No matter what area of materials processing is involved, metal-injection molding (MIM), plastic gears, gas-assist molding, rubber or multi-component molding, users look for a technology solution that meets a specification but more and more want something that provides an edge in their business.
The automotive industry is one example. According to General Motors' estimates, rubber, plastics and composites comprise 15 to 18 percent of the total vehicle's weight (Automotive News, April 28, 2008). Even though petroleum is the primary raw material, the use of plastic is projected to increase through its ability to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy.
The edge may come from tools that help engineers implement a new design or select the right materials quickly. Enhancements to Moldflow Corp.'s Communicator 2.0 include the ability to report simulation results from Moldflow Plastics Advisers (MPA) 8.1 to other members of the team, even if they are not Moldflow customers. For Rubber Industries, a CD simplifies rubber design criteria and compares features of the most popular base polymers including durometer range, temperature range, properties, typical applications and cost.
A common theme in the following section is integration, getting more by combining two or more parts into a single component. This is certainly true for MIM. The ability to obtain intricate metal products makes the technology well-suited to replace metal parts made using traditional metal processing such as die casting or machining. For plastic gears, more sophistication seems to be the hot ticket, too.
Perhaps the greatest trend is combining technologies so it is difficult to classify a particular product. This section has rubber combined with a high-temperature plastic, a multi-component molding product that uses liquid silicone rubber and traditional thermoplastics in one molded part, and a plastic gear that uses 2-shot molding. When suppliers get creative, they provide more to users.