One cool way to make enclosures for short production runs (say less than 10,000) is plastics fabrication. When most people hear about plastics fabrication they think of signage, or a fairly butchered kind of plastics carpentry. That’s not what I’m talking about.
There’s a relatively new technology that combines sophisticated use of CAD engineering with production techniques borrowed from the sheet metal and cabinet-making businesses. Plastic sheet, such as ABS alloy, is machined to create vents or recesses, and then pieces are cut from a large plastic sheet (as large as four feet by eight feet). Joint and edge detail is then performed on a routing machine. Pieces are then scored on a table saw for bending with heat in a custom machine and assembled with a solvent-bonding process. That’s a quick summary of the process used by one of the manufacturers, Toolless Plastics Solutions in the Seattle.area
The technique goes back to 1985 when French engineer Jean Claude Antoine needed small numbers of housings for stage lighting. The tool-less supplier with the longest track record in the USA is a New Jersey company called Plastronic Enclosures, Inc. I had a conversation this morning with President Daniel L Cucchiara who says that PEI has some unique capabilities in software, shielding and other areas. For example, PEI has equipment that can cut shapes from four foot by eight foot sheet, which gives them advantages in time and economics. Cucchiara says he welcomes the competition because it has spurred interest in the process from design engineers. CEO and Founder Patrick Oltmanns at ClickFold Plastics in Charlotte, NC, says demand is booming from OEMs who want low volumes of electronics enclosures for medical applications. ClickFold offers an excellent FAQ section that explains process capabilities. New at Toolless Plastics Solutions is the ability to produce curved pieces, using a heated roller technology deeloped by its parent company in France, LTP.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies.
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So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.