With the advent of engineering design and manufacturing ventures around the world, there also comes a growing need for rapid prototyping and the different technologies associated with it. One such noteworthy technology is vacuum casting.
Before venturing into the reasons why we should use vacuum casting technology, we need to be familiar with what is vacuum casting and how it works. Vacuum casting, or vacuum duplication with a silicone mold, is the combination of two distinct methods: vacuum casting on the one part and flexible molds on the other part. Through the development of silicone resin, the material from which the mold is made, and thus making this combination possible. Added in the process is polyurethanes, which mimic the properties of the materials used in mass production. This has contributed to the success of this method, now widely used in pre-series productions or small series of visual, assembly, functional, mechanical and market testing.
Simply speaking, vacuum casting is considered as a duplicate or copying technique used for the production of small series of functional plastic parts. This makes vacuum casting a well-known process due to its fast production of high-quality prototypes and end-use products. Given this, we will explore other compelling reasons why we have to use vacuum casting in our rapid-prototyping service business.
Table of Contents
Vacuum Casting is Versatile
This type of technology is very useful for different applications. It is ideal to use this technology for pre-launch product testing, wherein an alternative material is used to simulate the actual property or the composition of the intended product. It provides a cheap alternative for the intended mass-production.
Another application of this technology is for the creation of small housings and covers of products. Prototech Asia recommends using vacuum casting because of its versatile properties. Its website shows thorough and helpful information which you can click for details. One such detail is on how to create a silicone mold from this process.
The housings and covers can be made following the creation of a master model. The mold is then produced from the model by casting silicone around it, partially under vacuum to avoid air bubbles. The silicone mold is then left to cure and then cut according to pre-defined parting planes and the master model is removed, which leaves a cavity to make several copies. This speeds up the process of replicating the product or the housing and covers.
Concept models and prototypes can particularly benefit from utilizing vacuum casting technology. You can create models that follow the exact specifications and dimensions of the original product just by adjusting the size of the silicone mold. You can then use an alternative material (usually polyurethanes) or the actual material to create the model or prototype.
Vacuum Casting is Cost-effective
This is a good method for making a test or model items without having to assemble and attach the parts, especially the housings. You can save on money from making a prototype product by making a molded housing, that still follows the dimensions and size specifications. If you’re still in the process of presenting the concept of how the product works to the stakeholders and potential users or buyers, there is no guarantee that your presentation will go without a hitch and become final. Chances would be that there will be suggested modifications and tweaks before the approval becomes final. So instead of spending on the acquisition of actual product materials and assembly for pre-series production and pre-launch product testing, you can use molded prototypes from vacuum casting, especially if your product houses internal moving parts. This is because a significant part of the cost for making a mechanical or digital product is spent on its housing or cover. If you can cut costs while still in the process of making the final product design and prototype, the best option is to choose a molded housing for your product through vacuum casting.
Vacuum Casting Improves Product Design
As mentioned earlier, vacuum casting is a good way of making product parts, housing or cover that resembles the actual final product when it comes to shape, appearance and finish. Not only that, casting is also a good way of simulating and replicating the specific measurements and dimensions of the outside casing of certain products that have internal mechanisms.
Business owners and manufacturers can benefit from this method due to its high accuracy when it comes to following the specifications of the product. Also, the design, engineering and quality assurance teams in a prototyping department within large manufacturing complexes or independent prototyping businesses can benefit from vacuum casting technology. This technology can improve their product testing and evaluation by speeding up the prototyping process. Key engineering and design members can dedicate more time to improve the internal parts, mechanisms and efficiency now that there’s a fast and inexpensive way of making the housing or exoskeleton of their prototype design. The team will need not worry about fitting the housing or cover, as the measurements and dimensions have been followed to a tee due to the molding method. Thus, they can be assured that the internal structure and mechanism will not be affected once the cast or housing is fitted to make the product reproduction when prototyping. Also, if there are modifications to the internal mechanism that can somehow change the internal dimensions and measurement, the mold and the cast, housing or covers can be adjusted at a minimal cost, rather than creating another set of separately created housings and parts that need fitting, attachment and fastening.
For a realistic and visually appealing product design even at the prototype stage, the castings can be colored a wide range of colors and incorporated with varying textures that match the actual product. This can contribute to the aesthetic appeal of the prototype and can provide useful inputs on the final color and texture that will be used for the actual product launch.
Vacuum Casting Makes Durable Prototypes
What makes vacuum casting great for prototyping is not only its ease of preparation and versatility, it also possesses a comparable level of durability to the typical plastic casts and housings. Because the vacuum casting process uses vacuum to prevent the formation of air bubbles during the molding process, there are no weak spots in the created product cast or housing. Having bubbles in this process can affect the stability and durability of the product. Hence, this process was discovered and applied to the rapid prototyping processes.
Prototypes made from urethane casts can offer sturdy housings for the internal mechanisms of the prototype. Its high accuracy when it comes to both internal and external housing measurements keeps the internal mechanism working properly. These internal casting space measurements have taken into consideration two things that could happen when there is an internal mechanism within the molded housing – heat and circulation. Because vacuum casting follows the dimensions, measurements and intricate housing details effectively, heat is dispersed efficiently from the internal mechanism and thus makes the housing stay for a long time. Also, the custom colors and paints are well protected when you use urethane parts, which means that a prototype or product that uses urethane casting will achieve the same glow as regularly processes products. Plus, additional resistance to scratches and damage is an added property of vacuum casting urethane.
Vacuum Casting Offers Repetitive Usage
In a prototyping business or in large companies that have internal prototyping processes, there is a particular importance given to iteration. This is because planning and designing prototypes isn’t a one-shot endeavor and isn’t guaranteed to be successful even if done right the first time. Iteration is good for product development and prototyping because the engineering and design team can repeat the tests and thoroughly run tests to make sure that the design is final and ready to be prototyped. Although injection molding has the capacity to repeatedly create casts and housings of an experimental product, the materials and operating costs can be expensive. Vacuum casting molds can offer a relatively high number of repeated usage – until 20 times – before they need replacing.
Vacuum Casting Can Be an Alternate Production Step
Manufacturers and businesses that provide products to the market can benefit greatly from this method. Although this is initially considered a rapid prototyping process, it can actually be integrated into the actual production process to help cut down on production costs and to save on raw materials by introducing alternatives that can be as durable as the original material. Polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are the commonly used materials for production, which can cost more than urethane resins from vacuum casting.
Using vacuum casting technology and integrating it into the production assembly line can be a great innovation and improvement in the production process. It can help cut production costs significantly by replacing the tools and mechanisms that make the housing or covers of a product. Compared with the usual plastic or polymer housings, casts and covers, the same casts, housings and covers made from urethane fare just as well when it comes to durability and flexibility.
Looking at the investment side, companies, businesses and manufacturers that are starting large-scale production can have lower upfront investment in tooling for the production line. A good example is the current cost of an injection mold for making molded casts made from plastics (polyethylene or PVC), which costs $80,000 or more; a vacuum casting tool using urethane costs only $1,500 to $2,000. For businesses that are starting out with medium-scale production for the first time and plan on venturing into large-scale production in the future, this is a good option for making an initial investment for the production costs. Urethane provides the same time to finish as plastic molded ones, and can also be easily applied with different colors. When it comes to turnaround time, using urethane casting can allow parts or housings to be produced rather quickly – taking only about one or two weeks for them to be ready. On the other hand, injection molded housings or parts can generally take eight to ten weeks of turnaround time. This is another advantage when it comes to the initial stages of a mass production venture of business, wherein fast turnaround and production schedules are essential for an emerging producer.
When it comes to adjustments, recalibrations and changes in the casting process, vacuum casting of urethane again shows an advantage over injected molded casts. As mentioned earlier, the inexpensive tooling of urethane casting can make it possible for manufacturers and businesses to make the necessary adjustments to their tools readily without worrying about ramping up production costs and affecting the cash flow. It’s not only prototyping that is prone to product iterations. Even the actual production process will undergo iterations and significant
costs will come along with it. This is why vacuum casting is gaining increased consideration when it comes to production.
The world of manufacturing is a competitive and innovative one. To stay ahead of the game, you need to be knowledgeable of the existing and emerging processes that could show great potential in increasing your production capacity, enhancing the efficiency of your product development process and can offer cost-effective alternatives. Rapid prototyping has become a game-changer when it comes to making product designs for many companies that mass-produce different types of products. Because of the wide scope and multiple processes offered by rapid prototyping, companies and businesses are scrambling for the best available processes available from using the services of rapid prototyping.
Vacuum casting technology is one of the widely used and recognized technologies offered by rapid prototyping. It offers versatility, cost-effectiveness and comparable quality to the current production methods such as injection molding. Thus, engineering and design teams from different corporate settings like prototyping providers, assembly lines, production lines and large production and manufacturing companies are seeing the potential and usefulness of vacuum casting. Prototypes are not just borne out of a single, straightforward process, but rather made from the continuous and repetitive improvements and changes until the desired product specification is achieved. There are other alternative rapid prototyping processes that are available. All you need is to carefully consider the features, benefits and even the disadvantages in order to arrive at a selection that works best for your own business.