Design Complex Components with Insert Molding

Low-volume injection molding isn’t limited to just simple parts. At Proto Labs, we have the ability to manufacture complicated parts using side-actions, hand-loaded inserts, overmolding, and have now started beta testing our insert molding process.

Instead of a mold that produces a final part using two separate shots like overmolding, insert molding generally consists of a preformed part—often metal—that is loaded into a mold, where it is then overmolded with plastic to create a part with improved functional or mechanical properties.

A threaded insert is placed atop a mold core where plastic is molded over it to form the final component.

Threaded Inserts
One way insert molding is leveraged is with threaded inserts, which reinforce the mechanical properties of plastic parts’ ability to be fastened together, especially over repeated assembly. Self-tapping screws work well with softer plastics, but they can become easily worn and/or cross threaded, and fail to perform well, which results in damaged parts that need to be replaced.

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Overmolding: Chemical and Mechanical Bonding

Learn more about overmolding in our free webinar we’re hosting with RTP Company on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. CT. REGISTER TODAY!

Overmolding is not a new manufacturing technology, but there is still some confusion about how to design for the two-part process. One of the largest areas to consider? Bonding. A number of materials can be used to overmold components together, but without a chemical bond or mechanical interlock, some overmolded parts won’t stand the test of time.

Chemical Bonding
This bonding process involves two chemically compatible materials that are molded together to form a strong bond with each other. It’s important to note that not all materials play well with one another.

The compatibility chart below indicate whether a chemical or mechanical bond is recommended for key thermoplastic and thermoset materials.

mechanical bonding

Three types of mechanical bonding techniques.

Mechanical Interlocking
What happens when your materials are not compatible, the desired bonding strength cannot be achieved, or you want to ensure your materials don’t peel apart from repeated use? This is where designing a mechanical interlock, which physically holds the overmolded material to the substrate, makes sense. There are many ways to design these into parts (see example), so discuss the options with your manufacturer.

Overmoling

Learn more about overmolding in our free webinar we’re hosting with RTP Company on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. CT. REGISTER TODAY!

If you have further questions regarding rapid overmolding at Proto Labs, contact one of our application engineers at 877.479.3680 or customerservice@protolabs.com.

Stereolithography: Sorting Out Surface Finishes

There are a number of factors—resolution, tolerance, material selection, surface finish—to consider when designing for the industrial 3D printing process of stereolithography (SL). For our latest tip, we’ll discuss the four stereolithography finishing options available at Proto Labs, and when it makes sense to use each.

Unfinished

Stereolithography (SL) technology uses a build platform that requires support structures for all features so they don’t float away or collapse during the build process. These support structures are removed after the build is complete, but they do leave visible markings on the part.

stereolithography proto labs

3D-printed parts are moved from the SL chamber after a build finishes. Supports are then removed, parts are UV cured, and a selected finish is applied.

In an unfinished state, after the support structures are removed, dots or nibs are noticeable where structures were attached to the part surfaces. So, when would leaving a part unfinished make the most sense?

  • When a clear part is desired with no custom finishing
  • If you have your own finishing capabilities, or have another shop that can perform post-build finishing
  • To achieve the best accuracy possible

Natural

A natural finish provides a surface finish that absent of dots or nibs, which leaves a more desirable cosmetic appearance. The surface is not as clear on the down-facing surfaces that had supporting structures, but the top surface would remain clear. When should you use a natural finish?

  • On small or delicate features that may be destroyed by additional finishing such as grit blasting
  • On clear parts where down-facing surfaces are not a cosmetic concern

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Injection Molding: Aluminum vs. Steel Tooling

Aluminum molds are milled in rapid CNC machines.

Conventional injection molding typically uses steel tooling capable of producing millions of parts, however, it often takes months to manufacture a mold and a capital investment of $50,000 or more. But what if production demands call for smaller quantities? That’s where aluminum tooling is ideal. Here’s a quick look at the differences between steel and aluminum tooling.

Low-Volume Production with Aluminum Tooling

  • Mold production AND parts within 15 days or less
  • Low manufacturing costs with molds beginning around $1,500
  • Production quantities of up to 10,000 parts or more; depending on material type and geometry, some molds are capable of producing hundreds of thousands of parts
  • Simplified mold designs decrease manufacturing time and cost
  • Single and multi-cavity tooling: 1-, 2-, 4- and 8-cavity molds are possible depending on part size and complexity
  • Thermoplastic and thermoset materials identical to that of high-volume production materials; more than 100 different materials can be used including ABS, PC, PP, LCP, POM, and liquid silicone rubber
  • No maintenance fees and lifetime replacement of mold if damaged
  • Improved heat dissipation and without the need for messy cooling lines
  • Inexpensive mold-safe tooling modifications

High-Volume Production with Steel Tooling

  • Lower part cost when quantities increase
  • Part production in the millions
  • Multi-cavity tooling greater than 8 cavities
  • Part complexity can be increased
  • More finishing options

If you part volumes don’t stretch into the millions, if you need on-demand production parts within days, and if you’re looking to avoid risky tooling investments before your part design is truly validated, low-volume injection molding with an aluminum tool might be good option.

Once an aluminum mold is ready, part production begins almost immediately. This allows manufacturing to finish every order in three weeks or less.

At Proto Labs, we include a free interactive design for manufacturability (DFM) review within a few hours in every injection molding quote. In the time it takes to get the initial quote from a high-volume production molder, you can have several design reviews and a mold already in production.

If you have any further questions about rapid manufacturing at Proto Labs, check out protolabs.com or contact one of our application engineers at 877.479.3680 or customerservice@protolabs.com.

TIPS WITH TONY: New Silicone Rubber Materials

We’ve expanded our selection of liquid silicone rubber (LSR) materials, which have some distinct elastic and optical advantages over certain thermoplastics. In addition to three durometers of general-use Elastosil LSR, and medical- and optical-grade Dow Corning materials, we now have two new durometers of Elastosil and a fuel-resistant flourosilicone material at Proto Labs.

Elastosil LSR
Elastosil LSR is a great general-use material that has good moldability characteristics, a good overall appearance and is transparent until colorant is added. Shore A durometers of 40 and 60 have been added our current offering of 30, 50, and 70 durometers.

Technical specs:

  • 40 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 10.0 N/mm² with a tear strength of 33 N/mm and an elongation break of 610%.
  • 60 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 9.40 N/mm² with a tear strength of 27 N/mm and an elongation break of 340%.