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Archive for April, 2013

Staying Close to Customers

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by The Technology House

No longer can shops make it as mere Mom and Pop injection molders. To be competitive in a tough economy takes more than just pumping out parts. Some production houses find sticking to custom work the best approach. Whether it is for 3D printing, machining or injection molding, the success of high-production shops such as ours depends on establishing and maintaining good relationships with customers. This is important because sometimes critical elements of a design were overlooked from a manufacturing point-of-view.

In some cases, a customer might bring in five parts it wants to injection mold. Because our shop has lots of flexibility, providing 3D printing, machining and injection molding, our engineers can inform customers that three of the parts are great for injection molding, but two of them would be less expensive to machine. As in other custom shops, many of our engineers have 10 to 30 years experience.

Custom shops can also verify designs as well as suggest changes that might cut a customer’s tooling costs by thousands of dollars, as well as improve the life of the tool.

Tooling might range from a simple aluminum insert, which eliminates the need to build a full tool, to multi-cavity high-production molds. Aluminum inserts provide quick change flexibility and can run upwards of 10,000 to 50,000 parts depending on part design and material. Multi-cavity tooling comes into play for runs of around 100,000 parts. Using families of tools lets injection molders get as many parts in one mold as possible and run them all in a set.

Custom shops shine at unusual jobs such as one we ran recently for the Library of Congress. The job entailed injection molding 30,000 capsules and lids to store sound recordings that date back 150 years.

We see a lot of interest in and a demand for shops that can provide high production and multiple manufacturing options. We see shops continuing to increase their flexible manufacturing capabilities into the future.

More Efficient Machining for Complex Parts

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by The Technology House

It’s no secret that shops are always trying to find ways to boost production and reduce costs. A sophisticated approach entails using 5-axis CNC machining instead of 3-axis machining to make parts in one setup instead of three or four setups. Production houses can set-up fixtures on the multi-axis machines, ready the materials, and just press Start. Automated pallet changers and automated tool changers let the machines run lights-out almost 24/7.

The approach lets operators — who need not be skilled machinists — run as many machines as possible. Our shop, for instance, has one person running five or six rapid prototyping machines and another person running four different five-axis machines. This cuts labor costs, makes machining more efficient, and boosts production.

Multi-axis machines can cut parts from materials including aluminum, stainless steel and titanium. But their real beauty is they can handle the cutting of very complex parts such as impellers for automotive. Running families of parts almost eliminates the need to change setups at all, just bolt on a different fixture, and away you go. Our production runs for complex parts range from hundreds to thousands of parts.

We see a lot of demand for the efficient machining of complex parts and feel that most of the more sophisticated shops are either already using multi-axis machines or are headed in that direction.

A Newer Twist in Additive Manufacturing

Posted on: April 24th, 2013 by The Technology House

No doubt about it, additive manufacturing is hot. Unlike subtractive processes, such as machining which make parts by removing material, additive processes build three-dimensional objects layer-by-layer from digital models. Solid objects can be “3D printed” to almost any shape. Over time, the technology’s range has expanded from mostly business-to-business to business-to-consumer. This has changed the face of industry, making many companies think differently about how they produce parts. Most companies used to associate “additive manufacturing” solely with “prototypes.”  Now, spurred by the rise of consumer resources such as MakerBot and MakerGear, firms are increasingly associating additive with “end parts.”

Although some firms are still stuck on using mill specs for production, it seems that in the last few years, more companies are thinking harder about when and how to use additive techniques. Stories such as the Navy using additive aboard ships to build replacement parts and NASA exploring the technology to create spare parts on spaceships crop up almost daily.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most common additive technique in industry because it prints parts using standard engineering thermoplastics — not the proprietary blends other techniques demand. Our company builds end parts using FDM, stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS).

Additive manufacturing can be used to help in production in at least 2 popular ways. First, “3D printing” can be used to create fixtures. Currently, companies must design and machine-out fixtures from a metal or plastic material in order to make a production fixture. The FDM, and other additive processes, now allow companies to “print” fixtures and get the completed devices by the next day. The fixtures hold parts for assembly, painting or machining (for instance, post-op drilling.) Second, additive manufacturing can produce the end use part either for initial testing or for the actual production run. The medical-grade polycarbonate (PC-ISO) FDM material is popular in the medical device industry and Ultem is popular for many high-heat applications for the automotive and aerospace industries.

We see a lot of interest in additive techniques and feel that their use in industry will continue to grow.