LONG BEACH, CALIF. — So-called bridge tooling is ``the largest area of growth'' in rapid prototyping for plastics production, said David Crook, president of product designer Innova International.
The niche allows injection molders to capture business they formerly missed.
Bridge tooling addresses short-run needs ranging from two or three parts to as many as 2,000 units, Crook said in an interview at Interphex West, held Sept. 16-17 in Long Beach.
Innova claims that using tool inserts for short runs can cut costs by 30-60 percent, and slash delivery times of six to eight weeks down to just one or two weeks.
``It's become cost-effective now to build tools straight from stereolithographic-generated models.''
The firm uses the Aces Injection Molding process and other techniques that take advantage of rapid prototyping technology. Bridge tooling creates job opportunities that were falling through the cracks for molders, he said.
``Offering bridge tooling as an option puts the plastics vendor in a better position to win large production contracts because they have been there in helping the customer in short-term needs,'' Crook said.
New materials make the new market possible, Crook said, citing 3D Systems Corp.'s SL5510, which ``can withstand pressures and cycle times of production plastics.`` 3D Systems of Valencia, Calif., makes stereolithography machines that generate core and cavity tools that can be used as inserts for injection molding.
Innova works with injection molders and has taught them the nuances, novel speeds and feed and cycle times necessary to run the bridge tools, Crook said. Innova helps molders identify appropriate applications and which bridge tooling to use.
Innova, a unit of Zinnova International Inc., employs eight at plants in Richardson, Texas, and Shreveport, La. Tooling designed in Richardson is fed to a 3D Systems SLA3500 stereolithography machine in Shreveport.