Rapid Prototyping

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Manufacturing Processes, Prototyping

The climax of any new product design is actually making the product. In the development phase, this can be scary for a number of reasons. Perhaps you’re undecided between several different features or combinations of geometries, or maybe your manufacturing capital is limited. Manufacturing costs, especially in prototype quantities, can add up quickly. Luckily, a technology has developed over the past decade or so that makes prototyping quick and downright affordable. It’s called rapid prototyping, or just “RP”.

The field of rapid prototyping (or RP) has grown tremendously over the past 10 years. RP is essentially a 3D printing process in which a thin slice of your product (typically between .001″ and .005″ thick) is created, and then another layer on top of that, and then another layer on top of that, and so on until your entire part has been built up. This provides you with a geometrically accurate part that can be handled and evaluated. No matter how many views of the product you see in CAD on the computer screen, actually holding the product in your hands is essential to evaluating its form and function.

There are limitations to RP parts, however. Arguably the biggest limitation is the fact that RP materials are much weaker than production materials such as hard plastic or metals. However, the relative speed (usually a couple of days) and low cost (anywhere from $50 to several hundreds of dollars, usually) are such huge advantages over traditional prototyping methods such as soft tool casting or machining that they outweigh the shortcomings of material strength. Besides, RP parts are not meant for full production uses, but rather as a preliminary step to verify your design is accurate and functions properly.

Pipeline has developed strong relationships with local and out-of-state RP vendors and works with them on a regular basis to provide quick prototype to its customers. Contact us here to discuss your project and how RP technologies can help you quickly validate your design.


Low Cost Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold Parts

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Manufacturing Processes, Prototyping

Those who are making their first foray into product development are often shocked at how expensive it is to develop and manufacture even a simple product. Plastic injection molding is one of the most common manufacturing methods used for mass production of physical products. While the engineering and product development of these products can easily cost $5k – $10k, these development costs can often be just a small fraction of the manufacturing costs. High grade steel is typically used as the material of choice for production-quality plastic injection mold tooling. It is expensive and difficult (read “time intensive/$$$”) to machine. The image below illustrates what a common set of tooling (referred to as the “core” and “cavity” halves) looks like:

Hard Steel Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

As you can see, the innards of the tools are filled with a variety of features necessary to create the required geometry of the part being molded, and creating this geometry is labor and time intensive, costing anywhere from the low $10ks to more than $100k. The savvy product developer will be reluctant to spend this much capital on tooling for a product design that may not have been fully tested and validated yet. Often times rapid prototyping can be exploited to produce general evaluation parts, but these parts are not as strong as their production-grade parts would be, nor do they have a clean, finished, production-quality appearance. So how do you bridge the gap between cheap, crude “RP” parts and finished, expensive production parts? There is, in fact, a third hybrid approach many people don’t realize exists. It’s called soft tooling (see image below).

Soft Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

Soft tooling gives you the strength and appearance of production parts without the high tooling costs. Since soft tooling is typically made out of silicone or urethane, the raw material cost is dramatically reduced and the core and cavity geometry is much simpler to make. A set of soft tools can run between $500 to a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the part. Your part prices will be higher than the injection molded counterparts since soft tooling typically employs manual labor to pour the plastic resin, but if all you’re looking to do is make half a dozen parts for evaluation or presentation purposes, this will save you A LOT of money.

Pipeline Design & Engineering works with several companies who can provide soft tooling molds that produce production-quality parts. Contact us today to evaluate your project and see how soft tooling can save your project money.


Design For Manufacturability (DFM)

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Product Design

What is design for manufacturing and why should you care? DFM is a design process where manufacturability considerations are taken into account as the product is being developed, as opposed to after it’s already developed. This may surprise many people, but all too often products are designed without a thorough knowledge of the manufacturing process by which it will ultimately be produced. This can have devastating effects on the overall price of the product. For example, if a product is to be injection molded, there are very specific design principles that must be adhered to. Departure from these principles can lead to literally tens of thousands of dollars in additional tooling costs. Adherence to these principles can mean the difference between a profitable sales margin, and a lost cause.

Pipeline Design & Engineering ensures each of its designs are carried out in such a way as to be “manufacturing friendly”. Whether it be plastic injection molding, machining, thermoforming, sheet metal, or welding applications, small process-specific features that are incorporated early in the design will have a major impact on the degree to which your product can be economically manufactured. Due to our large network of domestic and overseas vendors across many manufacturing disciplines, we can receive input on even the most obscure or niche design features when our in-house expertise needs augmenting.


Awesome Slide Chart

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Tools

This engineering slide chart is a must-have tool for any mechanical designer. We’ve been using a smaller version for years and it has been an incredibly useful tool, unfortunately it was only in inches. One of our designers recently found this one that has metric values, as well. It also has about a dozen other things that our old one didn’t have:

  • Screw Selector & Tapping
  • Drill Sizes
  • Pipe Sizes and Tapping
  • Surface Texture/Surface Finish (N Grade)
  • Prefixes
  • Rulers
  • Hardness/Tensile Conversion
  • Amperage Conversion
  • Beam Deflection Equations
  • 1° and 1/4° Draft Angle (inches/mm)
  • Statistics Equations
  • Thermoplastic Properties
  • Sheet Metal and Wires Sizes
  • Sheet Metal Bending Allowances
  • Carbon and Alloy Steel Numbering System
  • Actual Pipe Size Comparison
  • Units Conversions
  • Constant Acceleration Equations
  • Shore Durometer
  • Fractions to Inches to mm
  • SinØ, CosØ, & TanØ Equations
  • General Engineering Equations
  • Moment of Inertia Formulas
  • Geometric Tolerances
  • Welding Symbols
  • Densities of Common Materials

The slide chart provides values in both English and Metric units, all on the same card. The old one in our office was made by “Alvin” (called the Screw Data Selector) and is still available if you search the internet, but the Engineering Slide Chart (made by Great Innovations) is an even more useful version of Alvin’s Data Selector. This is really one of those tools that EVERY mechanical designer should have on his desk every single day. And for $30, there’s no excuse not to get one.


Chrome Plating

POSTED BY , Manufacturing

We recently worked on a project for which a wear and corrosion resistant material was required. Stainless Steel was the obvious first choice, but due to cost restrictions it was kicked out. We then began looking at various plating processes, eventually converging on chrome plating. There are 2 kinds of chrome plating: decorative and hard chrome. Decorative chrome is sometimes referred to as nickel-chrome plating because of the nickel substrate applied before the chrome. Decorative chrome provides a brilliant shine as well as corrosion resistance. It also increases wear resistance by a small amount.

Hard chrome plating eventually won due to its combination of excellent wear resistance as well as good corrosion resistance. All chrome plating is actually the same hardness, the only difference being the thickness of chrome applied to the substrate (which is often steel, though it can be other metals such as titanium and aluminum). Hard chrome plating is usually applied in thicknesses of .0002″ to .004″, while decorative chrome plating is applied much thinner (.00005″ – .001″).


Objectified: A Documentary on Design

POSTED BY , Manufacturing

This is a neat film about design and the role it plays in our lives.

Objectified is a feature-length documentary about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.