with small bumps or indentations, often resembling a grainy or stippled pattern. It is commonly used for parts that require a better grip or to reduce the appearance of scratches or wear.

Painted or coated: In some cases, injection moulded parts are coated or painted after moulding. This allows for endless possibilities in terms of colours, patterns, or textures.

These are just a few examples of the many types of surface finish which are available for injection moulded parts. The choice of surface finish depends on the specific requirements of the part and its intended application.

Why is Surface Finish Important in Injection Moulding?

Choosing the right surface finish is important in injection moulding for several reasons:

Aesthetic Appeal: The surface finish of a part plays a significant role in its visual appeal. A smooth, polished surface finish enhances the overall appearance of the part, making it visually pleasing to customers and end users.

Functionality: Different surface finishes can affect the functionality of a part. For example, a textured surface finish may improve grip or reduce friction, making the part easier to handle or improving its performance in specific applications.

Part Quality: The surface finish can directly impact the quality of a part. Imperfections such as rough surfaces, scratches, or blemishes can negatively affect the part’s performance, integrity, and durability.

Mould Release: Mould release is an essential aspect of injection moulding. The right surface finish can facilitate the easy release of the part from the mould, reducing the potential for damage or defects during the ejection process.

Ease of Cleaning: Certain surface finishes can make a part easier to clean. Smooth finishes, for example, may prevent the accumulation of dirt or bacteria, making the part more suitable for applications with strict cleanliness requirements, such as medical devices or food packaging.

Mould Life: Surface finishes can impact the lifespan of the mould. Unnecessarily rough or abrasive finishes can cause wear and tear on the mould, requiring frequent maintenance or replacement. Choosing the appropriate surface finish can help extend the life of the mould, thereby reducing the costs associated with repairs or replacements.

How is Surface Finish Achieved in Injection Moulding?

Surface finish in injection moulding is achieved through a combination of mould design and process parameters.

Here are some key pointers to follow to ensure that the best possible surface finish is achieved:

Mould Material: Use high-quality mould materials, such as hardened steel or aluminium. These materials have a smooth surface and will impart a better finish to the moulded part.

Mould Texture: Apply texture to the mould cavity or core surfaces if a specific surface finish is required. This can be achieved by sandblasting, etching, or EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining).

Mould Venting: Adequate venting in the mould design helps to release trapped air and gases during the moulding process. Insufficient venting can cause surface defects or blemishes.

Injection Pressure and Speed: Injection pressure and speed should be optimised to ensure proper filling of the mould cavity, minimising any flow marks, uneven surfaces, or weld lines.

Cooling and Ejection: Proper cooling channels in the mould design should be implemented to achieve uniform cooling and solidification of the molten plastic. This helps in minimising warpage and achieving a better surface finish. Additionally, a well-designed ejection system should be present to ensure smooth part release, so that parts are ejected without damage.

Material Selection: Choosing the appropriate resin with good flowability, low shrinkage, and good surface finish properties will help to achieve the desired surface finish. Fillers or additives can also be incorporated, specifically for improved surface quality.

Process Optimisation: Fine-tuning process parameters like melt temperature, mould temperature, injection time, and holding pressure is crucial.

By combining these factors and optimising the injection moulding process, manufacturers can achieve the desired surface finish for moulded parts, ensuring that the final component meets its functionality, design, and aesthetic requirements.

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In Focus: What is CMM Inspection?

In the next instalment of our ‘In Focus’ series, we look at CMM inspection and measurement, exploring its role in the manufacturing process and examining how product designers and manufacturers can benefit from it.

The Role of CMM Inspection in Manufacturing

CMM Inspection is the process of monitoring and measuring the dimensional accuracy of manufactured products.

It is an essential part of the product development and manufacturing process, as it helps to ensure that all components meet their design specifications. Meeting these specifications is crucial to ensure that products fulfil their end application requirements.

What is a CMM and What Does it Do?

CMM stands for Coordinate Measuring Machine. It is a device used in the manufacturing industry to measure the dimensions and geometrical characteristics of a physical object.

The CMM inspection and measurement process involves using a probe attached to a moving arm that measures the object’s surface by making contact with specific points on the object.

These measurement points are captured by the CMM software, which generates a 3D representation of the object’s geometry.

The measurements can be compared to a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) model, allowing for accurate evaluation of dimensions, form, and positional tolerances.

How Does CMM Inspection and Measurement Aid the Manufacturing Process?

CMM inspection and measurement supports the manufacturing and quality engineering processes in several ways:

  1. Quality Control: CMM inspection ensures that manufactured products meet the desired specifications. By comparing the measured dimensions to the CAD model, any deviations or non-conformities can be identified, allowing for corrective actions to be taken before the product reaches the customer.
  1. Process Validation: CMM measurement is used to validate the effectiveness of manufacturing processes. By measuring the dimensions of sample parts throughout the production process, engineers can determine if the process is consistent and capable of producing parts within the desired specifications.
  1. Statistical Analysis: CMM inspection data can be used for statistical analysis to assess the capability of the manufacturing process. Statistical techniques such as Six Sigma can be employed to identify and eliminate variations, leading to increased process stability and reduced defects.
  1. Reverse Engineering: CMM inspection plays a crucial role in reverse engineering. By measuring the dimensions and geometrical characteristics of existing parts, engineers can create CAD models and identify any design improvements or modifications required for replication or enhancement of the existing product.
  1. Documentation: CMM inspection provides accurate and traceable measurement data. This data can be used as evidence of compliance with quality standards and customer requirements. It also serves as a record of the product’s as-built condition and can be used for troubleshooting or future reference.

Overall, CMM inspection and measurement help to ensure the quality and accuracy of manufactured products, reducing defects, improving process efficiency, and enhancing customer satisfaction.

How Do Product Developers Benefit from CMM Inspection?

CMM inspection services are required when you need accurate and detailed measurements of a physical object or part. This is particularly important in manufacturing, engineering, and quality control processes where precise measurements are critical.

CMM (Coordinate Measuring Machine) inspection services use advanced technology to capture the coordinates and dimensions of an object, allowing for thorough analysis, comparison with CAD models or specifications, and identification of deviations or defects.

Let’s look at some of the key benefits of CMM inspection and measurement to our customers:

Production optimisation: By regularly inspecting parts during the production process, manufacturers can identify and rectify any issues early on, thereby reducing waste, maintaining consistent quality, and optimising production efficiency.

Reverse engineering: CMM inspection is used to gather accurate measurements of existing objects or parts to create a CAD model or replicate them. This is useful when reproducing obsolete or custom-made parts, or when conducting product improvement or redesign processes.

Verification and validation: CMM inspection can validate the accuracy and integrity of prototypes, new designs, or modifications before mass production. It ensures that all required dimensions and specifications are met, reducing the risk of costly errors or failures.

Root cause analysis: When defects or failures occur, CMM inspection can help identify the root causes by accurately measuring affected parts and comparing them to design specifications. This enables organizations to address the underlying issues and prevent future occurrences.

Industries Which Benefit from CMM Inspection Services

The industries which benefit the most from CMM (Coordinate Measuring Machine) inspection and measurement include:

Automotive Industry: CMM inspection is crucial for measuring and inspecting complex components and ensuring their adherence to quality standards. It is used in both automotive manufacturing and during vehicle maintenance and repair.

Aerospace Industry: CMM machines are extensively used in the aerospace industry to measure and inspect critical components like turbine blades, airframes, and engine parts. The high precision and accuracy of CMM systems ensure compliance with strict quality and safety standards.

Medical Device Industry: CMM services are important in the production of medical devices, where precision and accuracy are critical. It is used to measure and inspect implants, prosthetics, surgical instruments, and other medical equipment to ensure proper fit and functionality.

Defence and Military Industry: CMM inspection is essential in defence and military applications where the accuracy and reliability of components is essential. It is used in the manufacture and maintenance of weapons, vehicles, and surveillance equipment.

Energy Industry: CMM inspection plays a significant role in the energy sector. It is used to measure and inspect critical parts such as pipelines and energy-efficient components.

Overall, any industry that requires precise dimensional measurements and quality assurance can benefit from CMM inspection and measurement. The ability of CMM machines to accurately capture data makes them invaluable in ensuring product quality and compliance with industry standards.

Find Out More

In March 2024, RP Technologies launched a new sub-contract CMM inspection and measurement service.

This service provides metrology, CMM measurement, quality inspection, and quality engineering solutions to customers whose parts have been manufactured by third party suppliers.

More information on this new service can be found on our CMM Inspection page.

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Insert Moulding

What is Insert Moulding?

Insert moulding is the process by which metals are moulded with plastic components to form a single moulded part.

It is where thermoplastic material is moulded around an insert to produce a moulded part which contains several components.

The insert is placed into the mould for the injected plastic to flow around it.

The use of moulded-in inserts offsets the need for secondary insert installation. This can be more cost-effective than putting inserts into a plastic part after it has been moulded.

There are several factors which need to be considered if the process is to be successful.

The degree of shrinkage must be calculated to ensure that the insert and the polymer fit together correctly.

The inserts will have to be the right type of material for the job to withstand the high temperature reached during the process.

Adding the Inserts

Inserts can be incorporated into the component at two different stages: either during the moulding process, or after the moulding process has been completed.

If inserts are incorporated during moulding, this operation will either be completed with the aid of a robot, or by a machine operator.

If the inserts are applied as a post-moulding operation, there may be fewer faulty components than if applied in the moulding machine, where the inserts might dislodge or break.

However, it is important to note that the manual post-moulding process will probably be more time consuming and will require dedicated human labour.

Different Types of Inserts

There are many different types of inserts that can be moulded into a range of different plastic components. Choosing the right materials for the process is crucial, in order to ensure that the final moulded part is functional, durable and aesthetically well presented.

It is worth remembering that the key reason for using insert moulding is to build added strength into moulded plastic components. It is important to pick the correct type of threaded insert to achieve the optimum amount of strength and functionality required for the particular component in question.

These many different types of inserts include magnets, screws, pins, bushings, studs, contacts, journal bearings, tubes, spring contacts and threaded fasteners.

Benefits of Insert Moulding

Design flexibility: insert moulding allows designers to create whatever shape they desire.

Reduced assembly and resource costs: insert moulding combines several elements in one process, making the overall cost less. In addition, the time taken to produce the finished component is reduced.

Increased component durability: the insert is firmly held in plastic before cooling and setting, resulting in increased resistance.

Used with a variety of materials: thermoplastics are often employed, but many different types of plastic resins can be utilised.

Less post-moulding operations: this makes the process more efficient, allowing for ease of assembly while minimising labour costs. The seamlessness of the operation makes it ideal for large scale production.

Reduced size and weight of final component: because the inserts are integrated into the part, there is no requirement for fasteners or connectors.

It is a single, integrated process which can all be done under one roof without the customer having to go the trouble of outsourcing the insert moulding process to a separate supplier.

Applications for Insert Moulding

Insert moulding is commonly used in many different industries, but it is often utilised in the medical, automotive, consumer products and electronics components sectors.

In its most common application, insert moulding is used to add one or more threaded metal inserts into a plastic component. This is necessary when the plastic does not have sufficient mechanical properties, or if additional strength and security is needed for a part.

Examples of Insert Moulded Components

Typical devices and equipment which benefit from the incorporation of inserts into plastic components include:

  • Electrical appliances, such as knobs for appliances
  • Electronic devices, such as power drills and plugs
  • Military equipment, such as portable radios
  • Medical parts, such as camera equipment, cables, and wiring
  • Automotive components, such as electrical sensors, gears, and pedals

If you would like more information on insert moulding, or if you have a particular project which may require inserts, please contact us by emailing info@rptechnologies.co.uk or by calling 0121 550 5868.

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Anodizing for CNC Machined Parts

What is Anodizing for CNC Machined Parts?

Anodizing is a specialist surface finishing option for CNC machined parts.

It is an electrochemical process that creates a thin, protective oxide layer on the surface of a metal part, typically aluminium or its alloys. This oxide layer provides improved corrosion resistance, hardness, and wear resistance to the part. In addition, anodizing can also enhance the aesthetic appearance of the part by allowing for various colour options.

The anodizing process involves immersing the part in an electrolyte bath and applying a direct current, which causes the formation of an oxide layer on the surface.

Let’s look at this process in more detail….

What is the Process for Anodizing a CNC Machined Part?

The anodizing process involves several steps:

  1. Preparing the part: The first step is to thoroughly clean the part to remove any dirt, grease, or other contaminants from its surface. This is usually done using a solvent or detergent and water. This step ensures proper adhesion of the anodized coating.
  1. Surface treatment: After cleaning, the part may undergo a surface treatment process called etching or desmutting. This step involves the use of a chemical solution to remove any remaining oxides, scale, or residual metals that could interfere with the anodizing process.
  1. Anodizing bath: The part is then immersed in an anodizing bath, which consists of an electrolyte solution, typically sulfuric acid. The part serves as the anode, while a cathode is also present in the bath. When an electric current is passed through the bath, an oxide layer forms on the surface of the part due to the electrochemical reaction.
  1. Anodizing process: The voltage and current applied during the anodizing process are carefully controlled to achieve the desired thickness and quality of the anodized layer. The type of alloy used in the part, desired colour or finish, and other factors determine the parameters of the anodizing process.
  1. Colouring (optional): If a specific colour is required, the anodized part may be immersed in a dye bath. This allows the pores in the anodized layer to absorb the dye, resulting in a coloured finish.
  1. Sealing: After anodizing and dyeing (if applicable), the part is often sealed to improve corrosion resistance and durability. Sealing involves immersing the part in a hot water bath or applying a sealant to close the pores of the anodized layer.
  1. Quality inspection: The anodized part undergoes quality inspection to ensure that the desired specifications, such as thickness, colour, and surface finish, have been achieved. This inspection may include visual examination, measurement, and various testing methods.

What are the Different Types of Anodizing Processes?

There are various types of anodizing processes that can be used for CNC machined parts. Some of the more common types include:

Type I Anodizing: Also known as regular or decorative anodizing, this is the most typically used anodizing process. It creates a uniform oxide layer on the surface of the part and provides corrosion resistance and improved aesthetics.

Type II Anodizing: This type of anodizing is typically used for parts which do not require high wear resistance. The process involves placing the aluminium in a sulphuric bath instead of using chromic acid. Type II anodized parts can easily absorb dyes, paints, and adhesives.

Type III Anodizing: Also known as hardcoat anodizing or sulfuric anodizing, this process produces a thicker and harder oxide layer compared to Type II anodizing. It offers enhanced wear and corrosion resistance, making it suitable for parts exposed to harsh environments or for those which require increased durability.

Chromic Acid Anodizing: This type of anodizing, also referred to as Type I anodizing, uses chromic acid as the electrolyte. It forms a thin, dense, and corrosion-resistant oxide layer on the part’s surface. Chromic acid anodizing is often used for parts that require high-temperature resistance or electrical conductivity.

Titanium Anodizing: This specialised anodizing process is specifically used for titanium CNC machined parts. It forms a thin oxide layer on the surface, providing improved corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and colour options.

Hard Anodizing: Hard anodizing is a form of the Type III anodizing process that creates an even thicker and harder oxide layer. This process is commonly used for parts which require extreme wear resistance, such as pistons, gears, and bearings.

Coloured Anodizing: Anodizing can also be combined with colouring techniques to provide various colours on the surface of CNC machined parts. This is achieved by dyeing the porous oxide layer formed during anodizing or by using proprietary colouring processes.

The appropriate type of anodizing for a CNC machined part will depend on the desired properties, functionality, and aesthetic requirements of the part.

The Benefits of Anodizing a CNC Machined Part

There are several benefits of anodizing a CNC machined part, including:

Enhanced corrosion resistance: Anodizing creates a protective layer on the surface of the part, making it more resistant to corrosion caused by moisture, chemicals, and other environmental factors.

Improved durability: The anodized coating makes the part more wear and scratch-resistant, increasing its lifespan and reducing the need for maintenance or replacement.

Aesthetic appeal: Anodizing allows for a wide range of colour options, providing an attractive and decorative finish to the part. This is crucial for products which need to be visually appealing.

Improved hardness: Anodizing can significantly increase the surface hardness of the part, making it more resistant to scratches and dents.

Better adhesion: Anodizing provides a textured surface with excellent adhesion properties, making it easier to apply paints, adhesives, or other coatings.

Electrical insulation: Anodized coatings have electrical insulating properties, making them useful in applications where electrical conductivity needs to be minimised.

Eco-friendly option: Anodizing is a relatively environmentally friendly process compared to other coating methods. It doesn’t involve the use of heavy metals, or the types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often found in other surface treatments.

Overall, anodizing a CNC machined part can improve its performance, aesthetics, and durability, making it a popular choice for a wide range of industries and applications.

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Rotating Core Tools

What are Rotating Core Tools?

A rotating core tool, also known as a rotary core tool or a rotary broach, is a tool used in toolmaking to create precise internal shapes or features in workpieces. It is typically used in rotary broaching operations, where a rotating cutting tool is pressed into the workpiece to produce complex contours, such as splines, hexagons, squares, or serrations.

The rotating core tool consists of a cutting tool with a pre-defined shape or cutting-edge geometry, which is mounted on a driven spindle. The tool is designed to create the desired feature by cutting or displacing material as it rotates. The cutting action of the tool is achieved by applying axial force and a slow rotation of the tool, which results in the formation of the desired shape.

Rotating core tools are commonly used in sectors like automotive, aerospace, medical, and precision engineering, where the production of intricate internal features is crucial. They provide a cost-effective and efficient manufacturing solution, eliminating the need for multiple operations or specialised equipment.

How do Toolmakers Make a Rotating Core Tool?

The steps for toolmakers when making a rotating core tool may vary depending on the specific requirements and design of the tool. However, the generally followed steps for manufacturing a rotating core tool are as follows:

  1. Design and Planning:

– Understand the specific application and requirements of the rotating core tool.

– Create a detailed design or blueprint of the tool, including dimensions, specifications, and any special features required.

– Determine the materials that will be used, and the machining processes involved.

  1. Material Preparation:

– Select the appropriate material for the rotating core tool based on its intended application, strength requirements, and durability.

– Prepare the chosen material, which may involve cutting, shaping, or pre-machining it to the required size and dimensions.

  1. Machining:

– Use various machining processes, such as milling, drilling, turning, and grinding, to form the material according to the tool design.

– Create the core components, including the rotating elements and the sliding parts, ensuring accurate dimensions and proper fit.

  1. Heat Treatment:

– If required, subject the core components of the tool to heat treatment processes, such as hardening, tempering, or annealing, to enhance their material properties and durability.

  1. Assembly:

– Assemble the different components of the rotating core tool, ensuring precise alignment and proper fit.

– Use specialised tools or fixtures to maintain accurate positioning during assembly.

  1. Finishing:

– Perform necessary finishing operations such as polishing, deburring, or surface coating to achieve the desired final appearance and smoothness.

  1. Inspection and Testing:

– Conduct thorough inspections and quality checks to verify the dimensional accuracy, tolerances, and functionality of the rotating core tool.

– Test the tool’s performance under simulated operating conditions to ensure its effectiveness and reliability.

What are the Key Components of a Rotating Core Tool?

The key components of a typical rotating core tool, also known as a drill bit or core bit, include:

A typical rotating core tool in toolmaking consists of the following key components:

  1. Core Barrel: It is the main body of the rotating core tool that houses and supports other components. The core barrel is designed to be rigid and durable to withstand the forces exerted during machining.
  1. Core Head: The core head is the front part of the tool that contains the cutting inserts or tips. It is responsible for contacting the workpiece and removing material during the machining process.
  1. Cutting Inserts: These are replaceable cutting elements attached to the core head, usually made of carbide or other hard materials. The cutting inserts have sharp edges or tips that perform the actual cutting operation by removing material from the workpiece.
  1. Cooling/Lubrication System: To prevent overheating and ensure efficient cutting, rotating core tools often include a cooling and lubrication system. This system can involve internal channels that deliver coolant or lubricant directly to the cutting area to reduce heat and friction.
  1. Drive Mechanism: The drive mechanism is responsible for rotating the core tool. It can be a motorized spindle integrated into the tool or an external power source such as a machine tool spindle. The drive mechanism provides the necessary rotational motion to perform the cutting operation.
  1. Tool Holder: The tool holder attaches the rotating core tool to the machine tool spindle or tool turret. It provides stability, alignment, and secure clamping of the tool during machining.
  1. Shank: The shank is the portion of the rotating core tool that fits into the tool holder. It is designed to have a precise shape and dimensions to ensure proper seating and alignment within the tool holder.
  1. Coolant/Lubricant Supply: Many rotating core tools require a constant supply of coolant or lubricant to maintain cutting performance and extend tool life. In such cases, the tool may include channels or connections for the supply and distribution of coolant or lubricant.
  1. Clamping System: Some rotating core tools feature a clamping system to securely hold the cutting inserts in place during machining. This system allows for easy replacement or adjustment of the cutting inserts when necessary.
  1. Ejector Mechanism: Rotating core tools used for drilling or boring operations often have an ejector mechanism. The ejector mechanism removes the machined chips or debris from the tool’s cutting area. This helps to prevent blockages and optimise cutting performance.

It’s important to note that the exact components and features of rotating core tools may vary depending on the specific manufacturer, design, and intended application.

How do Rotating Core Tools Differ from Hydraulic Core Tools?

Rotating core tools and hydraulic core tools differ in terms of their operating mechanism and their functions in the toolmaking process.

Let’s look in greater detail at some of the key differences:

  1. Operating Mechanism:

Rotating Core Tools: Rotating Core Tools work by using a rotational motion to create necessary core holes or cavities in the tooling material. They are typically attached to a rotating shaft or spindle, which rotates the tool at a specific speed and direction to shape or cut the material.

Hydraulic Core Tools: Hydraulic Core tools use hydraulic pressure to apply force and generate the required core holes or cavities. They utilise a hydraulic cylinder or piston that moves in a linear motion to produce the desired result.

  1. Functionality:

Rotating Core Tools: Rotating Core Tools are primarily used for drilling, milling, and machining operations in toolmaking. They can create complex contours, shapes, and cavities by removing material through rotational cutting or grinding processes.

Hydraulic Core Tools: Hydraulic Core Tools are mainly employed for the precise and controlled moulding or forming of core holes or cavities in toolmaking. Hydraulic pressure allows them to exert force on the material, shaping it without producing excessive heat or vibrations.

  1. Efficiency and Precision:

Rotating Core Tools: Rotating Core Tools generally offer higher speeds and rotational control, making them suitable for operations that require fast material removal or intricate shaping. They can achieve high precision, especially when used with advanced computer numerical control (CNC) systems.

Hydraulic Core Tools: Hydraulic Core Tools provide excellent control and accuracy, ensuring consistent and precise core holes or cavities. The hydraulic pressure facilitates steady and stable force application, resulting in controlled and repeatable moulding or forming processes.

  1. Application:

Rotating Core Tools: They are commonly used for applications such as drilling holes, machining slots, shaping contours, and creating complex 3D shapes in toolmaking processes.

Hydraulic Core Tools: These tools find applications in tasks like core moulding, cavity forming, and shaping irregular or intricate designs, especially in industries like injection moulding or die casting.

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Prototype Tooling

What is Prototype Tooling?

Prototype tooling refers to the creation of moulds or tools used for manufacturing prototypes.

These moulds or tools are usually made from materials such as aluminium and are used to produce parts or components that closely resemble the final product.

Prototype tooling enables product designers to test and validate their designs before committing to full scale production.

This process will identify any design flaws so that improvements can be suggested before any sizeable investment is made. This ensures an efficient and cost-effective manufacturing process.

How Does Prototype Tooling Differ from Production Tooling?

Prototype tooling and production tooling differ in terms of their purpose, design, and manufacturing methods. The main differences are outlined below:

Purpose: Whereas prototype tooling is used to create a limited number of prototypes or sample parts, production tooling is designed for large-scale manufacturing processes, producing high volumes of finished products to meet the demands of the marketplace.

Design complexity: Prototype tooling is suited to less complex designs which can be produced quickly and more easily. It is more focused on product concept rather than long-term durability. Production tooling, however, is usually characterised by high volumes, strict quality control, and longer tool life.

Manufacturing method: Prototype tooling often utilises less expensive manufacturing methods, such as 3D printing or CNC machining, to produce small quantities of parts for testing and evaluation. Production tooling, on the other hand, generally involves more expensive manufacturing processes, such as injection moulding or die casting.

Material selection: Prototype tooling allows for greater flexibility in material selection. It can accommodate a wide range of materials, including lower-cost options like 3D printing resins or soft tooling materials. Production tooling, however, requires the use of materials that meet durability and quality requirements for mass production, often leading to higher costs.

Lead time: Prototype tooling’s short lead times make it ideal for rapid product development. Production tooling, by contrast, involves longer lead times due to complex design and manufacturing processes, and it also may require more extensive quality control.

Cost: Prototype tooling is generally less expensive compared to production tooling because it produces a limited number of prototypes. Production tooling requires substantial investment, as it needs to withstand repeated use, and maintain product quality.

Some of the Main Features of Prototype Tooling

Some of the main features of prototype tooling include:

Customisation: Prototype tooling enables customisation and modification of designs during the product development stage. This flexibility allows companies to refine their design and improve product functionality.

Iterative development: Prototype tooling allows for early troubleshooting and adjustment to ensure a successful final product. This iterative process helps in identifying and resolving design issues early on, saving time and costs in the long run.

Scalability: While prototype tooling is primarily used for small-scale production, it also provides insights into the scalability of a design. Understanding how a product can be scaled up for mass production is crucial in ensuring a smooth transition to full-scale manufacturing.

Reduced lead time: By using prototype tooling, companies can significantly reduce the lead time required for product development. This allows for quicker market entry, giving businesses a competitive advantage.

Tool longevity: Prototype tooling typically has a shorter lifespan compared to production tooling. However, with advancements in materials and manufacturing processes, prototype tooling is now capable of producing multiple prototypes before replacements are needed.

Feedback generation: Prototype tooling allows product designers to gather insights and make necessary improvements before moving to mass production. This feedback loop helps in refining the product and ensuring its market fit.

What Industries Adopt Prototype Tooling?

Various industries make use of prototype tooling, including:

Automotive: Prototype tooling is extensively used in the automotive industry to create prototypes of car parts, such as engine components, body panels, and interior components.

Aerospace: Prototype tooling is vital in the aerospace industry to develop prototypes of aircraft components, including structural parts, engine components, and interior fittings.

Consumer Electronics: Prototype tooling is commonly employed in the consumer electronics industry to create prototypes of smartphone casings, tablet components, computer parts, and other electronic devices.

Medical and Healthcare: Prototype tooling is crucial in the medical and healthcare industry to develop prototypes of medical devices, such as prosthetics, implants, instruments, and equipment. This allows for design optimisation, testing, and regulatory approval.

Industrial Equipment: Prototype tooling finds application in the manufacture of various industrial equipment, including machinery components, heavy-duty tools, and industrial machinery prototypes. This aids in minimising defects and improving efficiency.

Packaging: Prototype tooling is used in the packaging industry to create prototypes of packaging containers, bottles, caps, closures, and other packaging solutions. These prototypes help to assess functionality, aesthetics, and production feasibility.

Furniture and Interior Design: Prototype tooling plays a role in the furniture and interior design industry by producing prototypes of furniture pieces, lighting fixtures, decorative elements, and other interior products. This allows designers to visualise and evaluate the physical appearance, ergonomics, and user experience of the products.

Sporting Goods: Prototype tooling is utilised in the production of sporting goods such as athletic shoes, equipment, and apparel.

Further Reading

If you found this article interesting, you may also want to read our associated articles on Bridge Tooling and the New Product Development Process.

Alternatively, if you’re a Product Designer or a Product Engineer and you’re looking to get a prototype project off the ground, please get in touch with us by visiting our Contact page.

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Precision Machining

What is Precision CNC Machining?

Precision CNC machining refers to the process of using computer numerical control (CNC) machines to manufacture highly accurate and complex parts or components.

CNC machines are programmable machining centres that follow precise instructions to execute desired machining operations such as cutting, drilling, milling, or turning.

Precision CNC machining involves the use of advanced CNC machines to achieve extremely tight tolerances and intricate geometries. This process is typically employed in industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and electronics, where accuracy is paramount.

CNC machines are highly automated and are controlled by computer instructions. These machines ensure that every dimension and feature of the finished product matches the design specifications precisely.

The tight tolerances in precision CNC machining often range from a few thousandths of an inch (0.001″) to even a few microns (0.0001″). This level of precision ensures that parts fit together perfectly and perform their desired functions correctly.

How Does Precision CNC Machining Differ from Production Machining?

Production machining refers to the process of manufacturing parts or components at high volumes and at a faster rate. While precision CNC machining focuses on achieving high levels of finite accuracy, production machining emphasizes efficiency and speed.

Production machining often involves the use of specialised machines or assembly lines, which are optimised for mass production to meet the demands of large-scale manufacturing.

These machines are used to automate the creation of high volumes of parts with consistent quality and precision.

While the tolerances are still maintained within acceptable limits, they may not be as tight as in precision machining. The tolerances in production machining can range from a few thousandths to a few hundredths of an inch (0.001″ to 0.01″ or more.

The exact tolerances and precision levels will depend on the specific requirements of the project, the capabilities of the machining equipment, and the techniques employed.

What are the Benefits of Precision Machining?

  1. Higher accuracy: The high degree of accuracy which precision machining produces is crucial in industries where even the smallest deviations can have significant consequences.
  1. Better quality: Precision machining processes, such as CNC machining, reduce the possibility of human error and ensure consistent quality of repeatable parts.
  1. Increased efficiency: Precision machining methods are often automated, allowing for faster production times and improved efficiency. This means reduced lead times and increased productivity.
  1. Complex geometries: Precision machining techniques can create complex parts that would be difficult or even impossible to produce through other manufacturing methods. This offers new design possibilities and allows for the creation of more advanced products.
  1. Versatility: Precision machining accommodates a wide range of materials, including metals, plastics, ceramics, and composites. This versatility lends itself to various industries, such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and electronics.
  1. Cost-effective: While precision machining may have higher initial costs compared to other manufacturing methods, it can result in overall cost savings. The accuracy and efficiency of precision machining can reduce material waste and minimise rework.
  1. Consistency and repeatability: Precision machining processes can produce identical parts with high consistency, ensuring that each part meets the exact specifications. This repeatability is crucial in industries where interchangeability and reliability are essential.
  1. Tighter tolerances: Precision machining can achieve tight tolerances, allowing for a better fit and function of parts. This is particularly important in industries such as aerospace and automotive, where precision is critical for safety and performance.
  1. Improved surface finish: Precision machining methods can deliver superior surface finishes, which is crucial in applications where smooth surfaces are required for aesthetic or functional reasons, such as in the medical or optical industries.
  1. Customisation: Precision machining offers a high level of customisation, allowing for the production of unique and specialized parts that meet specific customer requirements. This flexibility is advantageous in various industries that demand tailor-made solutions.

What is the Ideal CNC Machining Tool for Precision Machining?

A 5-axis CNC machine is considered ideal for precision machining for the following reasons:

  1. Enhanced Flexibility: The 5-axis machine can move the cutting tool along five different axes simultaneously. This allows for machining complex geometries and intricate designs with ease. The additional two rotational axes (usually rotary tables) provide greater freedom of movement, allowing for multiple angles and orientations to be achieved.
  1. Increased Accuracy: By allowing the cutting tool to move along additional axes, a 5-axis machine significantly improves accuracy. It also eliminates the need for repositioning or resetting the workpiece, which would be a necessary requirement of using a 3-axis machine. This reduces the possibility of errors and ensures precise, uniform results.
  1. Improved Surface Finish: The multi-axis movement of a 5-axis machine enables it to easily reach all sides of the workpiece, reducing the need for multiple setups. This eliminates mismatches and variations, resulting in smoother and more constant surface finishes.
  1. Cost and Time Efficiency: The ability to machine complex parts in a single setup reduces manufacturing time and costs. Since multiple operations can be performed in one go, there is no need for additional fixturing, repositioning, or manual intervention. This allows for a more streamlined production process.
  1. Enhanced Tool Life and Reduced Wear: By machining the workpiece from multiple angles, a 5-axis machine can optimise tool paths and reduce excessive cutting forces. This minimises wear and tear on cutting tools, which ensures a longer lifespan and reduced tooling costs.

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Water Circuits

What are Water Circuits in Toolmaking?

Water circuits in the toolmaking process refer to the cooling system used to regulate the temperature of the moulds or tooling during the manufacturing process.

When producing plastic parts or components using moulds, the molten plastic is injected into the mould cavity, generating heat as it solidifies. If the heat is not dissipated effectively, it can lead to various issues such as warping, uneven cooling, and longer cycle times, which can ultimately affect the quality and productivity of the production.

To prevent these problems, water circuits are implemented as a cooling system. These circuits consist of a network of channels or passages within the mould or tooling, usually made of copper or some other thermally conductive material. Water, or sometimes a coolant, is circulated through these circuits to remove the excess heat.

The water or coolant is typically supplied from an external source such as a chiller or cooling tower. It is then pumped into the mould, where it flows through the channels, and exits the mould, carrying away the heat generated by the molten plastic. The warmed water or coolant is then cooled back down and recirculated to maintain the desired temperature in the mould.

The design of the water circuits is based on the specific requirements of the tooling and the production process. The number, size, and layout of the channels within the mould are determined to ensure effective and uniform cooling. Additionally, flow rates, temperature differentials, and other parameters are carefully controlled to optimise the cooling process.

By using water circuits, manufacturers can achieve faster cycle times, more precise part dimensions, improved surface finish, and reduced chances of defects in the final product.

How are Water Circuits Manufactured in the Toolmaking Process?

Manufacturing water circuits in the toolmaking process involves several steps:

  1. Design: First, the water circuit is designed based on the specific requirements of the tool or product. This includes determining the shape, size, and layout of the water channels.
  1. Material selection: The material for the water circuit is selected based on factors such as heat resistance, corrosion resistance, and compatibility with the tooling material. Common materials include stainless steel and plastic.
  1. Machining: The water circuit is then machined using various manufacturing processes such as milling, drilling, turning, or laser cutting. These processes remove excess material and create the desired shape of the water channels.
  1. Welding or brazing: Depending on the material used, the individual components of the water circuit may need to be joined together using welding or brazing techniques. This ensures that the water channels are sealed and leak-proof.
  1. Finishing: After the water circuit is assembled, any rough edges or imperfections are smoothed out through processes such as grinding or polishing. This improves the overall surface finish and ensures proper water flow.
  1. Testing: Once the water circuit is manufactured, it undergoes various tests to ensure its quality and functionality. These tests may include pressure testing to check for leaks, flow testing to measure water velocity, or temperature testing to verify heat transfer capabilities.
  1. Installation: Finally, the water circuit is integrated into the tool or product where it will be used. This may involve connecting it to other components, such as pumps or cooling systems, and securing it in place.

 

The manufacture of water circuits in toolmaking requires precision machining, proper sealing techniques, and thorough testing to ensure efficient and reliable cooling and heating capabilities.

The Importance of Water Fittings to Water Circuits

Water fittings are an essential component in manufacturing water circuits in toolmaking. They are used to connect different parts of the water circuit system, ensuring a proper flow of water for cooling or other hydraulic functions.

Here are some ways water fittings are used in toolmaking:

Connectivity: Water fittings act as connectors between different sections or components of the water circuit. They have threads or specific connections that are compatible with the pipes or hoses used in the system. These fittings provide a secure connection, enabling the smooth flow of water throughout the circuit.

Routing: Water fittings help in routing the water through various sections and channels of the tool. They allow for the precise positioning of hoses or pipes, ensuring that water reaches specific areas that require cooling or hydraulic pressure.

Regulation: Some water fittings come with built-in valves or regulators that help control the flow and pressure of water in the circuit. These valves can be manually adjustable or automated, allowing for precise control of cooling or hydraulic functions within the tool.

Adaptability: Water fittings come in various shapes, sizes, and configurations to accommodate different types of toolmaking applications. They can be customised to fit specific tool designs and provide the required water flow and connectivity.

Leak prevention: Properly installed water fittings help prevent leaks by creating tight seals between the water circuit components. This is critical to ensure the efficient and safe operation of the tool, as any leakage can influence cooling efficiency, hydraulic pressure, or pose safety risks.

The Complexities of Integrating Water Circuits into Tooling

Water circuits can be complex to make due to several reasons:

Precision machining: Water circuits often require precise machining to ensure proper flow and distribution of water. This may involve drilling, tapping, and milling complex shapes and channels in the tool or equipment.

Integration with the tool: Incorporating water circuits into a tool requires careful design and engineering. Water circuits need to be seamlessly integrated within the existing structure, without compromising the tool’s functionality or structural integrity.

Cooling considerations: Designing an efficient cooling system depends upon flow rate, heat dissipation, and maintaining optimum temperatures throughout the tool.

Maintenance and repair: Water circuits may require periodic maintenance and repair. Troubleshooting within the water circuit can be complex, especially if the tool is in use or tightly integrated. Ensuring accessibility and easy disassembly of the water circuit components for maintenance or replacement is essential.

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Expansion Tanks

What are Expansion Tanks?

Expansion tanks are devices used in heating systems, plumbing systems, and water supply systems to control the expansion and contraction of fluids during temperature variations. They are typically attached to water heaters, boilers, or hot water storage tanks.

Expansion tanks consist of a closed vessel with a diaphragm or a bladder inside, separating the water and air compartments. When the water in the system heats up, it expands, putting excess pressure on the pipes, fixtures, and other components. The expansion tank absorbs this excess pressure by allowing the water to expand into the air compartment, compressing the air inside.

As the water cools down and contracts, the expansion tank releases the stored water back into the system. This helps to maintain a more constant pressure within the system, preventing damage to pipes, valves, and other equipment.

What are the Common Applications of Expansion Tanks?

Expansion tanks are commonly used in the following applications:

Heating systems: Expansion tanks are essential in closed loop heating systems, including boilers and hydronic heating systems. They accommodate the expansion and contraction of the heating fluid as it heats up and cools down, preventing damage to the system and maintaining the correct pressure.

Hot water systems: In domestic and commercial hot water systems, expansion tanks are employed to compensate for the increase in water volume when heated. They help maintain optimum pressure, prevent excessive pressure buildup, and prevent water leaks or damage to plumbing fixtures.

HVAC systems: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems utilise expansion tanks to regulate the pressure and volume of the refrigerant or cooling fluid. This ensures efficient operation, prevents system failures, and extends the lifespan of the HVAC equipment.

Solar water heating systems: Expansion tanks are often integrated into solar water heating systems to compensate for the expansion of the heated water. These tanks maintain the correct pressure, prevent system failures, and protect against potential leaks or ruptures.

Plumbing systems: Expansion tanks are employed in plumbing systems to absorb excess pressure fluctuations caused by water hammering, thermal expansion, or pressure surges. They help prevent burst pipes, leakage, or fixture damage.

Fire suppression systems: Expansion tanks are used in fire suppression systems, particularly in pre-action sprinkler systems, where compressed air is stored to prevent false alarms due to minor pressure fluctuations. These tanks also ensure that the correct pressure is maintained for prompt and reliable operation during actual emergencies.

Industrial applications: Expansion tanks find applications in various industrial processes that involve thermal fluid systems, such as chemical processing plants, power plants, refineries, or manufacturing facilities. They help to regulate fluid pressure, accommodate thermal expansion, and protect equipment from failure.

How are Expansion Tanks Used in the Automotive Sector?

In the automotive sector, expansion tanks are commonly used in cooling systems to ensure efficient and safe operation of the engine. Expansion tanks perform the following functions:

Cooling System Function: The primary purpose of an expansion tank in an automotive cooling system is to compensate for the expansion and contraction of coolant as it heats up and cools down during engine operation. The expansion tank acts as a reservoir for excess coolant, allowing it to expand freely without causing any damage to the cooling system.

Coolant Recovery: Expansion tanks are also designed to collect coolant that has overflowed from the radiator due to thermal expansion. When the engine is running, the coolant heats up, creating pressure within the cooling system. If the pressure exceeds the radiator cap’s rated pressure, the excess coolant is forced into the expansion tank. As the engine cools down, the coolant contracts, creating a vacuum in the cooling system, which draws the coolant back from the expansion tank into the radiator.

Maintaining Optimum Coolant Level: The expansion tank also helps in maintaining the optimum coolant level in the cooling system. It is designed with a minimum and maximum level marker to indicate the acceptable range of coolant volume. By checking the expansion tank’s level regularly, automotive technicians can ensure that there is enough coolant in the system for effective heat dissipation and prevention of overheating.

Coolant Reservoir: In some automotive systems, the expansion tank also acts as a coolant reservoir. In such cases, the expansion tank is connected to the bottom of the radiator, allowing excess coolant to flow into the tank. This stored coolant is then used to refill the radiator, ensuring that the cooling system remains adequately filled and operational.

How are Expansion Tanks Made for Automobile Engines?

Expansion tanks for automobile engines are typically made from durable materials such as plastic or aluminium. The manufacturing process involves several steps:

  1. Material selection: The appropriate material is selected based on factors such as strength, heat resistance, and cost-effectiveness. Plastic tanks are commonly used due to their lightweight nature, cost efficiency, and corrosion resistance.
  1. Mould creation: A mould is created based on the desired shape and design of the expansion tank. This mould will be used to shape the tank during the manufacturing process.
  1. Plastic injection moulding: The mould is filled with molten plastic material through an injection moulding process. The plastic is injected into the mould at high pressure, ensuring its complete filling and precise reproduction of the mould shape.
  1. Cooling and solidification: After the plastic is injected into the mould, it is left to cool and solidify. This allows the plastic to take its final form and harden.
  1. Trimming and finishing: Once the tank has solidified, it is removed from the mould. Any excess plastic is trimmed off, and the tank is smoothened out to achieve the desired finish.
  1. Fittings and connections: The expansion tank is then equipped with appropriate fittings and connections, such as inlet and outlet hoses, caps, and mounting brackets. These components are typically made separately and are attached to the tank using various methods, including welding, sealing, or with O-rings or gaskets.
  1. Quality control: The finished expansion tanks undergo stringent quality control checks to ensure they meet the required specifications and standards. This includes testing for leakages, durability, and compatibility with other engine components.

Once the expansion tanks pass the quality control inspection tests, they are ready to be installed in car engines, providing the necessary space for the expansion and contraction of coolant as the engine temperature fluctuates.

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Metal Inserts in Injection Moulding

What are Metal Inserts in Injection Moulding?

Metal inserts are used in injection moulding to enhance the strength, durability, and functionality of plastic parts.

These inserts are typically made of materials such as stainless steel, brass, or aluminium.

They can be inserted or embedded into the plastic mould during the injection moulding process, or they can be added later as a post-processing option.

When are Metal Inserts Required in Injection Moulding?

Metal inserts are typically required in injection moulding under the following circumstances:

Reinforcement: Certain parts or components may require additional strength and rigidity. Metal inserts are used in such cases to enhance the structural integrity of the final product.

Enhanced heat conductivity: When a component needs to dissipate heat efficiently, metal inserts can be used to improve the heat conductivity of the part (i.e. electronic devices).

Threaded features: Plastic materials are not always suitable for directly creating threaded features. Metal inserts provide a reliable solution for creating threads in moulded parts.

Assembly or fastening purposes: Parts may need to be securely attached to other parts or fastened together. Metal inserts provide reliable attachment points or mounting features.

Wear resistance: Plastic materials, while versatile, may not always offer sufficient resistance against wear, friction, or abrasion. By incorporating metal inserts strategically, injection-moulded parts can gain enhanced durability and longevity.

Electrical conductivity: Some plastic parts require electrical conductivity or grounding capabilities. Metal inserts can create conductive paths within the plastic part, ensuring proper electrical functioning and preventing static buildup or electrostatic discharge.

Heat dissipation: Certain applications require effective heat dissipation to prevent overheating or damage to electronic components. Metal inserts, particularly those made from materials with good thermal conductivity, can transfer heat away from critical areas of the plastic part and dissipate it more efficiently.

It’s important to note that the necessity for metal inserts in injection moulding depends on the requirements of the part. The decision to use metal inserts is often determined by factors such as the desired functionality, performance, and longevity of the final product.

The Various Types of Metal Insert for Injection Moulding

There are different types of metal inserts which can be used in injection moulding, each with its own distinct characteristics and applications:

Threaded Inserts: These inserts have internal or external threads and provide a threaded hole or bolted connection in the moulded part. They are commonly used in applications which require assembly or disassembly.

Heat Inserts: Heat inserts (heat-staked inserts) achieve a strong and permanent connection between the metal insert and the surrounding plastic material. They are heated and then inserted into the mould, allowing the plastic to mould around them as it solidifies. They are commonly used in applications which have high stress or load-bearing requirements.

Press-fit Inserts: Press-fit inserts (interference fit inserts) are designed to be press-fitted into a pre-moulded hole in the plastic part. These inserts have knurls, grooves, or other features that grip the plastic material, providing a secure connection.

Self-tapping Inserts: Self-tapping inserts have cutting or tapping features which allow them to be screwed directly into plastic without requiring pre-drilled holes. They are often used in applications which need strong threads or where disassembly/reassembly may be required.

Blade-style Inserts: Blade-style inserts are flat metal plates or inserts with sharp edges that are moulded into the plastic to provide a cutting or slicing function. These inserts are used in the production of packaging or cutting tools, where sharp edges or blades are required.

Clip or Snap-fit Inserts: These inserts have features that enable them to snap or clip into place when they are inserted into the moulded plastic part. They are commonly used in applications for the electronic and automotive sectors.

Key Factors When Choosing What Type of Insert to Use

Material compatibility: The metal insert should be compatible with the material. It should not react chemically or cause degradation or contamination to the injected material.

Thermal conductivity: The metal insert should have sufficient thermal conductivity to facilitate efficient heat transfer during the injection moulding process. This ensures proper cooling and solidification of the part.

Mechanical properties: The metal insert should possess the required mechanical properties to withstand the moulding pressures and forces without any deformation or failure. Factors like strength, hardness, toughness, and wear resistance are important considerations.

Surface finish: The surface finish of the metal insert can impact the final product’s aesthetics, functionality, and ability to release from the mould. It should be smooth and non-porous to prevent defects and achieve the desired surface quality.

Corrosion resistance: If the injection moulding process involves corrosive materials or environments, the metal insert should be resistant to corrosion to ensure long-term performance and durability.

Cost: The cost of the metal insert, including its manufacturing, material, and maintenance, should be considered to ensure it fits within the project’s budget.

Production volume and cycle time: High-production volumes may require more durable and cost-effective inserts, while shorter cycle times may benefit from inserts with better thermal conductivity and efficiency.

Complexity and design flexibility: The complexity and design of the moulded part can influence which type of metal insert is selected. Some designs require specific metal insert configurations or features to achieve desired part geometry, wall thickness, or precision.

It is crucial to consult with materials engineers, injection moulding experts, and experienced manufacturing suppliers to select the most suitable metal insert for the required application.

When to Add the Metal Inserts

Metal inserts can be added to the plastic part during the injection moulding process or afterwards as a post-processing operation.

There are several factors which will influence the decision on when to add these inserts:

Functionality: If the metal insert is crucial for providing strength, conductivity, or specific mechanical properties, it may be better to add it during the injection moulding process to ensure robust integration.

Design complexity: If the part has complex geometries, it may be difficult to add the insert during moulding. Adding the insert as a post-processing option may be more feasible.

Cost: Injection moulding with metal inserts can increase tooling and manufacturing costs, especially if specialised equipment or techniques are required. Post-processing options may be more cost-effective if they can achieve intended functionality without significant expense.

Production volume: For high volumes, it may be more efficient to add the metal inserts during the moulding operation, as this can be achieved in a streamlined, automated manner. For low volume production or rapid prototyping, post-processing may offer greater flexibility.

Assembly considerations: Evaluate the assembly process and ease of inserting the metal into the moulded part. If the insert can be easily added post-moulding without affecting other components or assembly processes, it might make more sense to incorporate it then.

Material compatibility: Some materials do not bond well with certain metals. An analysis of different materials should be conducted and the most compatible option/approach selected.

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Bridge Tooling

What is Bridge Tooling?

Bridge tooling is the process of creating temporary moulds or tools to produce small volumes of parts before the final production tooling is ready. It is a cost-effective and efficient method of bridging the gap between product development and full-scale production, hence why it is called ‘bridge tooling.’

It is the stage in the product development process between prototyping and production.

Bridge tooling is employed in circumstances when the final mass production tooling is still being designed or manufactured, but there is a need to produce a small batch of parts for testing, market validation, or short-term production requirements.

Less expensive materials are often utilised, such as aluminium or epoxy.

This temporary tooling mimics the intended part design and dimensions closely. Once final production tooling is ready, it replaces the bridge tooling, and mass production can begin.

How are Bridge Tools Manufactured?

To manufacture bridge tools in the toolmaking process, the following steps are typically followed:

  1. Design and Planning: The toolmakers work closely with engineers and designers to create a detailed design of the bridge tool. This includes understanding the specific requirements, dimensions, and functionality of the tool.
  1. Material Selection: Choosing the appropriate material for the bridge tool is important to ensure durability and performance. Typical materials include aluminium and various alloys, depending on the specification required, such as strength, corrosion resistance, and cost.
  1. Machining: The selected material is cut and shaped using various machining techniques like milling, turning, drilling, and grinding. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines are often used for precision and accuracy in these operations.
  1. Heat Treatment: Depending on the material and requirements, heat treatment processes like annealing, hardening, tempering, or case hardening may be applied to improve the mechanical properties of the tool, such as hardness, toughness, and wear resistance.
  1. Surface Finishing: Once the desired shape is achieved, the bridge tool is subjected to surface finishing processes such as polishing, buffing, or grinding. This helps to remove any surface imperfections, improve aesthetics, and enhance functionality.
  1. Assembly: If the bridge tool consists of multiple components, they are assembled together using techniques like welding, brazing, or fastening, to ensure all parts fit precisely.
  1. Inspection and Quality Control: The manufactured bridge tool undergoes thorough inspection and quality control processes to check for dimensional accuracy, functionality, and durability. This may involve the use of measurement tools such as coordinate measuring machines (CMM) or optical measurement equipment.
  1. Modifications and Adjustments: Bridge tools are tested to ensure that they meet the specified requirements. If tooling modifications are required, they are made at this stage.

It is important to note that the specific manufacturing process can vary depending on several factors, such as the complexity of the bridge tool and the quantity of parts required.

What are the Main Benefits of Bridge Tooling?

The main benefits of bridge tooling include:

  1. Cost-effectiveness: Bridge tooling is less expensive compared to permanent tooling. It allows for limited quantities of parts at a lower cost.
  1. Quick turnaround: Bridge tooling enables rapid production by reducing the design and manufacturing time required for permanent tooling.
  1. Iterative design: Design improvements can be made easily during the development phase, prior to investment in permanent tooling.
  1. Validation of design: Bridge tooling provides an opportunity to evaluate functional prototypes to ensure the design meets the performance criteria before mass production.
  1. Low volume production: Bridge tooling is ideal for producing small to medium quantities of parts, bridging the gap between prototyping and mass production.
  1. Material selection flexibility: Bridge tooling allows for the production of parts in various materials, including plastics, metals, and composites.
  1. Improved time to market: By enabling faster production and prototype validation, bridge tooling can expedite the product development cycle, thereby reducing time to market.

Why Use Aluminium Instead of Steel for Bridge Tooling?

There are several reasons why aluminium is preferred to steel for bridge tooling:

  1. Weight: Aluminium is much lighter than steel. This makes it easier to handle and transport during the tooling process. It also reduces the load on the entire structure, making it more efficient and cost-effective.
  1. Machinability: Aluminium is relatively softer and has better machinability compared to steel. It can be easily shaped, cut, and machined to create complex bridge tooling designs. This saves time and cost during the manufacturing process.
  1. Durability: Despite being lighter, aluminium has excellent strength-to-weight ratio. It can withstand heavy loads and forces, making it a durable material for bridge tooling. Aluminium also has good resistance to corrosion, ensuring a longer lifespan.
  1. Thermal Conductivity: Aluminium has high thermal conductivity compared to steel. This property helps in efficient heat transfer during the tooling process, allowing for faster cooling and quicker production times.
  1. Cost: Aluminium is generally less expensive compared to steel, making it a cost-effective choice for bridge tooling. It requires lower maintenance costs and can be recycled, contributing to sustainability and cost savings in the long run.
  1. Flexibility: Aluminium is a highly flexible material, allowing for various design possibilities and customisation options. It can be easily formed into different shapes and sizes, providing flexibility in bridge tooling designs without compromising structural integrity.

Overall, the choice between aluminium and steel for bridge tooling depends on the specific requirements of the project, including factors such as load-bearing capacity, design constraints, and environmental conditions.

Bridge Tooling by Industry

Bridge tooling is most typically suited to industries that require rapid prototyping and short production runs. Industries which frequently benefit from bridge tooling include:

  1. Automotive: Bridge tooling is essential during the development of new vehicle models or when making changes to existing ones. It allows for the production of prototypes, testing parts, and limited production volumes before finalising the tooling design.
  1. Consumer Electronics: With evolving technology, consumer electronics companies often require quick turnaround times for small production runs. Bridge tooling enables them to produce refined prototypes and test them for functionality and aesthetics.
  1. Aerospace and Defence: Aerospace and defence rely on rapid prototyping and low-volume production to evaluate designs and ensure high performance and safety standards.
  1. Medical Devices: Medical device manufacturers often require prototyping and low volume manufacturing due to regulatory approval processes and market demand. Bridge tooling allows for the rapid production of medical devices for testing and early market entry.
  1. Industrial Equipment: Companies that develop industrial machinery and equipment may utilise bridge tooling to validate their designs before investing in full-scale manufacturing. It helps to ensure that the final product meets performance and durability specifications.
  1. Product Design and Development: Bridge tooling also finds applications in various product design and development firms as part of the trialling process during new product development.

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Tooling Modifications

What are Tooling Modifications?

Tooling modifications are changes or adjustments made to the tools used in manufacturing processes.

These modifications may involve altering the design, composition, or configuration of the tools to improve their performance, durability, or efficiency.

Existing tools often need to be adapted or customised to fit specific production requirements or to accommodate changes in the manufacturing process.

Tooling modifications ultimately help to optimize tooling performance, minimize defects, reduce downtime, and increase productivity in the manufacturing industry.

How are Tooling Modifications Carried Out?

Tooling modifications are carried out through a series of steps that involve analysis, planning, implementation, and validation. Here is a general outline of the process:

  1. Analysis: The need for tooling modifications is identified through observation, analysis of process performance, feedback from users, or changes in requirements. This step involves examining the existing tooling setup, understanding the limitations or areas for improvement, and determining the goals for modification.
  1. Planning: Based on the analysis, a plan is developed to define the scope, objectives, timeline, and resources required for the modification. This includes identifying the specific modifications needed, evaluating their feasibility, and estimating the costs involved.
  1. Design: The design of the tooling components is the next step. This may involve consulting with design engineers, technicians, and other relevant stakeholders to come up with the best solution. Computer-aided design (CAD) software or other modelling tools may be used to create detailed designs.
  1. Manufacturing: Once the design is finalised, the modified tooling components are manufactured. This can involve machining, casting, or forging. Precision and accuracy are crucial to ensure compatibility and functionality with the existing tooling setup.
  1. Assembly: The modified components are integrated into the existing tooling system. This can involve disassembling the existing tooling, replacing, or modifying specific parts, and reassembling the tooling setup. The assembly process must be carried out meticulously to maintain proper alignment, tolerances, and functionality.
  1. Testing and Validation: After the modifications are implemented, the tooling setup undergoes rigorous testing and validation. This ensures that the modifications meet the desired objectives, function properly, and do not adversely affect the overall performance of the tooling system. Testing can involve simulated operation, trial runs, or real-world evaluation.
  1. Implementation and Training: Once the modified tooling setup is successfully tested and validated, it is implemented in the production process.
  1. Continuous Improvement: Tooling modifications are often an iterative process, and feedback from users and ongoing performance monitoring will help to identify further areas for improvement. Regular evaluations will ensure that the tooling system continues to meet evolving needs.

It’s important to note that the specific steps and processes involved in tooling modifications can vary based upon industry, complexity, and the specific requirements of the modification.

Tooling Modifications – Metal in or Metal out?

The debate on whether tooling modifications should involve adding metal into a component or removing metal from it largely depends on the specific circumstances and requirements. Here are a few factors to consider when deciding between metal in or metal out:

  1. Design Intent: Understanding the design intent of the component is crucial. If the required modifications involve enhancing or adding specific features, it may be more suitable to remove excess material (metal out) to achieve the desired result efficiently. On the other hand, if the modifications call for the addition of new features, or the reinforcement existing ones, adding metal (metal in) may be necessary.
  1. Material Constraints: Consider the material properties and its response to modification techniques. Some materials are better suited for removal processes like milling or turning, while others might require an additive process like welding or 3D printing.
  1. Cost and Time Efficiency: Assessing the costs and time associated with each modification technique is crucial. Removing metal might be a quicker and cheaper solution in some cases, while adding metal could be more time-consuming and costly. It is essential to evaluate which method aligns better with the project budget and timeline.
  1. Precision and Accuracy: Evaluate the level of precision and accuracy required. Adding metal could provide more flexibility in achieving intricate or complex modifications with high precision, especially in the case of additive manufacturing technologies. However, removing metal can also achieve precise modifications if the optimum tools and techniques are used.
  1. Structural Integrity: Consider the impact of modifications on the structural integrity of the component. Adding or removing metal can affect the overall strength, stability, and durability. Removing metal may mean that added support will be needed post-modification.

Why are Tooling Modifications Sometimes Necessary?

There are several reasons why tooling may sometimes need to be modified:

  1. Product improvement: Tooling modifications can help to enhance the quality and functionality of the product being manufactured. Through adjustments or additions to the tooling, manufacturers can improve product design, features, and performance.
  1. Cost reduction: Tooling modifications can help to optimise manufacturing processes, leading to cost savings over time. By fine-tuning the tooling, manufacturers can reduce material waste, minimize production time, or streamline assembly processes, thereby lowering overall production costs.
  1. Compatibility with new materials: If manufacturers want to introduce new materials into their production process, the existing tooling may not be suitable. Modifying tooling can enable the use of new materials, such as alloys or composites, which might require different machining or moulding techniques.
  1. Adaptation to changing requirements: As market demands evolve, manufacturers may need to modify tooling to meet new requirements. For instance, if there is a need for higher production volumes, tooling may need to be modified to increase output capacity or to ensure faster manufacturing cycles.
  1. Correcting issues or defects: Tooling modifications may be necessary to fix any issues or defects detected during the production process. It could involve resolving problems in relation to part quality, tolerance, precision, or functionality.
  1. Customization or reconfiguration: Sometimes, manufacturers may need to modify tooling to accommodate customized products or design variations. Modifying tooling allows for product variations without completely redesigning the manufacturing setup.

What Limitations Are There with Tooling Modifications?

There are several limitations when it comes to modifications to tooling:

  1. Cost: Modifying tooling can be an expensive process. Depending on the complexity and scale of the modifications required, it can involve significant investment in terms of labour, materials, and equipment.
  1. Time: Complex changes or redesigns can be time-consuming. This can lead to production delays and impact overall project timelines.
  1. Expertise: Modifying tooling requires specialized knowledge and expertise. It is important to have skilled professionals who understand the tooling design and manufacturing process to ensure that the modifications are carried out effectively and accurately.
  1. Compatibility: Compatibility with existing machinery and processes is key. Tooling modifications should align with the manufacturing setup to ensure seamless integration and optimal performance.
  1. Design limitations: Tooling modifications may have design limitations due to several factors, including space constraints or manufacturing capabilities.
  1. Impact on tool life: Introducing significant changes may alter the stress distribution, wear patterns, or overall performance of the tool, which may potentially reduce its lifespan.
  1. Risk of errors: Tooling modifications can introduce errors into the manufacturing process. If not carefully planned and executed, modifications can lead to quality problems, rework, or scrap.
  1. Patent and legal issues: Tooling modifications may infringe upon existing patents or intellectual property rights. It is crucial to ensure that modifications do not violate any legal or contractual obligations.

Overall, while tooling modifications can be beneficial for improving efficiency, productivity, or product quality, these limitations need to be carefully considered and managed to minimise risks and ensure successful implementation.

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Jigs and Fixtures

What are Jigs and Fixtures?

Jigs and fixtures are manufacturing aids which are employed during the machining process. The two are often confused and sometimes misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the machining process. Sometimes the two terms are also used interchangeably.

However, there are several key differences between jigs and fixtures.

Firstly, before we go any further, it will be important for the sake of this article to understand what exactly jigs and fixtures are, and to identify the central difference between the two.

A jig is a tool that guides the cutting tool during the machining process.

A fixture holds, supports, and locates the workpiece during the machining process. However, unlike a jig, a fixture does not guide the cutting tool.

Jigs and fixtures are indispensable aids to manufacturers. They help to maximise efficiency, minimise production time, improve manufacturing quality, and reduce production costs.

Let’s look at each in more detail….

Jigs

A jig is secured to a CNC machine tool during the machining process. It dictates the location and motion of the cutting, thus guiding the machine tool. A jig is unique in that when it moves, the tool itself remains stationery.

Jigs are usually made of metal. The most commonly used metals to create jigs tend to be steel or aluminium. Jigs are usually fitted with positioning devices called bushings, or drill bushings. These bushings are an essential component of the jig, as they help to guide the drill as it moves through the workpiece. This is important for speed, accuracy, and quality.

Jigs are commonly used devices in the CNC machining process. They help to improve precision. A jig is often a custom part that has been designed by the manufacturer for this specific purpose.

Types of Jigs Used in the CNC Machining Process

There are many different types of jigs. One of the most common types is a drill jig. A drill jig guides the drill bit to the intended location.

Here are some of the other commonly used types of jigs within the world of CNC machining:

Template jigs: high precision and renowned for speed, these jigs are also versatile and easy to use.

Plate Jigs: similar to template jigs, the key difference being that clamps are used with plate jigs to hold the workpiece in place.

Angle plate jigs: as you would expect from the name, this type of jig is ideal for holding parts at angles during the drilling process.

Leaf jigs: the leaf jig has a leaf that can be swung open or closed for loading or unloading purposes.

Diameter jigs: diameter jigs are used to drill radial holes on cylindrical workpieces. A clamping plate and a clamping bolt are used to provide additional security.

Fixtures

A fixture is an agent of stability, support, and positioning during the CNC machining process. It is there to hold the workpiece in the same place during cutting to achieve consistent and highly repeatable results.

Fixtures are usually attached to the machine and can be used for milling, turning, and grinding.

Like jigs, fixtures are made from metal, commonly aluminium or steel. They can be custom built for a particular application or workpiece, or they can be purchased as generic fixtures.

Fixtures help to reduce operator error by acting as an invaluable aid during machining, and they also help to improve safety by always locating the workpiece in a fixed orientation.

This can result in cost savings as there will be less perishable material through human error. The use of a fixture will also speed up the process whilst simultaneously improving accuracy.

Types of Fixtures Used in the CNC Machining Process

There are many different types of fixtures which are available to the CNC machinist. Choosing the right one will depend on several factors, including the part, the machine, and the machinist.

Here are some of the main types of fixtures for CNC machining:

Angle fixture: highly reliable CNC fixture which is employed to hold the workpiece at specific angles. Angle fixtures are often used for applications such as beveling and drilling.

Indexing fixture: used in the manufacture of parts which have evenly spaced geometric features. These fixtures are very sturdy and can be easily attached to a worktable.

Modular fixture: modular fixtures consist of a wide range of interchangeable components designed to hold a workpiece securely and accurately in place for machining.

CNC vise fixture: versatile and easy to use, the CNC vise fixture uses two inclined planes that act against one another to provide strong clamping power via a hydraulic screw mechanism.

Benefits of Using Jigs and Fixtures

Jigs and fixtures are important components of the manufacturing process. They provide many advantages to the machining process and can help to improve final product quality.

Key Benefits:

  • Increased precision and accuracy
  • High repeatability of process, allowing multiple parts to be produced to a consistent level of quality
  • Reduced material wastage, which is positive for environmental sustainability
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced human error
  • Provides added level of safety for the machinist/operator
  • Customised jigs/fixtures can be developed, allowing for greater flexibility of process
  • Option to automate work
  • Reduced production costs
  • Heavy and complex parts can be manufactured more easily
  • Improved cycle time

Key Differences Between Jigs and Fixtures

There are several important differences between jigs and fixtures.

These differences are captured in below:

Jigs

  • A workholding device which guides the cutting tool for a specific operation
  • Small in size and light in weight
  • Used in uni-dimensional machining processes
  • Complex design
  • High cost
  • Not always fixed to the machine table
  • Used in drilling, tapping and reaming
  • Easy to use and requires less operator skill

Fixtures

  • A workholding device that holds, supports and located the workpiece but doesn’t guide the tool
  • Large in size and bulky to handle
  • Used in multi-dimensional machining processes
  • Simple design
  • Low cost
  • Fixed to the machine table
  • Used in milling, grinding and shaping
  • Complicated to use and require more operator skill

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Exploring the Art of Plastic Machining

What is Plastic Machining?

Plastic machining is a subtractive manufacturing process which involves the use of machines to remove material from a plastic object to create a component or product.

The process involves the use of lathes, mills, and other types of cutting machines to fabricate end parts.

This plastic machining process is used to create functional prototypes and low-medium volume production parts.

It is ideal during the manufacturing phase of new product development, where physical concepts need to be tested prior to full scale production.

Plastic CNC machining is a complex and highly precise process, which requires the expertise of skilled CNC programmers. These operators use computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) to create 3D products from raw plastic materials.

5-axis CNC machining can be employed to create high performance precision machining of engineering plastics.

After the initial run has been completed, the CNC machine can be reprogrammed using the same coordinates and numerical data. This means that CNC machining is perfect for producing highly customisable parts which are extremely accurate and very repeatable.

This allows for consistency of parts in quality, form, and dimensions.

Types of Plastic Most Commonly Used for Plastic Machining

It is important to recognise that not all types of plastic are suited to plastic machining. Different plastic types contain different properties. These varying properties determine the strength, chemical resistance, structure, and cost of a particular plastic.

When choosing a particular grade of material for plastic machining it is important to seek expert advice to ensure that the correct plastic type is selected. Care should be taken to ensure that the chosen plastic will machine correctly without incurring any unnecessary damage, warpage, overheating or shearing.

This is where the advice of a plastics expert should be sought to identify which type of plastic will be most appropriate. It is important when selecting a material that the product’s end application is carefully considered.

Some of the most commonly used plastics in CNC machining are listed below:

  • ABS
  • PC
  • PVC
  • HDPE
  • UHMW
  • PPS
  • PEEK
  • Acrylic
  • PA/Nylon
  • PP
  • Acetal

Plastics which are tough and high in rigidity tend to be more suited to the machining process. The plastics listed above have good durability and toughness, which means that they can easily withstand the scrutiny of the cutting tool. Less tough plastics show visible signs of deformity and can easily become distorted during the process.

Other important properties to consider when choosing a suitable plastic include:

  • Strength-to-weight ratio
  • Performance under high temperature
  • Chemical resistance
  • Wear resistance
  • Conductivity
  • Insulation properties
  • Material density

Advantages of CNC Plastic Machining

No mould is needed – parts can be created without needing to invest in tooling and the injection moulding process. This can be more cost-effective and can reduce lead times.

Ideal for low volumes – low volumes of highly repeatable, customised parts can be produced in economical production cycles.

Perfect for prototyping – CNC plastic machining of parts can be used to market test a design concept before committing to full scale tooling and injection moulding.

Large components can be accommodated – components that are too large for injection moulding can be machined from fabricated plastic.

Environmentally friendly – excess plastic in the form of swarf can be captured, compounded, and recycled.

Precision – CNC plastic machined parts offer a high level of precision compared to other methods, such as 3D printing, where 3D printer layer lines are sometime visible on the part.

Design flexibility – it’s easy to adapt the design of the part during the production process, whereas tooling modifications for injection moulded parts can be costly and time consuming.

Less Manual Labour Required – a team of toolmakers are required to make a tool. With CNC plastic machining, only one skilled operator is required to complete the process.

Quick Turnaround Times – Computer controlled CNC machines can be programmed to run during out of factory hours without the need for constant supervision. This can help to reduce cycle times and is less labour intensive.

Finishing Options – a wide range of finishing options are available, including polishing and coating.

Exploring CNC Plastic Machining as an Alternative to 3D Printing

The key difference between CNC machining and 3D printing is that CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, whereas 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process.

As discussed earlier, CNC machining involves removing material from a workpiece to create a finished part. 3D printing, on the other hand, is where a component is created layer-by-layer using a source of energy such as a laser.

3D printing is one of the more commonly used forms of additive manufacturing, but a lot of people don’t often consider the many benefits that CNC plastic machining has over 3D printing. Here are just a few to consider….

  • CNC plastic machined parts have better mechanical and thermal properties than 3D printed parts, which makes them stronger and more robust.
  • CNC plastic machining lends itself to a greater choice of plastic types than 3D printing.
  • 3D printed materials can be more expensive, which means that bigger components or larger quantities cost more.
  • Plastic CNC machining provides greater dimensional accuracy than 3D printing.
  • 3D printing can leave marks on the plastic, which can be detrimental to parts that require a high quality finish.
  • For medium volume requirements, CNC machining is more economical, as the cost reduces significantly with increased quantity.
  • CNC plastic machining is the more viable option for components that require tight tolerances.
  • CNC plastic machining can achieve a greater level of detail than 3D printing.

CNC Plastic Machining Applications

CNC plastic machining lends itself to many products across a range of different industries.

Here are a few examples of those industries and some of the products that have been created:

Medical – in an industry where tight tolerances are often required, CNC machining has created many important products, including biomedical and pharmaceutical equipment, medical devices, and surgical instruments.

Electronics – CNC machining has been regularly employed to manufacture housing units, semiconductors, and plastic enclosures.

Consumer Products – CNC machining has been used to fabricate toys, kitchen appliances, and general household goods.

Automotive – interior vehicle components, including dashboard panels and fixtures, and exterior parts, such as headlight covers.

Scientific – such as laboratory and scientific apparatus, as well as chemical handling equipment.

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Decorative Finishes in Toolmaking

What are Decorative Finishes in the Toolmaking Process?

Decorative finishes in the toolmaking process refer to surface treatments or coatings applied to tools to enhance their appearance, protect them from wear and corrosion, or improve their performance in specific applications.

The task of creating decorative finishes in the toolmaking process lies with experienced toolmakers. Toolmakers are skilled professionals who create and design various tools, dies, and moulds used in manufacturing processes. Part of this work includes a variety of value-added secondary operations, such as creating decorative finishes on tools and injection moulded components.

How are Decorative Finishes Achieved in Toolmaking?

Decorative finishes can be achieved in several ways, depending on the desired outcome and the capabilities of the tools and materials used. Some common methods include:

  1. Mirror Finish/Polishing or Buffing: This method involves using abrasive compounds and different grades of sandpaper to smoothen the tool’s surface. It creates a glossy and reflective finish. This type of finish is often employed for high-end, luxury products.
  1. Plating: Tools can be coated with a layer of metallic plating, such as chrome, nickel, or brass, to enhance their appearance and provide protection against corrosion.
  1. Paint or Powder Coating: Tools can be painted or coated with a powder using techniques such as spray painting or electrostatic coating. This allows for a variety of colours and finishes, such as matte, gloss, or textured.
  1. Brushed Finish: This finish is achieved by creating a consistent pattern of fine lines on the surface of the tool with the help of abrasive materials. It imparts a textured appearance and is commonly used in decorative toolmaking applications.
  1. Satin Finish: This finish has a smooth and matte appearance, characterized by a soft sheen. It provides a more subtle and refined look compared to a mirror finish.
  1. Bead Blasted Finish: In this process, small spherical particles (typically glass beads) are propelled against the tool surface to create a uniformly textured finish. It can enhance the visual appeal and tactile feel of the tool.
  1. Etching or Engraving: By using chemical etching or diamond-tipped engraving tools, intricate designs, patterns, or logos can be etched or engraved on to the surface of the tool.
  1. Anodizing: For certain types of metals, like aluminium, anodizing can be employed. Anodizing creates a durable, corrosion-resistant finish by using an electrochemical process to form a layer of oxide on the tool’s surface. This oxide layer can then be dyed in various colours for decorative purposes.
  1. Laser Marking: Laser technology can be employed to engrave or mark tools with precise designs, logos, or text. Laser marking can produce intricate and detailed finishes.

These methods can be used individually or in combination to achieve the desired decorative finish on tools, enhancing their aesthetic appeal while providing protection and improving durability.

It’s important to note that the specific surface finish requirements may vary depending on the material, functionality, and desired appearance of the tool.

 

What is the Function of Decorative Finishes on a Tool?

The function of decorative finishes on a tool can vary depending on the specific application, but some common functions include:

  1. Aesthetics: Decorative finishes can enhance the visual appeal of the tool, making it more attractive and pleasing to the eye. This is particularly important for tools which are used to create consumer goods, where appearance is central to the overall power of the product.
  1. Branding and Identification: Decorative finishes can incorporate logos, colours, or patterns that help identify the brand or manufacturer of the tool. This branding function helps build brand recognition and may also contribute to the company’s marketing and advertising efforts.
  1. Wear, Protection, and Scratch Resistance: Some decorative finishes, like scratch-resistant coatings or textured surfaces, can enhance the durability of the moulded parts. This is especially important in applications where the parts may experience rough handling or frequent contact with other objects.
  1. UV Resistance: Certain decorative finishes can provide UV resistance, protecting the moulded parts from fading or degradation when exposed to sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet radiation. This is particularly crucial in outdoor applications where prolonged sun exposure is expected.
  1. Texture, Grip and Ergonomics: Certain decorative finishes, such as textured or rubberised coatings, can improve the grip and ergonomics of the tool, making it more comfortable and easier to handle. This is especially beneficial for tools that require a firm grip or are used in slippery or wet conditions.
  1. Differentiation and Customization: Decorative finishes allow tools to stand out from similar products in the market by offering unique design elements or customisation options. This can be valuable for manufacturers who are looking to offer differentiated products, or for those who wish to cater to specific customer preferences.
  1. Increased Marketability: Tools with attractive decorative finishes are often more appealing to potential buyers and may command higher prices in the market. Unique and visually appealing finishes can also set a tool apart from those offered by competitors, giving it a distinct advantage in the marketplace.

Overall, while the primary function of a tool is its practical use, decorative finishes serve to enhance several aspects, including appearance, protection, branding, ergonomics, and customisation.

Types of Products Which Benefit from Decorative Finishes

There are several types of end products that benefit from decorative finishing in toolmaking. Some examples include:

  1. Consumer products: Decorative finishing is commonly used on consumer products such as mobile phone casings, electronic devices, car interiors, appliances, furniture, and various household items. This finishing helps to enhance the overall aesthetic quality of these products.
  1. Automotive parts: Many automotive parts, including interiors and exteriors, are given decorative finishing to improve their visual appeal. This may include finishing techniques such as painting, powder coating, polishing, or plating.
  1. Jewellery and accessories: Toolmaking is often utilised in the production of jewellery and fashion accessories, which often require decorative finishing to enhance their appearance. Examples include precious metal plating, gemstone setting, engraving, and polishing.
  1. Cosmetic packaging: Cosmetic products, such as lipstick tubes, compact cases, and perfume bottles, benefit from decorative finishing. Techniques such as hot stamping, embossing, and metallization can help to make products more seductive to potential buyers.
  1. Household tools and equipment: Decorative finishing can also be applied to household tools and equipment to improve their appearance and relative attractiveness. This may include applying coatings, engravings, or incorporating decorative elements into the design. Some decorative elements, such as grip features, may also improve functionality and use.
  1. Promotional and gift items: Many promotional items, corporate gifts, and souvenirs require decorative finishing to make them more eye-catching and memorable. This could involve techniques such as logo printing, laser engraving, or embossing.

Read More

You can read more about the types of finishes that we employ here at RP Technologies.

If your next project requires specialist finishing and you’d like to have an informal discussion about it, please contact us today so that we can discuss your particular requirements.

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In Focus: The Turret Milling Machine

In the second part of our ‘In Focus’ series, we will be taking a closer look at the Turret Milling Machine, examining how it works, and why it is so indispensable to the toolmaking process.

Milling Machines

A milling machine is a machine tool that is used to remove material from a solid workpiece, such as wood or metal.

A widely used tool within subtractive manufacturing, milling machines are extremely versatile and can be employed either on flat or irregular surfaces. They can perform several different machining tasks, including cutting, drilling, shaping, and contouring.

A milling machine features a cutter that rotates around a spindle axis.

Milling machines are often grouped into one of two categories – vertical or horizontal. These categories are defined by the direction in which the spindle moves.

A standard milling machine can move in a variety of ways, including parallel and perpendicular to the workpiece.

A turret milling machine is an example of a vertical milling machine. With this type of machine, the cutting edge is vertically held on top of the workpiece.

Let’s look at the Turret Milling Machine in more detail….

What is a Turret Milling Machine?

The turret milling machine, also known as a universal milling machine, is a light, general-purpose, cutting machine with two functions of vertical and horizontal milling. It is small, highly flexible, and has a compact structure.

Turret milling machines have a moderately large range of motion and are often employed when tackling small-to-medium jobs.

Turret mills are dextrous, technically versatile machines, with the ability to precisely cut different kinds of shapes and objects.

This dexterity is the reason why they have been used to produce a wide range of products.

Turret milling machines feature a spindle which doesn’t move. The table moves around the spindle axis in both parallel and perpendicular directions.

With standard milling machines, the spindle rotates on its axis and the cutters are held within it.

But that’s not the only thing that makes a turret milling machine unique.

Turret milling machines also have a quill, which allows the cutter to move up and down during the machining process. The quill gives the cutter a greater degree of freedom when it is cutting the workpiece. The presence of the quill means that the milling cutter can be raised and lowered in a vertical direction when the workpiece is being machined.

The quill allows the machinist to achieve different depths in the machining of the workpiece, resulting in the creation of more complex and varied parts.

The turret milling machine is a very resourceful milling machine with a comprehensive suite of options depending on what type of cutting function is required. The spindle can be aligned and realigned in different positions to achieve whatever effect is required. This enhanced functionality gives the turret mill an edge over more standard milling machines.

Turret milling machines are highly effective and are renowned for high performance. They are also robust and reliable and usually require a very low degree of ongoing maintenance.

Some of the latest models of turret milling machines have computer numerical control technology. These are known as CNC turret machines. Using this technology, the machinist inputs operational data into the machine and the machine is then programmed to remove material based upon this instruction. This allows for operational cost savings as the machine doesn’t have to be continually managed, allowing for increased employee productivity.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Turret Milling Machine

Advantages

  • Precision and accuracy
  • High efficiency
  • Can be used on a wide variety of materials, such as metal, plastic and wood
  • Has a variety of functions, including shearing, drilling, planing, cutting, shaping, diesinking and contouring
  • Smooth finishes can be achieved
  • CNC turrets with computer controls can manufacture multiple units of identical products
  • Requires less pre-cutting work
  • Durability of cutting process
  • Can bear heavy workload
  • Different operational modes available, including manual, automated, and CNC mode
  • More versatile than standard milling machines
  • Supports a variety of industrial applications, including automotive parts, consumer products, and aerospace components

Disadvantages

  • High electricity consumption for CNC turret machines
  • Efficiency of use depends upon the skill of the operator
  • Turret milling machines without computer facilities have to be manually operated, which can have negative implications for workload and the time/cost of the operator

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Plastics: Under the Microscope

Some Commonly Used Plastics in Injection Moulding

The 10 most common materials used for injection moulding are:

  1. Polypropylene (PP): A versatile thermoplastic with high impact resistance and good chemical resistance.
  1. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Known for its excellent strength-to-density ratio and resistance to chemicals and moisture.
  1. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): A rigid, durable plastic with good impact resistance, commonly used for consumer products.
  1. Polystyrene (PS): A lightweight, inexpensive material used for disposable products, packaging, and insulation.
  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): Commonly used for bottles and containers due to its clarity, toughness, and moisture resistance.
  1. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): A versatile plastic known for its durability, low cost, and resistance to chemicals and weathering.
  1. Nylon (PA): Exhibits excellent mechanical properties, heat resistance, and can be used for engineering applications.
  1. Polycarbonate (PC): Offers high impact resistance, transparency, and thermal stability, frequently used in automotive and electronic applications.
  1. Polyoxymethylene (POM): Known as acetal or Delrin, it has excellent mechanical properties, low friction, and high dimensional stability.
  1. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE): A flexible plastic with good impact strength, commonly used for packaging and film applications.

These materials cover a wide range of properties, making them suitable for various applications in industries such as automotive, consumer goods, electronics, packaging, and more.

The Importance of Selecting the Right Plastic for Injection Moulding

Choosing the right type of plastic for injection moulding is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Material properties: Each type of plastic has different physical, chemical, thermal, and mechanical properties. The specific requirements of the part (i.e. strength, flexibility, durability, chemical resistance, heat resistance, and electrical conductivity) need to be considered before the plastic is selected. This is essential to ensure that the final product will have the desired characteristics and will perform well under the intended conditions.
  1. Cost-effectiveness: Plastic materials vary in terms of cost. While some plastics may be cheaper, they may not possess the necessary characteristics for the intended use, resulting in poor quality or failures. On the other hand, using expensive plastics without justification can significantly increase the cost of production. Therefore, it is essential to strike a balance between the desired properties and the cost of the plastic material.
  1. Manufacturing constraints: Injection moulding is a highly automated and efficient manufacturing process. However, different plastics have different melt temperatures, flow rates, and shrinkage rates, which can affect the moulding process. The selected plastic should be compatible with the moulding equipment and its process parameters, ensuring smooth and consistent production without defects or wastage.
  1. Environmental considerations: Choosing a plastic that is recyclable, biodegradable, or made from renewable sources can help to reduce environmental footprint. Some industries and applications may also have specific regulations or standards with regard to the type of plastic allowed, especially in industries like automotive, medical, and food packaging.
  1. Safety and regulations: Industries such as aerospace and medical have strict safety requirements for their products. The chosen plastic must comply with these standards to ensure the safety of the end-users. It is important to consider factors such as toxicity, flammability, and chemical resistance when selecting a plastic for these applications.

The Benefits of Using Plastic in Manufacturing

There are several benefits of using plastic to manufacture parts:

  1. Cost-effective: Plastic is generally a more affordable material compared to metals or other materials. Therefore, plastic parts are relatively inexpensive to manufacture, making them a cost-effective solution for industries.
  1. Lightweight: Plastic parts are lightweight and have a high strength-to-weight ratio. This feature makes them ideal for applications where weight reduction is crucial, such as aerospace, automotive, or consumer electronics.
  1. Versatility: Plastic can be moulded into various shapes and sizes, providing designers and engineers with significant flexibility in manufacturing. It allows for complex geometries and intricate designs that may not be possible with other materials.
  1. Corrosion resistance: Unlike metal parts, plastic is resistant to corrosion caused by moisture, chemicals, or other environmental factors. This makes plastic parts more durable and longer lasting, reducing the need for maintenance or replacement.
  1. Electrical insulation: Plastic is an excellent electrical insulator, making it ideal for applications requiring electrical components. It helps prevent short circuits, insulation breakdown, and electrical failures in various industries.
  1. Design options: Plastic parts offer a wide range of design options, including various colours, textures, and finishes. This allows manufacturers to create visually appealing products or parts that match the brand’s aesthetics.
  1. Chemical resistance: Plastic is resistant to a wide range of chemicals, making it suitable for applications exposed to harsh environments or aggressive chemicals. It can withstand exposure to acids, bases, solvents, oils, and more.
  1. Reduced manufacturing time: Plastic parts can be produced through various manufacturing processes like injection moulding, which is a fast and efficient method. This helps in reducing manufacturing lead times and meeting production demands.
  1. Energy efficient: The manufacturing processes of plastic parts generally consume less energy compared to other materials like metals. This energy efficiency contributes to lower production costs and reduced environmental impact.
  1. Recyclability: Plastic is often recyclable, and using recycled plastic in manufacturing can reduce dependence on raw materials, promote sustainability, and minimise landfill waste.

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How Much Does an Injection Mould Tool Cost?

At RP Technologies, one of the most common questions we’re asked is ‘how much will my injection mould tool cost?’

We often get asked this question very early on in our discussions with customers, sometimes even before we’ve even had the opportunity to review the 3D CAD design.

For all injection mould tooling, the cost differs per tool. There is no standard cost for a tool. The cost is based upon the requirements of a particular tool. Each tool is built to produce injection mouldings of different types, all of which have different final applications. Therefore, it is natural that each will be designed differently to achieve these objectives.

Costings are based on several different variables that must be factored into the quotation process by the manufacturer. Let’s examine some of these variables in more detail….

What Influences the Cost of an Injection Mould Tool?

Design Complexity – parts with complex geometries will usually require tooling that is more challenging and time consuming to produce. Consequently, these tools will likely cost more.

Finish – some tools require specialist cosmetic finishes, customisation or polishing. These finishes will take time and will need to be applied through the use of skilled manual labour.

Cavities – the number of cavities may affect the cost of the injection mould tool. For tools with fewer cavities, the cost may be less because they will require less work compared to tools with multiple cavity features.

Type of Metal Usedaluminium tooling is a less expensive method than steel tooling, but still offers many of the same benefits.

Time – the time needed to produce the tool will also impact upon its cost. Tools that are highly complex with many contours may take longer to produce than more simple tools.

Labour – these types of complex tooling usually require more pairs of skilled hands to complete, which has an impact on customer cost due to the increased labour required.

Family Tooling – considerable savings can be achieved with family tooling, as different parts can be injection moulded from the same tool, instead of having to manufacture a new tool per component.

Capabilities of Manufacturer – vertically integrated manufacturers with secondary services, such as toolmakers with injection moulding capabilities, may be less expensive for customers than single source suppliers.

Undercuts – parts with undercuts will be more expensive to produce.

Material Choice – whilst not affecting the build of the tool itself, the material choice may affect the overall project cost, as some grades of plastic will be more expensive than others.

Value-Added Operations – secondary operations such as insert moulding and overmoulding may also result in a higher overall project cost than a standard tooling/moulding project.

Other Factors to Consider

It must be remembered when assessing the cost of injection mould tooling that one of the advantages of this method is that, unlike 3D printing, thousands of components can be produced from a single tool. This makes tooling a more cost-effective option for production volume projects – low, medium, or high – where the cost-per-unit can be quite reasonable.

It is also worth remembering that each tool will be guaranteed for a minimum number of parts. Some low-medium volume tools can achieve tens or even hundreds of thousands of parts. With a little maintenance over time, tooling can be subject to repeat production cycles. This means that these tools can produce repeatable parts over many years, making the investment worthwhile in the long term if sustained production is required.

In the main, injection mould tools which have tight tolerances, multiple cavities, and longer production lives may take longer to build and require more of an upfront capital investment.

As with most things, if the tooling is produced to a high quality in the first instance, it will be more likely to stand the test of time and require less maintenance than low quality tooling.

The RP Difference

At RP Technologies, we store all our manufactured tooling at a secure facility at no extra cost to our customers. We also maintain the tools for free, if required. In addition, each of our tools is guaranteed to produce a minimum number of parts, so our customers know at the start of the toolmaking process how many total parts each tool will achieve in its lifetime.

Many of our tools have ended up producing a much greater volume of parts than they have originally been guaranteed for. This is due to the quality of the tooling process and the care that we take when manufacturing our tooling.

All our production is carried out at our purpose-built 25,000 sq. ft. production facility in the West Midlands. We do not outsource. We like to manage the process ourselves so we can ensure that our very high standards of manufacturing are being met with every new project we take on.

If you have a need for injection mould tooling and you’re looking for a reliable and expert UK manufacturing partner, please get in touch with us today. You can either call us on +44 (0) 121 550 5868, or you can email us at info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

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What is Investment Tooling and How Does it Work?

How Do You Define Investment Tooling?

Investment tooling is known by several different names, including investment casting and lost-wax casting.

It is essentially a method of tooling which involves the manufacture of a tool which acts as a mould for wax or plastic.

Wax has properties which make it ideal for use in the investment tooling process. For instance, it has a low melting temperature, excellent flow properties, and a smooth surface.

The shaping and dimensions of the tool mirror the shaping and dimensions of the required final component. Hot wax or plastic is poured into the tool pattern. Once hardened, the wax is removed and then coated with ceramic and stucco material. Heat is then applied until the wax or plastic pattern melts away, leaving only the mould.

Molten metal is then poured into the mould to create a final metal part that is identical to the original wax pattern.

The process is ideal for producing parts where tight tolerances are required.

Why Aluminium?

Aluminium is often used for investment tooling.

Its thermal properties allow heat to be reduced quickly, which helps to reduce cycle times.

Its versatility means that it can also be easily melted, cast, and machined, allowing complex designs to be created with relative ease.

Aluminium also gives a particularly smooth finish to parts created from investment casting.

It’s less dense than some other metals, such as steel. This lower density means that it is easier for production operatives to handle and transport during the manufacturing process.

Aluminium is highly recyclable, making it a more environmentally friendly option than some other metal-based materials.

Castings made from aluminium alloys are also highly resistant to corrosion. This protects the integrity of the final component, ensuring that a higher quality of part can be produced.

Step-by-Step Process

Investment tooling can be divided into 3 main phases: design, manufacture, and post-manufacture testing.

Each stage of the process is crucial in ensuring that the final components are produced to meet the precise specifications outlined, and to achieve the optimum level of part quality.

We will now look at each of these stages in more detail.

Design

The first step in the process is to create an aluminium tool. To do this, a design for the tool needs to be created. This is achieved by creating a 3D model of the tool using computer-aided design (CAD) software.

It is crucial to get the 3D model correct, as this will form the basis for the specifications and dimensions of the tool. The tool will need to be robust and precise, given that it will need to hold up to substantial production runs where repeat components may be needed over time.

Manufacturing the Tool

As soon as the design has been completed, the tool is ready to be manufactured. The first step in the manufacturing process will be the fabrication of the tool. There are a variety of fabrication techniques which can be used, many of which depend upon the complexity of the tool design.

A common manufacturing technique is CNC machining, while laser cutting can also be employed. Toolmakers produce the wax dies using CNC lathes, mills, and electrical discharge machining (EDM), or spark erosion, as it is otherwise commonly known. If required, tools can then be given specialist finishes, such as texturing, engraving, or polishing.

The metal mould or die is designed specifically to hold the wax or plastic inside the tool. Liquid wax or plastic is then injected into the mould at high temperatures. The wax then undergoes a significant cooling process, at the end of which the final metal part is formed.

Post-manufacture Testing & Analysis

The tool is then put through a rigorous testing process to ensure the integrity of its manufacture. It needs to be absolutely accurate and precise. Any slight anomalies in its design or manufacture could affect the quality of the final components. This is particularly important in investment tooling if the tight tolerances already discussed are to be achieved.

Any outstanding issues with the tooling will need to be identified at this stage and resolved.

As soon as this process has been concluded, the production cycle can begin.

Advantages of Investment Tooling

Precision and Accuracy – Investment casting tooling can achieve very tight tolerances and high levels of detail.

Cost effective – Investment casting tooling is a less expensive option than some other forms of tooling due to lower production costs.

Multiple Alloys – Manufacturers can use a variety of potential alloys according to the desired objective. This allows for significant cost savings which can be transferred to the customer.

Flexibility of design – Because a variety of alloys are used, there is the flexibility to achieve pretty much any design feature that is required.

High Consistency of Final Product – Using the same tool continuously to produce the same wax patterns ensures consistent delivery of final components to the same tolerances.

Waste Reduction – There is less material wastage with this method due to the lower levels of machining that is required. It is, therefore, a more environmentally friendly option.

Quicker route to market – The overall process time is reduced, meaning that final components can be turned around in shorter cycle times ahead of full-scale market rollout.

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The Importance of CAD Design in Manufacturing

What is CAD Design?

CAD Design, also known as Computer-Aided Design, is the use of computer systems and software to create, modify, or optimize the design of various products, structures, or systems. It is commonly used in engineering, manufacturing, and other related fields.

CAD Design provides a digital representation of a physical object or system, allowing designers to create detailed 2D or 3D models. These models can be easily manipulated, analysed, and modified to evaluate design alternatives, perform simulations, and generate technical documentation.

CAD Design software typically offers various tools and functionalities, such as geometric modelling, assembly modelling, drafting, rendering, and analysis. It enables designers to visualize and test their designs before physical production, reducing errors, improving efficiency, and saving time and resources in the design process.

Overall, CAD Design allows designers to create accurate and precise models, collaborate with other team members, and streamline the design process, ultimately leading to the development of better products and structures.

How is CAD Design Used in Toolmaking?

CAD design is an integral part of the toolmaking process as it allows for the creation, modification, and visualization of tools in a digital environment before they are physically produced. Here’s how CAD design is used in the toolmaking process:

  1. Conceptualization: CAD software is used to create initial tool designs based on specific requirements and ideas. Designers can quickly sketch and modify various tool concepts to explore different options.
  1. Detailed Design: Once a concept is selected, detailed design work begins. CAD tools enable engineers to create accurate 2D and 3D models of the tool, incorporating specific dimensions, clearances, tolerances, and features required for its functionality.
  1. Visualization and Analysis: CAD models allow designers and stakeholders to visualize the tool in a digital environment, including its appearance, shape, and structure. Product engineers can also conduct virtual walkthroughs to identify potential issues and make necessary modifications. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and other simulation tools can be used to assess structural integrity, stress distribution, and performance of the tool.
  1. Collaboration and Communication: CAD files provide a common platform for sharing and collaborating with other departments involved in the toolmaking process, such as manufacturing, quality control, and toolmakers themselves. This improves communication, reduces errors, and ensures everyone has up-to-date information.
  1. Manufacturing Preparation: With CAD models, toolmakers generate accurate engineering drawings, including dimensions, tolerances, and assembly instructions, which are essential for the manufacturing process. These drawings assist in selecting appropriate raw materials, machining operations, and determining optimal workflows.
  1. Prototype Development: Once the design is finalized, CAD models are used to create prototypes of the tool. These prototypes provide an opportunity to assess the design’s functionality, identify potential flaws, and make final adjustments before proceeding to full-scale production.

CAD design lends many benefits to the toolmaking process. It enables faster iterations, reduces physical prototyping costs, improves design accuracy, facilitates communication, and enhances collaboration between various stakeholders.

The Advantages of Using CAD Design in the Toolmaking Process

CAD (Computer-Aided Design) plays a crucial role in the toolmaking process by offering some very important advantages:

Precise and accurate design: CAD software allows toolmakers to create highly accurate and precise designs, ensuring that the tools manufactured will meet the required specifications. This helps to eliminate errors and minimize revisional work, saving time and costs in the overall toolmaking process.

Improved productivity: CAD software enables toolmakers to create designs more efficiently and quickly. It provides a wide range of tools and features that assist in creating complex geometries, optimizing the design for manufacturability, and automating repetitive tasks. This helps to increase productivity and speed up the toolmaking process.

Integration with manufacturing processes: CAD software often integrates with other manufacturing tools and processes, such as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) systems. This integration allows for seamless transfer of design data to manufacturing equipment, enabling more efficient production of tools.

Overall, CAD design is essential in the toolmaking process as it enhances accuracy, productivity, visualization, and collaboration. It helps to streamline the entire toolmaking process and ensure the production of high-quality tools that meet the desired specifications.

Using CAD Design for CNC Machining

CAD design isn’t just a valuable part of the toolmaking process. It can also be used in several other highly important manufacturing processes. One such process is CNC machining.

CAD design is used for CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining in several ways:

  1. Designing Parts: CAD design software allows engineers and designers to create 3D models of parts that need to be machined. They can accurately define the dimensions, shape, and features of the part, including holes, curves, and intricate details.
  1. Generating Toolpaths: Once the part is designed, the CAD software can generate toolpaths. These toolpaths guide the CNC machine in terms of where and how to cut the material. The software calculates the necessary commands, such as feed rate, depth of cut, and tool movement, to create the desired part.
  1. Simulating the Machining Process: CAD software often provides simulation features that allow users to visualize the machining process before it actually happens. This allows for the identification of potential errors or interferences in the design or toolpaths, ensuring that issues are resolved before manufacturing.
  1. Iterative Design and Prototyping: CAD design enables engineers and designers to quickly modify and iterate on the part design after simulating the machining process. By making adjustments in the software, they can evaluate the impact on the manufacturing process and optimize the design for better functionality and manufacturability.
  1. Documentation: CAD designs provide a digital record of the part geometry, dimensions, and tolerances. This documentation is crucial for consistently reproducing the part in future manufacturing runs.

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10 Hot Topics for Injection Moulding in 2024

As we head into the new year, we’ve put together a hit list of 10 hot topics to look out for in the injection moulding industry over the next twelve months.

Predicting future trends is always subjective and uncertain, but based on current key topics and advancements, some potential industry developments that could occur in 2024 are:

  1. Sustainable Manufacturing and Eco-friendliness: The growing focus on sustainability and environmental best practice will put pressure on injection moulding companies to reduce their carbon footprint. This could involve sourcing more sustainable materials for use in the production process, reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and improving recycling capabilities.
  1. Material Innovation: With evolving customer demands, there could be an increased need for advanced materials that offer enhanced properties like higher strength, heat resistance, biodegradability, and conductivity. The adoption of new materials could pose challenges in relation to processing, tooling, and sourcing suitable alternatives for traditional plastics.
  1. Automation, Digitization, and Industry 4.0: The injection moulding industry is becoming more connected and automated with the adoption of technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics. The challenges in 2024 might revolve around optimizing productivity, ensuring cybersecurity, integrating complex automation systems, and upskilling the workforce to adapt to this digital transformation. Such technological changes could enable increased efficiency, accuracy, and reduced labour costs.

Adopting these technologies, however, brings its own set of challenges, such as the need for skilled technicians, the challenge of integrating complex systems, and the importance of maintaining data security.

  1. Lighter Weights: There is now an increasing market demand for more lightweight plastic injection moulded components. With lighter weight materials comes a reduction in associated costs. This can be particularly important when manufacturing large volumes.

Using lighter weight materials also has positive cost implications for distribution and storage. The benefits of lightweight materials differ depending upon the sector in which the final product is to be employed. For instance, when used in the aerospace, automotive, and rail sectors, lighter weight materials can help to reduce fuel and energy consumption.

  1. Regulatory Compliance and Safety: Governments and regulatory bodies may introduce new regulations or strengthen existing ones with a focus on product safety, recycling, waste management, and reusing materials. Injection moulding companies may need to ensure compliance with evolving standards, invest in safety measures for materials and workers, increase product quality, and adopt responsible manufacturing practices.
  1. Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM): As additive manufacturing technologies continue to evolve, there might be a shift towards integrating injection moulding and 3D printing. This may mean developing new design guidelines, optimizing tooling for hybrid manufacturing, and addressing challenges in relation to material compatibility and process integration.
  1. Skilled Labour Shortage: The injection moulding industry might face a shortage of skilled workers due to changing demographics, the retirement of experienced personnel, or increasing technological complexities. Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce could be a challenge, and companies may need to invest in training, apprenticeship programmes, or automation to mitigate the impact.
  1. Increasing customization requirements: Consumer demands for personalized products are rising, which can lead to smaller production runs and increased customization. This puts pressure on injection moulders to offer flexibility, faster turnaround times, and cost-effective solutions to meet the changing market demands.
  1. Market Volatility and Global Supply Chain Disruptions: Social turbulence, economic instability, or geopolitical factors may negatively impact global supply chains. Injection moulders may face challenges in relation to sourcing raw materials and industrial equipment, shipping and logistics delays, and disruptions caused by unforeseen events like pandemics, natural disasters, or political instability.

Developing contingency plans and reevaluating supply chain strategies will be crucial in mitigating potential disruptions. It may also be advantageous to improve forecasting and risk management strategies to maintain market competitiveness.

  1. Reshoring: Such supply chain disruptions will likely see a continuation of a key theme of 2023 – reshoring. Reshoring is the process of returning product manufacturing back to its country of origin. Places like China have suddenly become less attractive options for UK companies looking to have products manufactured, due to world events such as the war in Ukraine and COVID-19. This has already led to many UK companies bringing their manufacturing back home, a trend which will possibly continue to gain pace in 2024.

It is important to note that these potential issues are speculative and based on current trends. The actual challenges faced by the injection moulding industry in 2024 could differ based upon socio-economic factors, innovations, global political events, or market dynamics.

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The Challenges of Manufacturing in China

For several years now, China has been the centre of global manufacturing. It is currently the largest producer of manufactured goods in the world. Many companies in the UK have relied upon China’s manufacturing output to create their products.

However, in the light of recent events across Europe and the rest of the world, this reliance has started to change, and China’s monopoly on global manufacturing has been weakened.

In this article, we will look at some of the events that have led up to these changes. We will also examine some of the key determining factors that have seen many UK companies return to manufacturing suppliers here at home as an alternative to those based in China.

China – The Age of Industrialisation

During the 1950s, China underwent a period of great economic change. Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao (or Mao Tse-tung in the English-speaking world), was Chairman of the Communist Party of China for over three decades between March 1943 and September 1976. Under his leadership, China began a long and expansive period of industrialisation.

In 1952, 83% of the Chinese workforce was employed in agriculture. In 1953, with the help of the Soviet Union, Mao began an ambitious plan to bring industrialisation to China on a significant scale. The ‘Maoist Great Leap Forward’ plan was implemented between 1958 and 1961. Its goal was to transform the People’s Republic of China from an agrarian economy based on farming to a modern communist society with a strong economic base at its centre.

The Soviet Union gave the Chinese some of the most advanced technology in the world. They also sent many thousands of Soviet technical advisors to China to oversee some 156 industrial projects.

The overall result was a sea change in the Chinese economic model. China began to rely more heavily on industrial output. Over the next quarter of a century, the value of agriculture to the country’s GDP had declined from 70% in 1952 to 30% in 1977.

In 2022, the percentage of the workforce employed in agriculture had fallen to 24%, compared to 83% in the 1950s.

In 2021, China’s manufacturing output had risen to $4,865.83 billion, which represented a 26.04% increase from 2020.

Why Has China Become a Popular Choice for Manufacturing?

China’s position as the foremost manufacturing power in the 21st century is due to a few important factors:

Low labour costs: employees are put to work for long hours with few rewards. Industrialists benefit from gaps in employment legislation. Low-cost labour is also possible because of China’s high population. As there are so many people competing for jobs, the rate of unemployment is high, which in turn has driven down wages.

Lack of regulatory compliance: in order to maximise manufacturing opportunity, much of this sector has been almost completely deregulated to encourage investment and to promote exports of manufactured goods.

Quick lead times: Chinese manufacturers have gained a reputation for supplying goods extremely quickly.

Infrastructure/Business Ecosystem: China has invested heavily in an extensive infrastructure which enables it to hold great sway over its supply chain partners.

Low taxes and duties: goods can be exported to different geographical territories at low cost to the customer.

Poor environmental regulation: with little or no regulations for sustainable practice, the manufacturing industry is allowed to thrive at the expense of environmental wellbeing. Industrialists are also able to avoid waste management costs.

Absence of law to protect workers’ rights: Chinese factories do not adhere to the same laws which some of their overseas competitors are subject to, including laws relating to child labour, involuntary labour, working hours, and health and safety.

Government influence: government investment in domestic infrastructure combined with a favourable pro-business tax system has helped to keep manufacturing costs at a very low level.

Strong domestic economy: a strong economy has led to increased spending. This has increased the value of the Chinese Yuan (CNY) and has provided Chinese manufacturers with the opportunity to expand their businesses.

World Events which have Served to Weaken China’s Manufacturing Dominance

In recent years, we’ve witnessed many significant and quite unpredictable changes in the macro environment which have served to shake China’s stranglehold on the global manufacturing sector.

Let’s look at some of the key world events in more detail:

Ukraine war – the political turmoil in Eastern Europe has led to supply chain disruptions, export challenges, rising costs, and uncertainty in global financial markets.

Energy crisis – inflated energy prices have meant that Chinese manufacturers have had to increase their prices, the burden of which has been borne by the customer. This has made China a less attractive option than before.

COVID-19 – delays and shortages related to the pandemic have prompted many customers to re-evaluate their reliance on China, and to look elsewhere for an alternative solution.

US economic policy – the US Government’s hardline trade policies with China have resulted in a succession of costly tariffs which have driven prices up.

Continued lockdowns in China – as China struggles to break free from COVID-19, lockdowns are still part of day-to-day life, and have had negative implications for manufacturing activity.

Protests – over the past year, several demonstrations have taken place across China in protest against these sustained periods of post-pandemic lockdown. This unrest has had poor economic implications for China, as well as for overseas financial markets.

Reduced investment – these socio-political events have led to a reduction in investment in China. For a country whose success has been built on capital investment, this has negatively impacted its economic progress.

In addition to these factors, China has also been confronted with many other challenges, including increased labour expenses, accelerated manufacturing competition from other developing economies, and a series of ongoing trade disagreements.

All this activity has seen some companies in the UK and overseas disengage with China and move to quickly diversify their supply chains. In many cases, this has seen corporate buyers look to their own domestic marketplaces for new manufacturing partners.

What Does All This Mean for Chinese Manufacturing?

The pace of companies moving production out of China is accelerating all the time, with China losing more manufacturing and export market share in several of its key sectors.

Chinese manufacturing companies had always been attractive because of price. But in the light of recent global events, Chinese manufacturers are no longer able to offer pricing which is as favourable as it once was. This has undermined arguably the key selling point for these manufacturers when trying to secure new business from overseas customers.

Some UK-based customers have seen their costs of doing business with Chinese manufacturers go up by over 25%.

Coupled with this, the supply chain has now become more complex and challenging in the aftermath of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Goods can no longer be depended on to arrive on time every time from the other side of the world.

Geopolitics is also a concern for some customers. The Chinese Government’s support for Russia, its diplomatic issues with the United States, and its aggression towards Taiwan has seen some UK based customers begin to question their support for Chinese manufacturing.

Here are some other key reasons why China has lost some of its pulling power:

  • Uncertainty over IP Protection: Intellectual Property (IP) laws are less robust than in many other countries, with low penalties for IP infringement. This makes it difficult for UK designers to protect valuable IP in a country where counterfeit is possible.
  • Competition with neighbouring economies: local nations such as India, Vietnam and Indonesia have provided increased competition to Chinese manufacturers by benefiting from even lower labour costs and reduced levels of regulation.
  • Economic downturn: China is currently experiencing adverse changes in their economic cycle, with manufacturing companies being squeezed by slow economic growth and rising costs.
  • Reduced foreign investment: there has been an increase in the number of investors leaving China in recent times. Overseas investors are concerned about security, government policy, and a lack of action on reform promises, according to the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

Other Sources:

If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, please check out our article on Reshoring, which can also be found in the Knowledge Hub section of our website.

Knowledge Hub

Things to Look for in an Injection Moulding Partner

Introduction

For newcomers to injection moulding, the process can appear quite daunting and unfamiliar. There are so many things to consider, so many choices to make, and so many potential pitfalls along the way.

For start-up companies, or sole traders with big ideas, this can be especially scary. Particularly if they’re working on a shoestring budget where every penny counts.

That’s why it’s so important to make effective decisions.

Perhaps the most important of all these decisions is choosing a manufacturing partner to support you through the production process.

We’ve put together a list of key factors to consider when making your decision.

We hope that this will serve as a useful guide, particularly to those individuals and companies out there who are embarking on the injection moulding process for the first time.

What to Look for in an Injection Moulding Partner

In-house Toolmaking and Injection Moulding

Sourcing an injection moulding partner who has their own in-house toolmaking and injection moulding is crucial.

In-house tooling and moulding capabilities allow manufacturers to ensure quality control of all tooling and parts that are produced. Since the quality of the finished components will be inextricably linked to the quality of the tooling, it is essential that both manufacturing tasks are carried out in-house, so that the process can be closely monitored from start to finish.

This will allow for greater efficiencies and economies of scale, meaning that better quality products can be delivered within shorter production cycles.

By choosing a manufacturer who has tooling and moulding capabilities all under one roof, it will also save customers the time and hassle of sourcing multiple production partners.

Quality Control

Injection moulded components often need to be produced to very tight tolerances. This requires absolute precision in the manufacture of both the tool and the plastic components.

Injection moulders must have stringent quality control measures in place. They should also have their own Quality Engineering department, who are involved in each project from conception right through to completion. This will ensure that any anomalies are detected as soon as possible, so that suitable resolutions can be identified and implemented.

Failure to adhere to rigid quality control checks could result in the production of defective final parts, as well as delays in bringing these end products to market. This will have negative commercial implications for the customer, including the incurrence of additional costs.

Certifications

Linked to Quality Control, it is worth ensuring that your injection moulding partner is fully accredited and has been audited by the relevant accreditation bodies on a termly basis. It is important to ensure that they are actively committed to maintaining these accreditations, and that they continue to participate in regular assessments by their accreditors.

ISO accreditations are the accepted standard of practice in the injection moulding industry.

Range of Services

Choose a manufacturing partner with a complete range of services, such as prototyping, part design, and mould flow analysis. Such companies are usually the most credible, reliable partners within the industry since they offer a comprehensive one-stop solution to all your manufacturing needs.

Injection moulding partners who supply sister services, such as toolmaking and CNC machining, are particularly useful. Not only do they reduce the need for multiple suppliers, but they also have a depth of knowledge in-house which can be vital during the completion of complex manufacturing projects, where a varied level of expertise may be required.

In the long run, this can prove to be more cost effective and can reduce production times.

Capabilities and Technologies

It is important before you embark on a project with a new supplier to ask about their production capabilities. You need to ensure that they have the capacity required to fulfil your order within whatever timeframe you require it.

It is important to ensure that the manufacturer has enough machinery, technology, and in-house expertise to deliver the project on spec and to the anticipated level of quality.

A company that invests in both its technologies and the professional development of its people is usually one that stays ahead of the curve.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as how many injection moulding machines do you have? Or how much experience do your toolmakers have? Or what quality tests can you offer to test the accuracy of a component? Or how big is your production facility?

These questions will help you to understand the type of manufacturer you are dealing with.

Plastics Knowledge and Understanding

Material selection is a key consideration during the injection moulding process. Working with experienced injection moulders and plastic polymer experts will help you to identify the correct grade of material for the end application.

Failure to select the correct material can result in a sub-standard final component.

Experienced injection moulding technicians and engineers can help to reduce costs by getting things right first time during the production process. This can significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste produced, thus making the process more environmentally friendly.

Industry Experience

Look for an injection moulding partner who understands your industry.

Although this is not essential, it can be beneficial to find a manufacturer with specific industry-related experience, as they will better understand the particular challenges of your marketplace.

In markets where there is a high degree of regulation – for instance, the aerospace sector – this is particularly important. If safety is a key requirement for the final application, industry expertise will help to ensure that the final parts are as robust and reliable as they can be.

Lifetime Guarantee

Find out how long the moulds are guaranteed for. A key question to ask is, does the manufacturer guarantee the moulds for the full life cycle of the project?

Manufacturers should be willing to give you a guarantee of how long they anticipate the mould lasting. They should be able to do this from the start. If minor adjustments are needed for the tooling in order to honour this guarantee over the lifetime of the tool, these should be completed by the manufacturer at no additional expense to the customer.

Effective Customer Service

Note that we are using the term ‘manufacturing partner’ in this article. This implies a company who will not only deliver high quality components, but one which will also be a source of best practice advice throughout the process. In short, a company with whom its customers can build long-standing mutually beneficial relationships based on shared trust.

This is especially important when tackling projects that are highly confidential and involve intellectual property or patent-protected designs. In such instances, professional manufacturing partners will be happy to sign confidentiality documents or non-disclosure agreements, which will help to protect the IP of the products under discussion.

Manufacturing partners who are always available to you and generous with their time are especially attractive.

Price

Price is a key factor for all businesses. Procuring goods and services for less will always hold significant sway with buyers.

However, choosing an injection moulding partner on a price-only basis can be a dangerous strategy. There must be a compromise between price and quality.

Other factors which are important include reliability, trustworthiness, transparency, and an ability to honour deadlines.

What Their Customers Say

There is a great deal of value in taking some time to read reviews about injection moulding companies by their existing customers before you enter into any agreement with them.

Also take the time to read customer testimonials on their website if they have them. You may even choose to speak to some of their customers in confidence about their experiences.

It is also worth investigating to see if they have won any industry awards. Recognition from within the supply chain from peers and competitors is always hard to argue with.

This type of research can help you to make a more informed and reliable decision.

Summary

There are many different factors to consider when sourcing an injection moulding partner.

The most important thing to remember is not to be afraid to ask questions. Find out as much as you can about a supplier; work hard to understand their capabilities, their expertise, their quality control processes, and the full extent of the services which they offer.

You can even seek independent advice from their existing customers if you think it would be a worthwhile exercise.

Asking questions will ensure that the manufacturer knows that they will have to work hard to keep your custom.

It will also help you to learn about the overall injection moulding process, and it will provide you with an opportunity through sustained dialogue to build a strong relationship, which will potentially be beneficial to both parties over time.

Looking for a new Injection Moulding Partner?

If you’re looking for an injection moulding partner but don’t know who to choose or how to go about it, we’d be happy to hear from you.

Even if you just want an informal chat about the process, or if you’d like to ask our advice on injection moulding or toolmaking, we’d be very happy to hear from you.

Please either call us on +44 (0) 121 550 5868, or email info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

Knowledge Hub

Reshoring

What is Reshoring?

Reshoring is the process of returning product manufacturing back to its country of origin. It essentially involves bringing production activities back from overseas to wherever the company who owns the products is based.

In recent times, the UK manufacturing industry has seen a significant increase in the number of domestic companies who have brought production of their goods back to the UK.

Overseas manufacturing outlets have become a less attractive option in recent years due to several reasons.

Let’s explore some of the external forces that have put pressure on overseas manufacturers….

Key Reasons for Abandoning Overseas Manufacturers

Longer lead times – Some overseas manufacturers have traditionally operated on very short lead times, particularly those in Asian markets. This has made them very attractive to UK customers who need parts fast. However, in recent times, changes in the global political landscape have stifled international supply chains resulting in less timely – and in some cases, unreliable – means of delivering products to other parts of the world.

Price – supply chain pressures and economic volatility has meant that some overseas manufacturers are no longer as competitive. Some UK-based customers have seen their costs of doing business with Chinese manufacturers go up by over 25%.

Ukraine war – the political turmoil in Eastern Europe has led to supply chain disruptions, export challenges, rising costs, and uncertainty in global financial markets.

Energy crisis – rising costs have meant that Chinese manufacturers have had to increase their prices, the burden of which has been absorbed by the customer.

COVID-19 – delays and shortages related to the pandemic have prompted many customers to re-evaluate their reliance on China, and to look elsewhere for an alternative solution.

Geopolitical factors – China has found itself on the opposing side of the table during the current Russia/Ukraine situation, which has left it at odds with many European customers.

Environmental issues – British companies are under increasing pressure to ensure compliance with environmental and corporate social responsibility best practice. Countries with poor human rights records, or those who do not protect workers’ rights, are rapidly becoming less attractive partners.

Why UK Companies are Moving Their Manufacturing Back Home

  • Greater certainty around delivery times
  • Less potential for supply chain disruptions
  • Easy, more flexible collaboration with domestic suppliers
  • The language barrier is eliminated, and communication is more open
  • Reduced supply chain complexity
  • Greater confidence in the quality of the final components
  • Cost advantages of overseas production are now less favourable (in China, for example, unit labour costs have risen sharply in the last few years)
  • Reduced shipping costs – the price of shipping goods from Asia, South America, and mainland Europe has increased dramatically, with serious implications for UK SMEs.

Some studies suggest that up to 40% of small businesses are considering a switch from overseas manufacturers to UK manufacturers, so that they can remove import challenges post-Brexit and reduce rapidly rising freight costs. These costs, coupled with increased legislation and bureaucracy, have made overseas manufacturing a financial and logistical headache for many UK businesses, eroding profit margins and stifling growth.

Manufacturing in the UK

The UK is known across the world as a manufacturing power. We have a rich history of making products and exporting them to the rest of the world. We are skilled in innovation, with advanced technologies and infrastructure to support manufacturing of all kinds.

Despite changes in the recent socio-political environment, such as Brexit and COVID-19, we remain a highly competitive option for companies at home and abroad who have a requirement for British manufacturing.

Let’s look at what makes us so unique….

Skilled manufacturing professionals – for centuries, the UK has had a distinguished history of manufacturing. Through the generations, we have demonstrated a strong tradition of producing expert engineers and technical craftsmen and women, which sustains to this day.

Education – the UK has some of the best universities in the world, with some of the most talented young engineers graduating every year, many of whom go on to embark upon careers as design engineers, product designers, and manufacturing professionals.

Dynamic supply chain – there are a range of support services which are available to manufacturers, such as management consultants and financial experts.

Research and Development (R&D) – the UK Government has invested in many research and development facilities to support companies who are looking to manufacture products in the UK.

Infrastructure – the UK has a well-developed infrastructure, including excellent transport networks and strong access to raw materials.

Legislation – clear and robust legislative policies which have been passed into law to protect businesses and to support entrepreneurial endeavour, including intellectual property (IP), patent protection, and trademarking laws.

Pro-government business support – post-Brexit, the UK Government has introduced a range of measures to support British businesses, including regulatory reform and tax incentives.

Stable political environment – the UK is a stable democratic country which has one of the strongest legal systems in the world. This stability provides businesses looking to manufacture products in the UK with confidence and security that any capital investments will be protected under the right of law.

Are You Looking to Reshore?

If reshoring is something you’re considering, we’d be very interested in hearing from you.

We’ve taken on several new customers lately who have moved their manufacturing projects from overseas territories such as China back to the UK.

If this is something you’re considering, please contact us on +44 (0) 121 550 5868, or email info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

Knowledge Hub

In Focus: The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP

In the second of our ‘In Focus’ series of articles, we profile the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP CNC Machining Centre.

This state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC Machine is the latest in modern machining technology.

RP Technologies purchased this expensive piece of equipment at the end of 2022, and with all the CNC machining work we’ve received since, it’s proved to be a very timely investment!

Let’s take a moment to review this machine in more detail, examining some of its unique characteristics and features, and trying to understand the importance of its role here at RP.

The Importance of CNC Machining to RP Technologies

The manufacture of CNC machined parts is one of our key services here at RP Technologies.

Along with toolmaking, injection moulding and rapid prototyping, CNC machining is central to what we do. We have, over the years, steadily developed the CNC department, investing in new machines and adding to our experienced team of CNC Programmers and Operators.

We have 10 CNC machinists and 20 CNC machines, 18 of which are 3-axis and 2 which are 5-axis.

We machine parts for prototype and low volume production runs in most metals and polymers. We start as low as 1 part, and we specialise in highly complex components that require precision engineering.

Our CNC machining projects are all supported by ISIR documentation.

All our CNC machining work is carried out in-house at our purpose-built production facility here in the West Midlands. We do not outsource anything. We like to ensure the highest levels of product quality, using the best CNC operators and machines that money can buy.

The latest addition to our CNC Tool Room is the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP 5 Axis Machining Centre, which we purchased in December 2022.

Let’s look at this new state-of-the-art piece of machinery more closely….

What is the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP?

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP is a new, state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC Machining Centre. Its enhanced technologies have the capabilities to boost production capacity, increase operational efficiencies, and improve accuracy.

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP has several new features. It has an enhanced graphics package, which is 1.4 times faster than its predecessors. Its advanced Ultimotion feature reduces cycle time by up to 30%, which will allow us to offer even more competitive lead times.

The design configuration utilises a swivel head and a C-axis rotary torque table that is embedded in the machine table. The increased size of the table provides maximum versatility, with the extra space being ideal for the performance of secondary operations.

The VMX60SRTi XP also boasts the enhanced version 10 software, superb MAX5 control, and improved, energy saving LED cabinet lighting. The Optional Ultimonitor incorporates Ultinet (networking) and ESF (Extended Shop Floor) capability of remote diagnostics.

There is an ergonomically designed control console with two 19” LCD touchscreens, 4GB RAM Memory, 10,000 block lookahead, 128GB Solid State Hard Drive, and a 2.7GHz Dual Core Processor. There is also a 12K Swivel-Head Spindle with X, Y, and Z axis travel.

The swivel head means that less manipulation of the component is required, making the machining process more precise and efficient to perform. The VMX60SRTi XP can also be used as a full capacity 3-axis machine during times when 5-axis parts are not being made.

The VMX60SRTi XP is ideal for low-medium volume work. It also has a larger part capacity than many earlier models. Its expert design and advanced technology help to deliver the highest performance capabilities to any machining application.

Key Benefits of the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP 5 Axis CNC Machining Centre

  • The swivel head, or “B” axis as it’s also known, has substantial advantages over the traditional trunnion 5 axis machine in that less manipulation of the component is required
  • Heavier or larger part capacity – only the vertical or load bearing is required
  • The generous size of the rotary table provides maximum versatility
  • The extra table space can be used for secondary operations or 3-axis work
  • Wide ranging application – the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP is ideal for any machining project
  • Time saving and efficient, allowing cost savings to be passed on to the customer
  • Perfect for low volume work or batch production

The Hurco VMX60SRTi XP – Key Statistics

>> 1,676 x 660 mm table, 1,360 kg capacity

>> Travels: 1,524 x 660 x 610 mm

>> Ø 600 mm embedded rotary table, 500 kg capacity

>> 12,000 rpm motorized spindle

>> 36.5 kW peak spindle

>> 40 station automatic tool changer

>> SK 40 spindle taper

>> 32 / 32 / 24 m/min rapid traverse rates

>> Patented UltiMotion HURCO technology, which reduces cycle time by 30%

>> Improved surface finish quality with UltiMotion

What This Means for RP

The introduction of the Hurco VMX60SRTi XP demonstrates RP’s commitment to making continued investments in our overall manufacturing and CNC machining capabilities.

This machine will help us to improve lead times, whilst also giving us the opportunity to produce even more complex and demanding metal and plastic machined components.

It will complement our other 5-axis and 3-axis CNC machining centres, providing added depth, improved capacity, and enhanced capability.

It will be the ideal tool for our prototype and low volume work.

What to Do Next?

Do you have CNC machining requirements for a low volume or prototyping project?

If so, we could be your perfect manufacturing partner.

Please call us today on +44 (0) 121 550 5868 or email info@rptechnologies.co.uk.

Knowledge Hub

Silicone Tooling vs Hard Tooling

Introduction

There are two main types of tooling which are employed in the injection moulding process: silicone tooling and hard tooling. It is important when embarking on a new project that you pick the right tooling method for the job. This will largely depend on what types of parts you want to produce, but there are also other factors to consider, such as financial constraints, speed of delivery and volume.

As with all injection moulding, the quality of the tool build will ultimately determine whether the finished components are of a high standard, durable, visually appealing, and fully functioning.

It is, therefore, extremely important to choose the right tooling process in order to achieve the intended outcomes for the final components.

To do this, we will need to explore silicone tooling and hard tooling in more detail. We will then compare these methods and review the advantages and disadvantages associated with both.

Silicone Tooling – What is it?

Silicone tooling is ideal for producing low volume rubber mouldings and urethane castings

Silicone tooling is less expensive than hard tooling and is usually used in cases where the production run is less than 100 parts. Most moulds can be relied upon for approximately 25 shots per cavity.

Silicone tooling is ideal for designers, engineers and manufacturers who are in the prototyping phase and are trialling a concept before moving to larger scale production. It is also used for consumer-based market testing, before final design iterations are made and the product is signed off for manufacture.

Hard Tooling – What is it?

Hard Tooling is made from metal, in our case aluminium, and it is known for its reliability over time. With hard tooling, manufacturers can work to very tight tolerances, making it the logical choice for projects where the final components are complex in their design.

Aluminium Tooling has a greater degree of flexibility than silicone tooling, in that it will support prototyping, as silicone tooling will, but it will also lend itself to pre-production and production volumes.

Silicone tooling – the Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

A cost-effective route into production for new entrants, or for those with limited production needs

Capable of facilitating short runs of products

Ideal for prototyping before committing to larger volume production

Often used for trialling and market research with consumers

Short lead times and fast order turnarounds

A variety of materials are available

Disadvantages

Lacks the resistance and durability of hard tooling, hence the term ‘silicone tooling.’

Silicone tools can only produce a very limited number of parts

Limited material choice

Once tooling has been completed, modifications to the tool are very difficult to implement

Unsustainable method with costs spiralling over time. Once the tool has worn out it will need to be replaced, which will involve more expense and potential problems with achieving part consistency

Hard Tooling – the Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

Ideal for producing higher volumes of parts over time (potentially well into the 100,000s)

Made from hard metals and so can withstand multiple production cycles

Modifications can be carried out to the tool more easily

Can achieve much stricter tolerances than silicone tooling

A single hard tooling mould can have several cavities, which will allow for multiple quantities of a part to be created at the same time

Hard tooling can withstand higher temperatures during production than silicone tooling

Although silicone tooling lends itself to many materials, options are even greater with hard tooling

Ideal for projects where manufacturers must adhere to testing requirements and function standards

Parts with rudimentary designs can be used immediately

Disadvantages

More time consuming to produce hard tooling

Costs are higher with this method of tooling

The tooling itself requires specialist precision machining and finishing capabilities

Summary

Silicone tooling is more suited to short runs for prototyping, market testing or very low volume production. It is a cost-effective option which offers favourable lead times and fast turnarounds. It is less suitable for production cycles and the tooling is less durable and long-lasting.

Hard tooling is ideal for higher volume production runs and the tooling is more resistant. Modifications can be made to the tool relatively easily, and hard tooling can achieve much stricter tolerances. However, it also involves greater upfront investment in time and money.

As with all manufacturing processes, the product designers and engineers will have to determine what the final component is to be used for before deciding which tooling route to take. These considerations will be based on the functionality, form, appearance, and volume of the part required. Cost and time considerations may also be factors.

The product owners will also have to determine what stage they are at in the product development phase and decide accordingly on the best option.

If you would like expert advice on a project which you are embarking upon, please either email us at info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0)121 550 5868, and we will be happy to assist you.

Knowledge Hub

New Product Development

What is New Product Development?

New Product Development (NPD) is the act of creating a new commodity or product for the commercial marketplace. It is essentially a series of steps that are taken from inception to roll out which see a new product designed, manufactured, and unveiled to the world.

NPD is an important activity for most companies. It is a means by which companies can stay ahead of their competitors, provide added value to their customers, and increase organic growth.

New products provide an opportunity for companies to sell more units and therefore increase revenue streams. NPD activity also allows companies to grow their market shares.

In a world where there is strong consumer demand, greater competition, and where changing digital and technological advancements are emerging all the time, it is important for companies to keep driving forward and developing their product range. Standing still in this environment will likely lead to rival companies gaining competitive advantage.

Fast-moving change has become an accepted – and expected – part of consumer culture. Customers of all types in all different industries have an expectation for companies to adapt and evolve, and for their product range to develop in a manner which reflects these rapidly changing times.

New products are designed to either solve an existing customer problem in a new or innovative way, or to enhance or move forward a similar product which is already out there in the marketplace in a much more rudimentary format.

The product development process is multi-layered and involves many internal and external stakeholders. As noted above, it involves several different steps, or stages.

Let’s look at these stages in more detail….

The Key Stages of New Product Development

Idea Generation

All new products start life in the same way – as a concept or idea. Each product is the brainchild of an individual or group of individuals.

The process usually involves a brainstorming session between product designers and product engineers. It may also include other stakeholders, such as marketing experts.

At this stage of the process, ideas are discussed and explored, with the relative merits of each being assessed before the optimum concept is identified for further development.

If done correctly, the idea generation phase should be the consequence of detailed research which has already been conducted to identify what gaps exist in the current market for NPD, and what problems any potential new product should be introduced to solve.

Research

Once the idea generation phase of the process has been completed, the Research phase begins.

By this point, a product idea will have been formed. The next step will be to further develop this idea by testing its likely suitability for the current marketplace.

To do this, research must be conducted. This research can take many different forms and can comprise either market research (where a sample of the target market is selected to answer questions on their consumer habits and tastes) or competitor analysis to determine how to potentially position this new product in relation to the competitors’ offerings.

This stage of the process also provides an opportunity to gain feedback from target consumers on what they think of your ideas before you advance too far down the road of developing your new product.

Planning

This is where the information collected in the previous stage is reviewed against the original concept, and any changes to the idea based upon the feedback provided are implemented.

At this stage in the process, the strategic goals and objectives for the product can be reviewed and finalised, and the overall concept can be refined to reflect these milestones.

The estimated product value and capacity can also be determined.

As soon as the concept has been clearly defined, the next step of the planning phase will be to source suitable manufacturing partners to help to take the project forward.

It is also where marketing professionals, either in-house or commissioned from outside of the organisation, will have to start thinking about how to successfully bring this new product to market once it is ready to launch.

Prototyping

The prototyping phase is where a physical prototype of the product is created with the help of whichever manufacturing partner/s has been chosen during the planning stage.

It is essentially a to-scale basic version of the product.

The prototype will help product designers and product engineers to understand how the product functions and looks in its true physical format.

Prototyping is a very important phase in the product development cycle. No matter how impressive the product concept might be, or how meticulous the planning, the prototyping phase will often unearth several key aspects of the design which have not necessarily been accounted for in the theoretical planning stages.

It also allows manufacturing partners to find solutions to complex manufacturing challenges before full scale production begins. It is important to go through this process so that the best solution for the manufacture of the product can be decided upon before producing the product at volume.

Consumer Testing

This is where consumers are invited to test the prototype and to provide feedback on its functionality, appearance, and positioning within the current marketplace.

The testing phase is essential in order to assess the commercial viability of the product and as a way of identifying any prototyping issues that may need to be ironed out before launch.

Often, the results of this feedback will mean that changes need to be made to the prototype to reflect consumer opinion.

It may be necessary to go back and forth between the prototype and the testing phases, making multiple changes and conducting several stages of consumer testing in order to get the final prototype absolutely right.

As soon as the prototype is produced in a form that consumers and product engineers are happy with, full-scale product development can begin.

Product Development

As soon as the prototype phase is concluded, a final cost analysis will be conducted to determine the commercial feasibility of producing the finished prototype at volume.

An original cost analysis should have been conducted before now, most likely at the research or planning stages, but a final analysis will also be needed if there have been any changes to the prototype since those preliminary calculations were made.

Providing the numbers still add up, full scale production can commence.

The production process will be carried out by the manufacturing partner identified at the planning stage. This can be the same production company who produced the prototype or a different one.

If costs prove to be prohibitive, or if a suitable prototype which meets the original objectives cannot be produced within the accepted cost parameters, the project may be abandoned.

Branding

At this stage of the process, the final product will have been produced and will be ready for the marketplace. Before it can be made available to the public, the branding of the product will need to be concluded.

This includes the development of the brand name, product slogan, packaging, price points, and the marketing message behind the product.

Marketers will also seek to position the product in the optimum space relative to its competitors. If it is a product which will be sold directly to the consumer, agreements with distributors such as retail outlets may also need to be finalised at this stage of the process.

Product Launch

This is the stage of the process where the product enters the public domain. The product development team has completed their work, and the exciting moment has arrived. It is also the phase of NPD which is known as the commercialisation phase, or the market launch.

At this stage, the product becomes available for purchase. The marketing strategy supports the sales of this new product, helping to raise awareness and create interest amongst the target demographic.

This is the stage of the process where the product takes on a new life of its own, independent of its creators and manufacturing partners.

It is also the first stage of the process where the product can start to deliver sales revenue, and a financial return can be enjoyed. This is where the company can begin to recoup some of the money invested in the product’s development, with new gains compensating for the expenditure incurred in getting the product to market.

Post-Launch Review

As with any big commercial undertaking, it is important once the work has concluded to review the process in full. This review should include each of the key players, including the product designers, product engineers and marketing specialists, to determine what was successful and what wasn’t.

In the fast-moving pace of modern business life, this is the stage of NPD which is either usually forgotten or neglected. But it is an essential element of the wider process.

NPD can be an expensive and time-consuming process. It is also central to the success of the company since the new products which are launched are crucial to achieving success for the organisation in the many months and years ahead. If mistakes have been made, it is important that these mistakes are not repeated when the next new product is launched.

Too many mistakes over a long period of time can end up harming the quality of the final output. If products are sub-standard when they are launched, or positioned incorrectly, they will not achieve the sales targets that have been set for them, resulting in reduced revenues and costly expenses. This can have a detrimental affect on company growth and performance, and can also mean that competitive advantage, as well as market share, is lost.

Identifying mistakes in the process and implementing this feedback into the product development process will ensure that future new products are given the best chance to succeed and flourish in the increasingly competitive marketplaces of the 21st century.

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What is CNC Machining?

CNC Machining

CNC is the abbreviated term for Computerised Numerical Control. This is a computerised manufacturing process in which pre-programmed software and code operates production equipment. This equipment is often complex and includes grinders, lathes and turning mills.

As a subtractive manufacturing process, a range of tools are used to cut contours and shapes into a workpiece in order to create parts. The high level of automation means that CNC machining is suitable for both prototype and low-medium volume production.

A 3D model of the design is created using CAD software and is converted into a CNC programme. The machine is then programmed using the G Code, which informs the machine of precise measurements, such as speed, feed rate and coordination. The machine then removes material from the workpiece to produce the custom-designed part.

Many different types of materials can be CNC machined, including metals, plastics, glass, and foam.

Different Types of CNC Machining

3-Axis Machining

The two main types of 3-axis machining are CNC milling and CNC turning. The chief distinction between the two is that CNC milling uses a rotating tool and CNC turning uses a rotating part.

Let’s now look at each of these methods in more detail:

CNC Milling

During CNC milling, the cutting tool is attached to a spindle and can move in three different directions: along the X, Y and Z axes. It rotates at high speed to remove material from the workpiece.

Multi-axis milling allows 4 or more axes to provide added dexterity to the operation. 5-axis machines are commonly used and can create all kinds of parts within the accepted parameters of CNC milling.

CNC milling produces a flat or sculptured shape in the workpiece. The operation is performed on a milling machine using a multi-point cutting tool, also known as a milling cutter. The cutting tool cuts intermittently during the process.

CNC milling is ideal when straightforward cutting is required. However, for more complex geometries 3-axis CNC milling can have its limitations. As there are only 3 axes, the cutting tool may not be able to interrogate every part of the workpiece.

An advantage of this particular method is that parts can be produced to high tolerances and the setup costs are low.

CNC Turning

For CNC turning, the workpiece is held in a chuck and rotated, and the tool is applied to the object piece to remove material. A stationary cutting tool is applied to the surface of the rotating bar stock, and unwanted material is removed. There can be several cutting tools used to achieve this.

Unlike with CNC milling, the tool does not rotate but moves around the workpiece radially and lengthwise. It is a highly accurate machining process which is suitable for achieving tight tolerances.

The speed of the cutting will be dependent on the type of machine, the material being used and the main features of the component.

The cutting tool remains in continuous contact with the workpiece for the duration of the process. It is performed using a single point turning tool, also known as an SPTT.

CNC turning machines are also known within the industry as lathes. The increased machining speed reduces manufacturing costs, improves lead times, and makes large volume production more viable. However, because it is only suitable for cutting cylindrical shapes, its geometries are limited. It is, therefore, more commonly used as a secondary step when an additional feature is required.

5-Axis Machining

5-Axis machining (multi-axis machining) is a versatile process which provides more options and scope to the machining process than either CNC milling or CNC turning.

5-axis refers to the number of directions in which the cutting tool can move. It moves across the X, Y and Z linear axes, and rotates on the A and B axes. This means that it can approach the workpiece from any direction, thus adding greater versatility, accessibility, and sophistication to the process.

In essence, it means that a single component can be machined at 5 angles all at the same time.

There are savings to be made in terms of cost and lead times, and it is also possible to achieve more complex geometries than those which would be achievable with 3-axis machining.

This method also produces a smoother surface finish, and the accuracy of the final parts is usually high. The process is single setup, which also reduces the amount of manual labour required.

Advantages of CNC Machining

High level of automation which reduces the need for human input

Ideal for rapid prototyping, as parts can be produced very quickly

Ease of repeatability

Cost-saving exercise for prototyping or one-off designs, as there is no need to make custom tooling

Parts produced are often highly accurate and capable of achieving tight tolerances

CNC Machining by Industry

CNC machining is used for applications across a wide variety of business sectors. It is particularly useful in industries where a high level of precision and accuracy is required. Products and components which need to pass rigorous safety tests will significantly benefit from CNC machining.

Let’s take a look at the specific applications of CNC machining in some key business areas…

Automotive – gears, pins, brakes, shafts, valves, axles, and cylinder blocks

Aerospace – manifolds, bushings, landing gear and engine components

Medical – surgical instruments, dental implants, titanium joints and orthotics

Electronics – housings, computer motherboards, breaker panels, RFI shields and electrical insulation

CNC Machining at RP Technologies

CNC Machining is an element of our services here at RP Technologies which often gets forgotten, but we do in fact have extensive experience in this area, with excellent state-of-the-art CNC machining centres, a highly competent CAD design team, and a team of vastly experienced CAM engineers.

We precision machine components in most metals and polymers to support product designers and engineers for prototyping or low volume production. Our direct machining capabilities allow for fast turnaround of components, including those which feature complex shapes and contours.

Our CNC Machining department is expanding all the time. In 2023, we employed four new CNC Programmers and also invested in our brand new state-of-the-art Hurco 5-Axis Machining Centre.

We have received a high volume of repeat custom and we have also picked up many new customers during this period of time.

By offering tooling, moulding and CNC machining under one roof, we can reduce your total project costs by providing a one stop solution without the stress of sourcing multiple suppliers.

More information about the type of CNC Machining work we are engaged in can be found on our CNC Machining page.

If you would like to make an enquiry or have a discussion with us, please email info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 121 550 5868.

Knowledge Hub

Additive Manufacturing vs Injection Moulding

In our two recent technical articles, we investigated additive manufacturing and injection moulding. We explored them as two very distinct processes which are aimed at achieving the same thing…. the creation of plastic components for prototyping or low-medium volume production.

We will now look to summarise what we have learned from our examination into additive manufacturing and injection moulding.

We will also highlight the key advantages and disadvantages of both methods.

Injection Moulding

Injection moulding refers to the manufacturing process of producing parts by injecting molten material into a mould. The material, often plastic, is injected into the mould cavity in order to create a part. Once inside the mould, the material quickly cools, and the part takes its final solid shape.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is the process of creating parts by adding layers of material. Using this process, there is no need to create a mould to produce a part. The part is made by creating a CAD file which then talks to a machine and adds material until a part is formed.

Let’s look at the key parameters of both methods, examining in more detail the specific pros and cons associated with each process.

Injection Moulding

Pros:

  • Advantageous if large volumes are required
  • Produces parts that are high in precision
  • The process allows for great ease of repeatability
  • Extensive choice of materials with different properties
  • Highly suitable for mass production
  • Generates production intent parts from the tooling, making them ideal for market testing
  • Low cost per part. This is particularly useful in circumstances where parts will need to be run off the existing tool at regular intervals over a sustained period of time
  • Greater scalability: can produce low volume prototype parts through to tens of thousands
  • Ideal process for components that require high detail
  • Parts produced often have greater strength and durability
  • More suited to larger components than additive manufacturing
  • Perfect choice for bulk production
  • Results in a better product surface finish
  • Improved functional integrity of parts, which are more visually appealing and reliable
  • Most plastic used during this process can be reground, recycled and reused

Cons:

  • Up-front capital investment in tooling can be prohibitive
  • This process can result in higher amounts of plastic waste
  • Increased project turnaround times
  • It can be challenging to change tooling to optimise or iterate new designs

Additive Manufacturing

Pros:

  • Ideal for rapid prototyping as this process allows for quick and easy production runs
  • Works well for low volume production runs
  • Ideal for complex or intricate component designs where detail is important
  • Low entry costs and reduced material costs
  • Suited to projects where the design goes through several iterations
  • Highly flexible and agile process which ensures precision of final design
  • Modifications can be made easily using 3D modelling software
  • Time and cost savings can be achieved where there is no requirement to build a tool
  • Produces less material waste
  • Parts produced may be more ergonomic
  • Reduces inventory and storage burdens as there is no tooling that needs to be housed
  • Increased digital inventory reduces carbon footprint and improves sustainability credentials
  • Manufactures directly from 3D CAD files so the location of manufacture is more flexible
  • As it is a digital process, it can be stopped post-part build or post-run, and restarted with punitive cost

Cons:

  • Suitable for small plastic parts or components, but there are limitations with larger products
  • Unsuitable for large volume production runs
  • This method doesn’t allow for printing in production intent grade material
  • Surface finishes can be problematic, often creating a ridged surface, which can be an issue when producing parts that will rub against one another
  • Despite the initial set up being quick, the overall process can be slow, as most printers can only build one item at a time, which creates a significant challenge for detailed designs

Summary

Additive manufacturing and injection moulding are two very distinct processes with a range of advantages and disadvantages associated with both methods.

Additive manufacturing is ideal for very small production runs and offers quick turnaround times. Changes to the designs can be made easily and it is a process which suits the production of relatively small components.

Injection moulding is ideal for parts of all sizes and can accommodate prototype, pre-production, and production volumes. The costs are low per part and the process allows for ease of repeatability.

Choosing the right process is dependent on the end application of the component. Knowing how the product must look and function will usually determine which process a customer chooses. Such factors might include smoothness of finish, strength and durability, and heat or pressure resistance.

Industries that are highly regulated, and in which product safety and liability is a key factor, such as the aerospace and consumer goods sectors, may also dictate which process is most suitable.

However, it is worth noting that although this article has explored these two processes in direct opposition to one another, some now argue that both practices can occupy a common ground.

Indeed, many manufacturers and product engineers now regard additive manufacturing and injection moulding as complimentary rather than competing technologies. Combining these techniques can reduce pre-production cycles and allow for better testing and manufacturing.

To Find Out More:

If you’re about to embark upon a project and would like to know more about injection moulding, please contact us at info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 121 550 5868, and we will be happy to discuss your requirements.

Knowledge Hub

What is Injection Moulding?

Injection Moulding

Injection moulding is a manufacturing process where parts are produced by injecting molten material into a mould. It can be employed to produce prototypes, or for full scale mass production volumes where high volume units of identical items are required.

Injection moulding can be carried out using several different materials, such as metals and glasses. However, for the purpose of this article, we will be focusing solely on its more commonly used material: thermoplastic polymers.

The Injection Moulding Process

The first stage of the injection moulding process is the creation of the mould tool itself. This will be made from metal, usually aluminium or steel. At RP Technologies, we mostly manufacture tooling in aluminium. There are several reasons for this. Aluminium Tooling provides greater speed of manufacture, is a more cost-effective solution, and it is more suited to low volume manufacturing. It also reduces time to market for new products.

Our tools are all made in-house by our skilled and experienced toolmaking team, who precision machine them to match the features of the product. The tool design is created, prototyped, and tested using computer aided design, or CAD.

Each mould tool has two parts: the cavity and the core. The cavity is the fixed part, and the core is the moving part. At RP, we create tools that are capable of producing parts which often have complex design features.

To test the tool, a suitable thermoplastic must be selected. Choosing the correct type of plastic for the end application is essential, in order to ensure that the final component has the right properties. Each thermoplastic has different characteristics and behaves differently when exposed to high temperatures, chemical substances and different pressures. This is due to its molecular structure.

Once the optimum plastic has been identified, the moulding process can begin. Plastic polymers, or pellets, are fed into the machine, and begin a slow passage through the barrel where they are heated until they become molten. The pellets are then injected into a clamped mould. This is known as the shot.

Once the molten plastic has been injected into the tool, the cooling process begins immediately. The tooling is heated or cooled, depending on the type of polymer being moulded, to give optimum cycle time and product quality to the moulded component.

As soon as this stage in the process has been completed, the solid plastic product can be ejected from the tool by purpose-built mechanisms known as ejector pins.

When the ejection is complete, the clamp is shut again, ready for the cycle to begin once more.

In some instances, finishing processes may be required, such as polishing or removing excess plastic.

Advantages of Injection Moulding

Ideal for projects which require high repeatability

Highly efficient process which allows for potentially hundreds of parts to be created in short cycles

Design flexibility – allows for complex components, shapes and geometries to be achieved

High levels of product consistency – essential for projects where tight tolerances are required

Enhanced strength – fillers, additives and additional moulding services such as insert moulding can make for more long-lasting products

Greater flexibility of material choices and colours

Recyclability of material – material waste can be reground, melted, recycled and reused

Injection Moulding by Industry

Injection moulded parts are everywhere. In your office and in your home. We are surrounded by plastic injection moulded components. They are produced everywhere for universal consumption.

But there are several key industries that have come to rely on the injection moulding process more so than others. Let’s take a closer look at some of these key market sectors….

Medical – High standards of quality are key for medical devices and equipment, which is what makes injection moulding such a popular choice for designers and manufacturers within this marketplace.  RP Technologies has helped bring to market many medical products, including surgical instruments, drug delivery systems, housing for monitoring apparatus, diagnostic test kits and prosthetics.

Consumer Products – The production and consumption of consumer products would not be possible without injection moulding. Toy manufacturers are particularly reliant on the process, in order that they can create identical plastic products that are safe, durable, versatile and visually appealing.

Electronics – Similar to the world of telecommunications, the electronics industry relies on the injection moulding process to produce plastic components which can house complex wiring, circuit boards and cables.

Telecommunications – The injection moulding process allows manufacturers to supply telecommunications companies with plastic housing units, attachments, adapters and other parts to facilitate the transmission of data and information through countless numbers of fibre optic cables.

Automotive – Injection moulding allows for the mass production of highly repeatable parts which are high quality, reliable and consistent. This makes it an ideal manufacturing partner for the automotive industry. If advanced automation techniques are available, the injection moulding process can also be very cost-effective. Injection moulded components also offer weight saving opportunities by utilising metal replacement polymers to reduce overall vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency.

Aerospace – The high level of product consistency associated with injection moulded components means that tight tolerances can be achieved. This is particularly important for industries such as the aerospace sector, where safety, quality and component integrity are of the utmost importance.

RP Technologies has many customers in each of the above industries, as well as in other industries. We are specialists in producing high quality parts on time and to a high standard. We have a reputation for specialising in complex component designs which many of our competitors would not be willing to produce. That is why we are the first choice for many product designers and engineers.

If you have an injection moulding project which you would like to discuss, please contact us at info@rptechnologies.co.uk, or call +44 (0) 121 550 5868, and we will be happy to assist you.

Knowledge Hub

Additive Manufacturing

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing is the process of building three-dimensional objects by adding layers of material. It is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, which involves removing material from a workpiece to create a final product.

The three-dimensional object is constructed from a CAD model, or digital 3D model. A machine is used to read the instructions provided by the CAD software in order to build the object according to the dimensions specified in the design.

The Additive Manufacturing Process

A design is created using computer aided design (CAD) software. This design is a 3D model which represents in graphical format the look and dimensions of the intended physical object.

This model is then translated into .STL format. This is a triangulated representation of a 3D CAD model.

This model is then divided into layers – a process known as slicing. This is where the 3D model is converted into a sequence of 2D layers. The slicer produces a text file which the 3D printer can read.

In the manufacturing process, the design is converted into a solid object. The machine will read the instructions sent to it by the text file to build the slice.

The file is loaded into a 3D printer. The machine is prepped, including the loading of material, and, when the machine is ready, the print is started. Through a combination of layer-by-layer deposition (FDM/FFF), laser curing (SLA) or laser fusion (SLS, SLM), the three-dimensional part is created.

The product will then undergo verification and testing. During this phase, dimensions, tolerances and geometries will be verified. Validation of the product can be carried out either by using sophisticated machinery, such as a CMM machine or 3D scanners, or through manual examination.

Once the 3D printing of the object is complete, the post-processing phase begins. This involves the removal of the object from the print bed. This can be a multi-faceted process, and, depending on the 3D printed part, it may involve the removal of support structures, sintering, or improving its visual appearance, either by sanding, polishing, painting or electroplating the final object.

The post-processing phase will be different per work object but will usually involve some level of cleaning or treatment to improve the exterior of the product.

The piece is then re-examined one last time, which may include dimensional or surface finish inspections.

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

Allows for the creation of bespoke parts with intricate shaping and complex contours

Less material wastage than with subtractive manufacturing

Digital designs can be altered quickly, making the process ideal for rapid prototyping

Shorter lead times

Smaller production runs means cost reduction for customers

Virtual inventory means there is no real requirement for warehousing and storage space

Recreating and optimising legacy parts is easier with CAD files and a printer, rather than using potentially obsolete machinery

Greater ease of assembly – components that would normally need to be assembled from various elements can be fabricated as one object. This has further cost and lead time benefits, while minimising the amount of manual labour required. This process also improves the integrity of the finished object, adding improved strength and robustness.

Types of Additive Manufacturing

There are seven main types of additive manufacturing, each with its own processes, layering and equipment.

VAT Photopolymerisation (SLA and DLP) – Also known as stereolithography. Uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin and a laser beam draws a shape in the resin, creating a layer. The production process is quick using this method, but the post-processing phase is lengthy.

Material Jetting – The print head is above the platform, and material is deposited onto the surface in the form of droplets. These droplets create a layer. The process is repeated, resulting in the building of one layer after another. This method is often used to create models or prototypes.

Binder Jetting – A powder-based material is applied to the build platform and the print head deposits the binder on top. A binder fixes the layers together. This process is repeated to create more layers until the product is finished. This method is quick and allows for customisation. Binder jetting is sometimes used to create medical and dental devices, as well as aerospace components.

Material Extrusion (FDM or FFF) – Material is drawn through a nozzle, heated, and deposited in a continuous stream. The nozzle moves horizontally while the platform moves vertically. The material is heated when it is applied so that it fuses to the previous layer, thus creating layer-upon-layer. As with binder jetting, polymers and plastics can be used, which provide strong structural support. This method is popular in the automotive sector.

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) – Powder is applied to the platform and a laser fuses the powder before a second layer is applied with a roller or a blade. There are different types of powder bed fusion, including Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). Metals and polymer powder materials are used for prototypes. Powder Bed Fusion is one of the more time-consuming types of additive manufacturing.

Sheet Lamination – Binds layers using ultrasonic welding or an adhesive. There are two main types: ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) and laminated object manufacturing (LOM). UAM uses metal bound together with ultrasonic welding, whereas LOM uses paper bound together using an adhesive. The material is placed on a cutting bed and layers are applied and bonded to that material. The shape is cut with a knife or a laser. Low cost and quick but lacks accuracy. Used for prototypes.

Directed Energy Deposition (DED) – a four or five axis arm deposits melted material around a fixed object. The material is melted by a laser and then solidifies. This method is often very accurate, but the finish achieved varies based on the type of material used.

Next, we will be looking at the injection moulding process, understanding its key principles, characteristics and processes, before examining how it differs from additive manufacturing.

Knowledge Hub

In Focus: Ejector Pins

Injection moulding is a complex, multi-faceted process. It involves several different stages, including a design phase, the building of an aluminium tool and the subsequent moulding of plastic components.

Throughout these many stages, there are various elements which contribute to the success of the overall operation. These elements are often overlooked or taken for granted, but if care is not taken to ensure that each of these details has been thoroughly considered and planned for, the overall result may be significantly compromised.

In the first of our ‘In Focus’ series, we will be highlighting the importance of ejector pins to the injection moulding process.

Let’s look in more detail at what they are, and what they do…

Ejector Pins

Ejector pins are located within a mould cavity and are used to push the finished plastic component from the mould. This allows each piece to be released so that a steady flow of automation can continue.

Also known as knockout pins, ejector pins extend and contract in a repetitive motion to force the plastic from the mould. They are typically made from steel.

When the mould is opened, the pins extend into the mould cavity and force the plastic part out. They then retract, the mould closes and refills, and the process begins again.

Each set of ejector pins is customised to match the size, shape and structure of the plastic component that they will have to eject. The location of the pins will depend upon these factors and must be given careful consideration during the design process.

Main Types of Ejector Pins

Through Hardened Pins: heat treated and durable. Often used in plastic injection moulding and can be used in temperatures up to 200 degrees.

Case Hardened Pins: also known as nitride pins. Harder than Through Hardened Pins and can be drilled or tapped. Can be used at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees.

Black or Oxidated Pins: for use at high temperatures, usually between 600-1000 degrees. Have a self-lubricating coating which is black. Often used in automotive production.

Value of Ejector Pins to the Injection Moulding Process

The introduction of ejector pins to the injection moulding process has been crucial for many reasons. They have become an integral element of the process of creating machined parts.

Key benefits:

  • Allow for automated operations
  • Enhanced production speed
  • Reduced project delivery times
  • Improved consistency in the design and quality of finished components
  • Reduced wastage

Drawbacks

As with anything, there are certain considerations to make when employing the use of ejector pins in the injection moulding process.

Here are some of the potential issues which can be encountered:

Dents/Pin Marks

When the ejector pins push the component from the cavity, they can sometimes leave an imprint on the component itself. Upon closer inspection, the component may appear to be dented, or marked. These dents can make the product less durable, and can, in cases where the impact has been too forceful, result in the product failing to stand up to scrutiny and splitting during use.

The best ways to combat this are to ensure that the locations of the ejector pins are positioned to ensure that there is equal distribution of force when the plastic is ejected from the mould cavity.

Ejector pins should always be placed in a balanced manner in relation to one another to allow for consistent pressure to be applied across the surface area of the component.

They should also be located on the even, flat parts of the component, rather than on the edges of the component.

There will need to be an even distribution of force applied to the surface area of the component. If the ejector pins are located incorrectly, the plastic component will not be cleanly ejected from the tool, which will slow down the automation process.

Consultation with a customer is sometimes necessary to ensure that ejector pins are situated in the correct place. Care should be taken to ensure that the imprint of the pins does not inhibit or undermine the final use of the product. For instance, in some cases, customers may wish to weld on one side of the component. To do this, there cannot be any indentations or visible pin marks.

Damage to the Pin

Ejector Pins can be damaged due to the required amount of pressure that is required to eject the component from the mould cavity. If too much force is required, the pin can break.

This can result in increased timescales for the completion of projects, damaged components and higher levels of waste.

The easiest way to reduce breakage is to either employ more pins or to use pins with larger diameters.

Injection moulding is a complex, multi-faceted process. It involves several different stages, including a design phase, the building of an aluminium tool and the subsequent moulding of plastic components.

Throughout these many stages, there are various elements which contribute to the success of the overall operation. These elements are often overlooked or taken for granted, but if care is not taken to ensure that each of these details has been thoroughly considered and planned for, the overall result may be significantly compromised.

In the first of our ‘In Focus’ series, we will be highlighting the importance of ejector pins to the injection moulding process.

Let’s look in more detail at what they are, and what they do…

Ejector Pins

Ejector pins are located within a mould cavity and are used to push the finished plastic component from the mould. This allows each piece to be released so that a steady flow of automation can continue.

Also known as knockout pins, ejector pins extend and contract in a repetitive motion to force the plastic from the mould. They are typically made from steel.

When the mould is opened, the pins extend into the mould cavity and force the plastic part out. They then retract, the mould closes and refills, and the process begins again.

Each set of ejector pins is customised to match the size, shape, and structure of the plastic component that they will have to eject. The location of the pins will depend upon these factors and must be given careful consideration during the design process.

Main Types of Ejector Pins

Through Hardened Pins: heat treated and durable. Often used in plastic injection moulding and can be used in temperatures up to 200 degrees.

Case Hardened Pins: also known as nitride pins. Harder than Through Hardened Pins and can be drilled or tapped. Can be used at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees.

Black or Oxidated Pins: for use at high temperatures, usually between 600-1000 degrees. Have a self-lubricating coating which is black. Often used in automotive production.

Value of Ejector Pins to the Injection Moulding Process

The introduction of ejector pins to the injection moulding process has been crucial for many reasons. They have become an integral element of the process of creating machined parts.

Key benefits:

  • Allow for automated operations
  • Enhanced production speed
  • Reduced project delivery times
  • Improved consistency in the design and quality of finished components
  • Reduced wastage

Drawbacks

As with anything, there are certain considerations to make when employing the use of ejector pins in the injection moulding process.

Here are some of the potential issues which can be encountered:

Dents/Pin Marks

When the ejector pins push the component from the cavity, they can sometimes leave an imprint on the component itself. Upon closer inspection, the component may appear to be dented, or marked. These dents can make the product less durable, and can, in cases where the impact has been too forceful, result in the product failing to stand up to scrutiny and splitting during use.

The best ways to combat this are to ensure that the locations of the ejector pins are positioned to ensure that there is equal distribution of force when the plastic is ejected from the mould cavity.

Ejector pins should always be placed in a balanced manner in relation to one another to allow for consistent pressure to be applied across the surface area of the component.

They should also be located on the even, flat parts of the component, rather than on the edges of the component.

There will need to be an even distribution of force applied to the surface area of the component. If the ejector pins are located incorrectly, the plastic component will not be cleanly ejected from the tool, which will slow down the automation process.

Consultation with a customer is sometimes necessary to ensure that ejector pins are situated in the correct place. Care should be taken to ensure that the imprint of the pins does not inhibit or undermine the final use of the product. For instance, in some cases, customers may wish to weld on one side of the component. To do this, there cannot be any indentations or visible pin marks.

Damage to the Pin

Ejector Pins can be damaged due to the required amount of pressure that is required to eject the component from the mould cavity. If too much force is required, the pin can break.

This can result in increased timescales for the completion of projects, damaged components and higher levels of waste.

The easiest way to reduce breakage is to either employ more pins or to use pins with larger diameters.

Knowledge Hub

What is Spark Erosion?

Spark Erosion

Spark erosion is a machining process where a specific shape is obtained using electrical discharges.

Material is removed by generating sparks between an electrode and the workpiece.

It is often adopted in circumstances where complex or intricate shapes need to be engineered. Often, these shapes would be too challenging to create using conventional cutting methods. It is also employed when dealing with challenging or robust materials.

Spark erosion is known in the industry by many different terms, some of which you may have heard of before. For instance, you may have heard it referred to as electrical discharge machining (EDM), spark machining, or die machining.

Regardless of what name you may know it by, spark erosion can be an invaluable part of the metal fabrication process.

Let’s look at the process itself in more detail…

The Process

Spark erosion is performed on hard metals, most commonly either on aluminium or steel.

The process involves removing material.

This is achieved by two electrodes, which are mounted on the machine. Current is discharged between the two electrodes and the process is supported by an electric voltage.

Dielectric fluid is used to ensure that electric charges do not flow through the workpiece. It helps to insulate the workpiece until discharge can occur. This fluid also acts as a coolant for the workpiece and the electrode. This is an important part of the process as temperatures can become very high.

The cutting tool moves along the object, cutting a path as it goes. At no point in the process does the cutting tool itself ever touch the surface of the metal.

Sparks move between the workpiece and the electrode, where electrical energy becomes heat, and results in the melting of the work material.

Advantages of Spark Erosion

– A fine level of detail can be achieved. This is particularly important when working on projects where tight tolerances are required
– Supports projects where complex machining is necessary
– Used for a wide range of surface finishes/textures
– Harder materials can be cut more quickly compared to conventional machining methods
– No cutting contact, so the integrity of the material is always maintained
– Highly controlled process which allows for precision and accuracy, even on softer materials
– Versatile in its applications to metal. Spark erosion can be applied to many different types of metal, as long as they have low levels of electrical conductivity
– Ideal for jobs which require the drilling of very small holes

Spark Erosion at RP Technologies

Here at RP, spark erosion is a fundamental part of what we do, and it has been used on several key projects for many of our customers. It has enabled us to create tools which meet the specific requirements of the drawing specification.

Many of our competitors do not use spark erosion. Instead, they ask their customers to change their design so that it is less complex and can be machined more easily.

These changes can be time consuming and costly.

Our “Without Limits” philosophy means that we build tools to meet the specific needs of our clients, no matter how complex the component design or process.

Sometimes, we employ spark erosion to achieve this. Indeed, it has become such an important part of what we do that we want to ensure we are as well prepared for the challenge as possible.

Consequently, we have recently promoted one of our tooling engineers, Garry Duffield, to the full-time position of EDM Engineer. After receiving three months of intensive onsite training, Garry has now also completed a three-day training course at Sodick.

Our Use of Spark Erosion

We were recently asked by a new client to help them with a new-to-market product which was designed to improve environmental sustainability in the farming and agriculture sector.

The design of the product itself was so complex that many of our competitors would not have been able to produce the parts in a manner which was faithful to the original drawings.

The features were incredibly complex, and the shaping was so intricate that it required some very high precision engineering. One of the main problems was that we were unable to cut using traditional cutting methods and machines.

We engaged in open dialogue with the client, supporting them to achieve their original vision for the product. We gave them advice and guidance and talked them through the potential solutions.

Through some further in-house discussion between our CAD designers and production engineers, we decided that the only way to maintain the integrity of the design would be to use spark erosion.

We used our own onsite Sinker EDM AD55L machine to do this. This machine features Sodick’s Linear Motor Technology. It provides rapid acceleration while ensuring optimum performance at high speeds. It also reduces distortion and improves rigidity by 70%.

This machine allowed us to overcome the complexity of the engineering requirements, achieve a fast turnaround of parts, and to ensure a smooth finish without any flaws or discrepancies.

Our client was incredibly happy with the finished components, complimenting us on our speed of delivery, final product quality, and the way in which we were able to find an ideal solution to a complex problem.

Knowledge Hub

The Quantum 4 CMM Machine

Quality Engineering is a very important part of our work here at RP Technologies. Our Quality Engineers are there to ensure that the expectations of our customers are met at all times. They closely monitor projects to ensure that the highest levels of precision and accuracy are achieved.

In recent times, we have made considerable investment in this area of our business. This investment includes employment of additional members of staff, renovation of the quality offices, and investment in high precision measuring tools and equipment.

In keeping with our desire to constantly evolve and improve our service to our clients, we have recently invested in a new state-of-the-art CMM machine to replace our existing one. This new machine will significantly enhance the quality of our work and improve operational efficiencies.

The new QCT Quantum 4 CMM machine includes a hard anodised aluminium X axis bridge and Z spindle with air bearings. The machine is fitted with high precision Renishaw digital reader heads and scales. Superior Maxon motor gearbox units are used on all drive axis. The controller is QCT ACC3000 (USB) and a high-quality joystick unit ensures full multi-axis control.

What makes the QCT Quantum 4 stand out from the crowd is its QCT Inspect 3D-PRO Software. The systems graphics engine allows for quick calculations and the construction of complex features.

It has a comprehensive set of reporting tools for ease of analysis and the tracking of precise data. Reports are exportable in Excel and PDF formats and can be shared with colleagues and customers alike. Additional features include SPC Charts, Measurement MACROs and PIPE Measurement.

 

The QCT Quantum 4 also boasts the Renishaw Probe System. This is a fully motorised indexing head designed specifically for use on CNC CMMs. It provides 720 indexing positions in 7.5 degree indexing steps in both axes. The MCR20 rack allows TP20 modules to be automatically changed during a program. This probe system comes with a PH10T probe head with TP20 module and an MCR20 rack.

Quality Engineer, Andy Potter, said: “The QCT Quantum 4 will save inspection time and increase the scope and accuracy of our measuring facility.

It will also allow us to more easily compare both tooling and product to CAD. We will be able to create programs which will run automatically, as well as generate dimensional reports directly from the measured component.

The purchase of the QCT Quantum 4 reflects RP’s sustained commitment to investing in areas where we can return added value to our customers, and where we can stay ahead of our competitors.”

This machine will also give us greater scope for introducing additional quality engineering services. Our aim is to continue to expand our quality engineering offering so that we can provide a more comprehensive suite of solutions. Watch this space for more developments…

 

Quality Engineering is a very important part of our work here at RP Technologies. Our Quality Engineers are there to ensure that the expectations of our customers are met at all times. They closely monitor projects to ensure that the highest levels of precision and accuracy are achieved.

In recent times, we have made considerable investment in this area of our business. This investment includes employment of additional members of staff, renovation of the quality offices, and investment in high precision measuring tools and equipment.

In keeping with our desire to constantly evolve and improve our service to our clients, we have recently invested in a new state-of-the-art CMM machine to replace our existing one. This new machine will significantly enhance the quality of our work and improve operational efficiencies.

The new QCT Quantum 4 CMM machine includes a hard anodised aluminium X axis bridge and Z spindle with air bearings. The machine is fitted with high precision Renishaw digital reader heads and scales. Superior Maxon motor gearbox units are used on all drive axis. The controller is QCT ACC3000 (USB) and a high-quality joystick unit ensures full multi-axis control.

What makes the QCT Quantum 4 stand out from the crowd is its QCT Inspect 3D-PRO Software. The systems graphics engine allows for quick calculations and the construction of complex features.

It has a comprehensive set of reporting tools for ease of analysis and the tracking of precise data. Reports are exportable in Excel and PDF formats and can be shared with colleagues and customers alike. Additional features include SPC Charts, Measurement MACROs and PIPE Measurement.

The QCT Quantum 4 also boasts the Renishaw Probe System. This is a fully motorised indexing head designed specifically for use on CNC CMMs. It provides 720 indexing positions in 7.5 degree indexing steps in both axes. The MCR20 rack allows TP20 modules to be automatically changed during a program. This probe system comes with a PH10T probe head with TP20 module and an MCR20 rack.

Quality Engineer, Andy Potter, said: “The QCT Quantum 4 will save inspection time and increase the scope and accuracy of our measuring facility.

It will also allow us to more easily compare both tooling and product to CAD. We will be able to create programs which will run automatically, as well as generate dimensional reports directly from the measured component.

The purchase of the QCT Quantum 4 reflects RP’s sustained commitment to investing in areas where we can return added value to our customers, and where we can stay ahead of our competitors.”

This machine will also give us greater scope for introducing additional quality engineering services. Our aim is to continue to expand our quality engineering offering so that we can provide a more comprehensive suite of solutions. Watch this space for more developments…

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