We are pleased to share the top 5 blogs of 2020 that provided customers and readers value throughout the year. Check out the topics written by our subject matter experts and be sure to subscribe to our blogfor updates.
Digital Rapid Manufacturing: Your Link To The Global Supply Chain
Digital manufacturing can help provide a robust and sustainable solution for reducing supply chain risk by linking all areas of production.
Are Legacy Vendors Invested In Your Success? If Not, You Could Be Vulnerable to Risk.
As the technologies that drive manufacturing continue to advance, processes like rapid prototyping are becoming more mainstream and in demand. To meet this demand, the vendor pool is increasing—and their platforms are evolving to make quoting projects faster and easier than ever.
This seems ideal for companies eager to bring products to market fast. Afterall, having more options to choose from can help you to secure the competitive edge.
But more isn’t better. In fact, having too many vendors to choose from can lead to analysis paralysis—or “vendor paralysis,” which can introduce elements of risk to the supply chain, business, project, and even your ability to deliver on personal goals.
Of course, this may prompt you to rely more heavily on legacy vendors. But what if they shut down due to any number of business disruptions? How will they deliver your parts? Do they have measures in place to protect your supply in any market?
Solution: Build a diverse network of trusted vendors invested in your success.
Too many options can result in “vendor paralysis.”
To help mitigate risk throughout the product development process, and to your supply chain, build a diverse network of trusted partners based in the USA. A team that functions as an extension of your business with invested interest in helping you to succeed.
Vendor Paralysis and Legacy Vendors: Elements of Risk
A key solution for mitigating risk is to diversify your vendor network. However, this is difficult to accomplish when you have too many to choose from or rely too heavily on legacy vendors.
Forbes defines analysis paralysis as the moments when someone is so overwhelmed with choices that they are unable to make a decision. Vendor paralysis can be defined in the same vein. That is, as the vendor pool continues to increase, the more difficult it becomes to choose one.
For example, indecisiveness will prevent projects from moving forward in the product development process. Which, as you can imagine, will lead to product launch delays, added costs, and missed market opportunity. Further, vendor paralysis can also result in an overreliance on legacy vendors.
3-quote Solution: Getting Quotes vs. Vetting Partners
So how can organizations solve for this indecisiveness? Based on conversations with engineers, purchasing, and sourcing, companies are requiring employees to get 3 competitive quotes for every job.
But getting 3 quotes is different than vetting 3 partners invested in your success.
Though implemented with good intentions, it is a transactional solution. One that does not require vetting a vendor’s capabilities, having conversations around them, ensuring they are accurate and meet the needs of the project.
Ultimately, instead of advancing toward a more diverse network of trusted partners, the 3-quote solution still results in relying too heavily on a select few vendors which can greatly increase risk.
We appreciate the value of legacy relationships. They are safe, comfortable, and reliable. And when faced with aggressive deadlines to bring products to market, it can feel faster and easier to rely on what you know.
There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed painful weaknesses in our supply chains. And, after 2020, it’s a lot harder to say, “that could never happen.”
Unexpected Problems & What They Mean To Your Supply Chain
Now, more than ever, it’s clear that any type of disruption can introduce elements of risk to your business: tariffs, pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, military uprisings, a death in the family, personal emergency, and human error.
The question, then, is how will your legacy vendors keep your business flowing if their business shuts down due events out of their control? Without a backup plan, how will you get your parts?
Now consider the bigger picture. If your legacy vendors cannot sustain your supply, it could result in missing the chance to bring products to market and failure to secure the competitive edge.
You could also lose your biggest customer who pays your bills, forcing you to lay off employees or close business altogether.
Diversify Your Network of Trusted Partners To Help Mitigate Risk
A diverse network of fully vetted partners can help to mitigate risk to the supply chain, keep a small business from closing, and reduce personal risk.
Further, a network of partners—truly invested in your success – can save time and money, provide higher acceptance rate on parts, provide better transparency on timelines and updates, and enable you to re-establish relationships with previous customers due to better capabilities.
To achieve success, choose US-based suppliers, don’t rely on “what’s always been done” as a litmus test. Further, insist on communication and collaboration between your internal teams and vendors.
Choose 4 USA-based Vendors Per Manufacturing Process
Vetting domestic vendors for manufacturing processes such as injection molding and 3D printing will provide advantages such as shorter logistics and real-time visibility into their manufacturing process.
Building a network that includes 4 vendors for each manufacturing process will help mitigate risk by ensuring you have a backup if there is an unexpected event.
Further, diversifying your network to include partners with different production capabilities can help add flexibility.
Choose 4 domestic vendors for each manufacturing process.
Use a New Litmus Test To Vet Vendors
When vetting new vendors, resist the urge to rely on past experiences as a measure of success. One of the critical goals of this process is to diversify your network beyond your current relationships to help mitigate risk and stimulate innovation. Otherwise you will continue on the same path.
Communication & Collaboration Between Internal Teams and Vendors
Break Down Silos To Help Reduce Mistakes
Too often, hard work by many is derailed or overlooked because of one missing piece resulting in a variety of mistakes. Promoting communication and collaboration between vendors and your internal teams can increase transparency and reduce errors.
For instance, typically internal groups (engineers, product designers, purchasing, etc.) are siloed and miss critical communications. Thereby resulting in errors such as quantity requirements, turnaround time, and invoicing.
These mistakes can prevent you from getting the parts you need when you need them. And when teams work together, simple mistakes that could otherwise lead to larger ramifications can be eliminated.
Invest time in the Partnerships
Develop genuine relationships with vendors and stay plugged in with your partner representatives.
This helps to ensure you always know if something may prevent getting accurate parts on time.
Having up-to-date information at all times from your partners will help to proactively mitigate risk and adjust internal planning versus scrambling to fix a problem.
Vendor paralysis and relying too heavily on legacy vendor relationships can make you and your business vulnerable to risk.
Building a diverse network of trusted, domestic partners that are vetted for each manufacturing specialty can help to mitigate risk to the supply chain and maintain the flow of business in any market climate.
If you would like to discuss strategies for diversifying your vendor network, please contact Xcentric. We would love to be part of your success story. Contact our Application Engineers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 586-598-4636.
Working on a project?
Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!
There are hundreds of plastic resins on the market. Each one with unique properties, advantages, and disadvantages. And, considering the importance of achieving the precise fit, form, and function for your part designs, material selection can be a bit overwhelming.
Never fear. Xcentric’s team of application engineers and material experts are here to help! We have extensive experience working with plastic resins and have a deep understanding of how the different strengths and limitations could impact your products—during and after production.
In this blog we provide details for 6 of the most common plastic resins used in the injection molding process. You can also download the Quick Guide for easy access to the bullet points, advantages, and disadvantages.
As far as plastic resins go, ABS is by far one of the most popular and versatile. It’s an affordable, highly moldable engineering plastic with mechanical and electrical properties that make it one of the most widely used thermoplastics in the world.
With ABS you get the collective benefits and properties of three monomers. It combines the strength and rigidity of acrylonitrile and styrene polymers with the toughness of polybutadiene to deliver superior hardness and toughness.
In addition, ABS provides a colorfast, high-gloss surface finish. And finally, this resin has excellent stress, impact, creep, and heat resistance properties. And, it can be heated, cooled, and re-heated without compromising its characteristics.
Common applications include small appliances, medical devices, enclosures for electronics and electronic assemblies, office equipment, and toys.
Parts molded with ABS are susceptible to forming knit lines, which are visible lines on the surface of the part. One solution is to ensure the appropriate wall thickness to help slow the resin cooling. Recommended wall thickness for ABS is 0.045 in. – 0.140 in.
Medical part molded using ABS plastic resin.
Advantages and Disadvantages of ABS Plastic Resins
Understanding the advantages and disadvantages will help you make an informed decision for your product design.
High impact resistance
High rigidity and strength
Heat and chemical resistance
Abrasion and stain resistance
Surface brightness and high-gloss finish
Maximum continuous use temperature approx. 70 °C ( 160 °F )
PC polymers are amorphous engineering thermoplastics with a toughness down to -20°C. They are naturally transparent and can transmit over 90% of light as good as glass.
Because of these properties, polycarbonate resins are often used as a light-weight alternative to glass and when high-impact resistance is a requirement.
Some applications include bullet-proof glass, medical device components, light fixtures, and green houses. In addition, PC is a natural UV filter which makes it an optimal material for eyewear.
Another feature of PC is its pliability. In fact, it can often be processed at room temperature without breaking or cracking. This property makes it a popular material for prototyping—especially when transparency is required.
Though it provides outstanding impact resistance, polycarbonate is susceptible to scratching. Therefore, for applications where this will be an issue, consider adding a scratch-resistant coating.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Polycarbonate Plastic Resins
PC is a great light-weight alternative to glass. It is a very popular, well-known plastic that offers product designers opportunities for design freedom and cosmetic enhancements.
Still, there are some disadvantages that may eliminate PC from your material selection process. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of PC to consider.
High impact strength and toughness down to -20°C
Naturally transparent. Can transmit over 90% of light as good as glass
Can be designed to 100% protection from harmful UV rays
High dimensional stability
Pliable at room temperature without breaking or cracking. Good for prototyping
Good Heat resistance and thermally stable up to 135°C
Though resistant to high impact, PC plastics are susceptible to scratching
Considered hazardous for food the release of Bishphenol A (BPA)
PC-ABS is one of the most widely used industrial-grade thermoplastics. It is a high-impact engineering polymer that combines the strength and heat-resistance of polycarbonate with the flexibility and high-quality surface finish of ABS.
In addition, PC/ABS plastic provides improved processing during the injection molding process. Product designers and engineers often choose it for functional prototyping, tooling, and low-volume manufacturing. This because PC/ABS is likely to provide stronger parts and prototypes that mimic the material properties of the final product.
Advantages and Disadvantages of PC/ABS Plastic Resins
Though PC/ABS can provide the best properties of two polymers, it is critical to understand key pros and cons to ensure it will achieve your fit, form, and function.
High impact strength even at low temperatures
Low overall shrinkage and high dimensional accuracy
Poor solvent resistance
Low dielectric strength (not a good insulator)
Low continuous service temp. (melts easily)
|Download: Quick Guide: 6 Common Plastics for Injection Molding
Polypropylene is a crystalline thermoplastic that is tough and flexible with outstanding heat and chemical resistance properties. It’s one of the cheapest plastic resins available and is used both as a plastic and a fiber in a variety of applications across industries.
For instance, PP is used in automotive manufacturing, packaging, furniture assembly, textiles, and aerospace. In addition, PP is also a successful material option for special parts like living hinges—a flexible plastic bridge that connects two hard pieces of plastic.
Polypropylene may be the cheapest option, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for achieving your fit, form, and function. For example, if your part requires impact resistance properties, consider PC/ABS instead.
Medical fluid delivery component molded with PP.
“I worked with a customer recently who wanted to use polypropylene because it was the most expensive option. But after reviewing the part, I realized it was multi-part assembly that would be at risk of being dropped. So I suggested PC/ABS instead because it will provide more structural integrity and impact resistance than PP.”
Advantages and Disadvantages of Polypropylene Plastic Resins
Polypropylene may be the cheapest option, but that doesn’t mean it is the best choice for your injection molding project. In fact, selecting the wrong material can add to your production costs in the end.
Instead, consider these pros and cons of using polypropylene before making a material selection.
High impact strength even at low temperatures
Low overall shrinkage and high dimensional accuracy
Poor solvent resistance
Low dielectric strength (not a good insulator)
Low continuous service temp. (melts easily)
Nylon is a semi-crystalline polyamide with low density and high thermal stability. Polyamides are a group of technical thermoplastics with properties that range from the hard and tough PA 66 to the soft and flexible PA 12, for example.
In generally, nylon plastic resins provide fantastic wear resistance, good coefficient of friction, and very good temperature and impact properties. Further, nylon also provides chemical resistance and has proven to be a good oil resistant plastic.
This balance of properties make nylon a good candidate for metal replacement in some applications that require toughness and weight reduction. For instance, automotive parts and industrial components.
Nylon absorbs water. So if your part will be exposed to moisture, nylon may not be the ideal plastic because it could damage the dimensional and structural integrity.
Nylon is easy to process and can be a cost-effective solution for your injection molding project. Like all of the plastic resins on our list, it’s important to understand how the properties will impact your design intent.
Excellent abrasion & wear resistance
High tensile and compressive strength
Low coefficient of friction.
Lightweight option that’s 1/7th the weight of conventional materials
POM, also known as acetal, is a naturally white semi-crystalline engineering thermoplastic and is characterized by its high rigidity to −40 °C. It is used in the injection molding process to produce parts that require high precision, stiffness, and low friction. It has excellent dimensional stability and resistance to abrasion, heat, water absorption, and creep.
Because of its low coefficient of friction, POM is good material choice for producing high-performance engineering components, medical equipment, and electrical housings. By nature, POM is a slippery material, which makes it a good fit for products that require sliding mechanisms and gears.
It is important to note that POM has a very high shrink rate of about 2%.
If you are designing parts that have large variations in wall thicknesses, POM can be dimensionally unstable. Large parts molded with POM are more likely to experience warping than smaller parts. Therefore, consider adding fillets or strengthening ribs.
Advantages and Disadvantages of POM Plastic Resins
POM is one of the most common plastics used in the injection molding process. Here are some advantages and disadvantages to help determine whether POM is right for your achieving your design intent.
Rigidity to -40C
High resistance to impact, creep, abrasion, and solvent
Good fatigue endurance and low coefficient of friction
High shrinkage of about 2%
Very poor resistance to UV radiation
Poor resistance to acids/alkalies
Burns easily, is not available with flame retardants
Supply Chain: More Sustainable and Agile After COVID-19
COVID-19 put a kink in the global supply chain. And it exposed weaknesses with the power to halt the flow of business. Now, as the world takes steps to define a new business-as-usual post-pandemic, manufacturers are rethinking their supply chain.
As a result, instead of relying on overseas suppliers, companies are exploring opportunities to create a more robust and sustainable supply chain closer to home. One with the flexibility to meet changing production needs, and the accessibility to do so with greater reliability.
Now, manufacturers must begin the process for establishing a more resilient supply chain that can endure the unexpected and continue to thrive during times of uncertainty.
To build such a supply chain, a manufacturer’s plan should include three essential components:
Improve supply chain visibility
Partner with suppliers that can quickly scale production
Prepare an action plan for transforming to a more digital ecosystem
Gain Real-time Supply Chain Visibility
Real-time visibility is one of the most sought-after ideals for optimizing the flow of goods and services. For one, it enables supply chain managers to track products from the source of raw materials to the final destination. Also, it empowers companies to seamlessly adapt to disruptions and serve customers with greater confidence.
For example, Forbespublished a recent Oxford Economics survey of 1,000 supply chain executives. It found that 49% of Supply Chain Leaders can capture real-time data insights and act on them immediately. 51% use AI and predictive analytics to capture insights. This enables Supply Chain Leaders to react in real time to changing conditions. From widescale disruptions to individual customer complaints.
Of course, achieving this degree of end-to-end visibility has always been a challenge—long before COVID-19. Now, faced with the reality of critical vulnerabilities brought to light by the pandemic, learning how to restructure relationships with suppliers will help companies to better understand the impact of disruptions and react accordingly.
Build A Transparent Supply Network: Top 3 Tactics
Whether you opt to reshore or rely on overseas suppliers, approaching venders as part of a supply network rather than a chain can help to increase visibility. Networking will help to build collaborative, transparent relationships to facilitate proactive decision-making.
Therefore, to help increase visibility with your suppliers, consider these three tactics:
Understand the pain points of your customers, internal teams, and suppliers. Prepare a process for gathering pain points that impact your customers, internal teams, and suppliers. For example, set a cadence for distributing a quarterly survey to establish an open line of communications. By understanding specific pain points, you can react quicker and more effectively to mitigate risk to your supply chain.
Invest in technology and systems to optimize communications and provide easy access to critical assets. COVID-19 served as a catalyst for many businesses to rethink their supply chain and relationships with suppliers. For example, optimize methods for communicating critical assets and intel between suppliers, internal teams, and critical stakeholders. Invest in technology and systems to create greater transparency and make it easier to communicate essential information.
Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for success. Define terms and conditions of a successful vendor relationship. First, identify key suppliers. Then, set clear KPIs to enable real-time tracking of inventory, services, and production capabilities. Measure them on a regular basis. This will provide a more transparent view of suppliers’ flexibility to scale production as needed.
Partner With Suppliers That Can Quickly Scale Production
Headlines announcing crisis-level disruption to the heart of electronics manufacturing in China due to the Coronavirus surfaced on CNBC as early as February. Leaders in the industry explained that many consumer goods manufacturers in the U.S. could miss holiday deadlines. Because with factories closed in China, they could not manufacture prototypes, complete testing, or ramp up to full production. As a result, the pandemic created a great deal of market uncertainty that individuals and industries are still struggling to navigate.
For example, many consumers are already experiencing decreased disposable income. Which makes it difficult for consumer goods and electronics manufacturers to predict with confidence production volumes needed to meet the upcoming holiday season.
Need help optimizing your design for injection molding? Contact Xcentric’s consultants. We’re here to help!
Therefore, manufacturers must consider suppliers that can quickly scale production as market demands change.
Minimize costs with a flexible production model
Choose suppliers who can help minimize initial costs with an economical, flexible production model. This can help get back on schedule for the holiday season while minimizing the risk of uncertain demand. Look for suppliers who have the ability to quickly ramp up if demand surges and support lower volumes at price points that don’t damage profits if demand does not return to normal.
For example, consider Xcentric, a leading rapid manufacturer in the U.S. We provide first parts within a few short weeks and can quickly scale up to supply hundreds of thousands of parts per year. We can also bridge the gap to millions of parts per year to help mitigate risk.
Digitize Your Supply Network
Digitizing your supply chain and transitioning from a traditional, enterprise-focused operating model to a digital ecosystem is a major initiative. It will require substantial investment and restrucutring of your organization. We are including it, because the potential benefits to your supply chain merit sharing the information.
Managing a multi-tiered supply chain will always present a challenge. Still, in a world that runs on technology, preparing an action plan for creating a digital ecosystem and digitizing your supply network can help to build a more robust supply chain.
A traditional business operating system (BOS) functions at the enterprise level. It is a hardwired business model of processes and methods of communication. Alternatively, a network BOS is fully digital. Agile and flexible, it provides an optimized, fully accessible digital ecosystem.
Webinar Replay: Plastic Injection Molding Parts Clinic
Join Xcentric injection molding experts John Sidorowicz and Glen Miller to see common design mistakes and learn how to avoid them in your own part design.
A digital ecosystem uses technology to connect your supply chain. Suppliers, customers, stakeholders, internal teams, applications, third-party data providers, and digital assets. All connected via a network-based system to ensure your supply chain function in any global climate.
Digitizing your supply network helps to create a more resilient supply chain by:
Optimizing all members of the ecosystem with real-time visibility and flexibility to connect with all suppliers on the network
Providing a single point-of-contact and version of the truth; everyone connected has access to the same information
COVID-19 revealed a shockingly fragile global economy. And, it served as a catalyst for many businesses to rethink their supply chain. The unexpected disruption impacted businesses of all sizes in nearly every industry and country. In fact, Fortunereported that 94% of Fortune 1000 companies felt the disruption caused by the Coronavirus.  Conversely, the pandemic also showed us how quickly we can adapt to a virtual environment.
Go beyond COVID-19 with a more resilient supply chain. One that can sustain unexpected disruption and thrive in uncertainty. Consider implementing these tactics:
Increase real-time visibility into your supply chain. Take time to understand pain points of your customers, internal team, and suppliers
Set KPIs you can measure on a regular basis
Invest in technology to optimize communications and provide easy access to critical assets
Partner with suppliers that can quickly scale production. A flexible, agile supply chain will respond quickly to fluctuations in market demand
Digitize your supplier network. Create a digital ecosystem that connects customers, suppliers, and critical stakeholders
Designing Plastic Parts For Injection Molding? Run Mold Flow Analysis Before Cutting The Mold
Mold flow analysis is not required for the injection molding process. But maybe it should be, especially considering it can help to predict manufacturing issues before production starts.
Mold flow analysis software* simulates an injection molding cycle using a specific plastic and part design. It evaluates the design for manufacturability before cutting the mold. This allows designers to identify design flaws that would otherwise result in expensive redesign and time delays.
This post will explore the basics of mold flow software, identify how it helps to optimize the injection molding process, and look at sample data generated by the analysis.
First, let’s briefly review three key components that are critical to the injection molding process: design, mold, and material.
Injection Molding Manufacturing
Injection molding is the most widely used method for mass-producing plastic parts. It’s economical, efficient, and can produce simple to complex parts with low waste. For details about the 6 stages included in the process, visit Xcentric’s injection molding process page.
The injection molding process requires a mold, or tool, to produce plastic parts. Mold design engineers design a custom injection mold and then expert mold makers build the mold for production.
Even if the mold is designed and built to exact specifications of the part, issues could still arise during the injection molding process if the part itself isn’t optimized for injection molding or if gate locations aren’t placed in optimal positions for material flow. For example, the plastic may not completely fill the mold cavities resulting in voids, or part defects. Mold flow analysis helps to determine how a given plastic will perform in the mold.
The “plastic” in plastic injection molding
Not all plastics flow, heat, or cool the same. In fact, there are more than 85K polymers to choose from when designing for plastic injection molding. The vast polymer options can make material selection a challenge.
Mold flow analysis enables designers to evaluate the material for variables such as material shrink rate, cooling properties, ability to fill cavities, and potential for aesthetic flaws.
Mold flow analysis: optimize the injection molding process
Mitigate risk before production begins
Mold flow analysis helps to mitigate risk and create a successful mold from the start. It helps designers to:
correct potential cosmetic and structural problems
determine the appropriate wall thickness
troubleshoot potential problem areas of the mold
identify optimal gate locations
adjust for ample corner radius
create even and clean edges
identify the best material for the desired outcome
create a successful mold from the start
Need help optimizing your design for injection molding? Contact Xcentric’s consultants. We’re here to help!
The analysis generates color-coded reports to illustrate how the plastic would perform in the mold. Reports include Fiber Orientation, Average Temperature, Knit Lines, Air Traps, Confidence of Fill, Sink and Warp, and Fill Time Result.
We’ll examine elements of two reports: Fill Time Result and Confidence of Fill.
Fill Time Result
The Fill Time Result report presents the position of the flow front at regular intervals as the mold cavity fills. A balanced flow of plastic pattern indicates the plastic part has a good fill time.
The report provides the result in a color-coded diagram. For example, note the contrast between diagram 1, a good fill time, and diagram 2, poor fill time.
How to read the results
The designer evaluates the image for flow paths that finish and reach the edges at the same time. Evenly spaced contours indicate the speed at which the plastic is flowing. Widely spaced contours indicate rapid flow; narrow contours indicate the part is filling slowly.
Things to look for
The Fill Time Result report provides insight into the following:
Short shot: A part is short shot when the flow of plastic does not completely fill the mold cavity, thereby resulting in an incomplete part
Hesitation: Hesitation occurs when the flow of plastic stops or slows down resulting in asymmetrical and unpredictable flow patterns
Overpacking: The result of one flow path finishing before others. Overpacking can result in high part weight, warp, and non-uniform density distribution
Weld lines: Also known as knit lines, these are molding defects that occur when two flow fronts meet without the ability to “weld”
Air traps: A bubble of air trapped when plastic flow fronts coincide. Air traps can cause structural and visual defects
Racetrack effect: Occurs when the flow races through the thick areas of a mold cavity before the thin sections have filled
Mold Flow Analysis Guide
Download our guide to help interpret results generated by mold flow analysis.
Confidence of Fill Result report addresses the probability of the plastic filling the mold cavity.
The colors displayed in the Confidence of Fill indicate:
All green: Plastic fills the part easily and the part quality will likely be acceptable.
Some yellow: The part can be difficult to mold, or quality is probably not acceptable. As the percentage of yellow increases, the difficulty in molding the part increases, and the part quality decreases.
Some yellow and red: The part is difficult to fill, or quality is probably unacceptable. As the percentages of yellow and red increase, the difficulty in molding the part increase, and the part quality decreases.
Any translucent: The part cannot be molded because a short shot will occur.
Results help to determine the probability of molding a quality part
One way to use the results to determine whether you can mold a quality part is to consider how much of each color is displayed. The results could indicate a need to:
change the design to better balance flow paths
choose a different injection location to ensure the part is completely filled
re-evaluate the material selection
change the processing conditions
Mold flow analysis: optimize the design before cutting the mold
An accurate mold is critical to producing high-quality, repeatable plastic parts. Mold flow analysis software can help to optimize the process before cutting the mold.
Xcentric is a trusted partner for injection molding solutions. Contactour team to discuss design challenges and upcoming projects.
*Moldflow, owned by Autodesk, produces simulation software for high-end plastic injection molding. All information and diagrams for Fill Time Results and Confidence of Fill in this blog courtesy of Autodesk.
Design Optimization: Increasing Performance Through Substituting High-Performance Plastics For Metal
High-performance plastics may allow reduction in weight and cost while maintaining mechanical performance
Part count reduction may further reduce weight and simplify designs
Elimination of secondary operations saves time and expense
Production cost and production rate improvements with injection molding
The cost of prototyping and tooling for injection molding is not prohibitive
Progress often dictates reevaluating fundamental decisions
Design and manufacturing professionals are constantly challenged to improve the performance of their products, whether it be reduction in fuel or energy consumption in transportation applications, comfort in wearable devices, or the efficacy of medical equipment and medical devices.
In the ongoing reevaluation of what can be done to improve product performance, one of the most fundamental questions to ask is, “are we using the optimal material for this application”?
This is no simple matter since in many instances, entire factories and their related supply chains are literally tied to the material selection of a core component. Think of cast aluminum induction components for internal combustion engines for example. However, to improve functional and financial performance in a meaningful way, material choice must frequently be reevaluated objectively.
Material substitutions require careful reflection
Considering the implications of substituting a new material for a product or sub-component noted above, the threshold for an acceptable benefit to cost ratio must be high. In some applications, the reward is obvious: saving a few kilos in a race car means winning or losing, reducing the time to assemble a product might make it commercially viable or a no-go, improving the ability to sterilize a medical device could accelerate adoption. In marginal cases, the math becomes more difficult, putting pressure on designers to seek fractional performance gains wherever they can be found. In many important cases these gains are found in substituting older metal designs for high-performance plastics.
High-performance plastics have many advantages
Although high-performance plastics are no substitution for metal alloys for many applications, there are countless applications where metals cannot perform the role of a polymer. It is between these two spaces where either a polymer or metal could perform the desired functions at an acceptable manufacturing cost in commercially meaningful volumes. So, when one looks to achieve a high benefit, cost outcome by transitioning from metal to plastic components, where does one start?
Evaluate a simple material substitution of the component design – Can a meaningful improvement be achieved with an engineering-grade polymer with essentially the same physical / geometrical design? This is not often the case due to the much different mechanical properties between metals and high-performance plastics, but it may happen where the initial metal design was far from optimal, making a substitution of a lighter and less expensive-to-manufacture plastic component possible.
Evaluate a redesign that takes the advantages of molded plastics into account – Plastic injection-molded components can be very complex at high production rates and low per part costs once the injection molding process has been proven out. This allows the designer to consider reducing part count in assemblies by combining functions into a single component. This saves weight, production time, additional project logistics, and ultimately cost. Additionally, molded polymers can incorporate aesthetics via more complex organic shapes and molded-in colors that again reduce secondary operations. Finally, the wide spectrum of mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of polymers opens many new avenues for clever design not possible with metals.
Evaluate combining the best of both worlds – Polymer components with overmolded inserts can combine the benefits noted above from the use of injection molding and those of metal features in certain critical areas such as threads, embedded wiring, metal tubing for fluid or gas lines, heat dissipation features, or aesthetic elements.
Once the rudimentary analysis suggested above is done, the detailed work starts. From the design perspective, the full analysis of the static and dynamic performance of the component under the foreseen environmental conditions must be simulated, tested, and validated. In parallel, the manufacturing team must plan the component substitution, estimate tooling, training, and production validation timelines and capital and operating costs. Ultimately, the commercial team will merge the data from the design and manufacturing teams to generate an expected return on investment (ROI) for the substitution, essentially the mathematical calculation of the benefit: cost ratio.
Companies frequently substitute high-performance plastics for metal
Just think about the many products that were once metal that have been replaced by a superior injection-molded plastic component: consumer products, medical devices, sporting goods, and automotive components, all have excellent examples of significant improvement through substituting high-performance plastics for metal. However, there are far more untapped applications that may seem mundane, where the real potential still lies, and the cost of conversion is far lower.
For example, we have helped clients in the electrical industry convert sheet metal assemblies with multiple fasteners and manual assembly, to sculpted single components that do not require assembly, painting, or electrical insulation.
The direct per component cost is lower, assembly time is shorter, and the entire manufacturing logistics chain is simplified, all while delivering a superior end product. This is the power of high-performance plastics.
Actually, incredibly often. Just think about the many products that were once metal that have been replaced by a superior injection-molded plastic component: consumer products, medical devices, sporting goods, and automotive components, all have excellent examples of significant improvement through substituting high-performance plastics for metal. However, there are far more untapped applications that may seem mundane, where the real potential still lies, and the cost of conversion is far lower.
For example, we have helped clients in the electrical industry convert sheet metal assemblies with multiple fasteners and manual assembly, to sculpted single components that do not require assembly, painting, or electrical insulation. The direct per component cost is lower, assembly time is shorter, and the entire manufacturing logistics chain is simplified, all while delivering a superior end product. This is the power of high-performance plastics.
Injection molding tools, especially for prototypes and short run production, can be very cost effective
Returning to the benefit: cost calculation, the amortization of tooling costs is a big factor in the denominator of the equation. Even if these costs are capitalized, it is still a cash outlay that must be factored in to project planning when comparing machined, cast, metal injection molded (MIM), or stamped metal parts (to name a few of the most common processes). For high volume production, the impact of a polymer solution can be dramatic, but even for low volumes due to advanced mold making and molding processes, like those employed at Xcentric, the costs to switch to a plastic component can start to pay off quickly.
Firstly, Xcentric tooling costs a fraction of that of hardened steel tools and are producing end product literally in a matter of days for simpler projects, and two to three weeks for very complex products. This accelerates cash generation for the customer and gives early feedback about the viability of the substitute component. If additional iterations are needed for testing or validation, the lower difficulty of making modifications to the prototype tooling and process parameter changes keep costs under control and the project on track (for more information on project timelines in injection molding click here). When these factors are combined with the direct and indirect manufacturing gains and end use enhancements, injection molding tools are well worth the investment.
Summary: Substituting high-performance plastics for metals can really pay off
Whether it be increasing the performance of the latest sporting equipment, or making the new kitchen appliance more attractive, or reducing the cost and weight of an aircraft interior component, plastic injection molding has proven endless times that it is a viable substitute for metal in very demanding applications. So, the next time you and your team is considering methods of improving the performance of your products, consider every area where a plastic component might bring a performance or economic advantage. You may be surprised that the benefit to cost works out very well indeed.