Plastic molding is a process with an extremely broad range of applications and uses. For that reason, innovations, trends and opportunities in the industries where plastic molding is widely used also often represent the same possibilities for plastic molding itself. As designs, materials, regulations, and consumer/buyer needs and tastes continue to evolve, plastic molding has no choice but to follow suit.
Fortunately, the core process of plastic molding doesn’t need to change in order to keep up with and even spearhead these trends and innovations. With the baseline process of plastic molding, manufacturers and entrepreneurs already have in their possession the core set of tools that they need to iterate, plan and think outside the box in order to take advantage of plastic molding’s possibilities. Read on to learn more about some of these trends in industries that RevPart serves, and how plastic molding plays a role.
Smaller and Better
Smaller yet more effective medical components are a prevailing trend in the medical space, as less invasive procedures and implants become more and more of a norm, while continuing to provide an increased quality of care for patients. Injection molding has a set of “baked-in” best practices that can help medical manufacturers and innovators design devices that meet these needs, while providing unparalleled accuracy, strength and durability.
In what remains a theme throughout the other industries discussed here, material formulations continue to be innovated for plastic molding to be more effective, accessible and easier to mold. In the medical industry especially, materials remain a critical concern, as base materials must be suitable for safe use in the body (biocompatibility), and able to withstand the often harsh nature of that internal environment. Safety remains the most critical concern in the medical industry, so any newly developed material formulations must be extensively tested and approved prior to use. The complexities of multiple-material molding, which is becoming an increasingly sought-after process, mean that material interactions, safety and accountability are more important than ever.
More Lightweight Components in More Areas
Automotive manufacturers have been pursuing plastic molding for years as a way to make their cars more lightweight and thus easier to produce and ship — while also providing advances in gas mileage, helping manufacturers meet efficiency regulations while providing a competitive advantage. In automobiles just as in any other industry, safety is key, so it’s important not to sacrifice the protective nature of many automotive components when they are switched to plastic molding production versus another process.
Safety also remains a concern for automotive components in the event of an accident, where parts and areas that are designed to “give” or to crumple must continue to do so. Plastic injection molding must thus be carefully considered and researched prior to being used in new ways in automotive component production.
Fortunately, 3D printing and rapid prototyping materials are able to mimic the qualities of production resins more easily than ever. What’s more, prototyping through injection molding is a realistic, easily attainable process that can provide the answers that manufacturers and regulators need to proceed with a switch to injection-molded automotive components.
A final aspect of the trend in automotive manufacturing toward a higher and higher percentage of the car being constructed via plastic molding is a move toward larger components. For example, whereas initially, some under-the-hood and internal components were the first to make the move, this later began to include pieces of the car such as the center console, dashboard and more. Some manufacturers today are even beginning to explore the possibilities of building large portions of the chassis — or the entire chassis — using plastic molding. The efficiencies and possibilities of such a change — especially as safety improvements, thanks to innovations like self-driving cars, loom closer on the horizon — are extremely exciting for manufacturers, entrepreneurs and consumers alike.
Consumer electronic devices are among the most ubiquitous and in-demand products in the market today, across all industries. Smartphones, in particular, come to mind, as the introduction of each new model, from just about any manufacturer, carries a great deal of fanfare and analysis. In this modern-day “space race,” innovation is driven in large part by the possibilities of the materials and components available.
Size and power are the two key drivers of consumer electronic features, whether it’s larger 4K TVs or smaller, thinner smartphones with ever-more features and processing power. As consumers grow more used to all-in-one, integrated, connected devices in every area of their lives, plastic molding must keep up, as it’s often the material of choice for the housing and internal structure of these devices. Not only must the material used be able to withstand the heat generated by unfathomable processing power in a tiny space, it must also be structurally sound, able to stand up to the wear and tear of being an everyday part of users’ lives.
Material innovations are one part of this trend in injection molding for consumer electronics, as greater heat resistance and higher strength can be attained by experimenting with new material formulations and combinations. Design innovation is another aspect, as ways of dispersing both heat and structural stress are key parts of any design process for these groundbreaking products. The versatility of plastic molding means that it can easily be applied, even for new and previously unused materials and design conventions. Thus, providing a trusty fallback as these devices change and define the world we live in today.
Prototyping, both through 3D printing and injection molding, is also as important in consumer electronic innovation as it is for automotive manufacturing and medical devices. The ability to quickly and cost-effectively design, iterate, test and eventually manufacture, means that innovation occurs more quickly and easily — from a production standpoint — than ever before. As consumer electronics continue to evolve, with virtual reality and augmented reality appearing to be the next big trends coming soon, injection molding will continue to play a major role in driving innovation.