As a process with little room for error, micromoulding demands a comprehensive risk-management strategy. Aaron Johnson, vice-president of marketing and customer strategy at Accumold, shares his top tips on what hurdles to look out for and avoid across the lifespan of a project.
Aaron Johnson: When pursuing any complex micromoulded project, it's important to understand your supplier's capability, scalability and sustainability. These three pillars are essential in reducing the risk factors when it comes to producing prototypes, scaling to commercial volumes and providing consistent, high-quality output.
The first thing to consider is selecting the right micromoulder for the job. Micromoulding plastic components can be very challenging, and these parts are often very small, with complex geometries and/or tight tolerances. These not-so-run-of-the-mill projects require a more sophisticated approach to selecting a vendor than the everyday sourcing process.
Understanding the commercial requirements at the very beginning stages reduces the risk to the project in the long term. Decisions in the initial prototyping stage can sometimes be critical to the project as it moves to production and full-scale mass production.
Then there's the scalability of the organisation to consider. Assuming the technical side of the equation is achievable, will the chosen vendor have the capacity and organisational structure to bring your product to market? Repeatable, high-quality output requires that the vendor can move from a few pieces to full-volume manufacturing with all the quality-assurance strategies already in practice.
When selecting a new vendor for critical moulded components, it is highly recommended that a team visit the moulding facility. Most organisations, especially ones with experience of medical components, will expect a facility visit and audit.
The last thing to keep in mind is the long-term viability of the chosen vendor. It's common knowledge that approved medical process and components don't like change. It's also common for a product life cycle to be very long. At the very beginning of product development, it's not only essential to get the design and production correct, it must also be sustainable for the full expected life of the product. That includes the stability of not only the process for the manufacturing, but also of the moulders themselves.
Without fully evaluating the capability, scalability and sustainability in the vendor-selection process, the whole project can be jeopardised. A company not designed from the ground up to produce tiny, complex and demanding plastic components adds risk to the process. Everyone, from the mould designers to the shipping department, has opportunities to affect the quality of what a customer receives.
As a baseline, the company is ISO 13485, 9001 and 14001-certified. These are strict standards and are the first step in reducing the organisational risk factors to ensure quality product is delivered correctly and on time.
Pushing the limits of size and complexity of moulded parts requires an experienced, world-class technical team. There is no way to produce such components without the right talent and resources in place. Ongoing training for all the staff is also important for high-quality output. This includes not only the toolmakers and project engineers, but also production staff, quality technicians, sales and customer service.
The company has expanded its capacity - most recently with a hardened structure to house additional cleanroom manufacturing space. This unique space is fortified and designed with redundant backups to mediate external risk factors.
Micromoulding is not just large, conventional moulding made smaller. While it is still a moulding process that resembles any moulding operation, the critical and complex nature of the process at the micro-scale is not that simple. Microns matter. The DNA of any moulder wanting to take this on must be dedicated to this fact. It is the most important foundation.