Micro mold technology creates injection molded components that observe micron tolerances and incredible levels of detail. Due to the miniaturization of medical devices, this technology has become the lynchpin for medtech’s most incredible medical breakthroughs. Medical devices, including both surgical and implantable, once the size of a pager, are being reduced to the size of a Tic Tac.

Q&A Michael Barbella & Aaron Johnson

In the latest issue of MPO Magazine, writer Michael Barbella discussed what drives these advances, what has changed, and why the micro mold one part science, one part engineering, and one part art form.

The following are Michael Barbella’s questions followed by answers from Aaron Johnson, VP of Customer Strategy at Accumold.

What are the latest innovations in micro molding technology? 

At Accumold, our innovations are 100 percent driven by our customer’s needs. Lately our innovations have centered around high-velocity projects with high output, high quality demand at high speed. Our innovation team is constantly developing new tools that enable tooling and production to solve some very complex customer demands.

What market forces are fueling the need for micro mold technology and services? 

It sounds cliché but the miniaturization trend in technology has not slowed, especially if you think of what it means to medical device. Miniaturization is a key driver for adding more features and/or allowing for further form-factor reductions. This often translates into better diagnostics, faster recoveries, or overall better patience care.

How is the need for smaller, more complex medical devices/components challenging micro mold suppliers and providers? 

Every time the need for smaller, more complex components pushes the boundaries, it challenges the supply chain. It becomes a way of life. Suppliers should be ready to take on potential roadblocks and not dumb-down the part just to make it easier. Starting with the customer’s ideal is always goal number one.

What factors must be taken into consideration in designing tooling for micromolded parts? 

There is no easy answer when answering, “What are the guidelines?” When it comes to micro molding, each part design brings a unique set of challenges to the equation. One of the primary considerations in what we call, DfMM, Design for Micro Molding, is matching material selection and the part geometry. Understanding these relationships at the micro-level takes experience over what a data sheet might say.

Should micromolding tooling design be outsourced? Why or why not? 

In-House Tooling and Micro Mold Building
Accumold’s in-house micro mold tool room

In our opinion, no. If you are expecting microns in the outcome of the process in-house tooling is a must. Can you get good tooling on the outside? Absolutely. But we have found when working with a highly specialized process like micro molding, the pieces of the puzzle – tooling, processing, metrology, etc. – being vertically integrated leads to a faster and more robust process.

Tooling is such a critical part of the success at this level it would be hard not to have full control. That’s why we have in-house tooling.

What material advancements are currently impacting micromolding capabilities? 

With the advancements in miniaturization, product designers are finding themselves looking for solutions that were once unnecessary. These pressures are asking for plastics to “live” in spaces they once stayed away from.

Polypropylene PP - micro molding materials
Polypropylene (PP) is a great example of a resin that can be molded wafer thin for various micro mold projects.

For example, a common trend is wafer-level components. Designers would like plastic components to survive the solder-reflow process and other harsh environments during assembly and testing. In theory, these designs could add tremendous value, but it puts a lot of pressure on the material developers to formulate resins that match the needs.

🗒 Check out our full thin-wall study and white paper here »

What are customers demanding or expecting in their micro mold products?

There is an increasing demand these days for more value-added services. More and more OEMs are asking their supply chain to support processes like sterilization, micro mold assembly and packaging.

How are minimally invasive and point-of-care applications affecting micro molded device design and development?

Typically, in both minimally invasive and POC applications, the smaller the better. And since there are often other components involved, the pressure to reduce the plastic components is higher. Thinner wall sections, higher aspect ratios, and smaller features are commonly the way more room is made for new electronics or other functions.

This interview originally appeared on 11/30/20 in MPO Magazine titled Medtech Miniaturization is Becoming a ‘Way of Life.’

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