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Expertise in Tooling and Molding Boosts Collaborative Approach to Product Development
The ability to design, engineer, and manufacture both injection molds (tooling) and thermoplastic injection molded components–some with insert, or over-molded features like buttons, seals, and plated metal contacts–is in high demand among today's medical device OEMs. One company that offers this varied skill set is Piller-Aimmco, a Washington-based molder that makes components and enclosures for ultrasound and fluidic devices, wearable electronic monitoring devices, and specimen vials for diagnostic reagents and assays used in fluorescent PCR (polymerase chain reaction).
According to Brian Hug, sales engineer for Piller-Aimmco, the company's dual in-house capabilities for tooling and molding are a good thing because they hold an important key to its ability to collaborate with clients.
"We have a strong reputation of taking on challenging projects and delivering results," Hug said in an emailed response. "Our biggest strength is our combined expertise in both tooling and molding. With both of these capabilities in-house, we are able to collaborate with clients on manufacturing strategies, identify risks up front, design and construct tools and fixtures in-house, and quickly react when design iterations are needed to resolve technical challenges."
Customers partner with Piller-Aimmco, Hug said, because they recognize the value of its in-house manufacturing capabilities and collaborative approach to product development. By engaging with customers early in the design phase, Piller-Aimmco adds value with design for manufacturability (DFM), part design assistance, material selection, and prototyping. The company operates three shifts, supported by a staff of tooling, manufacturing, and molding engineers, in its tooling and molding departments.
The company recently took on a project requiring a 0.016-inch diameter through-hole molded into a test vial approximately one inch long. The small through-hole is formed by a replaceable core-pin registered on the "A" side of the tool. "Through iterative testing and modifications to venting, gating, seal-offs, and processing parameters, we were able to reliably produce the feature as-molded and achieve the required part integrity without the need for any secondary operations," Hug said.
Dimensional as-molded accuracy is dependent on a number of variables, such as type of material, shrink rate, type and percentage of reinforcement filler (if any), part size and its geometry, gating, and cooling. But with careful control of the tooling and molding process, accurate and repeatable results can be obtained, according to Hug.
"We produce injection molded parts with critical features held to within 0.0005 inch or less in some instances," he said. "We also routinely allow for, and make adjustments to mold cavities during product development to account for variable part geometry, differential shrinkage of filled materials, and other nuanced phenomena that cannot be mathematically modeled or predicted with certainty. With this iterative approach, specified part tolerances are generally achievable in a production environment."
Piller-Aimmco recently invested in Henkel's low-pressure, hot-melt adhesive processing capability, Macromelt®. "We now have the in-house capability to provide tooling and production processing for these materials," said Hug. "This technology is being employed to encase sensitive electronics prior to over-molding with thermoplastic resins. It is also used as a stand-alone molding process to provide flexible or ridged encasement of electronics and connectors."
To benefit all areas of its manufacturing operations, Piller-Aimmco employs customized proprietary software. An example is the firm's CAD/CAM software. The primary reason Piller-Aimmco selected Delcam's PowerSHAPE and PowerMILL package, Hug said, is the ability to integrate customized Visual Basic routines. Aside from streamlining its engineering and design tasks through customized routines, Piller-Aimmco personnel have also written customized machine tool-path software to further automate the company's CNC milling operations.
"Approximately 90% of our EDM electrodes and 60% of our tool steels are machined using our proprietary custom software," said Hug. "This approach eliminates the human error in machine tool programming while saving considerable time and resources, freeing up our engineers and machine programmers to spend more time focusing on the critical elements of a project."
Piller-Aimmco (www.aimmco.com, www.pillerplastics.com), with facilities in Woodland, Washington, and Washougal, Washington, is ISO 9001:2008, ITAR, and UL certified.
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