One of the fastest growing injection molding market segments is medical.  This is a coveted market by many because it seems to be relatively isolated from economic downturns.  One of the biggest tickets to entry for this market is cleanroom molding.  But many ask “What is cleanroom molding and what does that mean?”Let’s start with the basics.  Per GlobalSpec, “Cleanliness class is a standard determined by the contamination control industry. They currently use a government specification known as Federal Standard 209D to provide a qualified and standardized method for measuring how clean the air is in a cleanroom. Six classes have been established to designate cleanroom cleanliness. The class number refers to the maximum number of particles bigger than one-half of a micron that would be allowed in one cubic foot of cleanroom air. A Class 100 cleanroom, for example, would not contain more than 100 particles bigger than half a micron in a cubic foot of air. The six classes are Class 1 (ISO 3), Class 10 (ISO4), Class 100 (ISO 5), Class 1,000 (ISO 6), Class 10,000 (ISO 7), and Class 100,000 (ISO 8).”So from a molding standpoint this means that manufacturers must adapt their manufacturing areas to meet the cleanliness standards covered above.  In addition, many of the various medical product development companies will have their own set of standards that must be met.  So the next questions is “How are these standards met?” For medical molding, a HEPA Filter System is used to filter the air and they need to be checked periodically.   In addition, hoods can be installed over the molding machines to help filter the air.  Next, the operator running the press typically wears gloves, gowns, masks and booties to protect from contaminants coming in contact with the parts.  Furthermore, quality plans and procedures must be created and followed during the manufacturing of cleanroom molded parts. Above is just a small snapshot of what needs to happen for cleanroom molding.  As you can see, it becomes somewhat of a barrier of entry for injection molding companies to easily want to jump into the medical molding segment.  Cleanroom molding capabilities also become an attractive marketing tool for injection molding companies trying to grow their business. To learn more about injection molding, visit www.quickparts.comand to learn more about cleanroom injection molding you can check out this piece from Moldmaking Technology: http://www.moldmakingtechnology.com/articles/060604.html

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is the third most widely used thermoplastic behind Polyethylene and Polypropylene.  A large majority of the PVC is used for construction goods because it is inexpensive, durable and easy to use.  It also can be manufactured in both hard and softer durometers which enables it to be very versatile. Now that we see that PVC is used widely in the manufacturing world, there are some dangers that arise when injection molding PVC.  An important feature of PVC is the inclusion of chlorine. Now the inclusion of chlorine poses a new type of threat that many plastics do not have…emitting a harmful corrosive toxic gas.  For this reason, many injection molding companies will turn down opportunities because of the extra risk associated with PVC.  The processing of PVC requires stainless steel injection molds if you want any type of longevity out of them molds.  In addition, the molds will require a higher level of tooling maintenance than molds used to for processing standard plastics.This is the short answer to why some injection molding companies are reluctant to run a PVC application.To learn more on Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) you can visit Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PvcYou can also visit us at Quickparts to discuss your application: http://www.quickparts.com

Plastics News had a great article in April on the use of aluminum injection molds for the automotive industry.  As the automotive industry goes through a major correction, it is forcing them to think differently about how they manufacture parts.  Honda of America is being very progressive in their thinking. Never before has an automotive manufacturing company considered using aluminum injection molds to fullfill their injection molding needs.  Soft tooling (aluminum molds) have always been considered a poor man’s solution to production.  Times are now changing.  As stated in the piece, Honda has produced over 400,000 shots of the aluminum injection mold.  Furthermore, they have found that they can reduce part costs also because they run the molds at a faster cycle time.  Overall, Honda has found this to be a huge shift for them in how they look at tooling up a new line.It will be a matter of time now before others follow the path that Honda has started down for their injection molding needs.  If you would like to read the article in full, go to Plastics News here.

Recently, the use of Ultem material was made available to the engineering community through the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) additive manufacturing process.  This is a big step for product development because it starts to break down barriers many people have regarding the use of rapid prototyping before purchasing injection molds. The use of rapid prototyping to confirm designs is used by some and not by others.  A top reason given is that the materials do not accurately simulate the material that is going to be used for the injection molded part.  This is a true statement but it is also a misleading statement.  Material is just one piece of the equation for confirming a new product design before proceeding to injection molding of the part.  Many of the issues experienced during the injection molding stage are related to part design versus the part material.  Using additive fabrication to produce a part before injection molding allows all the stakeholders to review the part for design integrity and functionality.  The part material has some impact on the part integrity but it is not a show stopper.  But now with the use of production grade materials for the rapid prototyping of the part, it removes the perceived barrier many people use. In the end, the new material is another step in helping streamline the product development process and allows companies to reduce the time needed to launch a new product.

As product life cycles shrink, it is starting to change the way people view injection mold tooling and parts.  In the past, aluminum molds were used primarily for prototype tooling and only a so called “fool” would use them for production.  Now, that is changing and changing fast.  With life cycles shrinking and the focus on the bottom line, people are looking for options to offset the cost of costly production molds.  That is where aluminum tooling is starting to take hold.  Recent an article was published in Plastics News talked about how Honda was starting to use aluminum molds for their product parts.  This would never have been the case several years ago.  Honda is using it for their front bumpers and other larger parts.  It is only a matter of time where people will start looking for both options on new custom designed parts.  I guess that is what a major global recession will do to change the thinking…