7 Common Elements Caught in the Design for Manufacturing Process

Getting products to market fast and on budget are two critical factors in the manufacturing process. The design for manufacturing process is cited by both product manufacturers and injection molders as the step that can have the greatest impact on production outcomes. When plastic injection molders are involved early in the part design process including prototype development and mold flow analysis, many cost and time efficiencies will be realized.

Designing a plastic part for manufacturability from the outset involves several considerations that can ultimately have a significant impact on key variables. While some manufacturers don’t account for design adjustments in their timelines, early collaboration with your molder may uncover aspects of a design that can be optimized to improve the efficiency of part production and performance. Here are a few of the most common elements caught in the design for manufacturing process:

1. Draft

As an essential requirement in injection molding, draft angles make it easier for a finished, cooled part to be released from a mold. Minimizing friction during the part release process is important to prevent damage to the parts, provide a uniform surface finish and reduce wear and tear on the mold.

Draft angles are calculated as a degree measurement from the direction of pull. Designing a part with sufficient draft is critical, which is why design engineers typically recommend minimum draft angles of 0.5 degrees for core and 1.0 degree for the cavity. More draft is also needed if a textured surface is desired and if there are steel shut off surfaces in the tool design.

2. Wall Thickness


Another important factor in part design is wall thickness. A proper and uniform wall thickness reduces the risk of structural and cosmetic defects in injection molded parts.

While typical wall thickness ranges from .04 – .150 for most resins, it is recommended that you work with a knowledgeable injection molder/design engineer to verify thickness specifications for the material(s) you are considering for your part.

Analyzing wall thickness is an essential step in the design process to avoid producing parts that have sink, warp or are ultimately non-functional.

3. Ribs

Ribs are used to strengthen the walls of your part without increasing wall thickness, making them a valuable element in injection molded parts. Particularly in complex parts, good rib design should shorten the mold flow length while ensuring the proper connection of ribs to enhance the strength of the part.

Since thickness and location are essential in rib design, ribs should be no greater than ⅔ of the wall thickness, depending on the material used. Using wider ribs may create design and sinking issues. To mitigate this, a design engineer will typically core out some of the material to reduce shrinking and maintain strength.

Rib length should not exceed 3 times the length of the wall thickness, as anything over this could lead to part shorting/not being able to fill the part completely. Identifying the proper placement, thickness and length of ribs in the early phases of part design is an important element to the viability of a part.

4. Gate Location


A gate is the location where molten plastic material flows into the mold part cavity. While every injection molded part has at least one gate, many parts are manufactured using several gates. Because gate location affects the orientation of the polymer molecules and how the part will shrink during the cooling process, gate location can either make or break your part design and functionality.

For example, if a part is long and narrow and must be absolutely straight, it is best to place the gate at the end of the part. For parts that need to be perfectly round, a centrally located gate is recommended.

Sharing preliminary part designs with your injection molding engineering team, leveraging their knowledge and expertise in material flow, will result in optimal gate placement and injection points.

5. Ejector Pin Location


After a plastic part is molded, ejector pins (located within the B-side/core of the mold) apply just the right amount of force required to eject the part from a mold. Ejector pin location is typically a relatively minor concern in the early phases of design, but marks and indentations can result from improperly placed ejector pins, which is why design and positioning should be considered as early as possible in the process.

The location of ejector pins depends on a number of factors, including draft and texture of sidewalls, depth of walls and ribs, and the type of material used. Reviewing part designs will either confirm that your initial ejector pin placement is correct or may generate further recommendations to improve production outcomes.

6. Sink Areas

When the material in the area of thicker features, such as ribs or bosses, shrinks more than the material in the adjacent wall, sink marks may result in the injection molded plastic part. This occurs because thicker areas cool at a slower rate than the thinner ones, and the different rates of cooling leave a depression on the adjacent wall that is commonly referred to as a sink mark.

Several factors contribute to sink mark formation, including the processing methods used, part geometry, material selection and tooling design. Depending on the part specifications, it may not be possible to adjust geometry and material selection, but there are many options available to eliminate sink areas.

Depending on the part and its final application, tooling design (e.g., cooling channel design, gate type and gate size) can be leveraged to influence sink. In addition, manipulating process conditions (e.g., packing pressure, packing time, length of packing phase and conditions) offers several options to reduce sink. Finally, minor tooling modifications, such as retrofittable components or process modifications (e.g., gas assist or foaming) are also available to combat sink. As a result, it is best to collaborate with your injection molder to determine which methods will work best to mitigate sink in your specific injection molded parts.

7. Parting Lines


Parting line location is worth noting and planning for when producing more complex parts and/or when complicated shapes are required.

Since part designers and molders tend to evaluate parts differently, sharing your design with your injection molder can dramatically affect the production and function of your finished product. If parting line challenges are found, there are several ways to address them.

Being aware of the significance of the parting line in your initial design is a good first step, but that may not be your only option. By leveraging CAD software and mold flow analysis, you may be able to determine other possible locations. Working with a knowledgeable injection molder will keep your part end use top of mind and will guide you to the best possible location for parting lines.

There is no question, engaging your plastic injection molder early in the design for manufacturability process and working closely with a design engineer to identify efficiencies will help get your product to market quicker and on budget. What challenges are you currently facing with the plastic part design process?

Learn how Nicolet Plastics can help you reduce lead times and identify turn-key solutions for every product.

5 Questions to Consider Before the Injection Molding Quote Process

If you’re a manufacturer of products that use plastic parts (or metal parts that can be converted to plastic), it’s likely you’ve considered the injection molding quote process.  Injection molders are known for their ability to help product engineers create efficiencies with getting products to market faster and under budget. They also vary in their ability to produce low to high volume parts in a variety of sizes.

Obtaining an injection molding quote is the first step in determining which injection molder is the best fit for your part and unique specifications. In order to streamline your process, consider these questions before requesting an accurate quote for your part design, development and production.

1. Do you have access to CAD drawings or samples of the part to be quoted?

Injection molders can form the most accurate quotes when they have a clear picture of the part they are being asked to make. Ideally, detailed dimensional drawings (CAD drawings), provide very clear information on the size and complexity of a part. Additionally, a sample or prototype can help an injection molder make discoveries early in the process that will maximize design tweaks and the overall manufacturability.

A sketch or concept is very different from a finished part. There are factors leading from design to manufacturing that are important to consider when moving your idea to reality. In fact, many manufacturers cite the design process as the most prevalent area to create cost and time efficiencies in the injection molding process. If you do not have access to CAD drawings or part samples that have been proven in the production process, it is important to choose an injection molder with significant design engineering experience and / or prototyping capabilities. Let them be a resource to make recommendations that will improve the performance of your part.

2. What does the end use of your part look like? Are there any chemical or environmental factors to consider?

Do you have a clear description of the intended use for your plastic part? Having a clear explanation of the intended use will help your injection molder determine the appropriate design tweaks, material and recommendations for part improvements. The information you provide also offers a picture of the wear and tear a part will be exposed to over time and any environmental factors that may contribute to a part breaking down.

3. What quantity is needed?

Quantity projection is an important factor for many injection molders because it may determine if they can, or are willing to run your part. Most injection molders categorize their business as low volume or high volume. Low volume typically constitutes production runs under 10,000 parts, where high volume may include runs over 750,000 parts.

For shorter production runs, aluminum molds might be recommended. However, if your project will require large quantities over time or multiple runs over time, a hardened steel mold would be the best choice. While the upfront cost of hardened steel is greater, it will produce more consistent, higher quality parts – as well as pay for itself over the life of the tool.

4. What is the size and complexity of the part?

Simply put, more intricate part designs require elaborate mold designs, which generally increase the tool cost. Simple part designs require less complexity in the mold design, lowering the cost of the tool. Working with a knowledgeable injection molder with design engineer capabilities and resources early in your production process will help you find efficiencies across every stage of your project.

Also, understanding the size of your part will help your injection molder determine material quantity estimations.

5. What type of material or resin is required for your part?

There are many part design factors that help determine the best material that will drive the cost, function, versatility and production of your parts. Having a basic understanding of materials available and how they react to the environment your part will be exposed can help give you a starting reference point. Your injection molder should offer a detailed explanation of the materials or resins that best suit the unique needs and cost requirements for your production part.

While you don’t need to know all the ins and outs regarding the design, development, tool transfer and production process prior to obtaining a quote for an injection molded part – it’s always good to be prepared with the details related to your specific part’s needs. There’s no doubt that supplying this information to your injection molder will be valuable in every step of the process. Preparing your answers to these five questions will help you be prepared to establish a beneficial relationship with your injection molder.

 

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.

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.

Focus on Lead Times: Using QRM to Get Ahead

Nicolet_PartThis article was originally published by Plastics Business in the winter 2017 issue and written by Lara Copeland, contributing editor.

Business gurus often talk about the view from 30,000 feet – the big picture that provides a look at overall operations. Perhaps, however, the focus should be on the view from 30 feet – a close-up of specific processes and procedures that make an impact now.

Over 30 years ago, at a time when a new home in the US cost an average of $90,000 and many Americans were embracing “Hands Across America,” a small group of four entrepreneurs collaborated and – contributing $300 each – established a plastics manufacturing company in the middle of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Nicolet Plastics Inc. (NPI), Mountain, Wisconsin, since has expanded beyond its initial $1,200 investment and one leased press to a 19-press, 42,000-square-foot production facility that focuses on complex industrial and medical components and assemblies. Throughout the years, the company has thrived by pursuing business endeavors and facilitating growth. More recently, Nicolet has set itself apart from the competition by centering its efforts on shrinking lead times and increasing customer satisfaction.

When the global financial crisis struck the country nearly a decade ago, the manufacturing sector did not escape its wrath. Nicolet leaders, aware of the ramifications of surrendering to the recession, realized they needed to act to reinforce the company. Bob Gafvert, business development manager, explained, “Nicolet knew we wouldn’t survive trying to be like the 5,000-plus other molders in the country at that time. We needed to do something different and approach our business in a new way that would further differentiate us from the herd of molders.”

Nicolet reviewed its business and found its complexity score was off the charts when benchmarked against other molders. “In 2010, Nicolet was scoring in the millions while other molders were at a score of 300,000,” Gafvert continued. “We knew our complexity was something we could exploit when the easy, high-volume parts were being sourced off shore.” Wanting to explore options in efficiency, the company contacted the University of Wisconsin-School of Engineering and Dr. Rajan Suri, the founder of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing.

According to the website for the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, QRM begins with an understanding that time is the most valuable resource in any enterprise. The QRM methodology was designed specifically for high-variety manufacturers of custom-engineered, low-volume products looking to reduce lead times – much like Nicolet. This companywide approach is geared toward reducing lead times in all phases of manufacturing and office operations and is not to be confused with lean manufacturing – a philosophy focused on eliminating waste for high-volume repetitive production manufacturers.

Rather than eliminating all variabilities in manufacturing processes, QRM focuses on the elimination of dysfunctional variabilities, such as organizational issues that can cause rework, and helps companies find and understand the potential competitive advantages in strategic variabilities. Examples include, “the ability to cope with unexpected changes in demand, a large selection of options for customers and offering custom-engineered products,” according to the website. These strategic variabilities can be huge competitive advantages for companies not interested in higher-volume work, while the elimination of dysfunctional variabilities can cut the longer lead times often associated with highly custom work.

Since Nicolet implemented QRM in 2010, business began to increase. “The marketplace is taking notice of our business model and responding positively to our strategy,” Gafvert said. QRM has allowed Nicolet to compete in the manufacturing arena and gain entry to new prospects. The company has seen significant improvements in quality, reductions in lead time and reduction of inventories. It also has increased profitability and brought products to market more rapidly. Specifically, Nicolet reported reduced lead times for QRM business by two weeks while also reducing setup and changeovers by multiple hours.

“Reducing customers’ time to market and launch of new products has been a continued success. When we help a customer reduce their product launch by weeks and months, we are finding that our commitment to QRM is playing a significant part in delivering and exceeding customer expectations,” Gafvert affirmed. “Whether it’s been on the front end with customer service and orders and acknowledgements or in the quick turnaround of quoting in engineering, we found opportunities for efficiencies in reducing the white space in all aspects of business.”

Presently, Nicolet is continuing its focus on reducing white space – the time a job is waiting between steps, when something is not physically being manufactured in the press – and the company is seeing success with the complexity and diversity of its customer base and their products. As Gafvert acknowledged, “The variability that we experience day in and out is strategic for us, and QRM supports that business model.”

Adopting the QRM approach companywide did come with a few obstacles. “It requires a paradigm shift in terms of manufacturing, such as letting go of certain lean principles, as well as a culture change across the board,” Gafvert added.

To be successful, QRM needs to be employed throughout the company, and it takes time to get everyone on board. As the company has expanded over the last five years, its new hires have had to learn the importance of using QRM and how to support Nicolet’s customers with it. Additionally, getting suppliers on board can pose a challenge. The company is working to educate its suppliers on the value of time and to convince them to adopt a QRM mindset. As Gafvert suggested, “We can’t wait days for a supplier to get back to us with pricing or availability on a material or assembly part because it slows down the process.”

As the company looks for ways to remain prominent in the manufacturing arena, it is “incredible” as Gafvert put it, to see where it all started. Nicolet marked its 30-year anniversary over a two-day period this past fall by offering plant tours and celebrating with its customers (current and prospective), suppliers and the surrounding community. “It was a great opportunity to get people from the area into the facility to see what we do, the level of automation and the opportunities that exist in manufacturing,” Gafvert articulated.

Looking ahead, NPI is expecting continued growth at the facility and through expansion of its customer base. The ability to cope with unexpected changes in demand and its success in providing custom-engineered product in low to moderate volumes has been – and will continue to be – the cornerstone for Nicolet’s progress. “Our plan is to spend another 30 years in our community,” Gafvert asserted as he discussed his enthusiasm for developing the next generation of production, master molders, engineers and customer service staff. He concluded, “Nicolet will continue to focus on driving value to customers who see the opportunity in a relationship with us based on overall value and partnership.”

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5 Ways Your Injection Molder Can Help with Tool Maintenance Challenges

Mold2It’s no secret that consistent injection mold maintenance plan can help your mold last longer, run with less interruptions and will ultimately save you time, money and frustration. Mold (or tool) maintenance, refers to the cleaning and repairs that are needed to keep an injection mold in the best working order. Maintenance should be performed routinely over the life of the mold, in addition to if any problems arise. What a lot of manufacturers don’t know is that mold maintenance is crucial because it affects the quality of the plastic component as well as the company’s project budget.

Even though molds and tools are critical assets to your company, many manufacturers overlook mold maintenance as a service when making sourcing decisions. In fact, how your injection molder maintains your molds is a critical aspect of a successful long-term relationship. Here are some important mold maintenance tips to consider:

What problems does mold neglect cause?

A well-designed injection mold is created to withstand natural wear and tear that may occur during use. However, even with a superior mold design, there are many stressors placed on a mold and unpredictable situations arise.

One of the major causes of internal and external stress on a mold is temperature fluctuation. If mold design does not allow for uniform cooling, a mold can expand and contract – causing stress-related weakness and may potentially crack.

Friction is another stressor and cause for a mold to breakdown. If the mold doesn’t open and close smoothly, it may cause too much stress when the two halves meet each other. There may then be issues with ejector pins not functioning properly. Additionally, the added fiction may cause increased heat that will eventually wear away critical parts – creating compromised areas of the mold.

Destruction of the mold itself is not the only concern related to mold neglect. There are also important factors to consider with the material that is injected into the mold. As a mold is used again and again to complete the process of making parts, small amounts of material residue can build up inside the mold cavities. Eventually, this residue can build up and ultimately affect the shape of the cavity (and the finished part).

What does injection mold maintenance include?

The best mold maintenance begins before the mold is made. The first step should be ensuring the mold design follows best practices to allow for uniform cooling and the lowest possible level of stress both internally and externally.

After the mold is created, your injection molder should facilitate regular inspection by checking runners and mold cavities as well as checking for corrosion. It is also important to create a schedule to plan for regular injection mold maintenance and keep a log to track each inspection.

What are the benefits of a mold that is properly maintained?

Regular monitoring of your mold is the key to producing high quality injection molded parts. The likelihood that you will catch an issue early (rather than when you are forced to address them) will be greater and will give you more time to remedy the situation.

An additional benefit is the cost savings that is realized with preventive mold maintenance. With proper implementation, the time investment for maintenance will rarely equal the costs associated with having to repair or replace a mold.

What is the role of your injection molder?

In addition to minimizing cost and risk, working with a knowledgeable and reliable injection molder can help you implement a mold maintenance plan that fits your needs. Your injection molder can also explain the benefits and limitations of your specific mold, while helping provide direction throughout the life of your mold.

What challenges are you facing regarding proper tool maintenance and getting the most life out of your injection mold?

To learn how Nicolet Plastics, Inc. supports our customers and protects your assets with preventative maintenance, please contact Bob Gafvert at bob.gafvert@nicoletplastics.com.

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Benefits of Metal to Plastic Conversion for Agricultural Parts

metaltoplasticMetal to plastic conversion processes have been used for decades; however, many manufacturers have not considered all the benefits that can be applied to improve products. Guided by the ability to reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency, automotive and aerospace companies have been among the most active in converting metal to plastic. Another industry highly impacted by metal to plastic part conversion is agriculture. With advancements in design, engineered plastics can be just as strong and chemical and heat resistant which makes plastic a great option for fluid handling systems and other high-temperature applications. Here are a few other benefits that manufacturers of agricultural products will see with a metal to plastic part conversion.

1. Design Flexibility:

One of the greatest aspects of converting metal agricultural parts to plastic is the design freedom that is created in the process. It is recommended to work closely with an experienced injection molder and design engineer to gain an understanding of the features that should be taken into account to maintain a complex structural design for your part. Specifically, it’s more efficient to create complex parts out of plastic than metal because injection molding easily allows for under-cuts, threads, ports and tight tolerances.

The design flexibility also enables greater strength in plastic parts. With the ability to mold in features for structural strength like ribs, bosses and gussets, strength can be increased without adding additional cost.

2. Weight:

Reducing part weight with a metal to plastic conversion is another big advantage of the process. Reducing part weight by using plastic gives you more parts per pound of material, significantly reduces shipping costs, and oftentimes improves the end-user’s ease of use with the product. Additionally, in some applications reducing part weight can improve gas mileage and boost recycling opportunities.

3. Cost:

In general, agricultural product manufacturers will see an overall cost reduction for metal to plastic part conversion. There are several ways that cost reduction comes into play throughout the design and injection molding process:

• Multiple metal parts can be replaced by one injection-molded part made of durable, engineered plastic – eliminating the need for fasteners and assembly
• Colors can be added to the plastic polymer, eliminating secondary operations for painting or laser marking
• The need to weld, grind, and add dent and scratch resistance and noise dampening is eliminated

4. New and Improved Polymers:

The continuing advancements in polymer development have enticed many product engineers and designers to evaluate the use of traditional materials such as metal. New and improved polymers have allowed part manufacturers and injection molders the ability to produce parts that were once thought of as impossible to create with plastic.

Advanced polymers with specific fillers and reinforcements also allow engineers the ability to add a significant amount of structural integrity to molded parts. With the proper selection and design optimization, plastic parts can be as strong as metal.

Before moving forward with a plastic to metal part conversion, it is important to meet with an injection molder to determine if the transition is suitable for your product. This process requires considerable analysis that keeps the end use, cost, environmental conditions and manufacturability in mind. Analyzing the benefits for conversion and the real-world environmental impact will help you make the best material choice for your agricultural part.

Are you considering a metal to plastic part conversion? Let Nicolet Plastics walk you through an efficient evaluation process.

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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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