Our own Vice President of Customer Strategy, Aaron Johnson, was invited onto the The Robot Industry Podcast to discuss the invention of micro molding and the demand for micro plastics.
Show host Jim Beretta asked what actually classifies as micro molding, how many cavities our typical injection molding project has, the kinds of resin we use, how our approach and technology works, and of course how we use automation and robots to handle, harvest and package microscopic parts.
One fun story Aaron tells is how one part we made was so light and small, the airflow and static electricity made capturing the part an incredible challenge.
Full Transcript: Aaron Johnson on The Robot Industry Podcast
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
Jim Beretta, The Robot Industry Podcast: I’d like to introduce our guest today. Aaron Johnson is the vice president of marketing and customer strategy and part of the technical sales team at Accumold. He is recognized as a leader on the subject of micro injection molding and has developed and presented numerous technical presentations on micro molding technology. He has been published in many industry trade publications and has been with Accumold since 2005. Welcome to the podcast, Aaron.
Aaron Johnson: Thank you Jim. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Beretta: I’m glad you could make it. In our discovery call we both talked about the fact that we both have COVID puppies. You had to drive a while to get yours so if we hear some yips in the background we know that it’s just one of our dogs vying for attention.
Beretta: One of the things I wanted to ask you is who is Accumold and how did you get into the molding industry, especially the micro molding industry?
Johnson: That’s a great question. Accumold was founded a little over 35 years ago by a couple of toolmakers who were seeing the need for small high precision plastics grow.
They were working for a micro electronics company in the tool shop, seeing the advent of what we know today as micro electronics. In 1985, Motorola had just come out with their gray brick cell phone. It was huge and it took two hands to use. It only made phone calls. And today we can’t even conceive of something like that.
Johnson: As they were thinking about the future need for micro plastics they quit their jobs and invented, what we believe was, the first true micro injection molding system dedicated to the efficiencies and the speed of small plastic components.
Their old company ended up being one of the first customers of Accumold back in the late eighties. They really were pioneering micro high-precision plastics. They started in a rented garage and it grew from there. We had the fantastic opportunity of being way ahead of the curve when it came to the demand for micro plastics.
Today as you look around and you see all the electronics around you and the sophistication that’s involved it’s just allowed us to participate and grow with that in a fun and fantastic way over the last 35 years.
Beretta: I’m going to date myself a little bit because I actually owned one of those big old brick Motorola phones. When you talk about micro molded parts with sizes micro molded, and when you decide to quote a project, how do you determine when a part is too small or when it is too big?
Johnson: That’s a great question. There really isn’t a textbook definition of what is micro molding so we’ve really defined it for ourselves over the last 30 plus years. In one sense, it’s injection molding. If you’re familiar with that process, you have to have a way for the plastic to melt and get into the cavity and a way for the mold to open and close. So, there’s a basic set of what is molding. Certainly micro in size, as the name suggests, is a big component. Maybe the largest geometry or length is under a millimeter. Size is a big factor when it comes to what is micro molding.
Johnson: The other real major component is micro features. The largest part that we mold is maybe four or five inches in diameter. We often refer to it as a one-ounce shot “size-ish.”
We told ourselves we want to be experts with parts in this area. Even our larger parts we make have micro features to them. For example, one of the larger parts we mold is a cartridge for a diagnostics tool. It has these little micron sized fluidic channels for the product to function. It appears to be a larger part, but it has micro features.
Johnson: The third way we define micro molding is micro in tolerance. With the critical components we build, we’re dealing with plus or minus two or three microns in tolerance.
There’s an exactness to the micro molding we’re doing, and it goes beyond more of a traditional molding standpoint. We often hear from traditional molders, “the parts you mold are smaller than the gate sizes we have or they’re smaller than the tolerances that we keep on some of the products.” So it’s really at the extreme end of molding from a size tolerance and a critical nature.
Johnson: But what’s challenging, is there’s some gray area in terms of what parts really fit into true micro molding. We found, anecdotally, there’s a general rule: We work on what we call critical components. If you can find twenty other molders to make a part, it’s probably not something that we’re going to take on. When a supply chain or supplier pushes back and says, “Nope, that’s too small, that’s too complex, those tolerances aren’t something we’re used to,” that’s usually where we get involved. There’s a critical level to what we’re doing that is not every day and that’s where we find the most involvement and projects for our customers.
The Robot Industry Podcast transcript continues…
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