Smaller, greener, extra - an insight into micromoulding

An insight into what micromoulding is by Aaron Johnson, vice president of marketing and customer strategy at Accumold.

It is easy when looking at the production of micro plastic parts and components to become overly focused on the intricacies of the micro moulding process per se. Micro moulding is an exceptionally difficult discipline to master, and very few companies in the world have done so to the point where they can manufacture geometrically and dimensionally accurate parts and components repeatably in the multi-millions.

To be able to do this requires a heady mixture of technological capability and extraordinary levels of experience and expertise, especially when working with medical OEMs for whom the end-use micro moulded parts and components are often safety critical. Failure is not an option!

Micro moulding specialist companies work as product development partners with their customers, in many instances translating design intent into reality via a knowledge of required process steps between design conception and final manufacture. This means having knowledge and understanding of design for micro moulding (DfMM), micro tool fabrication, micro moulding, and micro automated assembly. Parts must be designed with manufacture in mind. This is fundamental in micro moulding where the laws of moulding as generally understood are stretched and in some instances turned on their head, and the vagaries of tooling and assembly when manufacturing tiny parts are many and varied.

Therefore, for optimal product outcomes, representatives from all departments need to be present and influential at the conceptual design stage to avoid costly and time-consuming re-iterations later in the product development process.  And so the absolute must is that a micro moulder has to be truly vertically integrated, with every step of the design-to-market process housed under one roof. That way interdisciplinary teams can easily integrate and work together to optimise the process.

So much for capabilities and vertical integration, but what is also needed for successful micro moulding outcomes is a team with exceptional knowledge and experience, able to think on the fly, and create scenarios that break down the restrictions that less experienced moulders would see as prohibitive to project success. The micro moulding space is dynamic place, and the challenges in terms of exacting applications are an everyday experience for companies such as Accumold. It is a combination of technological capabilities, expertise, and a passion to succeed that drive innovation for customers.

But beyond such supplier selection considerations, it is important not to lose sight of the non-process focused / team focused elements that are required to ensure a successful micro moulding initiative.

What do we mean by this? 

Well put simply, there is a vast difference between a micro moulder that can make you one perfectly formed micro moulded part, and one that has the scalability and sustainability to ramp up production volumes to the multi-millions over a protracted period of time, moving as such from your product development partner to your long-term manufacturing partner.

In a sentence, is the infrastructure of the micro moulder you plan to work with big enough to support your volume requirements over an extended period of time? Some customers require millions and millions of parts with a continuity of supply running over many years. Without the physical space needed to accommodate such scale of supply and the associated manufacturing cells etc…, then your chosen partner may not be able to fulfil your expectations.

Also, to sustain supply over many years, you need to be persuaded of the robustness of the micro moulder that you are dealing with. How long have they been in business, how deep are their pockets, can they survive recessionary (or pandemic-associated) downturns? 

The amount of time that a micro moulder has been in business should give you some reassurance here. But beware, some suppliers may boast a long pedigree in precision engineering, but this is very different from a long pedigree in micro moulding and actually manufacturing micro plastic parts and components. For example, a company with decades of experience in micro tool fabrication but only a few years of experience of micro moulding is very different from one like Accumold that has over 30 years of experience of both. 

Another thing to do is to have a look at a micro moulder’s published turnover figures. This will shine a light on whether the micro moulder you are considering working with is operating at a significant enough scale to survive unforeseen economic pressures.

Only with decades of micro plastic part production under its belt will a supplier have the experience and strength and breadth of knowledge to tackle the most exacting of customer applications. Yours does not want to be the first project of its kind that your supplier deals with. Ask for evidence of longevity of manufacturing and look for evidence that your supplier has significant experience with projects such as yours.

Ultimately, medical OEMs need to constantly be aware of the timeline that exists when looking at the design and development of a particular part or device and consider the total cost of ownership. Being able to take a design to a prototype run is very different from looking at the full life cycle of a device from design, trials, to full manufacture and the change management considerations in the life of a product.

Change management alone during the life of a medical device requires that medical OEMs work with micro moulders that have the scale and headroom internally to take into consideration how an adjustment to a device will impact processes, systems, personnel associated with a particular project. There must be a process for planning and testing change, a process for communicating change, a process for scheduling and implementing change, a process for documenting change and a process for evaluating its effects. 

All of this plays to the fact that when initiating a micro moulding project, medical OEMs need to consider the long game, and realise that the micro moulder that they work with could be their partner for years and should have the wherewithal to grow and adapt over the lifecycle of a product.

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