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Real Parts. Really Fast.

Proto Labs, Inc. 5540 Pioneer Creek Drive, Maple Plain, MN 55359 877.479.3680
Essentials for Moldability


3 Prototyping Ten years ago we began publishing Protomold Design
Tips to help product developers create better injection-
5 Materials molded plastic parts. Weve talked texture, addressed
draft, mulled over materials and been through thick and
6 Cosmetics thin (wall sections). More than 100 tips later, we remain
steadfast in our effort to continue informing designers
8 Draft and engineers in all areas of injection-molded part design.
As a quick reference guide, weve gathered some of our
most useful manufacturing advice from the past decade in
9 Wall Thickness a collection of essential tips.
11 Radii
12 Text on Parts
Our online library of content includes our complete catalog
13 Living Hinges of Protomold Design Tips along with white papers, case
studies, a glossary of terms and much more. We also staff
14 Surface Finishes experienced Customer Service Engineers who can discuss
any design questions that may arise.
16 Cams
Find us online at or call us at 877.479.3680.
18 Metal Injection Molding
20 LSR Molding
Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials TABLE OF CONTENTS 2
Design Tips Best of Compilation PROTOTYPING

Bridging the Gap Between Prototypes and Production

In the traditional approach to product production (see Figure 1). First, in addition
development, there is a fine line between to proving the design itself, it confirms that
development and production. Development a part can actually be molded. Second, while
begins with a light bulb over someones head, production-tool molding can incorporate
proceeds through napkin sketches and CAD capabilities that quick-turn injection molding
models, and ends, ultimately, with prototypes. cant internal cooling lines or sophisticated
At one or more points in the development venting, for example adapting a part to the
process there may be input from the market, be demands of quick-turn injection molding by
it someones best guesses, one or more focus equalizing wall thicknesses and maintaining
groups, or actual market tests. And from start draft can actually simplify and accelerate the
to finish there is always pressure to get on with manufacturing of production molds while
it, either because you need to catch up with reducing their cost. In other words, quick-turn
Figure 1: Tensys Medical used Protomold for
a market leader or because you are the leader prototyping and pilot production on this T-Line
injection molding doesnt just produce prototype
and someone may be catching up with you. But Tensymeter component, which allowed Tensys parts; it prototypes the production method that
then, when you have reached your goal a fully design engineers to significantly shorten the product will produce those parts, allowing avoidable
developed, marketable product everything design and development program time cycle. problems to be eliminated before the start of
comes to a screeching halt and the drawings final mold making.
and/or models disappear into the production them in parallel, starting on production molds
machine, from which, weeks or months later, a before the end of development, cutting their Perhaps even more important in todays fast-
whole lot of deliverable product appears and the time to market but running the risk of having moving markets, tools made for quick-turn
rush begins again as it heads off to market. to go back and start tool-making over again. It injection molding can also be used to mold parts
is a painful choice because todays competitive in actual production resins and in production
In plastic molding, as in most other technologies, global markets reward both speed and low cost. volumes thousand or even tens of thousands
some aspects of this transition are unavoidable. Manufacturers already recognize that quick- of parts while the official production
Production molds are costly, and they take turn injection molding as a prototyping method tools are being made. Basically, yesterdays
time to manufacture. It would be risky to begin can reduce both cost and delay in the design of prototyping molds can produce todays go-
producing them before the design had been plastic parts. They are now beginning to see that to-market parts while tomorrows high-volume
fully proven in development, when even a it can also help reduce the post-development molds are being made.
small change could turn tens of thousands of delay in bringing a product to market.
dollars worth of molds into doorstops and boat
anchors. Traditionally, this has always presented While quick-turn injection molding is not Continued on page 5
manufacturers with a dilemma. They could keep identical to traditional production tooling, it
development and manufacturing sequential and is similar enough in process and technology
live with the resulting delay. Or they could treat to solve several problems and help speed up

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials PROTOTYPING 3


In fact, once it becomes clear that you can If the markets reaction to your product suggests the market demands an improved product. For
take prototype parts to market, you may the need for iterations, you can make changes those accustomed to traditional methods, this
actually find reasons to simply postpone the quickly and be back in the market in days with may be a novel approach, but if it eliminates the
production of steel tools. One reason might an improved product. If necessary, you can lengthy wait while production tools are being
be the ability to reduce up-front expenditures repeat the process several times, each at modest made, it may be worth a try. And if youre able
by ordering parts in smaller quantities than cost, before committing to mass production. to avoid sending thousands of parts and costly
you commit to when you turn to production In a sense, this sort of bridge tooling lets you molds to the landfill because the market wants
molds. This makes particular sense if there treat a physical product in much the same something slightly different, so much the better.
is any uncertainty about market demand for way that software developers treat theirs,
your new product. Its a way of going beyond with versions tumbling onto the market one
mere market tests and actually releasing your behind another as features are added. Theres
product to the market and gauging response really no reason that releases of Widget Mark
before committing to full-scale production. I, Mark II and Mark III have to be years apart if

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials PROTOTYPING 4


Res Solutions
There are more than 85,000 commercial options clear grades. PC has good heat resistance and Acetal has good lubricity and resistance to
for plastic materials listed in materials databases, accepts high cosmetic finishes well. Applications hydrocarbons and organic solvents. It also has
and within those, there are 45 polymer families include lenses, indoor and outdoor lighting, cell good elasticity and is slippery, so it works well
which can be broadly classified into two phone housings, electrical components and for bearing surfaces and gears. Applications
categories: thermosets and thermoplastics. medical devices. include pumps and pump impellers, conveyor
We primarily focus on the latter category, links, soap dispensers, fan and blower blades,
offering hundreds of stocked engineering-grade PPA (Aliphatic Polyamides) and automotive switches.
thermoplastic resins through Protomold. In There are many types of PPAs, or nylons, each
addition to our stocked supply of resins, we have with its own advantages. Generally, nylon parts PMMA (Polymethyl Methacrylate)
the capabilities to support many more customer- provide high strength and high-temperature PMMA, aka acrylic, has good optical properties,
supplied resins as well. strength, especially when reinforced, and are high gloss and is scratch resistant. Acrylic also has
chemically resistant, except to strong acids and low shrink, and has less sink in geometries with
Narrowing down that extensive list of materials bases. Applications include thin-walled features, thin and think sections. Applications include light
can sometimes seem like a formidable task, so combs, spools, gears and bearings, screws, pipes, lenses, light shades, optical fibers and signs.
weve prepared a quick reference guide that structural parts (with glass) and pump parts.
outlines the benefits and applications of some PP (Polypropylene)
of our most commonly molded materials. By PP is an inexpensive resin option with
choosing the right material, you can improve the higher impact resistance in some grades;
form, fit and function of your parts. propylene homopolymer can be brittle in cold
temperatures, with copolymers more resistant
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) to impact. PP is wear-resistant, flexible and can
ABS is a tough, impact-resistant plastic that is have very high elongation. Its also resistant to
widely used across many different industries. It acids and bases. Applications include integral
has low shrink and high dimensional stability, and hinges or living hinges, fans, snap-over lids (i.e.
it has good resistance to acids and bases. Its shampoo bottle tops) and medical pipette tubing.
also relatively inexpensive. Applications include
cosmetic parts, handheld devices, housings Protomold has many additional stocked resin
and moldings for electrical tools, and remote options including PBT, PPS, TPE, TPU, LCP,
controls. HDPE, LDPE, PPSU and PSU as well as high-
performance materials PEEK and Ultem. We
PC (Polycarbonate) offer a detailed Materials Matter white paper at
PC is strong and extremely impact resistant with POM (Polyoxymethylene) that provides a technical overview
low shrink and good dimensional stability. Its a Commonly called acetal, it is characterized by of the materials selection process.
transparent plastic that is available in optically high toughness, stiffness, hardness and strength.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials MATERIALS 5


A Guide to Looking Good

First, the bad news: Injection-molded parts are
subject to a host of cosmetic flaws including
sink, gate vestiges, ejector pin blemishes, drag
marks, texture flaws, knit lines, burns, flash and
inconsistent coloring. The good news is that
adherence to basic design rules will eliminate
many of these problems. Thoughtful planning
will further reduce the risk. And judicious
prototyping will allow you to eliminate virtually
any avoidable problems that remain. The
first step is to determine just how important
cosmetics will be to your design.

In a faceplate, looks may be your first

consideration. In an internal part, they may be
your last, freeing you to focus on other matters
like function and cost. In some cases, improving
appearance will require tradeoffs, but this is
not always the case. Good function and good
manufacturability often go hand-in-hand with Figure 1: Without draft (left), the part drags along the entire vertical side, but by
good appearance. adding draft (right), the part falls free from the mold upon ejection.

For example, proper attention to draft doesnt

This is where the tradeoffs begin, where gains in wear due to friction, but can develop an orange
just ensure ease of ejection; it prevents unsightly
one area may require sacrifices in another. peel finish as they cool. If your requirements are
drag marks (see Figure 1). Maintaining uniform
Start by ordering your priorities. Certain very specific and limit your choice of resins, they
wall thickness helps prevent functional weakness
requirements may impact appearance by limiting may also limit your cosmetic options, at least as
due to incomplete filling and poor fit due to
your choice of resins. Glass-filled nylon, for far as finish is concerned. If, on the other hand,
warp, but it also helps prevent unsightly sink in
example, is very strong but cannot be given your material choice is less constrained, resins
thick areas, and flash and burn that can result
a smooth finish regardless of how much the like ABS and polycarbonate are easy to mold
from overly high injection pressures needed
mold surface is polished. Similarly, a TPE like and will give you precisely the finish designed
to force resin though thin sections. In short,
Santoprene provides excellent elasticity, but into your mold.
following standard design guidelines will help
will have, at best, a matte finish. Acetals like
prevent many cosmetic flaws.
Delrin offer excellent resistance to solvents and
Continued on page 7

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials COSMETICS 6


Many cosmetic decisions cross the boundaries There are other addressable issues that affect Resins that are good at filling small details in
of material and design. Knit lines form where specific types of resin. Delrin, as mentioned, a mold can also have an increased tendency
cooling flows of resin meet, typically after can crinkle as it cools, a problem that can be to flash to force their way into the parting
parting to flow around a core in a mold or where minimized by avoiding excessive or inconsistent line of the mold, leaving material that must be
flows from multiple gates meet (see Figure 2). wall thickness. As polycarbonate cools it can trimmed in a secondary operation. A mold in
Choice of resin can impact the likelihood of knit shrink and leave internal voids where thick walls which material must be forced through thin areas
lines, but even if they do not weaken the part, meet. In an otherwise well-designed part these will require higher injection pressure to fill the
they can leave an unsightly line. How visible it may not cause functional problems, but they can mold, which, in turn, will increase the likelihood
is may depend on the color of the resin. Light be a cosmetic problem in clear resin in which of flash. The problem can be addressed either by
reflection can make knit lines in black resin very the bubbles are visible. If you must use a clear eliminating the mold features that require higher
apparent, while the exact same line in white resin polycarbonate, the mold can be redesigned to injection pressure or choosing a resin that is less
will be far less obvious. shorten the distance resin must travel, allowing prone to flash.
the press to pack the mold before the resin cools
too much to fill the void. Finally, there are issues of mold design gate
and ejector placement that impact a parts
final appearance. Protomolds designers will
work to minimize the afore-mentioned problems,
but nearly all molds require gates and ejectors,
and these will leave their marks on the finished
parts. If this could be a problem, you should
bring it to the attention of our engineers before
your order is finalized.

There are many issues that can impact cosmetic

outcomes. Some may be identified by the design
analysis included with your ProtoQuote. Others
involve cross-coupled variables, which are
discussed in more detail in our free cosmetics
white paper available at Still
others may be difficult to anticipate and will only
show up when prototypes are made, allowing
you to try other resins or, if necessary, redesign
your part before committing to full-scale
Figure 2: Knit lines may form when the resin flow is divided by an obstacle
or hole and then meets again on the other side.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials COSMETICS 7


A New Slant on Draft

Imagine a piston in the cylinder of an engine. It Your CAD package will not tell you which A protruding arm of the bottom mold half (the
seems like a tight fit, yet the parts slide smoothly surfaces should be drafted, but it may indicate telescoping shutoff) that forms the face and
with no damage. There are several reasons that which surfaces are drafted (or reverse-drafted). hook of the clip, for example, must be drafted
a piston moves so smoothly. First, there is space Many CAD packages have a draft analysis by 3 degrees both to protect the part and to
between it and the cylinder; second, both have module, which you should use liberally if its prevent mold wear due to rubbing of the shutoff
hard, polished surfaces; and third, the surfaces available. When you upload your design for a against the top mold half.
are liberally lubricated. Eliminate the space or quote, however, Protomolds online ProtoQuote
the lubricant and engine damage is guaranteed. software identifies, in colors, surfaces that need Finally, proper drafting allows the cutting of
additional draft and/or thickness. deeper mold geometries at lower cost. A good
The same thing can happen when you pull a rule of thumb in part design at Protomold is:
straight-sided plastic part out of a straight-sided Most features require draft to facilitate ejection, When in doubt, draft it.
mold, because there is neither space nor lubricant, and many features need draft for Protomold
and plastic isnt very hard. To prevent damage or to be able to machine the mold. Also, textured
drag marks on the part, surfaces that are parallel to surfaces have a particular tendency to
the line of mold opening may have to be drafted stick to mold walls, so 3 degrees of draft is
angled away from the line along which the part will recommended for light texture (T1), and at least
be ejected. This causes the part wall and mold wall 5 degrees of draft for heavy texture (T2).
to move apart during ejection.

Top View Top View

Undrafted Drafted
No draft results in sliding Drafted shutoffs minimize
parallel mold surfaces wear and extend mold life

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials DRAFT 8


The Incredible Shrinking Wall (and Other Problems)

In theory, injection molding is a simple process. Second, certain shapes seem to invite mischief. In short, excess wall thickness creates problems,
You create a mold with a cavity the size and One of these is the overly thick wall, which is adds little value to a design, increases weight
shape of the part you want. You inject molten subject to several types of problems. and adds to material cost (see Figure 1).
resin, which fills the available space. The resin Fortunately, designers have come up with
cools and hardens. You open the mold and elegant ways of eliminating unnecessary
Because shrinkage is proportional to resin
remove the finished part. thickness without compromising performance.
depth, and because molded parts cool from
The accompanying diagrams demonstrate some
the outside in, thick walls are susceptible
Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple. First, of these techniques. Figure 1 shows a part that,
to sink marks low areas that can be both
materials expand when heated and shrink when due to excess wall thickness, is susceptible to
structurally and cosmetically problematic.
cooled, and plastic resins are no exception. The all the risks mentioned above. The right side
shrink of the resin must be taken into account Resin pellets are heated in a barrel and is surrounded by thick walls, and the left side
when designing the mold. The cavity that forms injected into the mold with a screw at is one thick wall. (Note the six screw holes,
the part is designed slightly oversize to allow for pressures of up to 20,000 psi (pounds presumably for attachment to some assembly.)
shrinkage. How much oversize? That depends per square inch). Air and gas can be dis-
primarily on the resin. Some resins shrink solved in the resin melt. As the parts cool
uniformly in all directions and some, like glass- and the resin shrinks, this gas can come
filled resins, have different shrink rates in the out of solution. The result is either bubbles
direction that the resin flows in the mold versus hidden within the part or voids visible at
the direction of cross flow. the surface. Both cause structural weak-
ness. Voids at the surface create cosmetic
Minimizing variations in wall problems as well. This problem is more
pronounced in thick areas of the part.
thickness helps to reduce
In some cases, particularly where wall thick-
variations in shrinkage. nesses vary significantly, uneven shrink-
age can cause parts to warp as they cool.

Figure 1: Excess wall thickness can cause a range

of problems.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials WALL THICKNESS 9


Figure 2 shows the same part redesigned, The revised design also shows several ways of Finally, uniform wall thickness is important in
demonstrating a variety of techniques for reconfiguring the screw holes in the original good injection-molded part design. Minimizing
eliminating excessive wall thickness. The three design. At the right, two screw holes have been variations in wall thickness helps to reduce
walls at the far right have simply been reduced configured as bosses attached to the wall. Note variations in shrinkage. This results in less
in thickness. Each of the two angled walls at the that the wall thickness of the bosses is consistent warpage and better dimensional tolerances.
center have been cored out, leaving two thin with that of the part walls. In the center, two
walls in place of one thick one. screw bosses have been made part of the rib When you upload your 3D CAD model to
formed by the coring of the slab. ProtoQuote, itll provide a useful check on wall
The slab on the left side of the part has been thickness from the standpoint of moldability.
cored out in several sections, leaving a network Fortunately, designers have Areas that are too thick and thin will be
of ribs to maintain strength. The diagonal rib in come up with elegant ways highlighted. But since ProtoQuote doesnt know
the section at the lower left provides torsional your application, it cannot take into account the
stiffness to help prevent twisting of the part. of eliminating unnecessary use to which the part will be put or the forces
(The triangle, as you probably know, is an thickness without compromising to which it will be subjected. That is for the user
inherently stiff form.) performance. to determine, which, of course, is why you do
prototyping in the first place.

At the left edge of the part, the screw bosses

have been separated from the wall, but are tied
to it by ribs to add support for the bosses.

While part walls should not be unnecessarily

thick, they need to be thick enough to allow
the molten resin to flow and fill the part. They
should also be thick enough to provide the
strength necessary for your application. A chart
showing the acceptable range of wall thickness
for various resins can be found in our Resources
section online at
Figure 2: Eliminating excessive wall thickness can
reduce weight, material cost and more.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials WALL THICKNESS 10


Reduce Your Stress With Radii

Whenever possible, a part to be injection Outside corners On a radiused corner, there is always a
molded should be designed with generously The first thing to keep in mind is that an difference between the two surface areas,
radiused corners to enhance its quality and outside corner of your part is created by an but if the inside of the corner is square, it
moldability. Corners designed without radii inside corner of a mold, and vice versa. One essentially has a surface area of zero, which
can cause stress concentrations. These, in turn, reason we dont make parts with sharp, outside maximizes the difference between the inside
may reduce the ability of the part to withstand corners is because our molds are made by and outside surface areas.
load and/or cause warping in its geometry. a vertical milling process that cannot cut a
sharp, inside corner. The radius of our inside Sharp corners versus radiused corners
Sharp corners can adversely affect the flow corner (your outside corner) cannot be smaller If the part consisted of two walls meeting to
of resin during molding, potentially causing than the radius of the cutter, which will vary form an L shape, the part may tend to warp as
incomplete fill. They also tend to cause the somewhat with the depth of the cut. it cools, reducing the angle between the two
part to stick to the mold during ejection, which walls. If, however, the corner is in, say, a box
can cause a variety of problems. The judicious Inside corners whose shape keeps the walls from moving in
use of fillets can also help to improve mold life Our milling process can produce sharp, relation to one another, instead of warping,
by helping to minimize corner stresses at the outside corners when making a mold, so you theyd merely become stressed. The result
bottom of tall, thin cores in the mold (at the can have sharp, inside corners. The problem could be cosmetic problems; a fracture or
entrance to deep, thin holes in the plastic part). is that sharp, inside corners can create buckled floor. In addition, because they are
These fillets also help to enhance the ability of serious stresses in a part as it cools. The sharp, the outside corners of a mold half can
the mold to fill and further reduce internal part reason is simple: The rate of resin cooling is grab the part within which they are forming a
stresses. proportional to surface area. Any corner will core, either making ejection difficult or risking
have more surface area on the outside of the damage to the part or mold. And finally, sharp
Now, lets distinguish between inside and curve than on the inside. (Think about the corners can contribute to sink and weakened
outside corners, both of which should be advantage of the proverbial inside track.) knit lines. So, radius those corners.
radiused but for slightly different reasons.

Radiused Corners

Outside Corners Inside Corners

Figure 1: Corner radii can enhance part quality, moldability and mold life.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials RADII 11


Word Processing
There are lots of reasons to add text to a part. lines of the letter itself, making them too small
It could be an assembly instruction, a part to mill. Instead, use a sans-serif (non-serif) font
number, a legally advisable warning or simply like Century Gothic Bold (the default font in
a logo (see Figure 1). Whatever the reason, text SolidWorks). Other common sans-serif fonts
characters tend to be the smallest features are Arial and Verdana. In general, remember that
of a part and, as such, deserve the designers while most 3D CAD programs allow you to use
careful attention. standard Windows fonts, you should resist the
temptation to get cute without a good reason.

Figure 3: The L is a larger font size

and allows room for the tool to mill.

need to do so, upload the part with the smaller

text for a ProtoQuote interactive quote and
the quote will show any required changes or
Figure 1: Off/On switch instructions on a part.
Finally, if text is located at the top of a tall
The first thing to keep in mind is that it works featurea tall rib, for examplethe text may
much better if text on a plastic part is raised Figure 2: The O is too small to mill. have to be larger.
above, rather than recessed into the part
(which means it will be milled into the mold). The third issue is the size of the letters In summary, for best results when
Raised letters on a part are easier to read , and themselves (see Figure 2). Text doesnt need incorporating text, design your parts:
recessed text in a mold allows for polishing, to stand very tall above the surface of a
Design your parts with raised text.
whereas raised letters in a mold make it part0.02 in. is plentybut even so, the rules
difficult to achieve a good finish. for thin ribs apply. You dont need to measure Use a bold sans-serif font.
the thickness of every line of each letter; just Size text to 20-point type or larger.
The second issue is consistency of wall size in stick to font sizes of 20 points or more and
your lettering. Avoid serif fonts, the ones with use the Bold version of the font, and odds are Stay away from the tops of tall features.
the little squiggles at the ends of uprights. The excellent it can be milled (see Figure 3). In
serifs are typically narrower than the primary some cases, we can mill smaller fonts. If you

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials TEXT ON PARTS 12


Hinge Worthy
Take a look at a door and the hinges on which it When a hinge bends, tensile forces are
swings. There are probably three or four hinges, transmitted to the material along the outside of
each of which consists of three separate parts the bend. The thicker the hinge, the greater the
and four to six screws. Do the math, and youll stress in the outside surface, so the hinge should
see that the hinge you take for granted in your not be too thick or it may crack when it is bent.
daily comings and goings consists of at least 21 On the other hand, if the hinge is too thin, it will
separate components. Life would be so much not be strong enough to withstand any tearing
simpler if the number of parts needed for a forces, especially at the ends. Also, be careful
hinge could be reduced. The good news is that, that, when the hinge is bent fully, there wont be
at least in the design of plastic parts, it often can. interference from thick edges along the hinge.

A reduction to three or two or just one part for Finally, a thin spot in a part (which is what a hinge
a hinge would be notable. A reduction to zero is) can be challenging to fill during resin injection Figure 1: The arrows point to the very small
is truly impressive, and thats exactly how many (see Figure 1). Success depends on proper gate section where resin would be forced through to
fill the other side of the body of the part. The
additional parts a living hinge requires. Quite placement. A single gate that forces resin through resulting web of resin is thin enough to allow
simply, a living hinge is a thin strip molded into the hinge area in a mold increases the strength of repeated binding.
a plastic part to create a line along which the the hinge; however, this approach can lead to sink
part can bend. Properly designed and executed, in areas downstream from the hinge.
If this all seems like a lot of trouble, remember
it can be closed and opened over the life of the
that experts suggest that a well-designed living
part with little or no loss of function. But simple Multiple gates may eliminate the problem of sink,
hinge can be flexed millions of times. Thats more
though it may be in concept, a living hinge must but if resin flows meet at the hinge (which they will
times than most of us will walk through doors in
follow certain guidelines if it is to work properly. tend to do), they will usually cause cracking. When
a lifetime.
you order a mold, Protomold will propose gate
First, only certain resins are flexible enough location(s) to optimize filling of the part including
to support the degree and frequency of any living hinges.
bending required of a hinge. The best resins for
parts with living hinges are polyethylene and

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials LIVING HINGES 13


Talkin Texture
Surface finish on a plastic part can serve Another factor linking resin choice and surface The last and potentially most serious issue with
many functions, from improving grip to hiding texture is sink. In many cases, a slight sinking a textured surface is the possibility of the part
fingerprints to facilitating paint adhesion. of the part surface as the part cools may be no sticking in the mold. A textured surface that is
Protomold offers eight finishes on molded parts: more than a minor cosmetic issue. A textured perpendicular to or significantly angled away
six polishes and two textures. The six levels of surface, however, will create shadowing, a visible from the direction of mold opening will not
polish are created using manual mold polishing darkening of areas with sink across a surface. present a problem. On a surface that is parallel
techniques; the two levels of texture are This makes an even slightly sunken area far to the direction of mold opening, however, each
achieved by bead blasting the mold surface after more apparent, creating a significant cosmetic little valley in the textured surface acts as a tiny
applying a manual base polish. problem. In such cases, there are three possible undercut. Forcibly ejecting such a part from the
solutions: mold can create drag marks on the part surface
Protomolds available textures are light bead as the textured mold face scrapes off the high
blast (T1) and medium bead blast (T2). Many 1. Keep the texture but reduce the areas of the textured surface. To eliminate drag
factors can influence your choice of texture. thickness of the feature to reduce the marks, Protomold suggests that surfaces with
The most obvious is the intended function of likelihood of sink. T1 texture be drafted by at least 3 degrees and
the finished part. Either texture can provide surfaces with T2 texture be drafted at least 5
an attractive, non-reflective surface. If grip is 2. Keep the texture but choose a resin that degrees. (Surfaces that are created using side-
an issue, that may also influence your choice shrinks less to reduce sink. actions need not be drafted away from the
between light and medium texture. Other factors direction of mold opening; rather, they must be
3. Reduce or eliminate the surface texture
may include secondary processes to be applied drafted away from the direction of side-action
to reduce shadowing.
to the part and the parts aesthetic fit with other cam withdrawal.)
components of your finished product.

The resin being used can also affect texture Continued on page 15
choice. For example, olefin resins such as
polypropylene can have a waxy feel and, in
conditions of high humidity, can become
slippery. An appropriate texture can reduce
these problems. In such cases, the ability to
texture the parts surface can expand your range
of usable resins.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials SURFACE FINISHES 14


For a variety of reasons, Protomolds While ProtoQuote does not recognize texture, it There are two additional points to keep in mind
ProtoQuote design analysis does not look for or does identify surfaces that fall short of the draft regarding texture. First, the quote will have
identify surface texture. Instead, you will select required for light or medium texture by highlighting provisions for texturing either the entire A-Side,
surface finishes polish or texture after you them within the quote (see Figure 2). You should entire B-Side, or both sides. Partial texturing a
have received your quote. Once you recieve either revise your design to increase draft or side can be done in some cases, but it requires a
your interactive quote (along with moldability skip texturing this area entirely in any potentially conversation with a Customer Service Engineer
analysis), you can select the surface finish within troubled areas that are noted in the design analysis. at Proto Labs. Second, areas that cannot be
the quote and immediately see the resulting accessed by the bead-blasting stream cannot be
effect on cost in real time (see Figure 1). textured. Customer Service Engineers can help
address either of these issues as well as any other
questions you may have regarding surface finish.

Figure 2: Areas highlighted in red have less than three

degrees of draft.
Figure 1: Pricing is immediately updated as you make
selections on your quote.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials SURFACE FINISHES 15


Getting to the Core of Cams

By moving in directions perpendicular to the First, in a thin-walled design, the resin could cool
direction of mold opening, side-action cams quickly enough to result in a short shot, that is,
allow the production of parts with undercuts incomplete filling of the cavity. Obviously, this
that could not be successfully made in two-part, would not be acceptable. Even if the cavity did
straight-pull molds. But there are parts without fill completely there would be two flow fronts
undercuts that can also benefit from the use of meeting on the side of the core opposite of the
cams. The Protomold process (vertical milling) gate, creating knit lines that could substantially
requires increased wall thickness and draft as the weaken the resulting part. One possible solution
part depth increases. Using cams, we can reduce would be to use a hot-tip gate and inject resin
the need for draft and wall thickness in some at the closed end of the cylinder the bottom
instances. of the cup or top of the thimble. This may
not be possible due to the height of the part,
Imagine, for example, a thimble, essentially a cup resin compatibility with the hot tip or other
with tapered sides (see Figure 1). The obvious unforeseen issues. A better solution might be to
way to mold such a part would be in a two- lay the design on its side and use a cam to create
part mold in which the outside is formed by the the core (see Figure 3 on page 17).
A-Side mold half and the inside core is formed Figure 1: A thimble with tapered sides.
by the B-Side mold half (see Figure 2). Resin Continued on page 17
would be injected through a tab gate placed
along the parting line at the rim of the cup. If the
walls of the part were thick enough, this might
work. In a thin-walled design, however, there
could be problems.

Figure 2: The B-side of the mold half forms the

inside core.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials CAMS 16


In this case, the core of the thimble is formed Basically, cams arent just for undercuts. Need a
by a retractable cam while the outside of the flat face to bolt up against a mating part? How
part is formed by two straight pull mold halves. about texture? How about your companys logo
As shown in the diagram, the parting line runs or part numbers? Adding a cam to the mold may
across the closed end of the cylinder and down be just what you need.
the sides. For the sake of symmetry, a tab gate is
located along the parting line at the closed end
of the cylinder. Resin is injected through the gate
and the resin flows down the length of the cavity

So how do you identify parts that can benefit

from the use of cams? Tall, thin parts with a core,
like our thimble, are prime candidates. Another
candidate might be a part that, in a straight-pull
mold, would require more draft than the designer
is able to provide. In that case, side-action cams
may completely eliminate the need for draft as
the outside face is pulled perpendicular to the
Figure 3: A cam is used to create the core of the thimble.
part instead of being pushed or pulled from the
mold. And, finally, cams can allow production
of parts with texture on faces parallel to the
direction of mold opening. In simple straight-pull
molds, such texture acts essentially as a field of
undercuts that can prevent the clean ejection of
parts. If there is a design need and we can get
a cam on that face, why not? It just may be the
face that makes your part.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials CAMS 17


Designing for Metal Moldability

Metal injection molding often referred to as are moved from the injection-molding press into Stainless steel parts produced in our MIM
MIM is a molding process that was developed an oven where a catalytic debinding process process tend to be small and are limited to
in the early 1970s and subsequently embraced chemically removes about 80 percent of the certain constraints. The mass of most MIM parts
throughout the manufacturing industry at the plastic polymer. Once the debind process is does not exceed 150 grams with a typical mass
start of the next decade. Its a particle materials complete, were left with even more fragile well below that. Our current maximum part size
technology that has existed for the last 40 years, brown parts that are transitioned from the limits are approximately:
but since the early days of MIM, the molding debind oven to the sintering furnace (see Figure
of metal parts has been a process typically 1). Brown parts are heated to approximately
4 in. by 4 in. by 4 in.
only used when large volumes were needed 1,400 degrees Celsius in the furnace, where
(10.1 cm. by 10.1 cm. by 10.1 cm.)
due to high tooling costs. A mold that is only the remaining binder is removed to form a fully
needed for a few thousand parts is usually too dense metal part. No deeper than 2 in. (5.1 cm.)
labor intensive and expensive for traditional from any parting line
manufacturers to consider. Using the same Maximum projected mold area
methodology that allowed for cost-effective of 10 sq. in. (64.5 sq. cm.)
manufacturing of low-volume thermoplastic
parts, Protomold provides product designers and Maximum part volume less than
engineers the option of 25 to 5,000+ affordable 1.25 cu. in. (20.48 cc.)
stainless steel (316L and 17-4PH) parts in less
than three weeks. Under some circumstances, it may be possible to
extend these limits, but there are tradeoffs. If you
To better understand a how to create a well- need larger parts, please discuss your design and
designed MIM part, lets start with the process application with a Customer Service Engineer at
itself. Metal injection molding is a multi-step Proto Labs.
process that begins very similarly to plastic
injection molding. A metal powder suspended Continued on page 19
in a binder matrix (or feedstock) is injected into
a tool where it is heated just like plastic, and Figure 1: A Proto Labs technician unloads a tray of metal
parts from a sintering furnace during the MIM process.
the resulting molded parts physically resemble
plastic parts. Now in a fragile green state, parts

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials METAL INJECTION MOLDING 18


An important consideration when designing for If youve designed for thermoplastic injection
metal injection molding is the proper fixturing molding before, youll notice that metal injection
of your parts during the debinding and sintering molding shares a number of similar guidelines.
phases to account for shrink and sag. An ideal Design features like ribs, gussets, fillets and radii
MIM part has a common co-planar surface that should be considered to improve the strength
can rest flat to support itself, but we realize that of MIM parts; try to observe uniform wall
in real-world manufacturing, this is not always thickness when possible; and although you can
the case. There are a few ways to support more occasionally get by with less draft on certain MIM
complex parts: parts e.g., shallow parts with good surfaces for
ejection a standard 0.5 degrees of draft per
inch (2.54 cm.) of depth on the molded part size
Protomold has a number of trays with built-
(not the final part size) is a good rule to follow.
in support grooves and channels for com-
mon geometries found on MIM parts. If your
Learn more about metal injection molding
parts require more fixturing attention, we Figure 2: From start to finish fully dense stainless steel
at or call a Customer Service
can machine custom trays for additional parts sit atop a pile of MIM feedstock.
Engineer at 877.479.3680 to discuss any
support, but that can become costly.
questions you have about MIM.
An alternative is to design your MIM part Metal conducts heat very well, so MIM feedstock
with support fixturing built right into the ge- (see Figure 2) freezes in the mold much more
ometry. If the added support features do not rapidly than plastic due to its composition
compromise the final product functionally of metal particles (along with the mold also
or cosmetically, they can most likely remain working as a heat conductor). As a result, long
on the part. If they need to be removed, they and/or complex parts can be more challenging
can be machined off in a secondary process. to fill. Strategic gate placement, larger gates or
multiple gates should be considered to better
There is generally a 15 to 20 percent shrink facilitate material into the mold. We also run our
between a green part and fully dense part. ProtoFlow analysis on each design to detect
Final dimensions are highly dependent on the any issues with material flow before the MIM
geometry of the part, and larger parts present process begins.
more opportunity for variances in final size,
but well-designed parts typically achieve linear
tolerances of 0.005 in. (0.013 cm.), plus 0.001
in. (0.003 cm.) for each inch of dimension.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials METAL INJECTION MOLDING 19


Molding Flexibility
Proto Labs has recently added liquid silicone Undercuts: LSR can be molded to
rubber (LSR) to its expanding list of injection- accommodate parts with undercuts, which
molding capabilities. LSR molding shares many are manually removed by a press operator.
similarities with conventional injection molding, Mechanical tooling actions to release undercuts
but there are a few notable differences. Unlike are selectively offered at Proto Labs.
thermoplastic resin, which is melted before
injection, LSR is a two-part thermoset compound Part ejection: Ejector pins are normally not used
that is chilled before being injected into a heated during LSR molding due to the flashy nature of
mold and ultimately cured into a final part. Since the material. Thus, parts should be designed so
LSR is a thermosetting polymer, its molded state they can be retained on one half of the mold
is permanent once it is set, it cant be melted when it is opened at the end of the molding
again like a thermoplastic. cycle. The part is then manually de-molded,
Figure 1: LSR molding is a great process for producing
pliable, durable parts. often with air assistance.
LSR has certain inherent characteristics. It is a
strong, elastic material with excellent thermal, Wall and rib thickness: LSR typically fills thin Protomold offers LSR parts in volumes of 25
chemical and electrical resistance. LSR parts also wall sections with minimal challenges, and walls to 5,000+ in three weeks or less. To learn more
maintain their physical properties at extreme as thin as 0.010 in. are possible, depending on about our LSR molding capabilities including
temperatures and can withstand sterilization. the size of the wall and the location of adjacent additional design guidelines on draft, finishes
LSR is biocompatible so it works good for thicker sections. Rib thickness should be 0.5 and more check out our LSR page.
products that have skin contact. Those benefits to 1.0 times the adjoining wall thickness. LSR is
lend themselves well to automotive, medical and accommodating to variations in wall thickness
food appliance industries, typically in the form of and sink is almost nonexistent.
seals, gaskets, valves and cables (see Figure 1).
Shrink and flash: The shrink rate on LSR is
Designing parts for LSR and thermoplastics fairly high with an expected tolerance of 0.025
are similar, but there are some LSR-specific in./in. LSR also tends to flash very easily during
guidelines to consider: molding (in gaps as small as 0.0002 in.), which
Protomold helps reduce by incorporating
Size: Parts with a maximum size of additional features into the mold design.
approximately 5.00 in. by 5.00 in. by 2.00 in. can
be uploaded. For larger parts, please contact Parting lines: Simplifying and minimizing
Proto Labs to discuss possible options. parting lines in your design will help you get
cleaner LSR parts as quickly as possible.

Proto Labs, Inc. 19992014 Essentials LSR MOLDING 20