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California Thermoformer Fills Demand in Medical Industry for Detailed, Cosmetic Parts
With 63 years of thermoforming experience, Ray Products (www.rayplastics.com), based in Ontario, Calif., manufactures highly-cosmetic, tight-tolerance enclosures for the medical industry by utilizing mostly a pressure-forming process that achieves a high level of detail and aesthetic appeal. As an ISO 9001:2008 certified, heavy-gauge thermoformer offering both pressure forming and vacuum forming with low-cost aluminum tooling, robotic trimming, and advanced inspection, Ray Products delivers what medical customers need.
"Our customers are designing and developing new instruments, and we want to mold the covers for those instruments," said Ray Products President Brian Ray. "The best way to do that is to have a conversation with them (OEMs), listen to the technical and cosmetic specifications, and align them with the capabilities of pressure forming. We understand that communication is critical when forming functional parts that meet customer expectations. Our engineering and manufacturing expertise, coupled with good communication with the client, help us achieve that goal."
The medical industry comprises a significant portion of the company's business, and is focused on finding suppliers that provide the best capabilities, Ray said. "What the medical side is really looking for is a company that's nimble, that can deliver, that can take on additional responsibility, and then come back on the date they promised and deliver what they said they could deliver," he said.
Typically, Ray Products manufactures enclosures that cover medical instrumentation. Attaching multiple parts in a fashion that doesn't make the attachment point visible is always a challenge. Reducing the number of parts and connections is key, as is making sure they fit together seamlessly. "Our parts are the last thing that goes on an instrument, but they're the first thing anybody sees," he said. "These are complex shapes, and now we've got to make a tool and mold those shapes and features consistently. That's a day-to-day challenge filled with opportunities."
One recent challenge was a medical cart front panel that had zero draft on the sidewalls and a molded handle recess that created an undercut. The part was to be molded in color matched material, with a Mold Tech texture on the tool surface. Ray Products was able to solve a number of challenges by moving the tool section, allowing the handle recess to be molded while the finished part was de-molded, and maintaining a highly-cosmetic surface.
Brian Ray travels the country giving presentations and seminars building awareness about the advantages of vacuum and pressure forming compared to injection molding, structural foam, or the RIM process. He is quick to note that thermoformed plastics can be recycled, are pre-colored and pre-textured, and, unlike fiberglass, don't emit any volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For medical parts, the process involves the uniform heating of a sheet of plastic and using 80 - 100 psi to push the softened material into a female cavity tool. "The level of detail, the ability to mold in undercuts, as well as zero draft and negative draft, are all possible because with the female cavity tool, you're basically pushing material against the tool surface, allowing you to replicate all those mold features on the outside surfaces of the finished part," he said.
Ray Products utilizes a wide array of thermoplastic materials, including acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), polyethylenes (PEs), polypropylenes (PPs), polycarbonates (PCs), acrylics, and polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs). The majority of materials achieve a UL 94 V-0 rating, Ray noted. "Having this flame rating is very important to the qualification and validation of that medical device and needs to be achieved by the raw materials that are used," he said. "Staying involved in the testing and evaluation of new materials allows us to maintain a leadership position when it comes to recommending solutions that add value, eliminate waste, and meet the technical challenges of our customers without decreasing the high quality standard that is required."
By using less material, eliminating paint and other secondary processes, Ray Products is able to lower costs and add value for its customers. Pre-colored materials and the textures enabled by pressure-formed female tooling allow paint to be eliminated, cutting back on expense and process steps. "The ability to eliminate paint opens up the door for eliminating a process, which reduces cost and can allow you to achieve better scratch-resistant properties by having a part that's monolithic--it's molded in the same color throughout," Ray said.
Part-cost reduction is something the company aims to achieve by getting in early on the design process of a part. "We provide engineering and design assistance on a regular basis. Time to market, ability to respond, and our technical capabilities set us apart," Ray noted.
"We provide part-to-part repeatability, and we do this with a solid manufacturing foundation that starts with aluminum, temperature-controlled tooling," he continued. "We then mold parts in forming equipment that is at the forefront of the industry. Once molded, we use 6-axis FANUC robots for trimming, drilling, and routing--all the while inspecting and capturing data with FARO arm technology," Ray said.
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