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Aaron Pearson
Vice President of Public Relations
Berker is a leading German designer and manufacturer of high-quality electronic switches and intelligent building management systems. The company has won numerous awards for its designs, which can be found in buildings around the world. Recently, Berker needed to test a newly designed electrical component which required parts produced using injection molding. Once assembled, the parts had to pass an electrostatic discharge (ESD) test conducted by an independent testing agency. That meant the switch prototype had to use the same materials as the final part. Instead of using metal injection molds to test the designs, which would have been very costly and time-consuming to produce, Berker decided to try 3D printed injection molds. One of the biggest challenges was that the newly designed parts needed to fit precisely in order to snap fit together with an existing metal mold produced part. Three different component materials were chosen for injection: ASA, PC and TPE.

Each injection mold required very different geometries. Why 3D Printed Injection Molding Makes Sense Injection molding, the process of injecting plastic material into a mold cavity where it cools and hardens to the configuration of the cavity, is one of the world’s most widely used manufacturing processes. Increasingly, 3D printed injection molds (3DP IM) are being used to create prototype parts in order to detect issues in the part’s form, fit or function. To obtain a complete and accurate assessment of a part’s functional performance or to run safety tests on electrical components, injection molded parts must be produced using the actual materials of the final production part.

Historically, the only option to create injection molded parts for testing has been to machine an aluminum (soft) tool. While these molds are far less expensive than their steel (hard) counterparts, costs and lead times are still significant. For example, the price to create a small straight-pull mold ranges from $2,500 to $15,000, with delivery usually taking 10 days to four weeks. This is an investment that most companies find difficult to justify for a few dozen test parts.

Berker produced a series of 3D printed injection molds using Stratasys PolyJet technology with Digital ABS™ material. Each 3D printed mold, with a different geometry, was used to inject a different final part material: ASA, PC and TPE.

“This new flexibility enables us to try out two or three different solutions at the same time to get the best result,” said Andreas Krause, Head of Technical Department & Manufacturing, Berker. “The confirmed quality of our products produced using these functional prototypes has accelerated our R&D processes.” The resulting time and cost savings were impressive, with an average 83% reduction in cost per mold and 85% reduction in production time. “Stratasys 3D printed injection molds have helped Berker save time and reduce costs while making working prototype assemblies in the final material,” added Krause. “This technology is now used now all over our company to make sample parts in ‘real’ materials.”

Stratasys enabled Berker to successfully overcome their challenges by 3D printing molds that were used to produce their parts with the proper tolerances and material selection–all at a fraction of the time and cost of the traditional molding process. Today, Berker has the component in full production.