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.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
The first photos made with a 3D-printed telescope are here and they're not as fuzzy as you might expect. A team from the University of Sheffield beat NASA to the goal. The photos of the Moon were made with a reflecting telescope that cost the research team £100 to make (about $161 US).
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
You can find out practically everything you need to know about engineering plastics as alternatives to other materials at the 2014 IAPD Plastics Expo. Admission is free for engineers, designers, specifiers, and OEMs, as well as students and faculty.
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