Five Reasons to Consider Aluminum Tooling
Today many original equipment manufacturers are under tight restraints, such as cost, new product development and time-to-market, giving mold builders an enormous opportunity to develop the necessary technology to support today’s plastics industry.
The use of aluminum molds is getting the attention it deserves because of its many benefits. Due to its qualities, many projects are better suited for aluminum verses steel alloys. Complex designs, tight tolerances, high aesthetic finishes, unfilled/filled resins and production volumes can all be achieved with aluminum materials without compromising quality. The term production quantities is highly subjective and incorrectly used to only imply steel tooling. Review the following five reasons to consider aluminum:
1. Cost Savings: Tooling
Aluminum tooling is a low-cost alternative to steel tooling for lower production quantities up to 1,000,000 shots. Case hardening can produce even higher quantities beyond 1,000,000. Additional cost savings on the tooling investment are realized through faster machining efficiencies because aluminum cuts faster and easier than steel. A cutter for high-speed CNCs last longer on aluminum verses steel. EDM is usually faster in aluminum and polishing as well. Although the cost/lb. of aluminum is greater than steel, the actual cost of the material is less due to its weight.
2. Design Validation
Learning how the design and resin selection will perform in a production environment with greater freedom and less restraints garner significant benefits. Many product designs are hampered with the lack of experience and knowledge to do it right the first time in production. When using aluminum, complex designs and hard-to-fill resins can and should be considered to sanction the final concept. Design enhancements are also fast and cost-effective, when needed. Education on the front side of production from a prototype tool speeds the final production tool to full manufacturing.
Due to faster cutting and overall manufacturing of aluminum, leadtimes will be reduced by several weeks. Too often, designs from OEMs take several weeks/months with deliveries of first-off parts that are behind schedule already. With the improved throughput efficiencies of aluminum, there are substantial cost savings in bringing the product to market, as well as a decrease project risk because of economic volatility.
4. Product Savings
With aluminum’s greater thermal conductivity, processing is usually easier. Faster process cycle times increases profits and improves available capacity. Typically, faster cycles times are achieved through a more efficient flow of resin. Aluminum molds actually heat up and cool down faster than steel molds, which equates to cost savings. Oftentimes, lower injection pressure can be used to fill aluminum molds, which is reflected in less machine wear, mold wear and electrical costs—savings that are passed on to the customer.
5. Product Quality
Aluminum’s natural thermal conductivity reduces hot spots and cool spots in the mold, which in most cases translates into a more stable processed part. The flow of resin is normally faster and more consistent, which can produce a higher quality part resulting in less scrap.
In addition, where heat deformation affects critical design tolerances, dimensional stability is achieved allowing complex designs a greater success. (see Photo).