Injection Molding: Advancing from Electronic Product Prototyping to Full-Scale Production

In the electronics industry, injection molding allows for the mass production of precise and durable plastic components, such as housings and connectors. Engineers in this field must navigate a range of considerations, from selecting appropriate materials to meeting regulatory requirements and efficiently transitioning from electronic product prototyping to full-scale production. Through this blog, we will examine these aspects to provide a general guide for electronic product engineers developing products requiring full-scale production.

Design and Material Choice

Long before your first prototype comes out of the mold, decisions must be made about the plastic materials that will be used. Plastic selection involves understanding the material characteristics required for the part’s performance (strength, chemical resistance, temperature resistance, etc.) and looking at outside requirements, such as regulatory requirements surrounding safety for example.

There are various considerations to be made when scaling from prototyping to production. For example,  Quickparts differentiates prototype and production molds both in terms of construction and size. Prototype molds have a steel outside with an aluminum mold insert and offer a tool life of up to 2,500 shots. Production molds are completely steel and have a tool life of 10,000 to millions of shots. However, the max part size is 500mm x 500mm x 100mm for prototype tooling, whereas a production mold can handle parts up to 1500mm x 1000mm x 350mm.

It should also be noted that automatic or manual sliders can be used with prototype and production tooling, but lifters can only be used with production tooling. If your part exceeds the prototype size requirements or has an intricate design, such as certain electrical connectors, collaborating closely with one of our Quickparts engineers will likely result in a suitable solution that won’t cost the earth or impact project deadlines significantly. With 25 years of experience in full lifecycle support for injection molding, we have likely encountered similar challenges and can assist you in taking your part from prototype to production.

Compliance for Plastic Materials

Unlike some less regulated industries, compliance is critical when selecting materials for injection molding in electronics.  The primary concern with plastic materials in contact with electronic components is their flammability and chemical compatibility, especially in cases like battery casings that may be exposed to battery acids.

In the US, the regulatory requirements for electrical products can seem convoluted. Electrical products that may come into contact with food must meet FDA requirements for food contact. Electrical children’s products and toys must meet CPSC requirements, which, with regard to plastic components, are typically related to the restriction of phthalates and other chemicals. General or industrial electronic product requirements are a little less obvious and can, at times, seem unnecessarily complex.

Ensuring your product meets flammability standards is essential. The National Electric Code (NEC) sets flammability rules for products used in homes and businesses, which involves complying with an industry standard, such as the UL 94, the Standard for Tests for Flammability of Plastic Materials for Parts in Devices and Appliances. So, even though UL 94 isn’t a federal law, following it is usually necessary to sell and install products legally. All states have adopted NEC, but their regulations can differ.

In addition, many industries within the US have adopted UL 94 as a standard practice. Following UL 94 demonstrates a commitment to fire safety and helps manufacturers gain market acceptance for their products.

Another compliance issue is around the addition of flame retardants. Several states have requirements around the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE), and/or octabromodiphenyl ether (octaBDE), and decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) flame retardants in products, including electronic housings. Compliance with flammability requirements can often be achieved by using materials that are inherently flame-resistant.

These are not the only chemicals of concern. Heavy metals and, as mentioned, phthalates are also factors to consider. While the EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive 2011/65/EU is not a US requirement, many states have regulations modeled after this directive. Plastics used in electrical and electronic products must be free from substances like lead, mercury, and certain phthalates. These are generally added in with the plastic, such as lead stabilizers added to PVC.

Some common injection molding plastics used in electronic components include:

  • PEEK (Polyetheretherketone)
    • Properties: High-temperature resistance and excellent mechanical properties.
    • Applications: Used in high-performance electronic components, connectors, and sensor housings.
  • Polyphenylene Sulfide (PPS)
    • Properties: High heat resistance and excellent dimensional stability.
    • Applications: Used in connectors, switches, housings, and other electronic components.
  • Fluoropolymers (e.g., PTFE, PVDF)
    • Properties: High chemical resistance and excellent electrical insulation properties.
    • Applications: Used in cable insulation, connectors, and other electronic parts.
  • Polyimide (PI)
    • Properties: High thermal stability and excellent electrical properties.
    • Applications: Used in high-temperature applications.
  • Polyetherimide (PEI)
    • Properties: High strength and good thermal stability.
    • Applications: Used in connectors, electrical insulators, housings, and other electronic components.

Transitioning from Electronic Product Prototyping to Production

Once your materials and initial design are approved, the prototype tooling will be made. As mentioned above, this tooling will allow you to make up to 2,500 parts. During this time, you can refine the prototype to address any design flaws and ensure it meets all performance and safety standards. This stage allows you to identify potential issues that might arise during mass production. Engineers often revise the design for manufacturability and/or assembly, simplifying components and processes to reduce costs and increase reliability.

Once the prototype has been thoroughly tested and refined, the focus shifts to scaling up for production. Depending upon the integrity of the prototyping tool, this may involve securing production tooling. A quality control plan will be established to maintain consistency and prevent defects in mass-produced components. At Quickparts, we will ensure effective communication between design and manufacturing teams so that any issues are addressed promptly and there is a smooth transition from prototype to full-scale production. This collaborative effort ensures that the final product not only meets design specifications but also performs reliably in the final product.

Effortlessly Move From Electronic Product Prototyping to Production with Quickparts

You will receive a customized manufacturing solution personalized to meet your needs with a dedicated project manager to ensure your project runs smoothly. We use the latest technologies to take your injection molded parts from prototype to production with speed and efficiency while delivering consistent quality across your low to high-volume components.

Streamline your electronics manufacturing with high-precision injection molding. Request a quote today!