At a recent trade event, a conversation was overheard describing a manufacturing challenge that a person was having with their contract manufacturer. They were describing a particular component that they were being told was not mouldable. The problem was that it was mouldable, and the engineer was getting frustrated over the process. For whatever reason, the contract manufacturer did not have the expertise or knowledge to work through the design, so they said it was not possible.
This challenge is not limited to contract manufacturers; they, like most engineers, are just working hard towards a viable and robust finish. Internal design teams and manufacturing divisions can suffer the same blindness. The problem is reminiscent of the saying: How do you know what you don't know?
At some point, the process must be informed so that the full potential can be realised. So how do you overcome this potential dilemma?
First off, pushing the limits with any technology must bring some benefit to the equation. Weighing the potential value of a design versus a lesser ideal should be measured carefully. This is where it must be decided if microns matter.
If the answer is yes, then pursue until all options are exhausted. With micromoulding, there can be many roadblocks that get in the way: traditional moulders, resin suppliers, prototyping services or any person not familiar with the true capabilities of micromoulding can alter the direction of any project away from your goals.
Keep true to your ideal and find the experts with the technology.
It could be the case that an additional supplier might have to be introduced into the mix in order to achieve success. This is often challenging when corporate is working to reduce their supplier count or the contract manufacturer being worked with is not accustomed to third-party input. There may be challenge or pushback to this kind of request.
That being said, it's common for a micromould supplier to supply one or two critical plastic components into the larger manufacturing mix. There's a common belief that moulding is moulding, until you try pushing the limits to bring added value to your device or component. Do not let the difficulty of the logistics dictate the design.
Because micromoulding is not just big moulding made smaller, there are a couple of important strategies to start the process off well.
First, have a micromoulder involved as early as possible. Do research, find out who has the right expertise for the job at hand and invite them to the conversation. Here is where it can be found out if what has been designed is manufacturable or not. The design for the manufacturability portion of the process should be fairly rigorous, especially if others have already said that the part is not producible. The micromoulder should be able to give ample feedback and a confidence level as to the success of the part.
Second, be prepared to work through the full manufacturing demand upfront. This is especially true for any project that will require special handling, packaging or quality processes. If microns mater, then a supplier better be able to validate it properly - and, equally as important, so will the incoming inspection processes. Unless the goal is to make a single part, discussing what success looks like for production is critical at the beginning for these complex and challenging designs.
These approaches may seem obvious but are often overlooked in the heat of the moment. The pressures and constraints most people face can sometimes create apathy. Resist the urge and carry on. It could just lead to the next great innovation.