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Beyond the Spec Sheet: Pushing the Limits of Material Manufacturing

When it comes to manufacturing complex parts, altering materials or processes can lead to achieving game-changing enhancements in performance and/or drastic cost reductions in production. Effectively pushing the perceived limits of materials in molding and machining can result in innovation that captures major market share or enables the pursuit of new markets altogether. Although it sounds like an obvious strategy to employ, pulling it off requires a specialized manufacturing partner with the gumption and expertise to make it work.

A few manufacturing challenges where pushing materials further can have the greatest impact are:

  • Dealing with complex geometries or dimensions – overcoming an inability to fill thin sections or pack thick sections with material.
  • Specialty attributes such as porosity, conductivity, density or elasticity.
  • Critical flatness and/or parallelism requirements.
  • Minimizing sink or warp.

Essentially, it’s equally vital to understand that when changing materials to solve these challenges, other processes and attributes will likely be affected. In order to maintain material integrity, it’s imperative that thorough testing and analysis be performed every step of the way.

Spec sheets are designed under the premise that certain critical attributes need to consistently perform under specified conditions without fail. Backed by testing data, material manufacturers then determine the range of conditions supported by their materials. These are the specs, and anything that falls outside of them represents risk that mold manufacturers need to address in their own testing process.

For example, what happens when you need a special attribute, such as more conductivity, and the spec sheet says you can achieve it through boosting additive content? While that’s true in theory, boosting graphite or aluminum can also create a problem with flow to the mold. Viewing all processes holistically, the right manufacturing partner will need to address a way to fill the part or hold the tolerance, beyond the spec sheet’s recommendation.

Going beyond the spec sheet doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind, ignoring supplier recommendations completely and taking on undue risk and liability. Rather, it means pragmatically adjusting processing parameters and solving challenges based on a holistic view of the functionality and performance of the material through each step of the manufacturing process.

It all starts with a Design for Manufacturability (DFM) conversation between the customer and manufacturing partner. This might lead to using software to do a mold flow analysis before moving on. Then, it’s on to the Design of Experiment (DOE), where samples are produced using processing parameters beyond the spec sheet. This will provide the customer with a lab test with the attributes that the material produces outside the process to assure they are still what they want.

Some examples of altering materials are:

  • Varying mold materials for molding
  • Changing cutter materials for machining

Some examples of altering processes are:

  • Adjusting molding variables (pressure, temp, etc.)
  • Re-designing molds
  • Making design changes to cutter or cutting process/technique

Now it’s up to the human capital invested on the project. Through extensive collaboration between customer and manufacturer, a solution will become viable during the DFM stage.

This becomes increasingly possible when intentionally-assembled teams of diverse manufacturing and non-manufacturing backgrounds come together to analyze what worked and what failed during the DOE. By clearly identifying the root of a problem through this holistic perspective, it becomes possible to move closer and closer to a solution that achieves the customer’s goal with each successive iteration of the DOE.

By looking at the process as a whole and testing each variable until all issues have been addressed (thermal and electrical conductivity, friction coefficient, tensile strength, compression, etc.) is the only way to ensure one problem is not being traded for another. When all challenges can be solved in concert, and interrelated factors anticipated, DOEs can be designed to truly test hypotheses and identify the critical junctures that need to be accounted for.

Because safety and liability are top priorities with regard to every manufacturing operation, it’s important to address all specifications and limitations with the utmost consideration. That’s why it takes a careful, painstaking approach to testing every variable involved in manufacturing complex parts.

With that said, with the right process in place, it’s possible to avoid compromising innovation for the sake of practicality. Ultimately, it becomes a matter of creating the most compelling technology and then partnering with a company that has the ability to develop a process to successfully make the part.

At Metro Mold, we take a similar, radical approach to confronting seemingly impossible challenges. Whether we come across materials that cannot be machined using traditional techniques, or tight tolerances and complex geometry that completely throw off a project, we apply our well-rounded material engineering expertise along with the mindset to never accept that something can’t be done and we find a way to succeed.

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