What to expect from material development and prototyping at RDI.
Part of our mission at RDI is to provide our customers with innovative solutions to elastomeric problems. Two of the biggest problems that we have the opportunity to solve are finding the right material for the customer's environment and assisting on the design of a part that will maximize compound and product performance. Since this problem-solution phase is often our first experience with a new customer, and since our goal is to develop long term relationships, it is paramount that we communicate early and clearly an understanding of the problem solving process as it relates to elastomers. To do this it may help to look at the most common problems and the alternative roads to a solution.
Material development comes to us in many forms. Sometimes it is limited to compounding to meet a stated ASTM D-2000 specification whose properties can be tested in the lab. In this case RDI is testing and certifying that the compound will meet the specification. There is no inference as to how the compound will perform in the field, only that it meets the stated specification. At other times customers will supply RDI with a sample piece of rubber and want it duplicated. The only methods of positive polymer identification are through Infrared Spectroscopy. This process ranges from polymer identification only to complete qualitative and quantitative compound analysis with costs ranging from $200 to $2000 and up. In these cases RDI will match the analysis, but again, there is no guarantee as to how the compound will perform in the field. Often customers come to us with a product, but have no idea what the best material would be. In these cases we will ask as many questions as we can regarding the environment that the product will see in field operation. From this information we can develop a preliminary compound and do some lab testing using slabs and buttons made of the proposed material. You may be asked to further test the material in your environment. This type of testing is somewhat limited to physical properties and environmental resistance and there is a good chance that the formula will have to be altered after prototype testing. This can be a trial and error process.
Design consulting also takes on different forms. It may involve nothing more that a cursory review of an existing print to point out areas of possible stress concentrations or design changes that might be considered to reduce costs, improve processability, prolong wear life or enhance performance. This service is included in the cost of the tooling. In its more challenging form, design consulting may become much more involved when the customer starts with nothing more that an idea or an informal sketch. Design assistance will be quoted after an initial engineering evaluation. In both of the above cases the customer remains the final authority on design considerations and has the responsibility to approve all recommendations made by RDI. It is important to remember here as well as in material development, that although RDI has 20 years of experience in the elastomeric field, we may have little or no experience in our customer's area of expertise. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to predict with certainty how materials and design recommendations will behave in environments that we cannot duplicate in the lab. For this reason we highly recommend prototyping and field testing. This combination is unbeatable in assuring product success.
Following the above material and design efforts with the prototyping process not only provides feedback on the material and part performance, but is instrumental in mold design proofing and process development. Prototyping is a process of trial, test, feedback, change, trial, test, feedback, change, etc. until the desired results are obtained. This process often uncovers unanticipated problems with criteria that are unknown or unstated at the outset of the project, but wading through these problems at this time usually leads to a much smoother, quicker, and less costly production ramp up. These problems, when addressed, often provide outstanding opportunities to gain competitive advantages by coming up with products that are superior to those of the competition.
Prototyping is an invaluable tool which can save the customer thousands of dollars on mold rework and embarrassing new product introductions that do not perform to end user expectations. Our customer is the only one qualified to make the determination of product acceptability. When the customer is satisfied with product quality, performance and reliability, the process is complete and production tooling can begin.
Allow us to partner with you in helping solve problems that will add value to your products and enhance your bottom line. Our research and development operation is designed to provide you with solutions to these and other elastomeric problems. Call Andrew Holloway, our Technical Director, to discuss ways that we might assist you in turning your present problem into a competitive edge!