One of the hottest areas in plastics processing today is the molding of parts whose geometries can only be seen with a microscope. Design engineers have at their fingertips significant amounts of information in the macro world of plastics on tests, properties, and processability. Little is known, however, about the micro world, and much of the information is highly proprietary.
How does Phillips define micromolding?
As in many new technologies, there is often not a sharp definition. Rather, the term micromolding is used in a generic sense, and the use of small parts molding, micromolding, and nano becomes blurred.
At this time, Phillips defines a micromolded part at the 0.0001 inch3 size, but our customers continue to challenge us to manufacture ever smaller parts. What we name this technology may not be as important as Phillips' ability to deliver quality parts in a timely fashion at an acceptable true cost.
Why is there such a strong interest now?
It has become a cliché, but the world continues to grow smaller and the demand for smaller and smaller manufactured products increases. From electronic medical devices to personal handheld products, manufacturers are being asked to push the technology envelope and produce a smaller, lighter, and oftentimes, stronger, advanced product.
Can you indicate some specific new applications?
I believe we are only at the beginning of all the potential new applications and opportunities for micromolding. No doubt, it will require a better understanding of our technology capabilities and the education of our customer base to appreciate the full potential of micromolding.
However, we are finding micromolding is being well received in the areas of medical devices and implantables. At some point, micromolding will serve all of our markets.
What types of specialized requirements are there in design, tooling, molding, and secondary operations? Many micromolding requirements are very similar to our traditional molding operations. In regard to part design, all conventional tooled parameters are available, including slides, lifters, undercuts, threads, and thin-wall sections. Materials are also similar in that we are able to injection-mold a variety of plastic resins. Our metal injection-molding capability offers many stainless steels, nickels, and titanium.
Challenges lie in all the areas of part and mold design, mold making, and critical controls of the molding process, including clean room atmospheres and parts handling. A whole new variety of inspection equipment is required, along with medical clean rooms and unique packaging. Overall, micromolding has presented Phillips with many challenges, but we are truly excited about this technology and our ability to serve our customers even better in the future.
Our position is that micromolding is not an adaptation of known processes and design tooling and equipment but it is a visionary challenge. We seek to develop an entirely unencumbered solution to create the smallest parts with today's available technologies.
Bob Cervenka can be reached at email@example.com.