Industrial Cutting Techniques for Plastics and Rubber Materials
There are several industrial cutting techniques that can be employed to produce a wide range of plastic and rubber pieces and components. Some of these methods are better for thicker materials, while others excel with thinner-gauge plastics. Some might be better for plastics, while others can be used on any material.
Which one is right for you? Which one will deliver the speed of production you need without sacrificing the quality?
Let’s explore some of your options.
A Closer Look at Laser Cutting
Lasers are great. A direct and focused laser beam can cut at amazingly high detail levels, which means very tight tolerances even on very small pieces. This cutting method is particularly useful on thin-gauge plastics or compressed fibers and adhesives.
These cuts produce very clean and smooth edges since the laser can actually get hot enough to literally vaporize the material it’s going through.
A laser cutting machine is can be programmed with highly detailed plans and still deliver a quick turnaround at various levels of production. This makes it great for prototyping since it can be used for small runs or test runs before creating dies for an extensive production schedule.
Lasers can be used for more than just cutting, too. As a part of the production process, lasers can be used for annealing, drilling, engraving, etching, scoring, perforating, and more.
On top of that, a laser can handle several processes at once – like cutting, marking, and engraving – without having to re-fixture the sheet of plastic.
Delving into Die Cutting
The die cutting process is very straightforward. Steel dies are created and used to stamp out parts, like a cookie cutter (though, of course, these machines are capable of much finer detail).
This fabrication process is very versatile and customizable, so it can be used to produce simple or complex pieces, and it is effective on a wide range of plastics and other materials, like rubber, foam, cork, and more.
Precision die cutting can actually include a number of different processes, including digital die cutting, flatbed die cutting, and rotary die cutting – each offering different advantages on different projects/materials.
Rotary die cutting, for example, uses a cylindrical die that rotates against a mandrel which makes it a great choice for thinner-gauge materials or for high-volume production runs.
This cutting method can be used for:
- Through Cutting – Cutting through the entire material so the piece can be separated from the whole.
- Scoring – This process doesn’t cut through the whole material. It just indents or partial cuts into the material to make it easier for folding and other processes.
- Kiss Cutting – This cut is specifically for adhesive-lined materials because it goes through everything but the backing material layer.
- Perforating – Creates a series of punch-through holes so the piece won’t be fully removed from the whole material.
- Broaching – When the material is particularly thick, it may require this specialized form of die cutting.
What about Waterjet Cutting?
This technique uses extremely high-pressure water streams to precisely cut shapes out of a given material.
These cuts can be used even on thicker materials, and, like the laser, is controlled by a computer to deliver the exact same results with each piece.
This is also a convenient cutting method because the water pressure and abrasive flow rate and other parameters can usually stay the same for all the cutting jobs. It’s just the speed of the cut that will have to change depending on the materials being cut.
Waterjet cutting is a popular choice for prototyping, but it is certainly a valid option for longer production runs, as well (depending on the specific project demands).
It is possible to use water cutting on a range of materials, including metals, which makes it the most common choice when the material in question is sensitive to extreme heat (making laser cutting out of the question).
There are other cutting methods that have been used over the years, but they tend to have specific use cases.
This could include hot knife cutting, in which a wire or blade is electrically heated to melt its way through the plastic. It’s usually used to cut blocks of foam and polystyrene that are really thick.
The same goes for traditional sawing, which may be used for sectioning plastic bar stock so it can be further machined with a different process.
Which Cutting Method is the Right One?
There are a number of factors that must be considered before choosing the best cutting method for your project. Things we will need to think about include:
- Material – What type of plastic or rubber material will be on the block? The material’s characteristics will play a huge role in the type of cutting methods that can be used.
- Thickness – Certain cutting methods may be overkill on materials that are too thin. Then again, if we’re dealing with a high thickness, it will require very specific machines in order to continue producing quality cuts at a satisfactory rate.
- Production Rate – Some methods simply aren’t suited to production at higher speeds, or it’s possible that the cuts will lose quality if the speed is pushed too high. When you need a certain level of production, make sure you’re working with a die cutting partner that can handle high speeds and high quality.
- Special shapes – If you need something more than a basic shape, it may limit your options for cutting methods. Lasers and waterjets, for example, can be used for intricate cuts, but it will end up taking more time.
These cutting processes must be used effectively to ensure you get the quality pieces you need to develop your products and save money and time. Explore your options, don’t make any assumptions, and chose the right industrial cutting techniques for rubber and plastic that deliver the production rate and quality you need.
The Many Jobs Behind Your Everyday Appliances
Have you ever gone to the refrigerator to procure your favorite refreshing beverage and then stopped to think about just how many jobs went into creating an appliance that makes refreshing-beverage procurement so very easy?
We all understand on some level that a lot of work goes into all of our everyday appliances, but most of us probably don’t realize exactly how many people, companies, and suppliers really have to be involved to produce even the simplest of machines. (And we’re saying this as an integral part of that manufacturing process.)
The actual number of jobs behind your average refrigerator, oven, or microwave may be a little surprising. Let’s take a closer look at these jobs and see if there are some sectors, tasks, and industries behind your appliances that you never really thought about.
Who Is Behind Appliance Manufacturing?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are at least 15 major job groups that are connected to household appliance manufacturing. If you break it down further, within those groups there are 186 different jobs that all contribute – either directly or indirectly – to the process of turning raw materials into usable appliances.
The 15 group of jobs includes:
- Business and financial operations
- Computer operations
- Life/physical/social sciences
- Legal services
- Art and design
- Healthcare practitioners
- Grounds maintenance
- Sales operations
- Office administration
- Construction and extraction
- Installation, maintenance and repair
- Transportation and material moving
Of course, several of these jobs fall right into our wheel house at Clark Rubber & Plastic, most of them under the “Production” group.
Our contribution to the development of consumer products includes metal workers and plastic workers, machine tool setters, operators, press machine setters and operators, grinding, polishing, casting, tool and die makers, custom rubber molders, rubber and plastic extrusion operators, inspectors, testers, and much more.
That sounds like a lot – and it is – but even we are just one part of the process.
While our plastic and rubber components are regularly found in automotive components, electronics, packaging materials, household products, and consumer appliances, we are still only providing one part of the puzzle.
There may be a lot of people behind these parts, but it is just the start. There are still people in logistics companies that need to make sure everything is getting where it needs to go. There are company administrators that make sure their assembly lines are never short of the products they need. And, of course, there are the designers who determine what they need and the manufacturers who bring it all together in the end.
From there, it’s all about the sales and transport people. It’s about taking the products that were made from the high-quality materials that we provide and getting them out onto shelves and into the hands of customers.
And even this step may have a lot more people involved with it than you may think.
Every Step Matters
With so many steps and jobs behind each and every appliance that goes to market, it’s critical to ensure that every company, supplier, or person is doing their part to deliver the highest quality possible.
It may just be another refrigerator to the average consumer, but it is the sum of a lot of parts coming together from a lot of places.
At Clark Rubber & Plastic, we are completely committed to our part of this process. Those gaskets and seals that we provide to different manufacturers may seem like a small thing, but they can have a huge impact on the final product that makes it into someone’s home.
Currently, we produce our rubber and plastic products in a 70,000 sq/ft manufacturing space that is fully stocked with some of the most advanced equipment available. On top of that, we have received UL certification of compliance for QMFZ2.E356537 Plastics – Component, which means that the plastic parts we ship out always meet the most stringent safety requirements.
So, the next time you go to the refrigerator to procure your favorite refreshing beverage, take a moment to consider all the work that made this simple activity possible.
Working with the High-Compliance Needs of Military Applications
Military products and applications demand extremely high reliability and durability because of the likelihood that they will be put to the test in some very extreme environments. This means that military departments that design, develop, and otherwise work on these projects must source materials and parts from companies that understand and meet the established standards and regulations.
Military applications need to be completely reliable, even under the most rigorous conditions. To that end, suppliers must institute their own quality assurance processes on their design, production, and testing phases.
What Are Military Spec Products?
“Military spec” refers to the higher-grade materials that go into every project that could be subjected to heavy usage. These materials must be tough and reliable enough to function properly in a wide range of military industry applications.
The military sector is often called a high-compliance industry because of all the rules and regulations surround any parts and compounds used in any production. Products can only qualify as military spec when they are in full compliance with these requirements.
The exact characteristics of a certified material can be different, but in general, the quality assurance team should make sure that any product shipped off to the military sector must be compliant in strength, durability, temperature resistance, flammability, and other factors.
In truth, it’s not enough just to meet the standards set by different regulatory organizations – not when product failure could lead to potential harm or damage.
At Clark Rubber & Plastic, we have implemented a cutting-edge quality assurance system to make sure that every product that leaves our facilities easily meets and then exceeds the normal requirements of our customers in their industry.
This means that we have ISO/TS 16949:2009 compliance, and we work with certified materials testing facilities and an outside calibration facility to ensure our military spec products deserve the name.
Why It’s So Important
Whatever the final military application, it’s a safe bet that it is going to be put through some extreme environments and heavy usage. This means there is no substitute for effective, detailed, and reliable quality assurance.
These products may be taking some people into some life-threatening situations. They have to perform like they’re supposed to, whether they’re going into sandy, dusty, or watery locations in the middle of some extreme temperatures and locations.
Our materials and products are regularly used in tanks and other vehicles, armaments and munitions, engine parts, marine vessels, airplanes, and more. It’s critically important to ensure safety in them all.
The Department of Defense does more than just lay out the regulations that govern how products are used in military applications. It also produces a lot of documentation for products and processes and materials that help establish some standardizations.
For example, the DOD may create special documents that make it possible for different agencies or branches of the military to source materials and know exactly what they are going to get. This will lead to a certain level of commonality between all the different departments, which can help streamline the supply system and ensure every branch gets the materials they need.
In order to supply products for the military, producers must meet these standards so that they don’t contribute to bloating the military processes.
Keeping Up with New Developments
Technology, processes, and materials change and develop over the years, which means our manufacturing methods and quality assurance systems have to evolve to keep up. This can make producing military-grade products a challenge, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure the reliability and durability of every product.
This means that, in order to keep up, we have to maintain our quality management systems and constantly improve on what we’re already doing. This mean employing internal and external audits, reviewing policies and reports, taking all the necessary corrective and preventive actions, and making sure that the entire staff knows and understands these requirements.
Military products are very likely intended for applications that demand reliability in some very severe environments and applications. In order to ensure that they are dependable in these difficult conditions, we continue to devote a lot of time and effort to design, production, and testing every part of our production process so it will always meet the necessary requirements, even in a high-compliance industry.
The Increasing Demand for Solar Power Over the Years
Have you noticed more and more homes in your neighborhood covering their roofs with solar photovoltaic panels?
What about the businesses or factories in the area? Have they started looking at alternative power sources to save money and meet industry regulations?
Solar power continues to become more affordable and accessible in the United States, which has made it far more prevalent than it was just a decade or so ago.
In fact, since 2008, the number of photovoltaic panel installations has increased by 35 times what it was before that.
A Maturing Market
The residential market for solar power continues to grow, and it reached record highs in 2019 with 712 megawatts installed. The U.S market added around 2.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics in the third quarter alone.
This is a 45% increase over the previous year, and a 25% increase over the previous quarter.
The outlook for the future is equally bright, and it has been forecasted that with the current level of investments, accelerated build-outs, and other factors, the total installed solar capacity could more than double over the next 5 years.
How Much Power Does Solar Provide?
It is estimated that the current number of installations across the country is producing somewhere around 70 gigawatts, which is enough energy capacity to power more than 12 million homes.
As the installation prices and ongoing costs continue to go down, solar continues to provide a large chunk of the country’s electrical generation. In 2010, solar constituted a mere 0.1% of our total power, while in 2019 it was closer to 2.5%.
What Does a Solar Installation Cost?
The costs for solar photovoltaic panels have been steadily decreasing since around 2014, which has led to the recent growth spurts in the industry.
Over the last decade, the cost to install a solar system has dropped more than 70%, making the costs as low as they’ve ever been. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the average-sized residential system dropped from a pre-incentive price of $40K in 2010 to around $18K today. Utility-scale prices currently range from $18/MWh to $35/MWh, which is competitive with all other forms of energy generation.
What Is Holding Back Solar Adoption?
While the costs of the materials used in photovoltaics continue to decline, and the durability and reliability of the materials continue to increase, there are some other costs that do have an impact on the rate at which residentials and businesses are able to install their own systems.
While the costs of the materials and the finished products have become much more affordable over the years, it’s the “soft” costs that have yet to catch up with the developments in the industry.
This can include everything from gaining permits and financing to labor and supply chain concerns. There is a lot that has to be done in order to complete an installation, and that means a lot of people/businesses/regulations are going to get involved. And in order reduce these soft costs, new programs will need to be initiated to make the entire process more efficient, effective, and affordable.
Working on Storage
Solar power, by its very nature, affected by a wide range of variables. The sun’s location, how long it’s in the sky this season, the level of cloud cover, and several other factors can impact the amount of energy that every installation can generate.
The solution is – and always has been – storage. Technology for storing all this energy is growing very rapidly. As it is right now, the power grids have been there to absorb the variable energy produced by photovoltaics. However, we tend to use more power at night – when solar is producing a lot less energy – than we do during the day when the sun is shining bright and powerful, which is not an ideal balance.
Energy storage systems will change the way this works. While the prices for storage aren’t coming down as fast as solar, they are developing with an eye toward being paired with solar technology to help smooth out peak demand times and make residential and industrial installations even more effective and efficient.
Solar Power Components
Every individual component that goes into these photovoltaic installations can contribute to better results and performance advantages. At Clark Rubber & Plastic, we produce everything from solar panel rubber inserts and frameless clip assemblies to electrical coverings and cable inserts.
These high-quality solar plastics and rubber for solar structures can help reduce material and manufacturing costs and provide important corrosion resistance and long-term value.
This is only the beginning of a very bright future with solar power.
The History of Rubber
Rubber is a common material that most people are familiar with today. It is found in shoes, tires, fittings in machinery, plumbing parts, hoses, gaskets, and so much more. But when was this product discovered and how did it become such a staple to the modern world? To help answer these questions, here is a quick overview of the history of rubber.
The known history of rubber goes back to before the 1600s in Meso-America. The indigenous people used it for generations for many things, including creating balls and dipping their feet in it for a protective, temporary covering. The base of rubber is a white sap that comes from tropical plants, like the rubber trees in the rainforest. One of its first uses in the European world was as an eraser. It was found that rubbing the matter over writing would erase it, hence the name “rubber”.
Many people consider the first scientific findings of rubber to have happened in 1735, by Charles de la Condamine. He tried to convince everyone that this material would be ideal to create flexible tubes. In 1820, a British industrialist named Nadier produced rubber threads. He intended to use them in clothing construction and accessories.
Taming the Substance
Rubber helped make some cities in South America very wealthy, but soon plants were taken to other parts of the world and planted. The world was becoming excited by the many uses of rubber and what it meant for industry and everyone wanted more of it. Several products were produced, but they all came down to several problems. For one, cold weather changed rubber to be brittle and break easily. On the other hand, rubber was too hot and sticky in hot weather.
Goodyear discovered the process of vulcanization by accident in 1840. He had been working hard to make rubber a more usable product and accidentally dropped rubber on a hot stove top. Vulcanization is the process of mixing rubber with lead and sulfur and dropped in high heat. The result was a product that came back to its original form after being stretched. Once this was discovered, the process was refined more and the uses of the product dramatically increased.
Rubber is no longer dependent on the liquid, tacky substance from plants. During World War II, more rubber was needed than any producers could create. Instead, crude oil was used to make a synthetic version that is still widely used in many products. The word “rubber” now refers to a class of materials with high elasticity, rather than the original, plant-based substance.
The process of creating rubber products has also changed. The rubber extrusion process helps to push rubber through to a rubber molding that is in the shape of the finished product. Additives are put into the substance and then the vulcanization process is done by adding high heat. The product is then cooled quickly to solidify the product and keep it in the desired shape.
From there, products are used in automobiles, solar panels, military defense, and more. These products help keep water in or out, provide insulation, or to protect other parts from damage. Our world with modern technology is a dependent on rubber in all its forms. So next time you see something made of rubber in any shape or size, you can understand how it came about.
How to Choose an Automotive Die Cutting Partner
An automotive company depends on their reputation for providing high-quality parts. Once those products are passed on to customers and installed in vehicles, it becomes their own reputation that is on the line which is why dealers, repair shops, and manufacturers expect quality. The market continues to demand quality in less time and for lower prices, which effects the entire automotive supply chain. One way that companies are achieving these goals are with their automotive die cutting partners.
The Cost-Effective Option
The advantage of using die cut automotive parts is that they are cost-effective to make. But there is more to choosing a partner than just someone who has the right equipment to get the job done. The ideal partner will have your needs in mind and work hard to improve the process. Part of die cutting parts includes assembly of the little pieces. This can become a tedious task that can require extra employees or an extra step in the automation process. To simplify the process and keep your business moving, the entire assembly can be done by the die cutting partner.
Knowing All the Options
Before you can fully utilize a strategic partner, it’s important to understand their abilities. Talk about the jobs you need to have done and any extra tasks, like assembly, that they can do in-house to simplify your life. Knowing what capabilities are important to you and being able to communicate those needs to a die cutting service will help you find the partner that is right for your business. While not every automotive part can be created with die cutting, it is ideal for certain parts, such as
- Structural components
- Motor housings
Each of these is an individual task with its own nuances. Most can be created in bulk and done in a short time frame.
Building a Strong Relationship
While each die cutting company will know how to create these automotive products, it is important that the relationship is solid. Staying in constant communication about needs and having a system going will help make everyones job easier. When there is a solid foundation to this business relationship, it strengthens both businesses because the supply chain is stronger. Each time parts touch another pair of hands or go through another step in the supply chain, it weakens just a little and increases costs. This is important because the quality levels in the automotive industry are set so high and regulated heavily. Creating finished products at the end of the chain is vital to survival in the field.
Shortening the chain is done by having fewer companies involved and utilizing in-house services before shipping the automotive parts. Contact Clark Rubber and Plastic today to see how we can help die cutting automotive parts for your business. We can save your company time and the need for extra employees. We work hard to forge stronger bonds and shortening the overall supply chain required for jobs. When you have more time and a reliable partner for quality parts, you can focus on growing a successful business.
Rubber Molding Versus Silicone Rubber Injection Molding
When placing an order for rubber molding, there are several different options between manufacturers. The right type of rubber for the job will make all the difference in the finished product, but which is the right one for your project? Here is a quick reference guide for your next rubber injection molding job.
Rubber Molding with High Consistency Rubber
The most common association that people make to rubber is referred to as high consistency rubber, or HCR. It is available in different thicknesses and usually comes in high viscosity sheets. It is gummier in texture and gives products a flexible quality, much like you’d expect in rubber tubing. This material is not commonly used in injection molding because it has such a high viscosity and takes a long time to cure. The HCR is great for certain applications and takes a long time to produce. It is labor-intensive to produce a finished product, but it is ideal for tubing and cording.
The other problems that companies come across is the amount of waste produced during manufacturers. This usually results in higher costs for materials, extra space, and labor costs for the company that is passed on to the customer.
Injection Molding with Liquid Silicone Rubber
Liquid silicone rubber, or LSR, is liquid, as the name implies. This is a great material for injection molding because it is easy to inject into molds than the HCR form into different shapes.
LSR starts as two parts that become solid once mixed together. Before combining the two parts, additives can be added and then machinery mixes everything together in precise amounts. The mixture is then pushed into molds and left to cure inside them. There is a low viscosity to LSR so the process is fast and requires less labor. This helps keep this type of rubber molding less expensive because there is less time spent on each order. Since molds are used to create the final product, there is less material waste.
Another benefit to using LCR is that the results are consistent. With HCR, the rubber is harder to form and is created with pre-created sheets. Production might vary between parts, which requires an extra step for trimming and quality control. LCR is used in the same molds, producing the same results each cycle, even with complex shapes.
Some of the industries that benefit from rubber injection molding include automotive, appliances, military and defense, and the solar industry, among others.
The Right Rubber for the Job
If you have a job that requires custom rubber molding, consider the two main options. The HCR is still ideal for many rubber products, but custom or complex jobs require a forming of liquid rubber into molds. Consider the pros and cons of each job and talk to the manufacturer about what they would recommend.
For the best custom rubber molding services, our customer service agents are happy to discuss options for your job. Our machinery is equipped to handle many different materials, including natural rubber, nitrile, neoprene, Viton, EPDM, and SBR. We can do repeat jobs and handle any size order- large or small. Let us know how we can fulfill your orders and help your company succeed.
The Link Between Transparency and an Efficient Supply Chain
Consumers have become increasingly aware of how businesses work, not just what products they make and services they offer. The number of customers who care about a brand’s impact on the environment are growing every year. Cone Communication did a survey in 2015 that showed 81 percent of global consumers care about transparency, or how a company handles their corporate social responsibility and consider it in their buying choices.
For companies, this is a big number and reason to consider their own choices in buying and production. Sourcing materials or resources with any negative impact will eventually be uncovered and customers will find out and directly influence a company’s performance. Because of this, more companies are changing their supply chains to be more transparent, which also makes them more efficient.
The Role of Transparency
Some supply chains are more transparent than others naturally. Food chains are often transparent so that consumers know what they are putting in their bodies. A transparent supply chain in this industry helps provide a more efficient way to notify retailers and the public of recalls and contaminated foods.
Other industries, like construction and manufacturing, don’t naturally have a transparent supply chain. While this may have been an area consumers cared less about in the past, that is changing. With a more informed society, consumers are caring more about their health and the products around them. Instead of knowing that the suppliers are reliable, people like to know that the workers are treated well on the job and the conditions are fair.
Consumers who care about a company’s social responsibility will find out this information, but there is a bigger benefit for companies making themselves more transparent. When customers find out who has a greater sense of social responsibility, they feel loyalty to that business. Companies who make their supply chain more transparent will focus on improving these aspects and gain a more loyal base. With a higher public perception, they can gain more business.
The Benefits of Transparency
Manufacturers, companies, distributors, vendors, and customers all benefit from transparency. More than just creating a good public profile, each can gain the following benefits:
- Reduces risk: When every part of the supply chain is traceable, risk is reduced almost entirely. It helps provide oversight for everyone in the chain. If there is a recall in any industry, being able to follow the products to where they ended up is valuable to keeping the public safe.
- Keeps everyone informed: Each person in the chain is more informed on where the products are assembled, who packaged them, how it was transported and stored. For a product like food, the benefits of this are obvious, but it also matters in other industries. Aerospace, architecture, and engineering have products that require vigorous testing for quality and reliability. The proper care of machinery is vital to performing accurately.
- Greater efficiency: With a more transparent supply chain, there is more information available. This helps identify problem areas where processes are slowed. If there is an area where things bottleneck in production, it can be solved and improved. Companies might also find steps that are unnecessary and can be removed entirely, speeding up the entire process.
Companies often need help understanding how to increase the transparency in their supply chain. What tools are available to help and how do you implement them? When a product goes through so many steps, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start.
Thanks to the tech industry, there are many software programs and applications that aid in tracking. Data is more efficient to collect with these systems and are not hard to put in place. Putting a small tracker on a shipment helps track location, temperature, and conditions.
Blockchain is another system that helps to directly connect suppliers and distributors. It provides a secure, decentralized platform that helps eliminate excess.
Transparency provides more collaboration between partners, vendors, and suppliers. They work together with more efficiency and have more communication, speeding up processes and solving problems. Consumers can see where their products and services are coming from and purchase with more loyalty, knowing they are doing their part to be socially responsible. Transparency really is the key to a more efficient supply chain and a successful business.