Design Tip

9 Tips to Reduce Injection Molding Costs

Stretch your budget with these injection molding design recommendations

Everyone wants to save money on manufactured parts. It sounds simple, but one of the easiest ways to reduce price-per-piece cost in injection molding is by increasing part quantity. That is because the initial upfront cost to design and machine the mold amortizes over more parts. At Proto Labs, for example, up to 25,000 parts or more can be molded from the same tool.

However, maybe your molding project calls for only a handful of parts. No worries. Proto Labs builds cost-effective molds for production quantities as low as 25 pieces, often within a few days of ordering.

Undercut illustration
Undercuts, such as those shown, can complicate and, in some cases, prevent part ejection, so eliminate them if possible.

In addition to per-unit costs, consider the material. Many plastics overlap in strength and functionality, but some are inherently easier to mold, driving down part costs. You can experiment with different materials in the interactive quote you receive when you upload your design to Proto Labs.

Here are nine injection molding design considerations to stretch your manufacturing dollar:

1. Eliminate undercuts
2. Get rid of unnecessary features
3. Use a core cavity approach
4. Reduce cosmetic finishes and appearances
5. Design self-mating parts
6. Modify and reuse molds
7. Pay attention to DFM analysis
8. Use a multi-cavity or family mold
9. Consider part size

Undercuts

Undercut features complicate and in some cases prevent part ejection. Get rid of them if you can, but maybe that’s not possible. If, for example, you need a side action, sliding shutoff or pick out. One alternative may be using sliding shutoffs, pass-through cores or by changing the parting line and draft angles to provide an easier mold build. These reduce tooling costs as you avoid additional pieces to the mold that add to manufacturing costs. In addition to the rise in manufacturing costs of using hand-loaded inserts, this also may have an impact on your piece part price because of longer cycle times and manual mold operation.

core cavity illustration
Using a core cavity, as shown, can be a cost-effective method of molding tall walls and ribbed surfaces.
Unnecessary Features

Textured surfaces, molded part numbers, and company logos look cool, but be prepared to pay a bit extra for these and other non-mission critical features. That said, permanent part numbers are a requirement for many aerospace and military applications. Use a mill-friendly font such as Century Gothic Bold, Arial, or Verdana (san-serif fonts), keep it above 20 pt., and don’t go much deeper than 0.010 to 0.015 inch. Also, be prepared to increase draft if part ejection is a concern.

Core Cavity

If you need an electronics housing or similar box-shaped part, you can either sink the wall cavities deep into the mold base, requiring long thin tools to machine ribs into the mold, or machine the aluminum material down around the core and mold the part around it. The latter approach is known as a core cavity, and is a far more cost-effective method of molding tall walls and ribbed surfaces. Better yet, this makes it easier to provide smooth surface finishes, adequate venting, improved ejection, and can eliminate the need for super-steep draft angles.

Cosmetics

Pretty parts are nice, but they often require bead blasting, EDM, or high mold polish to achieve to achieve an elevated level of cosmetic appearance. This drives up tooling costs. Anything greater than a PM-F0 (as machined) finish requires some level of hand work, up to an SPI-A2 mirror finish using Grade #2 diamond buff. Avoid fine finishes such as these unless they’re required for the job.

Self-Mating Parts

Maybe you’re designing a snap together case for some medical components, or two interlocking halves of a portable radio. Why build two mating parts when you can make one? Redesign the snaps so that the halves can be fit together from either direction, thus building a so-called “universal” part. Only one mold is needed, saving production expenses up front. And you can now mold twice as many of one part, instead of half the quantities of two.

Mold Mods

It is relatively easy to remove metal from an existing metal mold. Adding metal, on the other hand, can be difficult or, for all practical purposes, impossible with rapid injection molding. To look at this from the part perspective, you can add plastic, but you can’t take it away. Designing with this in mind is called “metal safe.”

Some injection-molded parts go through multiple iterations until a final, workable design emerges. Instead of purchasing a new mold for every revision, a little clever planning will allow the same mold to be used multiple times. Starting with the smallest, most basic part design, mold as many pieces as needed, then re-machine the mold to include additional part features, or a larger, taller version of the same part, and mold again. This is not an exact science, but given the right part, this re-use approach can save dollars on tooling development.

Moldability-DFM Analysis

Every quote for an injection-molded part at Proto Labs is accompanied by a free design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis. This identifies potential problem areas, or opportunities for design improvement. Insufficient draft angles, “un-machinable” features, impossible geometries—these are just a few examples in which part designs can and should be improved before clicking the “accept” button. Be sure to review these suggestions thoroughly, and contact an applications engineer at Proto Labs with any design-related questions.

Multi-Cavity and Family Molds

Maybe you are after a higher volume of parts? You can still achieve high volumes using aluminum tooling with two-, four-, or eight-cavity molds depending on size and part geometry that can reduce your piece part price, although this would impact your tooling costs.

Got a family of parts that all fit together? How about multiple molding projects at one time? There’s no reason to build a mold for each individual part, provided A) everything is made of the same plastic, B) each part is roughly the same size (e.g., have similar processing times), and C) can all be squeezed into the same cavity, while still allowing for proper mold functioning.

In addition, maybe you can join some of those parts with a living hinge? This method is a great way, for example, to mold two halves of a clamshell-style container. These parts would otherwise need a pin-type assembly to open and close. The only caveat here is that a flexible and tough material must be used, such as polypropylene (PP).

Part Size

Along these same lines, always consider part extents. In molding-speak, that means how big is the part, and will it fit comfortably in the mold while allowing for sprues, runners, ejector pins, and all the other considerations needed to make a mold work. Proto Labs’ maximum part size for injection molding is currently 18.9 in. (480mm) by 29.6 in. (751mm) with a maximum depth from the parting line of 4 in. (101mm) deep. However, larger parts like these, in turn, require a larger mold. This may have an impact on your mold and part costs.

As always, feel free to contact an applications specialist with any questions, at 877-479-3680 or customerservice@protolabs.com.

blue self-mating injection molding part

This is an example of one half of a self-mating part, which fits together in either direction with its other half, building a “universal” part.

 

eight-cavity mold part and mold illustration
This eight-cavity mold is used for a higher volume of parts (finished part is pictured above the mold illustration). 

 

Here is an example of a family mold, used to produce the part pictured, which was a component of the SubQ It, a medical tool used to close surgical incisions with bio-absorbable fasteners. 

 

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