What Every Product Manufacturer Should Know About Plastic Injection Molding

Injection mold tooling and part production can challenge even the most experienced product manufacturers. In some circumstances, product designers may have minimal experience working with plastics or be managing a design that requires advanced consultation.

It’s important to understand that ultimately, the goal that you and your injection molder should strive to achieve is an optimized mold for the type of plastic, part geometry and finish, desired cycle time, production volume and, of course, highest level of cost effectiveness.

Where do you begin with so many variables? These are the important aspects every product manufacturer should know about plastic injection molding.

The Process:

Plastic injection molding is one of the oldest methods of manufacturing plastics and a critical step in the development of parts for product manufacturers. It’s also a great solution for manufacturers looking to convert heavy metal parts to plastic. Explained in its simplest form, the process uses polymers or plastic resins that when heated, melted and injected under high pressure into a custom mold, will produce plastic parts to be utilized in product manufacturing.

While that process seems straightforward, it can actually be quite complex and requires a high level of experience from an injection molder partner that can cater to your unique industry needs, specifications, end-uses and time / budget constraints. The best place to start is by gaining basic knowledge of the plastic molding process.

Pricing Factors:

Injection molding is one of the most commonly used methods of manufacturing plastic parts because it can be done at a reasonable price and with the use of a large variety of materials. This oftentimes fully-automated process can produce a high rate of output that is typically more budget-friendly than alternative production options. 

Mold Price Factors 

  • Design Strategy: Have a strong understanding of your part’s end use and the requirements for volume, complexity, tolerances, surface finish, gating and molding material will allow your injection molder partner to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective solution for you.
  • Mold Size: It’s a given that larger parts will require a larger mold and generally increase cost. However, there are ways to optimize mold and part design to help reduce cost. An additional consideration is when a part’s material feed system is properly sized, the cost of the injection molded part may be reduced.
  • Offshore vs. Onshore: There are some common misconceptions regarding offshore mold production and cost savings. Oftentimes, offshore mold production does not reduce time or mold / part cost in the long run.

Not only are molds made in the U.S. generally higher quality, sometimes governmental regulations require that tooling be designed and built in the U.S.

In the case where you have a challenging mold build, working with a reputable injection molder in which you can establish a trusting relationship, will save you time and money over the life of the mold and part production. Challenging builds may include multiple cavities, moveable mold components, thin walls, complex textures, gating restrictions, tight tolerances and more.

Part Price Factors

  • Part size: Part size is a factor with larger parts resulting in a greater material cost.
  • Part design: Complex part designs result in an increased tool cost. Working with a knowledgeable design engineer to simplifying part design can lower the cost of the tool. A mold that is well-designed ultimately has lower residual costs over time in addition to lower part reject rates.
  • Material selection: There are many factors that can affect the cost of your material selection. Does the part need to withstand pressure, weight, temperature variations or elements / chemicals? Do any regulatory requirements apply? High performing and specialty resins come with a higher cost. Certain characteristics of your resin can also increase the maintenance cost of your mold.
  • Part tolerance: Parts designed with tight tolerances will require more intricate manufacturing steps which may can increase manufacturing and tool maintenance costs.
  • Volume: It’s obvious that the higher your annual volume, the higher overall cost is for part production. However, it’s important to also consider volume not only in the number of parts, but also hours of production. Parts that will be run at a higher volume, need high quality tools with possibly a higher number of cavities. That said, cost per part typically goes down as volume goes up.
  • Cycle time: Cycle time is another example of where well designed tooling and part cost go hand in hand. Fast machine cycles during the production process require well-designed tooling and a high precision build for a part to cool uniformly throughout the cavity impression.
  • Gate location: Proper gate location is a critical component to part quality. Parts that require design techniques where gates are not at the side of the part may increase tool cost.

Industry Jargon:

Plastic injection molding continues to evolve with advances in technology and resin science. Many important decisions regarding tool build, materials, maintenance and production happens during the communication process between you and your injection molder. Each party should have a strong understanding of short-term and long-term expectations which should be shared early in the design / development process.

Like any profession, no plastic injection molder is the same. While there are certain terms, keywords and phrases with implied meaning, it is helpful to have an understanding of the terminology that will be used throughout the completion of your project.

Early Design Consultation: 

Choosing an experienced injection molder that provides design consultation is one of the most important factors in your production process. Designing a plastic part for manufacturability involves many important facets that touch on all areas of part design, tooling, material selection and production. First, it is essential to build parts around functional needs by keeping design intent or the end use in mind. Consider weight reductions, the elimination of fabrication and assembly steps, improving structural components, reducing costs and getting products to market quicker.

In addition to early design consultation, working with a partner that provides the latest technology in mold flow analysis can save significant time and budget dollars. Mold flow software can be used to evaluate the design to make sure it will produce the most consistent and highest quality parts from each cavity of the tool. A virtual model of the mold is created and, using the known data and characteristics of the chosen material, the software can predict how the material will flow into the mold and its cavities. Different data points can be assessed, including pressure, fill time and melt temperature. Doing so allows for optimization of the process before tool production ever begins.  

The information provided above offers direction and recommendations for understanding the important aspects of injection molding prior to beginning your production process. Regardless of the elements you think your project requires, it is always vital to start with a thorough consultation to evaluate what will work best for your product, budget and timeline.

Injection molding is a complex process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Nicolet Plastics is here to help. Contact our knowledgeable design engineers, tooling and production experts to help you get started on your next project.

Fundamentals of Injection Molded Part Surface Finish

Surface finish options for plastic injection molded parts can vary a great deal depending on the part and its chemical make-up. Determining the best surface finish for a part requires communication between your design engineer and injection molder to achieve the desired appearance and performance of the finished part. The surface finish can be a critical factor in either the appearance or performance of your product. Will the finish play a role in creating a more attractive part – or will it simply act as a functional component of the design?

The answer to this question will give the necessary direction in determining the injection molding process to be used as well as any steps in the finishing process that will be required for your part.

Consider these key fundamentals when selecting a surface finish for your injection molded part.

Visual Appeal vs. Functionality

Part designers may choose texture for several aesthetic reasons. Texture can give a part the appearance of depth and a finished look that will grab the attention of customers. In some cases, it may even improve a part’s perceived value.

Textured finishes are valuable because they can be used to hide imperfections such as flow lines, knit lines, blush marks, sinks, and shadow marks. Another great factor is that texture can also provide a surface that may withstand contact damage in shipping and fingerprint smudges from handling.

Beyond the simple aesthetic considerations of texture, it also has a number of functional benefits that include:

  • Using texture to make undercuts. If you have a part that will not consistently come across to the moving half of the mold, texture on some hidden surfaces could give the pull you need.
  • Improved paint adhesion. Paint holds more firmly to a textured part during additional molding operations.
  • Improved grip. Textured parts are easier to hold. This improves usability and can increase safety in certain applications.
  • Better sticker adhesion. Like paint, stickers applied to plastic parts are more likely to stay affixed if the surface has a slight texture.
  • Trapped gasses escape more quickly. When texturing is applied, trapped gasses have the opportunity to escape quickly because venting to parting lines can happen within the cavity.
  • Plastic flow creases can be eliminated. These creases can be eliminated through the addition of textured thickness that also adds strength, non-slip qualities and even adds an increased safety measure.

Working with an experienced injection molder will provide you with the information needed to make the best decision on the right surface finish for your process parameters. Considering the surface finish will impact the type of material used, tooling and other process decisions, it is very important to determine the surface finish as early as possible during the design stage.

Surface Finish Options

There are many more surface finish options available working with a steel mold compared to working with an aluminum mold. Steel can be polished to create a smoother surface finish for your parts. The many options for plastic part surface finishes include:

  • Bead blast
  • Etching
  • Matte finish
  • Leather grains
  • Geometric
  • Graphics
  • Many more

Material Selection

Surface finish should be considered early in the design process because the type of material used can have a significant impact on the type of finish implemented to create the best part for your product. Specifically, gloss and rough finishes can be affected by the material selected, additives, and other parameters such as fill rate, pressure and temperature. In addition, working with an injection molder that utilizes mold flow simulation software will allow you to explore how a material choice will affect surface finish and possible defects prior to the production process.

In the case where a gloss finish is used, material type is especially important. Higher melt temperatures are required for products made from crystalline resins which increase gloss and reduce roughness – creating the smooth surface desired.

A strong knowledge of material science is required when considering additive compounds be mixed into the part material. Depending on the surface finish desired, some additives should be avoided (or substitutes considered). For example, adding certain particulate fillers may increase surface roughness. However, design engineers will have a strong understanding of what can be mixed and matched to create the right combination that produces a surface quality that enhances your part.

Injection Speed & Temperature

Injection speed and temperature affect surface finish for a few reasons. When you combine fast injection speeds with higher melt or mold temperatures, the outcome will be enhanced gloss or smoothness of the part’s surface. In actuality, a fast injection speed improves overall gloss and smoothness. Additionally, quick filling of a mold cavity can produce less visible weld lines and a strong aesthetic quality for your part.

Deciding a part’s surface finish is an integral consideration in the overall product development and should be thought out during the design process to achieve the desired results. Have you considered the end use of your injection molded part?

Let Nicolet Plastics help you decide on a surface finish that improves the aesthetics and functionality of your part.

 

 

Nicolet Plastics Named an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company in America

Each year, Inc. recognizes the fastest growing private companies in America. Companies that made this year’s list grew (on average), six-fold since 2013 which is an incredible accomplishment considering the economy grew just 6.7 percent in that time.

2017 marks the fourth time Nicolet Plastics has been included on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company in America lists.

“Of the tens of thousands of companies that have applied to the Inc. 5000 over the years, only a fraction have made the list more than once,” said Eric Schurenberg, President & Editor in Chief of Inc. Media. “ A mere one in ten have made the list four times.”

Inc. 5000 represents not only the fastest-growing private companies in America, but companies that create jobs, value and innovative solutions. View the full list here.

6 Considerations Before Choosing a Plastic Injection Molding Part Manufacturer

Plastic Injection MoldingThe manufacturing process can be a complicated one and there are many factors to consider when choosing a plastic injection molding partner that best suits your industry, unique products and production requirements. First and foremost, the best place to start is by gaining basic knowledge of the plastic molding process. Explained in its simplest form, the process uses polymers or plastic resins that when heated, melted and injected under high pressure into a custom mold, will produce plastic parts to be utilized in product manufacturing. While that process seems straightforward, many manufacturers need an injection molder partner that can produce highly complex parts and caters to their unique industry needs, specifications, end-uses and time / budget constraints.

These are the key factors any product manufacturer should consider when choosing a plastic injection molder:

1. Volume Specialization & Capacity:

With over 16,000 injection molders in the U.S., selecting the best molder for your part can seem overwhelming. The best place to start is by narrowing down your options based on your volume and size requirements. Low to moderate volume molders specialize in the production of parts under 10,000 units. Selecting a low to moderate volume molder may be an ideal choice if you need to quickly produce a prototype to test a part.

In addition, low to moderate volume molders are perfect for applications that don’t require hundreds of thousands of parts (such as medical devices, aerospace, agriculture and more), or bridge tooling (tooling that bridges the gap between small production runs for market testing and full-production tooling).

High volume molders specialize in jobs requiring over 750,000 parts and typically produce parts requiring small-sized molds.

2. Compliance with Specifications:

Having to compromise puts product manufacturers in a challenging situation. Regardless of the details involved, there is likely a company that can produce your part without specification sacrifices. Injection molder partners should be able to make strong recommendations based on the specifications you require without having to make significant compromises.

Recommendations should stem from the injection molder’s experience, expertise and knowledge of the latest technologies. Specification changes may include minor design tweaks, alternative resin suggestions, and other ways you can save time and money during the design, development and production process.

3. Expanded Services & Technology:

Not all injection molders offer expanded services or the technology needed to help design parts for manufacturability. Working with a molder who offers prototyping, part design services, quick response manufacturing, in-depth mold flow analysis and more – in addition to their traditional service offerings – will help you create valuable cost and timing efficiencies in regard to getting your product to market.

An important factor to note is that the greatest efficiencies with overall project time and budget happen early in the development cycle – specifically the design process. That’s why it is critical to choose an injection molder that can become involved early in the design process, understand your objectives and can predict production issues before they occur. 

4. Quality & Efficiency:

In addition to complying with your specifications, your injection molder partner should be established and committed to providing the best service possible. Answering these questions will help provide the necessary insight for you and your team to select an injection molder that best suits your company’s needs:

  • Do they own high quality and efficient machines that work well?
  • Have they been recognized in the industry as a manufacturer of status or has the company won awards for performance?
  • Do they focus on the elimination of dysfunctional variability, such as organizational issues that can cause rework?
  • Do they offer a robust mold maintenance program?
  • Is project management software used to ensure the highest level of communication and efficiency throughout every step of the part design and development process?
  • Do your parts need to pass strict inspections or meet high safety and quality standards?
  • Is your injection molder ISO certified?

5. Product Application:

The intended use for your part or product application is critical as should be kept top of mind throughout every step of the design, development and production process. Plastics are an amazing material that can be used for many applications. While there are some circumstances that plastics cannot provide the required strength or tensile stress needed, there are many circumstances that metal parts can actually be converted to plastic to minimize weight and cost. Injection molders should consider a part’s end use to make the best recommendations in regard to design, material and production techniques.

6. Time:

Building a mold for a plastic injection molded part can range from 4-12 weeks. All representatives involved in the process should factor design revisions, part complexity, communication between designers, engineers and other individuals involved in the process, as well as account for unexpected events like shipping delays, etc. It’s always best to communicate your time constraints with an injection molder partner as early as possible to gauge their capacity and ensure you get the final production parts in hand on time.

If you’re like most product manufacturers, you have unique and specific needs. It is crucial to the success of your part that you work with an injection molder that understands your expectations and challenges. Taking these important considerations into account will help you streamline the process of choosing a plastic injection molding part manufacturer.

Are you looking for an experienced, quality-focused injection molder that specializes in low-volume production? Learn how Nicolet Plastics offers customized products and quick response in every stage of your part production.

3 Ways To Avoid Injection Molded Plastic Part Defects

  1. Involve Injection Molder Early & Design Part for Manufacturability

Design is one of the most important factors in avoiding part defects. It’s your earliest opportunity to avoid mistakes that can be costly both in regard to time and budget later on. Good design takes into account objectives including part function, aesthetic, manufacturability and assembly. Working with a knowledgeable design engineer and involving your injection molder early will help you find solutions to meet the needs of your specific part.

There are a number of important design elements to consider to ensure costly part mistakes are avoided:

Wall thickness:

Wall thickness is one of the most important factors with part design. The first rule of thumb is to determine the minimum wall thickness that will meet your design requirements. It is always good practice to work with your injection molder / design engineer to check thickness specifications for the material(s) you are considering for your part. Typical wall thickness ranges from .04 – .150 for most resins.

Important wall-thickness facts:

  • Thinner walls require easier flowing plastics
  • Longer flow lengths (distance from nozzle to the furthest corner of the part) may require thicker walls

Radius:

Sharp corners or angles can impede the flow of material. These abrupt transitions can cause the cavity to not fill or pack properly, creating a part with defects. Material flowing across a sharp corner creates stress in the plastic which can contribute to warp and dimensional instability.

Smooth corners that have a curve versus an angle are important in the injection molding process. The radius should be consistent on the inside and outside of the wall creating a uniform thickness. By incorporating this design element, the material will be able to flow through the cavity evenly.

Gate location:

The location where the molten plastic material flows into the mold part cavity called a gate. Every injection-molded part has at least one gate, and some have several gates. The placement of the gate can help ensure the cavity fills properly; however, it is best to have a uniform wall. Uniform wall thickness helps the mold fill and cool properly. In unavoidable situations, having a proper gate location can be a deciding factor in the success of a part. It is recommended that parts be designed with the gate in a location at which the melt enters the thickest section of the cavity to then flows out of a narrower region.

Draft:

Draft is an angle incorporated into the wall of a mold and the shape of the plastic part so the opening of the cavity is wider than its base. A plastic drinking cup is a good example of draft – it is smaller at the base than at the mouth so that the cup will come out of the mold. Draft is essential for injection molding.

Plastic heavily relies on mold draft in the removal of the part from the mold. When a part is designed without appropriate draft, removal of plastic parts is essentially impossible.

A design with sufficient draft is always considered to be a good practice. 1.5 degrees for a depth of 0.25mm is usually recommended by design engineers. General guidelines suggest that a draft angle of 0.5 degrees is recommended for core and 1.0 degree for cavity.

Surface textures also influence draft requirements. The more depth in a texture the more draft it requires. It is a good practice to determine the surface finish / texture requirements prior to starting you part design.

Ribs:

Ribs are used to help reinforce the overall part strength and support dimensional components of the design. Depending on the material used, ribs should be no greater than 2/3 of the wall thickness. Greater width could cause issues with the design and sinking may occur. To avoid this problem, a designer can often core out some material to reduce the shrinking. In addition, ribs cannot be too tall or too thin.

The height recommendations are generally no more than 3x the wall thickness. The corners should include radii and the height should include a draft (.5 to 1.5 degrees). The draft angle allows the part to be ejected from the mold.

Mold Flow Analysis:

When working with an experienced part designer and injection molder, mold flow analysis should be conducted before tooling production begins. Mold flow software can be used to evaluate the design to make sure it will produce the most consistent and highest quality parts from each cavity of the tool.

A virtual model of the mold is created and, using the known data and characteristics of the chosen material, the software is able to predict how the material will flow into the mold and its cavities. Different data points can be assessed, including pressure, fill time and melt temperature. Doing so allows for optimization of the process before tool production ever begins. 

  1. Don’t Skimp On Tool Design & Build

A perfect, defect-free part begins with the mold. Building the tool likely represents the largest investment in the manufacturing process; therefore, getting it right is critical to the success of a project. All of the design factors listed above are important considerations that can help you avoid costly mistakes. Additionally, the volume of parts required, as well as the material they will be made of will help drive how and with what materials to create the mold.

It’s important to keep in mind that more complex molds create a lot of intricate cavities that the plastic must flow through. Turns throughout the path in which the mold is filled can result in structural stresses and part cooling challenges. Designing a mold to have smooth turns can help with these stresses causing an issue for the part. Draft, as mentioned above, is not always compatible with a part’s design – both aesthetically and functionally. However, even a small amount of draft is preferred to no draft at all. Draft may vary with the surface finish or texture requirement of the part. For example, smoother tooling may require less draft.

Other part defects caused by mold design or maintenance issues include flash and short shots.

Flash:

Flash occurs when melted plastic escapes the mold cavity and appears as a wafer-like extension on a finished part. This defect occurs most often along the ejector pin parting line and is caused by excessive injection speed or pressure, too high of mold temperature and excessive barrel heat. Flash can occur due to poor mold design or neglected maintenance.

Short Shot:

A short shot occurs when resin falls short of filling the mold. It is often caused by gate blockages or too small of gate diameter. Short shot can also occur when the wrong resin type is used or improper process settings. Sometimes, the runner system needs to be redesigned to optimize flow.

  1. Avoid Resin-Related Issues 

Material Selection:

Choosing the best material can drive cost, functionality and versatility of your part. It is essential to work with a knowledgeable design engineer and injection molder to learn how different materials and their characteristics can optimize the production and life of your plastic part. Material selection is often based on the application of the part. Plastic requirements for a medical part may be significantly different than that of an aerospace application. Considerations like temperature, biological and chemical interaction, food or animal contact and more are all critical factors in material selection to avoid part defects.

Discoloration:

Discoloration is a defect that shows streaking or coloring in an injection-molded part. It usually occurs in one of two cases:

  • Improper mixing of the masterbatch, the additive used for coloring material
  • Impurities introduced to the material during the molding process

When a resin batch is not evenly mixed, you might see a streak of coloring in the end product. Additionally, you can have impurities introduced to a mold if the hopper, material feed area or mold plates of a machine are not cleaned properly prior to production. It is imperative that an injection molder clean the injection molding machine prior to producing parts.

Burn Marks:

Burn marks may appear as black or dark red discoloration when a material burns during the injection molding process and can be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Overheating due to trapped air
  • Excessive injection speed
  • Excessive melt temperature

If burn marks occur, there are a few corrective actions a molder can take to avoid further defects.

Burn marks can be avoided by:

  • Shortening the cycle time
  • Lowering the temperature and/or slowing down the injection speed
  • Trapped air can be avoided by ensuring adequate gas vents and gate sizes

Flow Lines:

Flow lines are streaks, patterns, or lines that are visible on a part. This defect is caused by the varying speed at which the molten plastic flows inside the mold tool. Flow lines may also occur as plastic flows through sections with varying wall thickness, or when the injection speed is too low causing the plastic to solidify at different speeds.

Flow lines can be avoided by:

  • Increasing injection speeds and pressure to the optimal level
  • Rounding corners and locations where the wall thickness changes to avoid sudden changes in direction and flow rate

Weld Lines:

Weld lines appear in a part where molten plastics meet each other as they flow from two different sections of the mold. This defect is caused by the inadequate bonding of two or more flow fronts when there is partial solidification of the molten plastic.

Weld lines can be avoided by:

  • Raising the temperature of the mold or molten plastic
  • Increasing the injection speed
  • Adjusting the design for the flow pattern
  • Switching to a plastic with a lower melting temperature

The majority of plastic part defects can be prevented by incorporating proper part and tooling design as well as material selection. The best way to avoid defects is to work with an experienced injection molder that understands the characteristics of various resins and their applications. Learn how Nicolet Plastics can help reduce part manufacturing lead times to get your product to market faster.

Nicolet Plastics Acquired by True Venture Composites LLC

This post was originally published by Plastics News on March 9, 2017 and written by Dan Loepp

Nicolet Plastics sold; new owner to seek additional acquisitions

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.18.32 AMWhen Bob Macintosh started to plan an exit strategy from Nicolet Plastics Inc. six years ago, he wanted to leave the company in the hands of a stable buyer.

The custom injection molder’s location, in the Wisconsin North Woods, was a complicating factor.

“My end goal was to create stability for this plant and this area. This is a community of 700 people. If something happened that affected the jobs of the 82 people who work here, that would be devastating to this area,” Macintosh said.

After a long search, Macintosh thinks he found the right buyer. On Feb. 28 he signed a deal to sell Nicolet to True Venture Composites LLC, an affiliate of family-owned Badger Mining Corp. of Berlin, Wis.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Badger Mining was looking to diversify outside its core business of mining and processing sand and other aggregates for industrial applications like hydraulic fracturing. It settled on plastics as an industry of interest, and contacted Macintosh about Nicolet.

Nicolet may be small, but it has a reputation in plastics and manufacturing circles. The company was twice a finalist for Plastics News Processor of the Year, and in 2013 it won a Frost & Sullivan Manufacturing Leadership 100 award.

Macintosh had talked to other potential buyers, including plastics processors and private equity investors. But he was having trouble finding the right fit. A key was protecting the workforce.

True Venture understood his priorities, so Macintosh expects very few changes. True Venture bought both the business and the plant, in tiny Lakewood, Wis., in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. All the employees and the management team are staying.

John Ogorek, the chief financial officer, is adding CEO to his title, but Macintosh said that transition started about a year ago.

The biggest changes: a new name, Nicolet Plastics LLC, and a new role for Macintosh. He’ll be working with the new owners to find more investment opportunities in the plastics industry.

“Businesses either grow or die. We are definitely growing,” he said. “I’ll be working with them the next two years, making sure this business grows and survives, and looking for other opportunities.”

Macintosh said Nicolet needs more molding capacity. But as he approaches age 70 he didn’t want to go back into debt to make that happen. Plus, because of the scarcity of new workers in the North Woods, expanding at Nicolet would be difficult.

Now he’s looking to buy companies with capacity to take on more work, and that have complementary values to Nicolet and Badger.

Nicolet has 82 employees and 19 presses, ranging from 40 to 610 tons of clamping force. It generated $14 million in sales last year, Macintosh said.

Nicolet is known for making the most of complexity — molding small lots, with numerous tool changes — using a philosophy called Quick Response Manufacturing, which they learned from Rajan Suri at the University of Wisconsin. The company specializes in low- to moderate-volume projects, and highly complex custom parts.

The company celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. Macintosh and three partners started the company in 1985 and incorporated in 1986. They started with an investment of $1,200 — $300 from each partner — molding in a small garage with a leased Newbury press.

Over time, Macintosh bought out the other three partners, the last one in 2008.

Manufacturing in the Northwoods: Q&A with Bob MacIntosh of Nicolet Plastics

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-44-28-amWhen four men set out to start a plastics manufacturing business in the Northwood’s of Oconto County, they didn’t have the money to purchase an injection press. Pooling $300 a piece, they managed to scrape together enough to lease a press and with that, Nicolet Plastics was born in 1986. With minimal knowledge of the industry, Phil Hartman, Bob MacIntosh, Miles Serney and his son Flip, worked collaboratively to grow the business to where it stands today as a global producer of plastic injection molded parts with over 41,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

As Nicolet Plastics celebrates it’s 30th year in business, Bob MacIntosh remains with the organization as one of the original founding partners and the current president of Nicolet Plastics. In this Q&A, Bob reflects on the company’s growth over the past 30 years, and what’s to come in the years ahead.

Q: Over the past 30 years, what has set Nicolet Plastics apart from other plastic injection molders?

A: What has set us apart the most is our focus on lead times and quick response manufacturing. We are committed to educating our customers and getting them involved as early in the design process as possible. This helps to reduce launch times often by as much as 6 months.

Additionally, we’ve leaned on the concepts that Seth Godin share’s in his book, Purple Cow. The book implies that the key to success is to find a way to stand out – to be the purple cow in a field of typical Holsteins. With over 5,000 injection molders out there, we had to find a way to be the purple cow. We try to appeal to a sub-set of customers that typically haven’t gotten the attention we know they deserve. We focus on higher complexity parts with larger material mix and lower volume.

Q: What are the most common questions customers ask?

A: New customers are at a point where they are trying to understand the process as well as looking for price or a quote. They also ask what type of support we can provide from design, engineering, production, communication and lead time. There are many other questions including transfer tool capabilities, range of materials, credibility and security we offer in house and more.

One unique offering that our company provides for our new customers is called Nicolet Plastics University. It’s a full day course taught in our manufacturing facility with corresponding online resources. The class is offered to any customer interested in learning more about the plastic injection molding process. Taught by our lead engineer, the class provides invaluable insight for designers, engineers and anyone involved in the part & product manufacturing process.

Q: What do customers value most in your team?

A: That’s an easy question – definitely our responsiveness and expertise. Our company is nestled in a small community and that representative of our humble and friendly approach with everything we do.

Q: What have customers expressed to be the most important factors when choosing a plastics manufacturing partner?

A: The most important factors to a plastic injection molding customer is being able to handle their expectations, volume, lead time, and budget. Also being able to swiftly handle turnover on a customer’s team to ensure a new contact is up to speed and has the information he or she needs.

Q: What can a client expect during the first meeting? Please walk us through an example.

A: We try to engage engineers early on. If they aren’t involved in the design or technical side, the sooner we become involved, the better.

Our first meetings are usually done by phone, WebEx or GoToMeeting. If at all possible, we love our prospects and customers to visit our facility. Our expert employees, technology and capabilities definitely sell themselves when you walk through our doors.

Q: What are the top 2-3 hot button issues in plastics manufacturing right now?

A: Technology within manufacturing and specifically injection molding, is changing so quickly. Design support, engineering and automation are huge factors in regard to remaining competitive. There are also interesting advancements in the area of additive manufacturing (3-D printing) that we are looking at closely as possible service offerings for some of our clients in the future. Additionally, not many molders get as involved as we do in highly engineered materials.

Many have heard of the “Amazon Effect” and we are definitely feeling it in our industry as well. We are seeing that compression of time is becoming more and more prevalent. Shorter lead-time is an increasing expectation for customers with high demand for getting products to market quicker and within budget.

Q: What are you proud of and what are you most excited about for the years ahead?

A: We were honored to receive Plastics News’ award for Processor of the Year for Customer Service in 2015. It’s an award that honors companies with superior achievement among plastics processors. In the years ahead, we are looking toward expanding operations in regard to geography and overall growth.

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8 Factors in Plastic Part Design for Manufacturability

Plastic Injection Molding DesignDesigning a plastic part for manufacturability involves many important factors that touch on all areas of part design, tooling, material selection and production. First, it is essential to build parts around functional needs by keeping design intent or the end use in mind. Consider weight reductions, the elimination of fabrication and assembly steps, improving structural components, reducing costs and getting products to market quicker. Here are 8 important factors to consider to meet your plastic part design goals for a successful production process.

  1. Material Considerations

Manufacturers often select a familiar grade of plastic from a similar application or rely on recommendations from suppliers. Resins chosen this way may be adequate, but are rarely optimal. Plastic selection is a complex task that involves many considerations, such as:

  • Temperature: Thermal stress that may occur during normal and extreme use conditions, as well as during assembly, finishing and shipping.
  • Chemical resistance: The effects that occur when any solid, liquid or gas come in contact with the part.
  • Agency approvals: Governmental and private standards for properties such as heat resistance, flammability, and electrical and mechanical capabilities.
  • Assembly: The plastic’s cooperation with all assembly steps like bonding, mechanical fasteners and welding.
  • Finish: The material’s ability to produce the desired finish such as gloss, smoothness and other appearance values as it comes from the mold.
  • Cost: Resin pricing as well as the cost calculations for manufacturing, maintenance, assembly and disassembly to reduce labor, tooling, finishing and other costs.
  • Availability: The resin’s availability in regard to amount needed for production.
  1. Radius

Radius should always be a consideration in regard to the part’s thickness – eliminating the likelihood of areas of high stress and possible breakage of the part. A general rule of thumb is that the thickness at a corner should be in the range of 0.9 times the nominal thickness to 1.2 the nominal thickness of the part.

  1. Wall Thickness

Designing your part so that wall thickness is consistent can help avoid many part defects that can occur during the manufacturing process. When plastic melts, it flows to the areas of leas resistance. If your part has inconsistent thicknesses throughout, the melt may flow into the thick areas first (depending on gate locations). When this occurs, the thin areas may not fill properly. Additionally, thicker areas tend to cool more slowly and are at risk for voids or sinking defects. Designing your part with rounded corners will also aid in the proper filling of the part during the molding process.

  1. Gate Location

Gates are critical to ensuring the resin flows properly into the mold. These small components of your design are what directs the flow of resin from the runners to then be distributed through the part. Type of gate and placement has an important impact on the part’s overall quality and viability.

  1. Draft

Draft is the amount of taper on the vertical walls of the plastic part. Without draft, a part may not eject from the mold, or may sustain damage during ejection. Typically, draft angles between 1° and 2° are required, but can vary depending on part restrictions and specifications. 

  1. Inclusion of Ribs

A plastic part that has been designed with a minimal wall thickness will not be as strong as a thicker part – which is why the inclusion of ribs may be needed to help reinforce the part’s strength. Depending on the material used, rib thickness should be between 50 – 70 percent of the relative part thickness to avoid sink marks. To avoid sinking, designers may core out material to reduce defect risk.

  1. Mold Shrinkage

The shrinkage that occurs during the plastic part molding process can be as much as 20 percent by volume. Crystalline and semi-crystalline materials are most prone to thermal shrinkage. Amorphous materials are known to shrink less. Here are a few easy ways to avoid molding shrinkage issues:

  • Adjust the formulation
  • Adjust the mold design to get the dimension you want based on the expected shrinkage that will occur
  • Optimize the processing parameter such as molding temperature, melt temperature, and injection speed/pressure/time, cooling time.
  1. Special Features

Plastic parts should be designed so that mold tools open and eject the part easily. When a part is released, the two sides of an injection mold separate in the opposite direction. When special features like holes, undercuts or shoulders prevent the release from happening, it may be required that side actions be incorporated into the design.

Side actions pull coring in a direction other than the direction of the mold separation. This adds flexibility to the part design and at times, may increase the cost of the mold.

Working with an experienced plastic injection molder and engineering team is a critical component to avoiding many issues that can occur during the design and development process. If you keep these factors in mind during the design process, and align with a knowledgeable plastics engineer, you will be on track to get your product to market quicker and within your budget.

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3 Reasons to Get Your Molder Involved in the Plastic Part Design Process

factory molding machine workshop. close up

When plastic part designers take a collaborative approach to involve mold makers early in the design process, many cost and time to market benefits are realized. Working with an injection molder who can provide expertise and recommendations throughout the design project to ensure your part is developed with the intended use, quality, budget and timeframe in mind will greatly increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

The most successful parts are created when there is constant communication between a part designer, tool designer and manufacturer. With open consultation and communication, the team can avoid project delays and create efficiencies.

Designing a production-ready part goes beyond aesthetic and function. Here are three important considerations when optimizing a part for manufacturability:

  1. Smart Design & Material Selection

The most important first step in part design and material selection is to consider the environment in which the part will be used. This is called design intent – or the intended use of the completed part. What will the wear and tear be for the part? What temperatures will it be exposed to? Consulting with an experienced molder will help you make informed decisions about the most innovative and widely used materials to ensure your part performs at the highest level. Additionally, specialized tool designers can help you take the following design elements (among many others) into consideration:

  • Part Shape
  • Mold Design
  • Draft
  • Uniform Wall Thickness
  • Radii 
  1. Efficient Mold Design & Fabrication

A part designer and mold maker should work hand in hand to create a mold that will produce a successful part. Molding experts provide invaluable insight not only on how to produce the best part, but also how to get the mold made quickly and cost efficiently. Using design software, designers and engineers can create a mold blueprint and as part design and material selection are tested, can help with making critical adjustments.

A mold needs to be designed around a part and specific factors taken into consideration such as: Where is the gate(s) located and what is the optimal size? How will the part be ejected? Most often, computer simulation techniques such as Mold Flow Analysis are used to provide a predictive analysis and measurement to determine the success or failure of a part. Additionally, the analysis shows how the material will orient with the mold as well as expose potential warp and stress points.

  1. Benefit of Working with a Trusted Partner

Relying on an experienced molder to provide guidance and recommendations during the design and development process can save you significant time and cost for a project. Many service providers do not factor in the costs associated with material testing, radius adjustments, diameters and more. A lack of flexibility or inability to provide what is needed to produce a successful part is another roadblock that manufacturers run in to when trying to take a quick and lowest cost route.

Do your research and have a good understanding of your molder’s expertise and services provided. Working with a partner that will listen to your needs and has the expertise to make cost-saving recommendations throughout the project process, will not only save you money, but time as well.

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3 Tips for Calculating the Right Press Size for Your Plastic Injection Molded Project

Injection Moulding Machine

Are you a product designer or engineer that is looking for more information on how to make your plastic part design more efficient in regard to cost and production time? One important consideration during the part design process is to have a good understanding of plastic injection press basics including the size of machine needed for your part.

“Bigger the better” is not always the case when determining the press size needed. In the molding process, plastic is injected into the mold at an exceptionally high-pressure rate, which creates a natural pull to force the mold open. A press is designed to keep the mold shut with larger parts requiring more tonnage and force, and smaller parts requiring less. A general calculation for determining press size needed is as follows:

Pressure (lb/in2) x Projected Area (in2) = Force (lb.)

Here are a few other important tips for calculating the right press size for your plastic injection molded part. 

  1. Understand press size tonnage.

Your plastic injection molder should help you determine the size of machine needed to help you achieve the best result for your product. Knowing an approximate size of what will be needed can help you determine the best injection molding partner based on the press capacity they have available. For example, larger presses cannot accommodate smaller molds because they can’t close far enough and the injection process will not work.

Additionally, smaller presses have tie bar spacing too narrow to accommodate larger products. If the mold doesn’t fit between them horizontally or vertically, you must move up in press size. Many injection molders offer press sizes ranging from 68 ton up to 400 ton.

  1. Calculate your total projected shut-off area and shot volume.

When determining press size for your plastic part, it’s important to calculate the total projected shut-off area. This area consists of only the space that is 90 degrees to the direction of the injection molding machine platens. Thickness does not have any implication on the clamp tonnage and the general rule is to have 2 to 5 ton of clamp tonnage per square inch of projected area.

Calculating shot volume to make sure your barrel has enough capacity can be accomplished by working with your injection molder to run a mold flow analysis. On some engineered materials, the increased residence of the material in the barrel can cause the material to degrade, resulting in poor part quality. Mold flow analysis will help you determine the volume of your part and runner while determining any factors that would cause safety issues. 

  1. Know how much clamping force or pressure is required. 

Pressure plays a significant role in the overall quality of a plastic part. Pressure keeps the mold closed during the injection process. Too much or too little pressure can cause various issues such as flashing and viscosity. One important consideration in regard to pressure is that plastic compounds react differently from one another based on their Melt Flow Index (MFI). MFI measures the ease of flow of a thermoplastic polymer and the higher the MFI, the higher pressure needed to create a successful part.

“Safety factor” is an additional percentage added to your calculation as a buffer to help reduce defects in your part. Most injection molders will recommend 2.5 times the surface square inches of the part and an additional 10% as a safety factor. If you have a part that is 120 square inches, you would need a press size with 300 tons of pressure. When you add the 10% safety factor, the required press size would have 330 tons of clamping force.

Having a general understanding of how to calculate press size is a good first step in determining what injection molding partners are available to you. Strong partners will make recommendations on how to appropriately tweak your part to ensure the final design fits your manufacturing needs and reduces upfront tooling costs. Learn about Nicolet Plastics quick response manufacturing processes and press sizes up to 400 tons.

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