Research | Design | Engineer | Prototype | Manufacture

Hey There! 

Thanks for chatting with us at D2P Akron and taking the time to find out more about Catalyst.  If you were asked how your day went when you got home, you may have said something like:

I went to a manufacturing trade show to visit the Catalyst booth and all I got was this bookmark!”

Ok, that’s true, but hear me out for a minute.  We could have just ordered some pens, lanyards or maybe even some koozies with our logo from some promotional site and called it a day.  But we make things here at Catalyst and we think better of you.  While we hope you get some good use out of your simple new bookmark, it’s actually meant as a placeholder to signify any complex component or product you choose to develop with us. 

A Little Background Info

Catalyst Product Development Group, Inc. is a premiere design firm that also offers engineering, prototyping, and manufacturing services all within the same building.  If you didn’t know we are based right here in Indy, we aren’t surprised.  Since most of our clients enjoy an iron-clad NDA, it’s possible that we’ve been Indy’s best-kept secret for the last 23 years!

Back To The Bookmark

A few weeks ago, we decided to make something to give our visitors at the Design-2-Part Show in Akron.  So, we kicked off a brainstorming session that pared the wide-ranging ideas down to four options:

And The Finalists Are ...

Golf ball divot tool keychain. (Our executive manager is a golf nut.)

Bottle opener keychain. (The marketing guy is thirsty.)

Bookmark with our logo. (Because books and stuff.)

Time-traveling Delorean drone. (Plutonium not included.)

Can you guess which option we went with?  That’s right!  We made the bottle opener!

Wait, what?  Yup, we made a Catalyst logo bottle opener. It works well, but we didn’t give you one and here’s why.  Marketing (that’s me) was adamant that the logo shouldn’t stray from the style guide. So, I requested that we 3D print a few as well as injection mold a version with a metal insert for added strength. We quickly whipped up a batch and passed them around the office, but it was apparent that my design constraints for our logo added bulk.  In order for our unaltered logo to have the right fulcrum point and leverage to do the assigned job, it was admittedly too wide to be convenient. (My bad!) And while our designers could have just created a slimmer version with an embossed logo, the bottle opener never passed the prototyping phase.  We decided to change directions altogether.

A keychain prototype being used to open a bottle cap.
A table full of prototyped keychains

And at Catalyst, that’s okay.  Whether it’s due to user feedback or client preference, we pivot on projects all the time!  The Catalyst process stays flexible in order to quickly switch gears as projects evolve.

So Now, Let’s Really Talk About The Bookmark

After my misguided requests on the bottle opener, I thought it best to take a back seat on developing the bookmark.  It was October 11th and we were starting from scratch. I was pretty impressed by what happened next.

Paul Zink, our Creative Services Director, suggested we change the colorant from the material we had in stock to our actual Pantone color in order to perfectly match our brand.  It was sitting in our receiving department three days later.

The engineering department had already drafted the bookmark in CAD and printed a few options in our prototype lab to get a consensus on size and proportion.  Two processes were used to make these out of varying materials. 

The chosen design is represented here in several materials.  One clear example made with SLA using lasers and two made with FDM using filament resin.  After review on Monday, October 17th, this version was sent to our tooling department for them to start building an aluminum mold.

3D printed prototypes of a Catalyst branded bookmark

At the same time, Brandon and Levi, our newest additions to the engineering department, decided to 3D print an SLA mold to be used in parallel to our traditional mold as a demonstration of the technique. 

The race was on!

A Catalyst employee operates a wire EDM to create a mold for our bookmark.

Tooling the QC10 aluminum mold began by fabricating the two halves of the insert with our Wire EDM. Then we used a combination of CNC and Sinker EDM processing to achieve the sharp angles in our logo and lettering. 

We verified the placement of the ejector pins and finally finished the surface with a quick trip to our sand-blasting station.  It only took our tooling department three days to go from a fresh block of aluminum to a finished mold ready for the injection press!

Two halves of an aluminum mold are ready to install in a plastic injection press.

How did Brandon and Levi do with our 3D printed mold?  When compared to aluminum, an SLA mold is a different beast altogether and several factors are in play here.  Where you place the gate may be different, material flows and releases differently, plus cooling and venting is of special importance. 

A 3D printed mold in an aluminum insert is ready to mold parts.

The process took four hours to design, five hours to print, two hours to cure, then another hour to post-process and clean.  In the end, they made four mold variations in two days.  Multiple printed molds were ready a full day faster than the aluminum mold- not bad!

Hold On!  The Proof Is In The Production Pudding

Could 3D printed molds hold their own against aluminum?  The short answer is “Yes, under the right circumstances.”, according to Brandon and Levi.

We installed the 3D printed molds in a 13” x 19” base for our 50-ton JSW injection molding press using polypropylene and our newly delivered colorant.  It took a bit of experimentation to dial in the tonnage, shot size, temp and cycle time before we were happy with the parts from these molds.  Once we hit the sweet spot, a few dozen parts looked great. 

A printed mold being used in a 50-ton JSW plastic injection press.
Various 3D printed molds arranged with the parts made from them.

But the molds eventually began to degrade, and we were losing fine detail in the lettering.  The short lifespan of these printed molds had been expected, that’s why multiple molds were at the ready.  When compared to 3D printing with FDM and SLA, there is the distinct advantage of getting real parts in your preferred resin and color. The bottom line is that SLA molds can be a viable option for specific projects with tight deadlines and low volume requirements. 

After we had our fun with the printed molds, the aluminum mold was swapped into the same press. Terry, our molding department manager, produced a run of 250 bookmarks in no time.  The cycle time on the aluminum mold was faster due to higher pressure, quicker cooling, and the added benefit of ejection pins.  This batch is what we sent home with the visitors to our booth.  They feature a refined surface texture that is lacking on all the other iterations.  Should demand for our humble bookmark skyrocket, we could run several hundred-thousand parts out of that mold without issue. 

A shipping box full of completed bookmarks that were designed, prototyped and manufactured in nine days.

On October 11th, we started over.  Fast forward to October 20th, and I had bookmarks to share with you.

The Catalyst Difference

Now in the end, this isn’t really a story about the bookmark at all, it’s about the unique Catalyst approach to making something that is brand new.  When you are a client of ours you gain an expert partner in plastic development that isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to technique or timeline.  You may want to “bookmark” our Process and Plastic Parts pages as a handy reference on our wide-ranging capabilities.

Simply Get In Touch for more technical information or set up a time to drop on by to see how Catalyst can take your next project From Mind To Market.

Catalyst Product Development Group