Fast turnaround is the name of the game for companies seeking first-to-market status on new medical products. To meet that challenge, ProMed Molded Products announced the creation of a new division, ProMed Prototypes. While 3D may be all the rage, there are limitations to that process when it comes to materials. ProMed Prototypes is a rapid prototyping division that fills a market void by offering customers real molded parts, made from a wide variety of materials in real metal molds - and in less than one business week. [See ProMed in booth #1705 at MD&M West].
ProMed specializes in silicone components and assemblies, however, according to Mike Ramirez, senior R&D engineer for ProMed, the company will provide molded components from a variety of materials that fit the project, the budget, the timeline, the size of the part and the complexity of the geometry.
Typical molds are aluminum based and prices range from $300 to $1,500 with part pricing averaging from $1 to $5 each, again depending on part size, material and geometric complexity.
How does ProMed Prototypes do this? "We have a stable of local moldmakers that we work with, and know their capabilities quite well from our long-time association with them. These mold makers can turn molds around very quickly, generally in one to three days," Ramirez said.
Customers can order prototypes online via ProMed Prototypes' website. Customers can just go online at www.promedprototypes.com, and fill out the quote form to submit the RFQ. Or they can call ProMed directly. Once ProMed Prototypes receives the RFQ and the solid model of the part, ProMed engineers turn around the quote that day. The customers receive the message that the quote has been sent, and they can then choose to add the quote to theircart and purchase the prototype via credit card. The purchase then triggers ProMed to begin the project.
"We're not spending a day or two quoting, which saves time," Ramirez said. "Our role in the project is that we take the lead in designing the tools. That makes it easier for the tool makers as they don't have to do any design work. We send them the fully designed model, thus reducing the back and forth design discussions which can be time-consuming. We can get a mold completed faster than most companies can deliver a quote. Tooling ordered and parts in-hand is three to seven days."
While ProMed specializes in small - even micro-sized - parts, some of the requests the company has been receiving are for larger prototype parts, over 12 inches long requiring larger tooling. "We're primarily involved in molding parts for the medical industry," Connie Laumeyer, director of sales & marketing, told PlasticsToday. "However, the launching of the rapid prototype capabilities is enabling us to enter into areas outside of the markets we typically serve. This is really rounding out our offerings of silicone and bio-material grade plastic components, assemblies, combination components and complete devices. We are working hard to be a one-stop shop."
The local mold shops ProMed Prototypes use have different capabilities, and Ramirez noted that ProMed's engineers have worked with them enough to know what geometric tolerances they can hit depending on the complexity of the mold. Jobs are also let according to the type of machinery and equipment the shop has. "We can match the best vendor for the mold as each one has its own specialty," he explained. "The constant among all of them is they can turn these molds around quickly."
Molds guaranteed for about 1,000 parts, as silicone is very abrasive. Silicone parts need good clamping force which also tends to wear the mold. The most optimum factor in making these prototype parts from the actual materials in actual molds is that the industry accepts these parts for proof of concept and form, fit and function. The OEM can then take it to the next step and get a hardened steel tool.
"These prototypes are as close to production parts that you'll get," Laumeyer said. "That's one of our differentiating factors; we're not just a prototyping shop but can take the knowledge we learned in the prototyping stage and translate that into the multi-cavity production mold. Start with us and stay with us is our concept, from prototype part through to full validation."
ProMed Prototypes has contacted all of its customers to promote the company as a source for new product development work. "We've had huge success with our existing customer base and now receiving more interest from other OEMs in markets in addition to medical," stated Laumeyer.
Ramirez noted that ProMed had originally thought about 3D metal printing of molds versus machining molds, but came to the conclusion that for their applications, machined metal molds are more accurate and stronger. "Plus, we really saw no cost or time savings in going to the 3D printed molds," Ramirez said. "3D printers can't print silicone, even though they have similar materials, it's not the same and don't function the same as the actual material. We want to give customers the same material that they'll need for the actual part. It's nice to get the customer a real part that is of value to their development process.