Combining tiny metal and plastic components has typically been done on a loose-part basis. With reel-to-reel molding, this task is a fully automated process. It uses a feed reel and take-up reel. A continuous metal strip, called a carrier strip, is precisely indexed off the feed reel, passes through an injection mold and onto the take-up reel. The 2" wide metal strip carries a line of parts on its outer edges. If required, the strip will pass through a blanking die to remove excess metal from the parts before entering the molding press.
When the metal strip is indexed into the multicavity molding press, plastic components are precisely molded over two, four, eight or more metal parts on the strip. The continuous strip is automatically rewound on the take-up reel when a monitor senses slack between the press and the take-up reel.
The molded parts are delivered to customers on the take-up reel and placed directly in automated production equipment for additional operations such as more components, installation of covers or formed electrical leads. This technology is suited for ICs, discrete devices, shunts, DIP switches and connectors where encapsulated metal creates electric current-carrying circuitry.
The benefits of this process include automated handling of components for OEMs, consistent part orientation, inexpensive in-line stamping or fabricating, lower production costs than manual molding, higher-volume throughput, less process error, less mold maintenance and adaptability to difficult small-component assembly. Small parts can be gang-molded in strips. Components can then be molded, formed, stamped, singulated or cut in strips. The strip can be made of metal, mylar, wire or other material that can be over-molded with plastic. Applications of these parts include electronic, medical, toy, game, manufacturing and wire industries.
There are a small number of specialty molding houses that offer reel-to-reel services. Entry into the field requires a large investment of funds and resources. It requires capabilities to handle closer-tolerance operations, center-to-center dimensions to 0.050", systems to accommodate high-performance thermoplastics in a melt range of 610F to 660F, an effective quality control program, and large tooling and equipment expenditures for items such as a central resin drying system and a vision inspection system.
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