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Why devel­op­ment part­ners should be involved
in rub­ber and plas­tics projects as ear­ly as possible

10.11.2021   |   Oliv­er Geißler 
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In many man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies, the design depart­ment is met­al-cen­tric. Rub­ber and plas­tic mold­ed parts do not appear on their radar until all met­al com­po­nents are final and only a few gaps in the draw­ings need to be closed. The rea­son for this is the pro­fes­sion­al back­ground of many design­ers. They main­ly come from the met­al sec­tor and have lit­tle expe­ri­ence with plas­tics or elas­tomers. This can lead to prob­lems, because exper­tise can­not always be trans­ferred from one group of mate­ri­als to anoth­er. It there­fore makes sense to involve devel­op­ment part­ners in projects as ear­ly as pos­si­ble to close these expe­ri­ence gaps.

It takes expe­ri­ence to select the right plas­tics or elastomers

A major dif­fer­ence between metal­lic mate­ri­als and elas­tomers or plas­tics is the flex­i­bil­i­ty of their char­ac­ter­is­tics. This fact often pos­es chal­lenges for design­ers when select­ing materials.

The prop­er­ties of met­als are large­ly fixed. If you choose a par­tic­u­lar met­al for your design, you can be sure that the mate­r­i­al will always have the same char­ac­ter­is­tics. These prop­er­ties are well doc­u­ment­ed and avail­able in the form of mate­r­i­al lists. How­ev­er, it is hard­ly pos­si­ble to adapt the specifics of a met­al to the appli­ca­tion scenario.

Plas­tics and elas­tomers, on the oth­er hand, are flex­i­ble. They also have basic prop­er­ties, but these can be mod­i­fied by adding addi­tives. As a result, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a rub­ber or plas­tic mate­r­i­al depend on its con­fig­u­ra­tion. For exam­ple, if you buy a par­tic­u­lar rub­ber com­pound from two dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers, you will not get exact­ly the same prod­uct. There are always dif­fer­ences result­ing from the addi­tives used.

In oth­er words, elas­tomers and plas­tics have a high­er vari­able con­tent in their com­po­si­tion than met­als. Their prop­er­ties always depend on the con­text and can be pre­cise­ly adapt­ed to the area of appli­ca­tion. Met­als, on the oth­er hand, are fixed. Their specifics can only be changed to a small extent.

In prac­tice, this dif­fer­ence is main­ly notice­able in the selec­tion of mate­ri­als. When design­ing a met­al part, the design­er can choose from a wealth of mate­ri­als and select the most suit­able one. How­ev­er, it can­not mod­i­fy it fur­ther. When design­ing a rub­ber or plas­tic mold­ed part, the mate­r­i­al selec­tion process is some­what dif­fer­ent. Here, the design depart­ment choos­es a basic mate­r­i­al and adapts it to the con­di­tions with var­i­ous addi­tives. This is a change for experts who have lit­tle expe­ri­ence with plas­tics and elas­tomers. You can’t buy a mate­r­i­al “out-of-the-box”; every com­pound is different.

Of course, there are excep­tions. Espe­cial­ly for wide­ly used appli­ca­tions, there are pre­fab­ri­cat­ed rub­ber or plas­tic com­pounds that already have all the nec­es­sary prop­er­ties. How­ev­er, the design must first check whether the mate­r­i­al is suit­able for the prod­uct at hand. Every com­pound is dif­fer­ent. It is there­fore worth con­sult­ing experts who can point out spe­cif­ic differences.

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Engi­neer on machine

Knowl­edge of rub­ber & plas­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing is important

Anoth­er dif­fer­ence between the two groups of mate­ri­als con­cerns the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. Items made of met­al are fun­da­men­tal­ly man­u­fac­tured dif­fer­ent­ly than items made of rub­ber or plas­tic. For exam­ple, press­ing, injec­tion mold­ing and extru­sion are com­mon pro­duc­tion tech­niques for mold­ed rub­ber parts. In the met­al sec­tor, on the oth­er hand, these tech­niques are some­what different.

In prac­tice, this means that expe­ri­ence in the pro­duc­tion of one group of mate­ri­als often can­not be trans­ferred to anoth­er. This can have a neg­a­tive impact on the design of a mold­ed part, because there are geome­tries that can be eas­i­ly imple­ment­ed with met­al but not with rub­ber or plas­tic.

For exam­ple, in the met­al sec­tor, peo­ple like to work with fine con­tours and point­ed geome­tries that require very tight tol­er­ances. Rub­ber, how­ev­er, is a nat­ur­al mate­r­i­al that can­not be man­u­fac­tured as pre­cise­ly as met­al. The tech­ni­cal frame­work con­di­tions do not per­mit this. If, for exam­ple, the design depart­ment drafts a mold­ed rub­ber part that is char­ac­ter­ized by very fil­i­gree geome­tries, a high lev­el of scrap can usu­al­ly be expect­ed. Some of the items pro­duced do not fit into the machine or assem­bly, oth­ers are sim­ply defective.

When work­ing with rub­ber and plas­tic, the design must take into account that these mate­ri­als are “alive” and there­fore always have a cer­tain min­i­mum lev­el of devi­a­tion. How­ev­er, this requires expe­ri­ence with this group of materials.

It pays to exchange ideas with devel­op­ment partners

Con­tact with a devel­op­ment part­ner for rub­ber and plas­tic mold­ed parts is not only use­ful for gain­ing exper­tise in the mate­r­i­al. The sup­pli­er can also con­tribute insights into the cur­rent mar­ket sit­u­a­tion as well as design details suit­able for rub­ber and plastics.

For exam­ple, rub­ber and plas­tics pro­duc­ers know which mate­ri­als are cur­rent­ly dif­fi­cult to sup­ply or price-inten­sive. They can also con­tribute long-term fore­casts, for exam­ple when sci­ence and pol­i­tics are cur­rent­ly dis­cussing whether cer­tain mate­ri­als should be banned for envi­ron­men­tal or health pro­tec­tion rea­sons. In such cas­es, the design can specif­i­cal­ly avoid these mate­ri­als and switch to alternatives.

These advan­tages apply not only to pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies that have lit­tle expe­ri­ence with plas­tics and elas­tomers. Even for “old hands”, reg­u­lar exchange with a devel­op­ment part­ner is worth­while in order to stay up to date.

Con­clu­sion

In many devel­op­ment projects in the man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try, rub­ber and plas­tics pro­duc­ers are brought on board too late. This can be detri­men­tal to the project because expe­ri­ence gained in met­al design can­not always be trans­ferred to plas­tics or elas­tomers. There are sub­tle dif­fer­ences that can delay the devel­op­ment process if not tak­en into account. It there­fore makes sense to involve experts who can con­tribute expe­ri­ence with these mate­ri­als right from the start.

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Author: Oliv­er Geißler

Oliv­er Geißler has been work­ing for Jäger since 2008 and sup­ports our cus­tomers as tech­ni­cal sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Frankfurt/Maintal loca­tion. The trained process mechan­ic for plas­tics and rub­ber tech­nol­o­gy has 21 years of expe­ri­ence in the field of plas­tics appa­ra­tus plant engineering. 

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