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Iterative, agile product development is the promise of advanced 3D printing. Functional prototyping with engineering thermoplastics or digital materials reveals how your next product will perform, well before you commit to production tooling.
PolyJet 3D Printing technology has revolutionized product design with the capability to jet two or more materials at the same time to create prototypes with ready–printed overmolded parts.
PolyJet 3D Printed Overmolding
Overmolding is a molding process in which two or more materials are combined to produce a single part. Typically the part seamlessly binds a rigid plastic with a rubber–like elastomer. The result is a soft-touch, non–slip surface common on power tools, toothbrushes, razors, consumer electronics, medical devices and more.
An overmolded part begins with the molding of a rigid, thermoplastic substrate. On top of the substrate, a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is molded. The plastic substrate and TPE are joined either through insert molding or multi–shot molding.
Insert molding is a two–step process. First, the rigid substrate is molded. It is then placed in a mold cavity on another injection molding machine and TPE is shot directly over the substrate. In contrast, multi–shot molding is performed on an injection molding press that shoots multiple materials in a single operation. This allows the TPE to be overmolded immediately following the molding of the substrate. The choice of methods is based on a number of factors including production volumes, tooling costs and part designs.
To address the challenges that arise from the design of an overmolded product, companies rely on a variety of prototyping methods.
Option 1: Prototype Injection Molds
When time and expense are not issues, the ideal method is to inject mold prototype parts using the selected substrate and TPE materials. By using the production methods and materials, the prototype possesses the same qualities as the final product. The problems with this approach are that it is extremely costly, time consuming and inflexible. While cost and delivery depend on complexity and size, typically this prototyping approach costs between $6,000 and $50,000 and takes three to eight weeks to complete.
Option 2: RTV Molds
As with insert molding, the RTV molding process uses one mold to form the base component and another for the overmolded area. Each mold requires a pattern into which the liquid silicone rubber is poured. The cost for patterns and molds typically ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. The lead time is usually one to three weeks.
Overmolding and related terms are often confused or misused. This results, in part, from the broad range of multi-material applications that extend beyond soft materials on rigid substrates. Another source for the lack of clarity is that the terms may be derived from the characteristics of the molded part or base process. For example, some use overmolding as a synonym for insert molding. In this context, overmolding includes the molding of soft or rigid plastics on any type of base material, including metal.
In general, multi–material molding is the most accurate term to use when describing all injection molding processes that involve making parts with two or more materials. This term then encompasses:
- In-mold assembly
- Insert molding
Why Connex 3D Printing?
The Connex printing systems possess a unique technology that is one of the most important industrial innovations of the last five years. Jetting multiple materials enables overmolding in a single build process. A model can be constructed quickly and affordably — ideal when the design is still in flux. This solution is much less costly and time–consuming. It is rapidly replacing injection molding and RTV molding to produce prototypes.
In a single build process, and with little effort, a prototype part can be printed to simulate several variations of an overmolded product. As stated in the Vista Case Study: “The Connex gives you the opportunity to evaluate more design options in less time and cost.”
Tips for 3D Printed Overmolding
Create a mechanism that enables you to mount a separate part on your full assembly of rigid and soft parts. Then use the Connex ability to print up to nine materials in one build process and assemble each part on the model for evaluation. Label each part that you evaluate with its relevant friction coefficient value. The label will later help you quickly determine which part received the best score in your evaluation criteria tests.