A rapid-injection-molding process let Fasco, Eaton Rapids, Mich., a Tier 2 supplier, produce a redesigned actuator enclosure in only a few days. The actuator is a small motor that moves automobile seats up, down, forward, and backward.
""We looked into a rapid tooling approach using selective laser sintering, but it didn't work for us," says Fasco Senior Engineer Chris Hause. "We also found that rapid prototyping couldn't accommodate the deep draft we needed.
The Protomold Co.,, Maple Plain, Minn., offers rapid injection molding, which combines 3D CAD with highspeed-CNC machining. They can make prototypes and lowvolume parts in days, letting engineers get injection-molded parts in a range of resins at a fraction of the cost of conventional injection molding.
Accessing Protomold's Web site, Fasco engineers submitted 3D CAD-based designs. Within 24 hr, they received a detailed quote, along with suggestions for potential improvements.
The company ordered 100 injection-molded parts, which shipped within five days. After later receiving new customer specifications, Fasco went back to Protomold for 60,000 parts.
"Without Protomold, we would've had to hire a local tool shop to work 24/7 to construct the materials required to build two or three aluminum tools for the project," explains Hause. "We probably would have needed one or more tool shops to make a single-cavity tool to create different parts for the final product. That would've cost us significantly more." Instead, they got the needed parts without the costs associated with production delays, even after the customer changed the design along the way.
"Judging from past experience with similar redesigns, we could have easily spent upwards of six figures without Protomold's process," Hause says. "Equally important, our customer was impressed with the redesigned product. When we walked in with new parts and the improved seat actuator, their engineers said, 'Wow, this is beautiful!'"