Modern resins used for plastic injection molding are something of a miracle of engineering. Strong, durable and colorful, plastics are employed to make useful products of every possible description. Earth Day 2018 on April 22 reminds us that there is a downside to the misuse of plastics, both for ourselves and all the other creatures with which we share this planet.
Our safety and environmental practices may meet legal requirements, but we don't think that's good enough. As a manufacturer, it’s important that you take steps to continuously improve services and efforts that benefit the communities you work in. Let’s explore some benefits of sustainable manufacturing.
Material testing to meet environmental regulations
To meet international safety and environmental regulations, it's important to offer a world-class incoming materials inspection service. This allows manufacturers to make sure they get exactly the materials that were ordered, not a substitute or, even worse, a fake. Sadly, fraudulent materials exist in the supply chain. Not only will these materials fail to meet a manufacturer’s requirements but using them can be unsafe and even void a company’s own regulatory compliance, for example, for RoHS certification in Europe.
At Star Rapid, we constantly work to cull out any non-conforming materials and the suppliers who provide them. Non-standard materials may contain corrosive ingredients that will damage equipment when processed, as well as release toxic fumes. The sooner manufactures can report suspect suppliers, the sooner they will be closed down, which benefits the overall supply chain.
To ensure your manufacturing team is not exposed to hazardous chemicals, it’s essential to stay in compliance and meet certifications like ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001.
Creating processes to reduce waste
Managing every step of the production process and using only best practices avoid costly and wasteful mistakes. This includes weighing and mixing of pigments, drying, careful machine set-up and final processing.
At Star Rapid, we operate in an environment with high humidity much of the year. Unfortunately, some plastics are very good at absorbing moisture. If the plastic pellets become contaminated with moisture, they will not melt or inject properly, the process will be uncontrollable and the parts will be ruined. Damaged parts are not just bad for business—they become wasted material that must be effectively handled.
Manufacturers in high-humidity environments must operate within a climate-controlled facility. In our facility, we also have dedicated stainless-steel drying hoppers at every machine to safeguard the quality of the parts created. This step helps to standardize the process and keep defective material out of the waste stream.
Recycling and reusing
As a manufacturer, efficiency is always a priority. However, there is always some scrap left over, usually from the sprue/runner system of the plastic injection mold. Although unavoidable, this scrap doesn’t need to be just thrown away.
At Star Rapid, we segregate all of our plastic scrap according to major types—nylon, PE, PP, UHDP, styrene and so forth. These materials are then sent to a licensed recycler to be reused. Wherever possible, material is re-ground back into plastic pellets and used again with no loss in functionality—a notable benefit of thermoforming resin. Recycling and reusing saves money, energy, natural resources and keeps unnecessary plastic out of the environment.
Working toward a sustainable future
3D printing has proven to be a very efficient production method as it creates a smaller carbon footprint since there is less waste and it requires less energy.
There are also many promising developments on the horizon for new types of materials to supplement or even replace plastics as we know them, like vitrimers. As they become more commercially viable, manufacturers should be curious about researching their use and putting them to work on the manufacturing floor for the next rapid prototyping or low-volume manufacturing order.
Gordon Styles is the founder and president of Star Rapid, a provider of rapid prototyping, rapid tooling and low-volume production services. Utilizing his background in engineering, Styles founded Star Rapid in 2005 and under his leadership the company has expanded to 250 employees. With an international team of engineers and technicians, Star Rapid combines advanced technologies—such as 3D printing and multi-axis CNC machining—with traditional manufacturing techniques and high-quality standards. Prior to Star Rapid, Styles owned and managed the United Kingdom’s largest rapid prototyping and rapid tooling company, STYLES RPD, which was sold to ARRK Europe in 2000.