New Year, New Project | 2021 Rapid Manufacturing

New Year, New Project | 2021 Rapid Manufacturing

New Year, New Project! 

Xcentric is ready to help you make 2021 great—starting with competitive quotes for your new projects! Simply click below to request a custom quote for plastic injection molding, CNC machining, or 3D printing.

The process is fast and easy with custom quotes delivered within 1 business day.

Get A Custom Quote

Streamline your design process! Xcentric’s guided design tool will help you quote your project and move forward in the design process. Learn how we can accelerate your time to market.

Need Help Getting Started? Request a Consultation!

It’s never too early to get Xcentric involved! Our on-site experts are available to support your project from idea through production (and beyond). Contact an application engineers to request a consultation for your project.

Want To Mold Better Parts? Check Out Xcentric’s Resource Center!

We have a library of design guides to help you as you work on your design. You’ll find them on our website here: Design Guides

Plastic Injection Molding Parts Clinic – Winter 2021

It’s time to register for one of Xcentric’s most popular webinars! Join Xcentric’s John Sidorowicz, Director of Operations, and Glen MillerTooling Engineer and Quality Control Specialist, to learn common design challenges and tips for avoiding them in your part design. 

Working on a project?

Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!

Best Of 2020 | Xcentric Mold

Best Of 2020 | Xcentric Mold

Xcentric Presents: The Top 5 Of 2020

We are pleased to share the top 5 blogs of 2020 that provided customers and readers value throughout the year. Check out the topics written by our subject matter experts and be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates. 

Digital Rapid Manufacturing: Your Link To The Global Supply Chain

Digital manufacturing can help provide a robust and sustainable solution for reducing supply chain risk by linking all areas of production.  

Choose An Agile Injection Molding Partner, Bring YOUR Designs To Life

Instead of changing your design to fit a pre-determined process, choose a custom injection-molder that can bring your concepts to life, faster than ever. 

Supply Chain: More Robust And Sustainable After COVID-19 

As the world defines a new business-as-usual post-pandemic, manufacturers are taking steps to build a more robust, domestic supply chain.

Maintaining Quality, Value, And Speed Requires A Solid Team

Our process to achieve consistent success is based on communication, streamlining processes, and continuous improvement.

Is Injection Molding The Optimal Process? Consider these 3 Factors

Injection is one of the most widely used processes in the world. Still, it has to be the optimal choice to achieve your design intent.

Working on a project?

Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!

Proof-of-Concept Can Reduce Risk | Rapid Prototyping

Proof-of-Concept Can Reduce Risk | Rapid Prototyping

Don’t Skip The Proof-of-Concept! Reduce Risk With Rapid Prototyping

Design is an iterative process that can require multiple rounds of testing and adjustments. Creating a realistic proof-of-concept with rapid prototyping is a fast, safe, and cost-effective solution for advancing parts to production quickly with less risk.  

So why do so many product designers and engineers skip the prototyping stage of the product development cycle?

In our experience, it comes down to misconceptions about saving time and money.

Topics covered in this blog:

  • Overview of rapid prototyping process
  • Common misconceptions about proof-of-concept: time and money
  • How to leverage different processes in prototyping to optimize your design, production process, and minimize risk

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is the process of using a manufacturing technique, like injection molding or 3D printing, to create a realistic proof-of-concept of an end product.

In doing so, product designers and engineers can move quickly – and accurately, from CAD to physical part or assembly to testing.

With this quality proof-of-concept they can analyze fit, form, and function in real-world testing and iterate based on its performance. Then, the optimized prototype can move to production with confidence.

Still, of all the steps in the product development process, prototyping is the one most frequently skipped.

For one, many see this as the most logical place to reduce production time and cost. And second, many product designers trust what’s been done in CAD and simulation and assume they can move right to production without validation testing.

But making these assumptions early in the product development process can result in expensive unforeseen delays later.

Proof-of-Concept Prototype

Product development process

Completing each step of the product development process helps to produce high-quality injection-molded parts. The process typically includes specific steps that build on each other to provide information for optimizing the part and process.

Creating a realistic proof-of-concept is one of the most critical steps in this process. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) is a great first step to assessing design feasibility. However, too many engineers think 3D Printing is the end of the prototype process.

Unfortunately, for products that require large part runs that will be injection molded, skipping prototype tooling introduces significant risk into the full-scale production of the part. This is because prototype tooling supports the entire product development and launch timeline by providing valuable information for building and optimizing production tooling.

Common Misconceptions

Time and money. These are two of the most common reasons product designers choose not to create a proof-of-concept. Unfortunately, it is a misconception that this will reduce cost or speed time-to-market.

Reduce production costs

Running prototypes in-house is expensive because it requires a big upfront investment in 3D printers and injection molding machines. So, the thought process is that eliminating the prototype eliminates the need to invest. But skipping prototyping introduces risk into the production stage of the process.

Eliminating prototyping is an expensive misconception. Discovering design or process problems during production is exponentially more expensive because prototype and production tooling are not equal.

It is common knowledge that making changes during production is far more expensive and time consuming than in a proof-of-concept.

In fact, as you progress through the product development process, making changes 15x more expensive than the previous step.

Though it may seem like a logical way to save money to wait until production to make changes, it is more cost- and time-effective to make changes earlier. Taking time early to run another validation test or do a fit check will help you move to production tooling with greater confidence.

It will increase time-to-market

One of the most common misconceptions about prototyping is that it is a bottleneck in the product development cycle.

Product designers want to rely on computer simulation or use makeshift proofs-of-concept that will get them to market faster.

In reality, it’s not making the prototype that slows down the process, but rather the changes required as a result of evaluating the prototype. Therefore, it seems reasonable that eliminating the step altogether would save time.

This falsehood has negatively impacted many projects because as mentioned earlier, the further you progress in the process, the more expensive and time-consuming it is to correct issues. Using realistic proofs-of-concept to identify and correct issues early will prove more cost- and time-effective.

The Rapid Prototyping Process - Accelerating Design while Saving Money

Webinar Replay

Makeshift proof-of-concept models can be quick and dirty, but can lead to unforeseen delays down the road. In this webinar Xcentric Account Executive, Craig Johnson, discusses how realistic proofs-of-concept can help mitigate risk when moving parts to production.

WATCH NOW

Proof-of-concept options to reduce risk: 3D printing and injection molding

3D printing and injection molding are two of the most widely used manufacturing processes. Each one can be used to create a realistic proof-of-concept to evaluate your design, ensure manufacturability, and optimize the production tooling and process to mitigate risk.

Here are a few suggestions on when and how to use each process. 

3D Printing

  1. Use 3D printing to advance designs and dial in material characteristics or functionality
  2. “Simulate” the manufacturing process past CAD via physical 3D prints
  3. Use 3D printing to bridge Injection Molding for low volumes while tooling is being made

Prototype Injection Molding

  1. Use prototype injection molding to evaluate products that will require injection molding in production
  2. Use prototype injection molding to prove out your design’s manufacturability
  3. Most importantly, prototype injection molding is used to identify any tooling issues early so corrections can be incorporated into your production tooling from the start

What’s next?

Understand your part volume needs and the impact of your part complexity on downstream processes. If you are simply making a minor change to a part that has successfully been in production for a long time, maybe you can skip part of the proof-of-concept prototyping process.

However, when you are designing a new product, or making major changes to an existing project, avoid the temptation to eliminate prototyping. Doing so will only increase the risk of delays, cost increases, and project failure.

If you still have questions, whether about your part design, manufacturability, the need to include both 3D printing and prototype injection molding in the process, or anything else related to prototyping, contact an Xcentric application engineer. We’re always happy to help.

Working on a project?

Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!

Diversify Network of Vendors| Mitigate Supply Chain Risk

Diversify Network of Vendors| Mitigate Supply Chain Risk

Are Legacy Vendors Invested In Your Success?
If Not, You Could Be Vulnerable to Risk.

As the technologies that drive manufacturing continue to advance, processes like rapid prototyping are becoming more mainstream and in demand.

To meet this demand, the vendor pool is increasing—and their platforms are evolving to make quoting projects faster and easier than ever.

This seems ideal for companies eager to bring products to market fast. Afterall, having more options to choose from can help you to secure the competitive edge.

But more isn’t better.

In fact, having too many vendors to choose from can lead to analysis paralysis—or “vendor paralysis,” which can introduce elements of risk to the supply chain, business, project, and even your ability to deliver on personal goals.

Of course, this may prompt you to rely more heavily on legacy vendors. But what if they shut down due to any number of business disruptions? How will they deliver your parts? Do they have measures in place to protect your supply in any market?

Solution: Build a diverse network of trusted vendors invested in your success.

To help mitigate risk throughout the product development process, and to your supply chain, build a diverse network of trusted partners based in the USA. A team that functions as an extension of your business with invested interest in helping you to succeed.

Too many options can result in “vendor paralysis.”

Vendor Paralysis and Legacy Vendors: Elements of Risk

A key solution for mitigating risk is to diversify your vendor network. However, this is difficult to accomplish when you have too many to choose from or rely too heavily on legacy vendors.

Vendor paralysis

Forbes defines analysis paralysis as the moments when someone is so overwhelmed with choices that they are unable to make a decision. Vendor paralysis can be defined in the same vein. That is, as the vendor pool continues to increase, the more difficult it becomes to choose one.

For example, indecisiveness will prevent projects from moving forward in the product development process. Which, as you can imagine, will lead to product launch delays, added costs, and missed market opportunity. Further, vendor paralysis can also result in an overreliance on legacy vendors.

3-quote Solution: Getting Quotes vs. Vetting Partners

So how can organizations solve for this indecisiveness? Based on conversations with engineers, purchasing, and sourcing, companies are requiring employees to get 3 competitive quotes for every job.

But getting 3 quotes is different than vetting 3 partners invested in your success.

Though implemented with good intentions, it is a transactional solution. One that does not require vetting a vendor’s capabilities, having conversations around them, ensuring they are accurate and meet the needs of the project.

Ultimately, instead of advancing toward a more diverse network of trusted partners, the 3-quote solution still results in relying too heavily on a select few vendors which can greatly increase risk.

Legacy Vendors

We appreciate the value of legacy relationships. They are safe, comfortable, and reliable. And when faced with aggressive deadlines to bring products to market, it can feel faster and easier to rely on what you know.

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic revealed painful weaknesses in our supply chains. And, after 2020, it’s a lot harder to say, “that could never happen.”

Unexpected Problems & What They Mean To Your Supply Chain

Now, more than ever, it’s clear that any type of disruption can introduce elements of risk to your business: tariffs, pandemics, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, military uprisings, a death in the family, personal emergency, and human error.

The question, then, is how will your legacy vendors keep your business flowing if their business shuts down due events out of their control? Without a backup plan, how will you get your parts?

Now consider the bigger picture. If your legacy vendors cannot sustain your supply, it could result in missing the chance to bring products to market and failure to secure the competitive edge.

You could also lose your biggest customer who pays your bills, forcing you to lay off employees or close business altogether.

Diversify Your Network of Trusted Partners To Help Mitigate Risk

A diverse network of fully vetted partners can help to mitigate risk to the supply chain, keep a small business from closing, and reduce personal risk.

Further, a network of partners—truly invested in your success –  can save time and money, provide higher acceptance rate on parts, provide better transparency on timelines and updates, and enable you to re-establish relationships with previous customers due to better capabilities.

To achieve success, choose US-based suppliers, don’t rely on “what’s always been done” as a litmus test. Further, insist on communication and collaboration between your internal teams and vendors.

Choose 4 USA-based Vendors Per Manufacturing Process

Vetting domestic vendors for manufacturing processes such as injection molding and 3D printing will provide advantages such as shorter logistics and real-time visibility into their manufacturing process.

Building a network that includes 4 vendors for each manufacturing process will help mitigate risk by ensuring you have a backup if there is an unexpected event.

Further, diversifying your network to include partners with different production capabilities can help add flexibility.

Choose 4 domestic vendors for each manufacturing process.

Use a New Litmus Test To Vet Vendors

When vetting new vendors, resist the urge to rely on past experiences as a measure of success. One of the critical goals of this process is to diversify your network beyond your current relationships to help mitigate risk and stimulate innovation. Otherwise you will continue on the same path.

Communication & Collaboration Between Internal Teams and Vendors

Break Down Silos To Help Reduce Mistakes

Too often, hard work by many is derailed or overlooked because of one missing piece resulting in a variety of mistakes. Promoting communication and collaboration between vendors and your internal teams can increase transparency and reduce errors.

For instance, typically internal groups (engineers, product designers, purchasing, etc.) are siloed and miss critical communications. Thereby resulting in errors such as quantity requirements, turnaround time, and invoicing.

These mistakes can prevent you from getting the parts you need when you need them. And when teams work together, simple mistakes that could otherwise lead to larger ramifications can be eliminated.

Invest time in the Partnerships

Develop genuine relationships with vendors and stay plugged in with your partner representatives.

This helps to ensure you always know if something may prevent getting accurate parts on time.

Having up-to-date information at all times from your partners will help to proactively mitigate risk and adjust internal planning versus scrambling to fix a problem.

Conclusion

Vendor paralysis and relying too heavily on legacy vendor relationships can make you and your business vulnerable to risk.

Building a diverse network of trusted, domestic partners that are vetted for each manufacturing specialty can help to mitigate risk to the supply chain and maintain the flow of business in any market climate.

If you would like to discuss strategies for diversifying your vendor network, please contact Xcentric. We would love to be part of your success story. Contact our Application Engineers at sales@xcentricmold.com or 586-598-4636.

Working on a project?

Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!

Manufacturing Processes: Injection Molding and 3D Printing

Manufacturing Processes: Injection Molding and 3D Printing

Manufacturing Processes: Learn the Basics about Injection Molding and 3D Printing

Injection molding or 3D printing? Which manufacturing process will achieve your desired fit, form, and function? Turns out, you may not have to choose one over the other.

As these processes continue to advance, product designers have more options. They can leverage the benefits of both processes to produce higher-quality parts.

So the question is no longer limited to which manufacturing process will you choose. But rather, when and how can they be used together?

Engineers are building road maps to create viable paths to bring their products to market on time and on budget. However, many of these paths are based on using one process. Therefore, they may not be fully optimized for success.

Manufacturing Processes: Injection Molding and 3D Printing

No matter what new processes and technologies are introduced, there is always room for recalling fundamentals. In fact, revisiting the the basics will help you to make more informed decisions when choosing between injection molding and additive manufacturing.

Know Your Part: How the part is used can determine which manufacturing process you choose

How will the part be used? This is the most important question you can ask yourself. Whether you choose injection molding or 3D printing, understanding how the part will be used can help to mitigate risk.

Concept or Final Production

One end of the continuum demands that you are in pilot mode manufacturing multiple prototypes to determine the best design. On the other end of the continuum, the demand is for  efficient manufacturability and alignment with the intent to flawlessly go-to-market. Materials testing, form-fit-function, tolerances, design iterations, production part quantity all take on a different meaning based on which end of the continuum defines your scope.

Simple or Complex Parts

Regardless of which end of this continuum defines your part, there are many manufacturability compromises that could derail your intended design. One way to help mititage risk is to apply specific measures based on whether the part is simple or complex.

Simple Does Not Mean Easy

A simple part is designed using one type of material and requires little to no special considerations during production. Just because it is a simple part doesn’t mean it will be easy to manufcture.

Therefore, build a list of non-negotiables that the manufactgurer must follow to help achieve your design intent.

Complex Part Designs

In contrast, a complex part design may require overmolding to add a soft grip to your part. Or it could include undercuts which require special accommodations during production to assist with ejection from the mold.

Whether using plastic injection molding or 3D printing, involve your manufacturer early when producing complex parts. This will help to improve your design’s manufacturability. Also, it can help mitigate risk and eliminate unnecessary production costs.

Optimize the Product Development Cycle, Mitigate Risk when Choosing a Manufacturing Process

The process for launching a product that includes manufacturing processes like injection molding and 3D printing has been continuously developed for decades. The time, energy, and cost required to make changes increases as you progress through the process. At the very least, factors to consider when optimizing your desing for production should include time-to-market and process integration.

Time-to-market

Understand where you have the most leniency and where there is little to no compromise. Once you know your strategy, you can leverage key constituents such as the right manufacturing process and manufacturer to achieve your design intent.

For example, Microsoft develops a strategy to introduce products to market knowing that “version 1.0” will be swiftly iterated and followed by the launch of “version 1.1.”  The question you need to answer is, “What’s my project’s strategy?”.

Process Integration

It is becoming more and more clear that reliance on one manufacturing process may not always be ideal. As an example, reaching an aggressive time-to-market with a new product introduction containing complex parts requiring iterative testing as to form-fit-function is a reality for many engineers. This requires inexpensive prototype testing providing the most speed prior to moving into a mid-volume production environment.

Beginning with a 3D printed part to validate your design while you are tooling-up for mid-volume injection molding runs may be the best time-to-market solution to reduce your risk and predict your outcome. This approach also suggests that you involve yourself earlier in the design process with a manufacturer who will understand your strategy and align processes to fit.

Know the basics of the 3D printing and injection molding manufacturing processes

When designing plastic parts, think of 3D printing and injection molding as manufacturing processes that are on the same team with different roles. They each provide unique value, but can also complement each other to produce your product.

Here is an overview the 3D printing and plastic injection molding processes.

3D Printing Manufacturing Process

Consider the following 3D printing technologies and how they could apply to your project. While this is not the full comprehensive list of technologies available, it does represent the majority.

3D Printing Technologies

Stereolithography (SLA) – Available since 1989, SLA uses an ultraviolet laser to cure parts one layer at a time in photo-reactive epoxy resin. It is one of the most accurate 3D printing technologies and ideal for fine detailed, small featured parts as fine as .002” layer thickness. SLA is capable of producing large parts as well.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – FDM extrudes thermoplastics layer by layer, with a variety of thicknesses as fine as .005” per layer. FDM uses real engineering grade thermoplastics, functional parts that can withstand rigorous testing, and creates end-use production parts with a variety of color options. It has excellent tensile strength, flexibility, high melting points and chemical resistance, and UV resistance.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – SLS uses engineering and high-performance, powder-based materials activated by thermal energy of a laser in the Z axis to build one layer at a time. SLS uses real thermoplastic base materials producing robust parts, end-use aerospace applications. Accurate fine features and complex geometries, and fire retardant plastic materials, UL 94 V0 are standard. Popular uses also include living hinges and high-flex snaps.

PolyJet – This technology is similar to inkjet printers where jets layer a liquid photopolymer that is instantly cured with UV lights attached to print heads. It produces fine layer high resolution parts. PolyJet is high speed, fine detail and smooth surfaces directly off the machine, and can print at 16 microns. Uses include living hinges, overhangs, and complicated geometries without needing to be assembled. There are multiple color options, multiple materials, and durometers in one print.

Injection Molding Manufacturing process

Injection molding offers a predictable and scalable process for both rapid prototyping and production. Its ability to produce parts from multiple materials with a high degree of consistency and tight tolerance makes it a proven approach to manufacture parts.

Here are a few popular plastic injection molding procesess to consider.

There are a number of best practices to consider including material selection, wall thickness, draft, runners and gates, ribs, bosses, corners and transitions.

Beyond best practices, injection molding offers several key features that can transform your design including overmolding, insert molding, and undercuts. Tolerances are ± .005” and can reach ± .001” with tooling. 

 

Injection molding processes

Overmolding  is a 2-part plastic injection molding process. It uses hard and soft plastic resins to optimize the function and structure of a part. Overmolding is often used to create a soft grip, add rubber-like grips to clips designed to grab inanimate objects, and achieve better color contrast.

Insert Molding is the process of injection molding molten thermoplastic around pieces placed in the injection molding cavity. Doing so results in a strong bond between integral pieces of your final part. Accurate mold design and construction is essential to insert molding to not only maintain part tolerances but also assure the tooling reliability.

Undercuts – An undercut is any indentation or protrusion that prohibits the ejection of a part from a mold. Undercuts can be used to carry out complex forms of molding such as the overmolding process and insert molding process. Undercuts are used to create interlocking or snap and latch features, allowing for clamshell or housing designs to come together for quick and easy assembly, or capturing holes or ports for wiring, button features or assembly, and vertical threads and barb fittings typically used in medical device products.

Conclusion

Relying on the fundamentals of manufacturing processes like 3D printing and injection molding can help to mitigate risk. Thinking through how your part will be used and what non-negotiables drive your design cycle will lead to the most successful project outcome.

Also, consider whether you are best served by a single process type, integrating processes, or integrating manufacturers to reach a viable conclusion to your project. Regardless one fact remains – thinking about manufacturability earlier in the design cycle to properly select and leverage the 3D Printing and Injection Molding processes is essential to your success.

Interested in obtaining more advice? Reach an Application Engineer at sales@xcentricmold.com, or call (586) 589-4636

Working on a project?

Let us help you get that first prototype underway and have that part in your hands in as few as five days. Our engineers help you through the design process. Get your project started now!

Medical Plastic Parts: 3D Printing and Injection Molding

Medical Plastic Parts: 3D Printing and Injection Molding

Manufacturing Medical Plastic Parts: 3D Printing and Injection Molding

COVID-19 created uncertainty in product development timelines producing medical plastic parts. Future demand for your products or services is more in doubt now than ever before. And, you are likely re-thinking plans for 2021.

All of this impacts the supply chain. Which means organizations must be more agile and constantly reassess each step in the product development process.

Still, organizations are likely to return to a normal planning modus where they can look into the future to commit to product volumes and launch timelines.

In this blog we discuss:

  • Manufacturing during a crisis
  • Product development and prototype processes
  • When to use 3D printing
  • When to use plastic injection molding
  • How both processes can complement each other

Manufacturing medical components during a crisis

Product demand uncertainty

The crisis of 2020 revealed the fragility of the global supply chain. As a result, many industries were left scrambling to find distribution channels.

However, the medical industry faced different issues. For one, confirming product quantities. And second, finding capacity to fulfill product demand.

For example, consider a medical device company that pre-pandemic secured contracts to supply equipment to 1,000 hospitals in North America. Post-pandemic those hospitals’ budgets are in disarray. Which means the medical company is likely unsure of the product volume needed. Or, if any will be needed at all.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Testing

Producing medical components can be trickier than for other industries. On one hand, you still have to achieve fit, form, and function. On the other, you consider more stringent criteria for some healthcare applications and FDA testing.

Now consider all of this in the context of a pandemic like COVID-19. For one, it could mean a delay in FDA availability. Further, your in-house testing may have been halted or repurposed.

So, how can medical companies prepare for future uncertainties? First, by becoming more agile when using 3D printing and injection molding. And second, by following every step in the product development process.

Product Development And Prototype Tooling

Product Development

The product development process can be viewed as a continuum where each phase builds upon the last. Thereby enabling us to gather information necessary to bring a high-quality injection-molded product to market. This is why following each step is critical to bringing medical components to market on time and on budget.

    Prototype Tooling: Impact for medical plastic parts 

    The cost, time, and energy for making changes to your part increases as you progress through the product development process.

    In fact, this increase is about 10X that of the previous step. Which can result in costly product launch delays. And, if you produce medical plastic parts, this can impact patients’ lives as well as revenue.

    Benefits of investing time in prototype tooling

    Investing time in prototype tooling can mitigate risk when producing medical plastic parts.

    At Xcentric, we use our proprietary Process Engine software to help eliminate part defects. This allows us to continually learn and improve upon not only parts in active production, but the manufacturing process as a whole.

    The learning aspect is critical because we want to get the execution exactly right for each step in the process. In doing so, we can provide more informed suggestion to our clients about what needs to be done.

    3D Printing and Injection Molding for Medical Plastic Parts: Same Team Different Roles

    3D printing and injection molding are manufacturing processes used for producing plastic parts. They each have unique strengths and limitations. And, they also work to complement each other.

    Unfortunately, mistakes are made when producing medical plastic parts because of common misconceptions about these processes.

    3D printing: common mistakes and limitations

    Common mistakes

    One common mistake made is the failure to acknowledge that end-use criteria are radically different from those guiding a form/fit/function-type prototype. The three major differences between prototype and end-use product are:

    “For example, adding the requirement of initial function for testing purposes reduces the number of processes and materials available via the additive manufacturing process,” said Brianna Gillett, Account Executive at Xcentric.

    “Then, when you expand an end-use product’s capabilities to fit a specific application, it further reduces the number of processes and materials available to keep additive manufacturing viable. Finally, the hurdle is production rate, which naturally is related to the unit cost of the outcome.”

    Limitations of 3D printing for medical plastic parts

    Because it is so easy to use, reliable, and affordable, some organizations invest in 3D printing technologies for early-stage prototypes. 

    However, the further you progress through the development process, the more complicated projects become and the more difficult it is to achieve the desired outcomes.

    “For this and several other reasons, some may think they can skip the prototyping step of the product development cycle,” Gillett said. “But the vast majority of products have at least some changes in design or functionality. And this is when to consider injection molding as a next step.”

    Injection molding for medical plastic parts

    Simply put, the injection molding process creates plastic parts by injecting molten plastic into a mold. As the material cools, it begins to take the shape of the final product. For complete details about the process, please visit page, injection molding process.

    When to consider the injection molding process:

    • Projects at scale
    • Higher volume production runs (anything more than a few hundred parts)
    • Final part design (after prototyping)
    • Parts of any size or complexity
    • Objects that will mate together or move against one another 

    As discussed earlier, the product development process includes a series of steps. And following each step can help to stay on track for budget and time-to-market. One of the most critical steps is prototyping. 

    Prototype injection molding

    For example, consider the way a polymer fills steel or aluminum tooling. The physical act may not go the way it was simulated, following exactly the process as interpreted by an ideal situation in a lab.

    So if variations are outside the range of acceptable parameters, you will not be able to tune the process to achieve the desired outcome. Which could result in defects like warp and other aesthetic blemishes.

    These are the easy fixes that can be caught in intermediate prototyping steps. 

    3D Printing and Injection Molding for Medical Plastic Parts: Same Team, Different Roles

    Using these 2 processes together can help to bring your products to market faster.

    In the case of medical device companies, especially during the pandemic, this can literally mean the difference between life and death.

    To meet product launch objectives and ensure everything is on target, an ideal approach is to conduct initial low-cost 3D printing following simulation, then progress to pre-production and rapid injection molding tools. Learning everything you can about the processes and product can mitigate risk when moving to production.

    3D Printing and Injection Molding: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

    A great and very timely example of this is how 3D printing and injection molding are being applied to produce PPE. During the COVID-19 crisis, PPE includes testing swabs, ventilator components, and other items.

    These complementary processes have been able to address medical equipment needs quickly in areas where the materials were appropriate. However, the need for extremely high volumes of these items (as the pandemic response is likely to go on months longer across the globe) cannot be met by additive manufacturing alone.

    Xcentric recently partnered with ZVerse on a domestic supply chain initiative to meet the demand for PPE, especially face shields.

    We started off by 3D printing the face shields to meet their immediate need. Next, we used injection molding to rapidly scale the project. This enabled us to meet increasing demand for these much-needed items at a price that healthcare companies could afford.

    In the end, Zverse was extremely happy with the end results. In fact, their CEO John Carrington said, “the COVID-19 crisis has shown us the importance of establishing a strong and reliable domestic supply chain. Xcentric is an excellent partner to assist us in this important initiative.”

    To this day, we have relied on this approach to help Zverse and medical device companies produce very high quantities of PPE in a fast and reliable way.

    In Conclusion

    3D printing and injection molding are manufacturing processes that can help bring medical plastic parts to market on time and on budget. The key is to first understand the benefits and limitations of each process for your application.

    Next, follow the product development process to mitigate the risk of unnecessary costs and time delays.

    Finally, partner with a domestic supplier with the capacity to quickly scale production to meet your needs in any global climate.

    Xcentric is a premiere provider of rapid manufacturing and consultative services. Our goal is to provide a better solution from idea all the way to part, regardless of process. Contact Xcentric to learn more or to discuss current design and production challenges.

    Brianna Gillett is an Account Executive with Xcentric Mold and Engineering, providing 3D Printing and Injection Molding services to clients in the southeast region of the US. Brianna has more than 5 years experience in rapid manufacturing. Contact Brianna Gillett.

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