We use dozens of machines and gadgets every day, but very few people ever take the time to consider what kind of work goes into making all the components of our daily lives. Even when we do take the time to learn about it, most of the information we get is on the big picture. We see workers installing engines in cars, packaging finished items in boxes and loading everything up on trucks. But what about the small things? Those tiny parts smaller than dimes that somehow make everything work? This article is an ode to those tiny plastic injection molded components and how they help make our lives better.
What is Micro Molding?
Let’s start by making sure we’re on the same page. Micro molding is small-scale plastic injection molding. The basics are the same as normal plastic injection molding: a machine liquefies thermoplastic materials — plastics that melt when heated —and pushes them into a closed die (or mold) where they harden into the shape of the mold. Micro molding takes this technology and uses it to make objects measured in millimeters or micrometers.
One of the places you would expect to find micro molded parts is in electronic devices, particularly those with moving parts. Think of a cassette, VHS, CD, DVD or Blu-Ray player. The gears used to control the rotational speeds of tape spindles and the mechanisms for loading discs in slot-loading drives are prime examples of micro molding. Hard drives, MP3 players, copy machines, fax machines, cameras and mobile phones all rely on nearly microscopic plastic pieces to hold them together, regulate mechanical motion or allow people to interact with device controls using buttons.
Every car manufactured in the last decade is full of miniature injection molded components. The next time you hop into a car, take a look around the dash. Every plastic button, switch, knob and clip in there is a product of micro molding. There are hundreds of pieces you can’t see, too.
The medical field is always looking for smaller, more efficient devices. When a patient has to have something surgically implanted, they don’t want something bulky. With the ability to make parts smaller than Lincoln’s head on a penny, many get their wish. Everything from diagnostic machines to hearing aids uses tiny plastic parts.
Most plastics melt or burn at relatively low temperatures, but DuPont Vespel grade plastics stay solid until 420 degrees Celsius, making them perfect for applications where lesser plastics are useless. They’ve replaced steel components in many applications. You can find them in aerospace applications, pumps, semiconductors, industrial machines and transportation.
Our world revolves around technology. Entire industries would fail without it. Manufacturers constantly strive for smaller products, requiring smaller components. Micro molding is currently the only reliable way to mass-produce the miniature pieces we all rely on. From cell phones and car stereos to surgical equipment and syringes, micro molding is everywhere.