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Introduction:The simple answer is that Injection Molds are expensive because they are very complex mechanical systems. Molds require: Engineering and design, special materials, machinery and highly skilled personnel to manufacture, assemble and test them.
The injection molding process is one where molten plastic material is forced into a mold cavity under high pressure. The mold cavity is an exact hollow negative of the part to be produced. In order for the part to be released, the mold must open at the widest place on the part. The molten plastic pressure during injection ranges from 5,000 to over 20,000 psi. This pressure multiplied by the area of the part gives rise to huge forces seeking to open the mold. The mold must be constructed to withstand the very high clamping forces exerted by the injection molding machine to contain this pressure
The injection molding process is capable of rapidly producing large quantities of parts with very high precision. Tolerances of a few thousandths of an inch are routinely achieved. With the right combination of material, part design and mold construction, even sub one thousandth inch tolerances can be achieved for small features.
The cost of injection molds can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Materials:The materials used to construct injection molds range from aluminum to hardened steel:
Aluminum for simple low production prototypes.
The relative low strength of aluminum that makes it quicker to fabricate into molds likewise limits its useful life. Aluminum molds are typically intended to produce from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand parts with relatively simple features.Prehardened tool steel for moderate production, more complex molds.
Prehardened tool steel molds are much stronger and more durable, yet still soft enough to be worked by conventional machining processes such as milling and turning. Prehardened tool steel molds are typically intended to produce from one hundred thousand to five hundred thousand parts, and can have a wide array of features such as slides and more intricate shapes that might break in an aluminum mold.Hardened tool steel for high production, long life molds.
Hardened tool steel molds are the most durable and expensive because part way through fabrication their components are heat treated to achieve a hardness greater than can be machined. From that point on, the fabrication must continue using grinding and EDM processes.
Molds:Single cavity molds offer the lowest tooling costs and highest precision at the penalty of higher unit costs. Multi-cavity molds are utilized to increase capacity and lower unit costs.
Family molds, multi-cavity molds with different items together, offer both the lowest mold cost and low unit cost. However, they present other problems of matching the process conditions for each part and balancing supply when the product mix or yield at a later manufacturing step varies.
Engineering and Design:The design of injection molds begins with a review of part specifications including: Aesthetics: color, clarity, high gloss, matte, special texture, etc. Material: strength, toughness, hardness, chemical and environmental resistance Interaction with mating parts: fits and tolerances Demand and unit cost goals
From this review process the mold design concept is evolved and decisions are made resulting in a mold specification:
Single, multiple cavity or family molds The grade of mold: aluminum, prehardened tool steel or hardened tool steel Material flow considerations Parting lines and gates Finish: high gloss, texturing, embedded text and graphics, etc. Accuracy and tolerances Cooling passages Ejection system Runners or runnerless system design
The next step is the actual design of the mold. Highly skilled designers using very complex and expensive computer software programs perform this. The design tasks include:
Modeling of the products and mold components in 3D. Mold flow analysis CNC tool path design and calculation Mold materials procurement list
Early in the design process, materials and components are ordered so that manufacturing can commence as soon as possible.
Manufacturing:Once the design is completed manufacturing begins. Mold making involves many steps, most of which are very exacting work requiring highly skilled moldmakers. One mistake can ruin or cause major repair expense to a work piece that has undergone a series of manufacturing steps over several weeks. The processes employed in mold making include:
When all of the parts are completed the next step is to fit, assemble and test the mold. All of the mold component parts must fit together precisely to achieve an aesthetic result on the product and for the mold to not wear out rapidly or break. The mold must be fluid tight to contain the molten plastic. Yet, at the same time the mold must have venting features added to allow the air to escape. The behavior of the plastic material when molded has been anticipated, however there can be some variance in the actual result. The mold must be tested to insure the products are correct and that the mold is performing properly. Where high accuracy is required, the mold may intentionally be made "metal safe" with the final adjustments coming after the first molding trial.
Conclusion:As can be seen from the above, the engineering and creation of injection molds is a time consuming process. The work is demanding in terms of knowledge, skills and exacting attention to details. This will always be expensive, however this expense must be viewed in terms of what is achieved: Unsurpassed sophistication in part design and aesthetic appearance with low cost mass production.
Consider the Desk Telephone. The injection molds for these half a dozen parts likely costs a quarter of a million dollars. Amortizing that expense over the hundreds of thousands of units produced brings the mold cost to pennies per phone. For this type of product, no other manufacturing process can approach the level of design, functionality and cost effectiveness of an injection molded article.