6 Plastic Injection Molding Trends to Watch In 2018

According to Global Market Inc., the injection molded plastic market has established itself as one of the most dynamically evolving businesses in recent times. As one of the most commonly-used processes for product manufacturers, plastic injection molding is a precise method that can fabricate nearly any type of plastic part. Technologies, processes and materials used in injection molding continue to advance –  allowing manufacturers better insight to design, develop and produce the highest performing and cost efficient plastic parts.

Key areas that will continue to be of focus in the year ahead are the advancements in automation, sustainable practices, and software that allow for parts to be analyzed and tweaked virtually before production. In addition, industry experts credit lower oil prices, technological advances, technical expertise, and rapid growth in the building and construction sectors as drivers for continued future growth.

As we look ahead to 2018, we’re closely watching and leveraging the following plastic injection molding trends. Are you?

1. Automation

The impact of automation has been felt in virtually every industry, but the increased deployment of automated tools and robotics in the injection molding industry stands to be monumental. Automated robots boast speed, accuracy, agility and adaptability, which allows for significant increases in production.

Labor and energy make a tremendous impact on plastics processors businesses. To effectively compete internationally, processors must automate to increase the productivity and reduce costs of their operations in order to remain competitive.

Even when working with low to mid volume plastic parts, automation can greatly improve the cost and labor efficiency of production. However, automation is much more than simply adopting the use of robots. While automation may allow for increased processing time, a high level of skilled labor is still needed to manage operations effectively.

Another development in manufacturing automation, according to a recent report, is the integration of collaborative robots or “co-bots” which are increasingly being adopted to work collaboratively with humans. Through the use of robot controllers and specialized sensors for operations, manufacturers are able to address common issues such as labor shortages, repetitive processes and ergonomically-challenging tasks. In fact, many businesses that have embraced automation are reporting improved part consistency and quality, which is why we see this trend expanding in the coming year.

2. Environmental / Sustainability

In an effort to contribute to eco-friendliness and sustainability, the injection molding industry as a whole has been working diligently to decrease energy consumption and create bio-based and recyclable products. Thanks to advances in engineering, newer injection molding equipment now uses between 20%-50% less energy compared to those released just 10 years ago.

Responsible injection molders are also working diligently to reduce the amount of scrap plastics produced in the molding process and gaining efficiencies in doing so. For example, obtaining scrap material that can be repurposed in addition to recycling materials. Taking a few small steps to put sustainable practices into place can (over the course of a few years) save hundreds of thousands of pounds of material from going into landfills.

Many companies are working to strike a balance between their use of conventional plastics and bio-based alternatives. In addition, some organizations are in various stages of development and deployment of plastics, made entirely or in part, from soybeans, corn, flax and other materials, to meet the demand from consumers to save fossil fuels and reduce the negative aspects that traditional plastics have on the environment. Count on more manufacturers to increase their focus on environmental sustainability while reducing their carbon footprint in 2018.

3. Nearshoring

For manufacturers seeking to reduce production expenses, outsourcing of injection molding and/or processes to other countries is an industry trend worth noting. According to one medical device industry expert, the cost difference between injection molding a part in Asia versus North America is actually very small because the labor component is negligible. Electricity is a major component of injection molding, and energy costs are rather universal. So, what’s the element driving the nearshoring trend? Shipping.

The high cost and lengthy shipping times associated with manufacturing components or finished products overseas is forcing many U.S. companies to evaluate their operations and manufacture and ship from locations that are geographically closer. Companies benefiting from nearshoring cite faster delivery, reliability and cost-savings as major factors in their success. Creating long-lasting relationships with injection molders who can act as a partner in your product development process and assist with design for manufacturability also has major benefits. These reasons make us anticipate even more organizations shifting to nearshoring in the near future.

4. Precision Molding

The need for addressing manufacturing challenges swiftly, resolve production issues quickly and help engineers and technicians troubleshoot in real-time is being met by an abundance of technology in our industry – specifically by RJG eDart technology and software platforms like IQMS and Moldflow.

  • RJG eDart:  RJG is a comprehensive and powerful process monitoring tool for injection molding applications. The system helps gain greater control over stabilizing the injection molding processes and ensures parts of the highest quality.
  • Mold Flow: Mold flow analysis simulates how a material will flow through a mold and how the material will orient within the mold. The simulation exposes potential warp and stress points and can help identify areas where sink marks may appear. It can also help to identify where weld lines will be located within the part. Mold flow is an aid in the development of optimal gate location and size. It allows an injection molder to identify stress areas and increase radii in order to eliminate stress points and perfect the tool before the final stages.
  • IQMS: When IQMS application software is used throughout an organization and the molding process, the system can provide a very efficient way to monitor every single step of every single machine in real time to make certain adjustments can be made at a moment’s notice.

5. Metal to Plastic Conversion

While the concept of metal to plastic conversion isn’t new to the industry, the contributions that this process is making in terms of reducing weight, improving fuel efficiency, increasing strength, as well as chemical and heat resistance are striking. Furthermore, factors such as design flexibility and the use of new and improved polymers is causing more and more companies to consider injection molding to meet their needs.

Before moving forward with a plastic to metal part conversion for your organization, we suggest meeting with an experienced design engineer to determine if such a transition is suitable for your product and application.

6. Design for Manufacturability

We’re also noticing an increase in companies working with their plastic injection molders and engineering teams early in the design process. Collaborating with customers at the genesis of their product offers several benefits, including:

  • Selecting the right material for the application
  • Considering radius and wall thickness
  • Ensuring proper gate location
  • Considering draft
  • Including ribs for strength and durability
  • Properly accounting for mold shrinkage

Not only do these elements ensure a smooth manufacturing process of components and/or finished products, it provides the ability for you to go to market quicker while remaining within your budget.

Injection molding plays a vital role in the development of products that serve a plethora of industries. It’s a fluid manufacturing practice that involves a series of complex processes, but finding the right partner makes all the difference in the success of your part. If you’re unsure of how to benefit from the injection molding trends predicted for the year ahead, contact our knowledgeable design engineers, tooling and production experts today.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Important Factors in Injection Mold Care and Molder Responsibility

Mold3Manufacturers can spend as much on a mold that you may spend on a high performance car. The difference is that YOU get to drive the car, while your molder gets to “drive” your mold. How do you know that your molder is taking good care of your tooling investment and not using it like Burt Reynolds used his Trans-Am in Bandit? Or like the Dukes of Hazzard used General Lee?

In a plastic manufacturing environment, consistent quality parts start with a quality, well-made and maintained mold. The process should include a solid mold design and a high-quality tool build. Once the mold is in place and ready for use with your molder, what expectations should you have for the care of your investment?

Understanding Mold Maintenance Basics:

It’s important for a manufacturer to have a basic understanding of the cleaning and repair required for proper tool maintenance. To keep a tool in the best working order, maintenance is essential not only when issues arise, but also routinely over time.

Overall, the condition of your injection mold affects the quality of the plastic components produced. Molds and tools are critical assets to your company, yet many manufacturers overlook maintenance needs when making a decision about selecting an injection molder. How your supplier maintains your mold can be a critical element of the success and longevity of your relationship.

Like any maintenance program, there are certain checks and procedures that should be performed regularly. For example, mold cavities and gating should be inspected for wear or damage. The ejection system should be inspected and lubricated and all surfaces cleaned with a non-toxic solvent to remove dirt and sprayed with a rust preventative. Additionally, all water lines should be flushed and drained to remove excess moisture.

Molds should also get a proper maintenance review prior to storage including:

  1. All plates separated and cleaned
  2. The ejector system should be cleaned and lubricated
  3. Replace and / or repair parts including ejector pins and springs, worn bushings or leader pins

When these preservation tactics are completed, molds are able to be put back into service quickly and easily.

Understanding Problems with Mold Neglect:

What happens when your injection molder neglects your mold? Over time, the molding process can cause significant wear and tear. Without a proper preventive maintenance program in place, material may build up on your molds surface which can eventually cause tool denting, flash and other part defects.

The unfortunate reality is that some molders wait to do maintenance until part quality problems arise or the tool becomes damaged. Waiting until this point to make repairs can result in added expense, supply / stock issues and a longer time to market. However, when molders have a clear maintenance procedure in place, production times and overall costs can actually decrease.

Molds are a significant investment for all manufacturers and extending the life of your tool takes collaboration, communication and a maintenance plan that has been agreed upon by both parties. Now that you understand the expectations that should be put into place, below is a checklist of questions to help evaluate your supplier with regard to the care and maintenance of your asset:

  1. How do you schedule preventative maintenance?
  2. What does the molder maintain prior to the warranty expiration?
  3. What are the preventative maintenance steps you take?
  4. How do you track the number of cycles on the tool?
  5. What do you consider regular mold maintenance, and why is this valuable to me?
  6. How do you maintain part quality with the mold maintenance?
  7. What components are you using, and why?
  8. How do you maintain water line integrity?
  9. How do you minimize the amount of required up-keep?
  10. How are maintenance findings reported?

Are you looking for an injection molder who can provide expert guidance from concept, development to production? Contact Nicolet Plastics to learn about our formula to develop exceptional products in a timely and cost-effective manner.

6 Tips to Control Injection Molding Part Costs

PlasticPartBudget is one of the most important factors a manufacturer faces with getting a product to market as quickly as possible. Designing a plastic part for manufacturability involves considerations that can ultimately have a significant impact on cost. Whether you are in the initial design phase, prototyping or production, controlling injection molding costs requires analyzing of various factors. Here are a few tips to help you control plastic injection molding costs:

Collaboration:

Over the years, collaboration has taken a different form with the introduction of robust project management software. Working with a plastics manufacturer who incorporates highly effective project management software can create efficiencies within every phase of the planning and production process. With every step in injection molding building upon the next, communication and collaboration are key factors to addressing customer’s primary stress points such as timeline and budget.

Collaboration begins at the quoting state when individuals from both sides including designers, engineers and other experts will need to provide input that will help keep part budgets within or under budget.

Optimized Mold Design:

How many times have you encountered an issue in production that was the result of inadequate mold design? If the issue persists or is unresolvable with various tactics, you may have to modify or re-create the mold – both of which are expensive solutions. To avoid these costly situations, it is essential to review mold design in the early stages.

Additionally, in mold design it is beneficial to be able to produce as many parts as possible in a single shot. The ability for the plastic to eject quickly without wasting time / movements is another critical cost-savings factor.

Integrating the issues and recommendations identified in the design and simulation phases are a key aspect of effective mold design review. However, a mold’s true performance also relies on part design.

Optimize Part Design:

-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 our 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

-Undercuts

Undercuts are a feature that can add to part complexity and cost, and in some cases can even prevent part ejection. This feature is created by including holes or snaps and should be eliminated when possible. One solution would be to work with your design engineer and injection molder to include a side action, sliding shutoff or pick out.

Using sliding shutoffs, pass-through cores or by changing the parting line and draft angles may provide an easier mold build. These also reduce tooling and manufacturing costs.

-Draft

Draft is a design feature that must be added to the walls of all injection molded parts. Allocating sufficient draft not only makes it easier to remove a part from a mold, it also minimizes tool wear. Without draft, parts may stick in the mold. Having 1 degree of draft is a good starting point, however, there are considerations that may determine exactly how much draft is needed. Drafting internal features like ribs and bosses is always good practice. Remember – the more draft, the better.

While draft facilitates the removal of the part from the mold, it is particularly important in rapid injection molding to maintain parting lines, part quality and tool functionality. It typically takes working with an experienced design engineer to know how much and where to add draft.

-Gating

Each plastic part design must have a runner and ‘gate’, or a path and opening that allows the molten plastic to be injected into the cavity of the mold. Gate type, design and location can have effects on the part such as part packing, gate removal or vestige, cosmetic appearance of the part, and part dimensions & warping.

It is essential for a part designer and molder to work together to determine where the runner and gating system should be placed. To allow for the shortest overall flow length (the distance plastic flows from the gate to the outer most point of the part), gates should typically be placed at the center of a part.

If more than one gate is needed, the gates should be placed to both reduce the flow length, and must take into account the parting line created by plastic from each gate meeting. A ‘parting line’ is the line of separation on the plastic part where the two halves of the plastic injection mold meet. Ideally a part designer will account for the parting lines by designing the part in such a way that any blemish is visible on a non-cosmetic surface.

-Material Selection:

There are many resins that can be injection molded – but it is important to consider design intent and particularly what the piece needs to accomplish. For example, does the part need to be firm or pliable? Will the part be exposed to elements like extreme heat or cold? What safety factors should be considered?

The newest, most innovative materials may not be the best fit for your particular part – and may add more cost to the overall project. Working with a design engineer who is familiar to resin characteristics and behaviors when molded, will help you pick the material that best fits your needs and may save you critical time and budget in the long run.

-Mold Flow:

Working with your injection molder to perform a flow simulation is an important step in verifying part design. Flow study allows designers and engineers the opportunity to strategize gate location, runner layout, as well as optimize water placements. The level of simulation needed depends on part complexity.

-Minimize Finishes & Coatings:

Finishes and coatings include textures or patterns that leave an imprint on a molded part’s surface and are often used to reduce surface wear. Finishes, however, can add to cost with medium to high cosmetic finishes (where tooling marks are removed and the surface is textured or polished) and high quality clear finishes being the most costly.

Overall, managing the design and complexity of your part can play a huge role in the overall time and cost. If your part has many variables that need to be addressed, your design engineer and injection molding partner should provide insight regarding what can or cannot be eliminated. Time efficiencies will come with simplified designs that are optimized to fit your time, budget and product needs.

How have you overcome challenges with design and controlling part production costs?

To learn how Nicolet Plastics, Inc. can help, please contact Bob Gafvert at bob.gafvert@nicoletplastics.com.

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Save the Date for the 14th Annual Nicolet Walk / Run

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The 14th Annual Nicolet Walk/Run is almost upon us! Have you started your training yet?

This year’s event will be held on Saturday, June 17th, 2018 beginning at 9:00 AM and will circle the scenic 4.37 mile route around beautiful Maiden Lake.

Sponsored by Nicolet Plastics, LLC. and the Pirates of the Northwood’s Parrot Head Club, the event has raised over $77,400 benefitting area emergency response departments since 2003.

Registration:

In Wisconsin, approximately 75% of emergency service workers are volunteers that are trained to help individuals in the event of a severe medical occurrence, car accident, and other life-threatening situation. These brave men and women put their own lives at risk each day to help others in need. As a special reward for these hardworking emergency professionals, proceeds from the Nicolet Run / Walk will be contributed to area emergency response departments to purchase life-saving equipment and training supplies.

The event site is located 80 miles northwest of Green Bay, or 40 miles east of Antigo and west of Marinette. Travel and hotel accommodations can be made through the Lakewood Area Chamber Website.

Organizations or individuals interested in event sponsorship should contact  Lee Ann Anderson at (715) 276-4269 or email leeann.anderson@nicoletplastics.com.

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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Nicolet Plastics’ 30th Anniversary & Open House

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The history of plastics manufacturing goes back to the 1800’s and we couldn’t be more proud to have brought a part of America’s largest and most dynamic sector to our community. October is designated as Manufacturing Month in the state of Wisconsin and we are thrilled to be recognizing a major company milestone:

As we reflect on the growth of Nicolet Plastics since its inception in 1986, we acknowledge how truly grateful we are for our community’s support. In recognition of the next chapter for Nicolet Plastics, we’d like to invite you please join us for a special celebration.

Friday, October 21 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Nicolet Plastics
16685 State Road 32 Mountain, WI 53149

Event Features:

  • Facility Tours Led By On-Site Engineering & Subject Matter Experts
  • Meet & Greet With Local Dignitaries
  • Much More!

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