Manufacturers capable of casting urethane use highly sophisticated and precise processes to take a product from design, to prototyping, to molding.This manufacturing process is similar to injection molding, but instead of working with hard tools like manufacturers do during injection molding, they opt for soft tools like silicone. There are numerous advantages to using soft tools, and these advantages can have a major impact on a company’s operational timeline and expense. Most importantly, the use of soft tools means faster turnaround on orders and greater customization options.
What is the process of casting urethane?
Injection molding is the traditional method of creating thermosetting polymers. During injection molding, two halves of a hard mold, usually made from durable metals, are sealed together. Inside, there is a void in the shape of the custom component. The polymer is injected into this mold and it is placed in an oven for curing.
Hard tools are ideal when a company needs many identical parts that aren’t heavily customized. It is possible to customize hard tools in any way, but it takes longer and is not always cost-effective. Hard tools will not degrade with constant use, though, so they are ideal for extended production runs. However, creating a hard tool for a production run requires extensive design and machining, so it is only a feasible option when a client needs thousands of components.
However, when casting urethane parts, more and more companies are moving to using soft tools instead, for a number of reasons.
The process of using soft tools to create custom components looks like this:
- The component manufacturer will meet with the client to determine what they need from the product. In general, soft tools are used for smaller, faster production runs, which is almost always the case when creating custom components. During consultation, the product manufacturer will ascertain exactly what the custom components will need to do, how big they will need to be and what shape they will need to take, along with any other needed properties.
- Following consultation, the component is designed in AutoCAD, giving the client and engineers an opportunity to review the component before it is created. During review, if the client needs to make any changes to the component, this can be done rather easily.
- A master pattern is created from silicone, and shaped into a mold. This mold will be used to prototype the component and produce it when the full production run starts. Soft tools can be created either through CNC machining (which is the process for creating hard tools) or through 3D printing.
- Dozens of components can be created from a single soft tool before degradation sets in, and the curing process is done in a powerful oven.
When casting urethane using soft tools, the process costs a fraction of what a hard tool costs. And soft tools are quick and easy to make, allowing companies to get their products within days, instead of weeks.