Detroit — Continuing its effort to connect with the industrial design community, PolyOne Corp. returns this year to the annual conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America with a new project showcasing how manufacturing feasibility can be tested with 3-D printed plastic tooling.
The material supplier is exhibiting thermoplastic elastomer Apple Watch bands, injection molded using 3-D printed acrylic mold inserts, during the IDSA's annual conference in Detroit, Aug. 18-20. The project, from PolyOne's in-house industrial design group IQ Design Labs, was designed to better understand how 3-D printing technology can be used to help PolyOne's customers during the product development process.
Leading the watch band project was Brian Everett, associate design director of IQ Design Labs.
“We knew that we had a printer that had the capability in-house to make those molds, so we set out to test it,” Everett said, adding that TPE was selected because it flows well and has a low mold temperature. “Our end goal is to also eventually use this in our process for prototyping products for people.”
After initial plans to print the watch band itself from TPE didn't prove feasible, the team shifted to printing a mold for injection molding. They tested the idea by copying an existing mold for a sample chip, and were successfully able to mold various grades of TPE materials. The mold for the watch band was printed on a 3D Systems Projet 5500X, the design optimized so the more fragile acrylic wouldn't fracture during the molding process. A few different grades of TPE were processed using a dry film mold release and the team moved forward with the best result.