Whether it’s plastic injection molded parts for marine engines or rubber components for recreational marine applications, the road from part conception to delivery is long and winding. What does it take to bring a custom molded rubber or plastic part to fruition? When it comes to designing, manufacturing and delivering rubber and plastic parts, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look.
In the factory, raw materials go through various steps and processes, and are finally packaged and shipped. It’s all very linear, with one stage following another. But unlike the factory, the stages of concept, design and development of are iterative — be it for rubber hose assemblies, rapid manufacturing for custom engine parts, or custom molded rubber diaphragms.
The stages move forward in a series of feedback loops, with changes made and reviewed, then more changes made and reviewed, and with each loop either ending in a decision or spawning yet another round. Adding to the complexity, each change may affect multiple aspects of the project, and to different degrees.
It’s no wonder the old tradition of “throw it over the wall” was often how customer needs became designs, and designs became products. That process goes something like this: Marketing would throw the idea “over the wall” to engineering, who would interpret the words as best they could and throw the design over the wall to manufacturing. Manufacturing would then do the best they could to make the rubber or plastic product — which, many times, wasn’t good enough. Parts didn’t fit, or costs ran over budget, or the customer was unhappy because what they asked for wasn’t what they got. And “over the wall” design and engineering has another serious flaw: the effectiveness of a decision is at its peak at the beginning of the process. This is also where the cost of a part or product modification is at its lowest point.
It may seem difficult to justify a thorough, iterative design/review/prototype process at the beginning of a project, but what about when molds have been purchased, or machines have been installed, or new materials have been developed? That’s right, by then it may be too late or too expensive to make changes to the plastic or rubber part, and the product isn’t what the customer wanted — or the product costs too much to manufacture. Yes, this happens.
At RL Hudson, our design, engineering, materials, prototype, and testing departments can help you solve rubber and plastic problems at every stage of the concept-to-delivery process. From modifying small volumes of existing production rubber or plastic parts to ensuring they fit and function properly; from identifying problems to concepting, design and development — at every stage the customer is an integral part of the process. But it won’t work without communication, and we believe that frequent, clear, and complete communication is vital to the iterative design process for custom molded rubber parts and plastic assemblies.
So what triggers a new project? A new product. An upgraded product. Maybe correcting a deficiency or improving reliability. Or maybe you’re simply wanting to reduce cost. Whatever your product trigger for a plastic or rubber part, our proven process ensures we properly identify and meet your needs. These are just a few of the milestones you’ll experience working with our dedicated team of professionals:
Step 1. Customer’s Plastic or Rubber Part Needs Identified
The customer’s engineering or purchasing department identifies a need, or perhaps, it’s identified during a line walk-through by an RL Hudson engineer. Next, the customer meets with a manager or engineer to discuss needs and define the project scope and requirements for the custom molded rubber part or plastic component. This is the point at which we can have the greatest impact in terms of cost savings and design efficiency. From here on, the effectiveness of decisions becomes progressively less while the cost of modifications dramatically increases.
Step 2. Iterative Design Process Begins
Our engineering department produces a preliminary design of the custom plastic part or rubber component, and submits it to the customer. The customer reviews the design and offers feedback. This is the start of an iterative process of review and change that may continue through multiple revisions, until the customer is satisfied that the design will solve their problem. At the end of this process, the customer approves the preliminary design.
Step 3. Plastic or Rubber Part is Quoted
If the price is attractive, it’s on to the next step. If it isn’t, it’s time for additional iterative cycles of review and change.
Step 4. Detailed Rubber or Plastic Part Design
Our engineering team completes a detailed design including Finite Element Analysis, Mold Flow Analysis and Computational Fluid Dynamics, if required, and detailed drawings.
Step 5. Prototype Parts
Following approval of the detailed drawings, the customer orders prototype parts, which are inspected at RL Hudson and tested by the customer and / or RL Hudson. Unless an unexpected problem is revealed, and it’s necessary to go back to the second step, the prototype parts are approved. At this point, this iterative design process is essentially complete. Design changes now are costly.
Step 6. Final Drawings
Final drawing revisions are made and drawings are released.
Step 7. Production Tooling
Production tooling is built.
Step 8. PPAP Parts are Produced
Parts are produced for the Production Part Approval Process.
Step 9. Inspection
Our team quality inspects the first production parts to verify that they meet specs. Parts may also undergo material and mechanical testing.
Step 10. PPAP
RL Hudson quality prepares the PPAP document, which is is submitted to the customer along with the parts.
Step 11. Production
Once the customer approves the PPAP, the parts go into production.
Step 12. Maintenance
At this point the design, testing and PPAP process is complete. The part is now turned over to an account manager, who will oversee ongoing production, ordering, and shipping.