Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed how our ever-connected world has affected most business models. The increased worldwide competition created by the global integration of business and finance has presented new opportunities to many companies—and created great risks to others. These risks are leading many organizations to re-examine every facet of their business with a view toward maintaining or regaining their competitive edge. Paradigm shifts are not only measured in profits, but in hours, minutes, seconds. Faster development cycles, quicker throughput, streamlined distribution are the mileposts that mark these shifts. And, nowhere have the issues of speed and time played such a critical role as in product design and development.
In the midst of the hurry-up offense, it is not unusual for even the best designer to begin to think not at the product level, but at the component level. That is to say they focus more on their aspect of the design cycle and less about the project as a whole—that’s the Project Manager’s job, right? However, collaborative effort tends to suffer when timelines must suddenly be compressed and, unfortunately, it is at these times that collaboration and communication between project members (both internal and external) is most crucial. It can determine whether the product deployment is a success or failure.
In terms of plastic component design where prototype or bridge tooling can be utilized as a means to help compress the design cycle, part designs are often rushed to release. The result can be multiple engineering changes in which the design is validated on the run, consuming even more valuable time. Additionally, believing that all tooling vendors have the resources available to offer design suggestions to avoid potential issues may be an incorrect assumption to make. Many rapid tooling vendors do not offer high-level part optimization or design engineering services and typically will build a plastic injection mold using the 3D part database submitted–regardless of how complicated the tool may have to be. In fact, the methods often used by prototype tooling vendors (while appropriate for quickly producing short part runs) usually do not translate well into the high-production injection molding world. Interestingly, parts can sometimes be produced with a rapid prototype tool but cannot with a production mold expected to run thousands or millions of pieces. The main reason is that short run, prototype tools tend to be very manual and simplistic in the interest of saving time, while production molds are built for the long haul to produce low-cost volumes. Discovering this during manufacturing ramp-up when time is critical can be frustrating, challenging, and expensive.
Another aspect that designers often overlook when sourcing prototype and bridge injection molds is the means in which tools and parts are produced. This to say that in the zeal to save time, often it is assumed that all tooling methods are the same and will produce an “as designed” component. This is often not the case since vendors who utilize CNC machining only in their process, cannot produce square features and are limited to cutter clearances for many small details. Many times parts are not designed with these considerations and must be re-designed in order to be completely cut on a machining center, which may be an issue for the molded part application. Many tooling vendors require minimum radii, draft angles, cutter clearance, simple/no side actions, and limited resin choices. Most will expect the customer to change their part design or requirements to fit an inflexible tooling process.
When working in a tight project deadline, the goal should be to get the molded parts you need quickly, the way they were designed, and in the material you require–sacrificing quality or design functionality in the interest of time is never a good idea. The best situation is to find a vendor which not only understands prototype and bridge injection mold tooling, but also part design and optimization for future high-volume production. Creating a migration path from prototype-to-bridge-to-production quantities should be a critical item during the process. Creating a ramp up plan for both tooling options and molded part quantities can provide flexibility in meeting early production quantities, while lowering the overall risk of missing crucial deliveries. Rapid tooling should not only be about getting parts quickly, but about learning as much as possible about how the part can be quickly tooled and cost-effectively manufactured when it is time for mass production.
If possible, include your tooling vendor as a member of your project team early in the process, especially if they understand the entire product development cycle. It may not only save time and money getting ready for production, but in the actual production as well.
Over the past 20 years of business, Catalyst not only has the capabilities to design and develop your product or components to be optimized for both short run and high volume production, we also have complete tooling, machining, and plastic injection molding capabilities in-house. This allows our team to offer the full benefit of the design and validation process to our clients, be it simplistic or complex in nature, to ensure their product is ready for production as quickly as possible.