Molds-free Fabrication Technology

White Bear Lake, MN—Design flexibility and shorter lead times are among the reported benefits of a “No Molds Required” (NMR) manufacturing technology that is enabling Envision Plastics & Design to fabricate custom plastic housings without using plastic tooling or molds. One of only a handful of companies that are currently employing NMR technology, Envision claims that its niche capability can save customers “thousands of dollars in tooling,” while shaving weeks or months from development time. The company uses common materials, such as ABS, polycarbonate, and high-impact polystyrene (HIPS), to fabricate custom enclosures and other plastic parts in quantities ranging from prototypes to short runs of up to 5,000 pieces. Other materials used include acrylics, PETG, and Kydex®, a high-performance thermoplastic sheet from Kleerdex Company.

“There comes a time in every part’s life cycle, whether at the beginning or the end, that a decision must be made on what manufacturing process to use,” says Doug Rosenthal, Envision’s vice president. “Sometimes, due to quantity, it makes sense to tool up right away. Other times, it makes more sense to use the NMR technology to set the first stage for the product’s life. This especially is the case for products that have not been thrown into the marketplace yet to test their viability or functionality. The NMR process can be of huge value when determining this important factor of a new product.”

The NMR technology permits design changes, ranging from simple product enhancements to complete makeovers, to be made throughout the entire life of a product. Production of parts requires a series of relatively simple steps, beginning with programming and progressing to CNC milling faceting/deburring, sawing, CNC bending, and solvent bonding. If necessary, parts can be silk screened or coated for EMI shielding. Envision can also incorporate gaskets or provide painting, miscellaneous hardware, and additional secondary assembly.

“NMR is a very unique technology, so the customer must be willing to consider another avenue of design to properly utilize the technology,” says Brian DuFresne, sales and marketing manager for Envision Plastics & Design.

Rosenthal says that the technology is suited to various markets, and has already established a presence in the thriving medical manufacturing community of the Twin Cities area. Orders from medical manufacturers for 25-50 parts per month are common, he says, because these quantities would not support the  injection molding cost. However, orders from customers in other industries sometimes total 400-500 parts per month. Besides the medical industry, Envision Plastics & Design serves manufacturers in the electrical/electronics, telecommunications, and computer peripherals industries. Additional markets include safety and security, traffic control, industrial controls, and point-of-purchase displays, according to the company.

Envision Plastics & Design is a spin-off of DuFresne Manufacturing, an ISO 9001:2000-certified sheet metal fabricator based in St. Paul, Minnesota.