Molding a plastic part with hand moldable plastic

One of our most exciting materials is hand moldable plastic. It is so exciting because customers use it to build prototypes and make parts quickly. In addition to speed, our customers do not need expensive tooling to make plastic parts.

We are starting to see quite a few interesting projects and different techniques for hand moldable plastic. We plan to share the techniques and have plans to carry some of the tools and components that make it easier to work with.

Today we interviewed Ryan Pinto from Toronto about how he designed and built the swivel joint pictured below for a baby gate.

It took Ryan 3 attempts to get the part just right. He used his hands to form the part and the first two times ended up melting the part down and starting over.

We asked Ryan to explain his process and he sent over this explanation:

1) I quickly get the hand moldable plastic into a simple 3D shape that best approximates the final model, in my case it was a cylinder.

2) While the block is still very soft, I got it roughly into the shape I wanted, in my case I had to slightly pinch one half ( lengthwise ) and elongate the other half. Also I did this on a metallic surface, so the wall facing surface of the pivot would be perfectly flat. I found that cold metal does not stick to the hot plastic mass easily. This made it a great surface for shaping.

3) I pressed the plastic spoke of the baby gate into mold to create a good fitting joint. At this point the plastic is still quite warm and transparent. Since it is transparent it makes it possible to see the spoke and adjust how far down you want the impression to go. It's important to remember that the parts of the end product that will take the load/stress, need to be sufficiently thick. In my case the plastic around the pivot impression needed to be at least 4 mm thick. I removed the spoke and checked the hole for any deformities. I reinserted and reshaped it a few times.

caution: The spoke of the baby gate was made of plastic, so I had to cover that spoke in wax paper (baking paper) before I used it to make the impression. This is very important because the hot hand moldable plastic bonds very strongly with other plastic surfaces and it's nearly impossible to fix the resulting mess. I used a common latex based glue to attach the wax paper to the plastic spoke.

4) I used a thin metal screw driver to impress suitable holes into where the wall screws should go. Again the cold metal makes good dents and holes while the hand moldable plastic is hot. The region around the screw holes had to be at least 1 cm thick to withstand the pressure of a tight screw fitting.

5) With my fingers I gave it the finishing touches as the plastic cooled. I carefully watched to make sure I did not deform the spoke impression. Remember you can always reinsert the spoke to correct it if needed. The cooling period is the best for finishing touches. At the temperature comes down the material becomes more rigid, so major features cannot be added, but a little extra pressure here and there will certainly smooth out the uneven sections.

I let it cool to room temperature - it took about 10 minutes, I could have done it faster by immersing in cold water, but I didn't bother. When cool the unit felt very solid and strong. It's been nearly two weeks now and it's working perfectly - a very solid joint.

Infrared Controller

Smart Infrared Transmitter

Technology of the day - Smart LED

This is a smart LED that lets designers express their ideas in multicolor light without any knowledge of electronics. Its onboard firmware sets the ultrabright, wide-angle RGB LED to virtually any color and can make it blink in almost any sequence. It is programmable with simple color sequencing software or a programming interface. Once programmed, it can be treated like a standard LED in every other way.

Here's a video of someone that used it in a project:

Maximize efficiency from an LED

Because we sell so many different kinds of materials on Inventables we are starting to observe trends in the buying behavior of our customers. One trend we recently noticed has to do with the increasing use of LED's in product development.

Most lighting in consumer products is moving towards LED because it does not burn hot and uses less power than traditional incandescent bulbs. There are two problems that designers run into with this transition and one of them is that the LED lights can appear dull or not as bright as traditional light bulbs. The other problem we've heard about is LED's tend to create a point light source rather than a smooth glow of light that is easy on the eyes.

We've been adding materials Inventables that can help solve these problems. Here are three to consider:

Light Reflective Film is a highly reflective plastic material. The material distributes light evenly while not introducing a big glare. The material can be die cut or thermoformed. It is typically used to make light fixtures highly efficient. The material does not yellow with exposure to ultraviolet light.

These Light Diffuser Films are one or two side diffuser film products designed to break up and distribute light evenly. There are two main grades, a one sided matte clear film and a one or two sided translucent, matte finish film. They are designed to be used for different back lighting applications and come in a variety of thicknesses and widths.

These Light Diffusing Compounds are useful when you need a three dimensional or irregular shaped light diffuser. The compounds can be customized to your specific requirements and injection molded into the shape and size you need for your product.

If you come across similar materials that will help lighting designers work with LED's toss us an email to help { at } inventables dot com.

iPad newspaper "The Daily" covers Inventables

This afternoon we were working on a new feature and all of a sudden we noticed our traffic spiked. Typically when this happens we investigate to determine the source and discovered that the article Bryan Gardiner wrote about Inventables for the new iPad newspaper "The Daily" was just published.

These days when a newspaper does an article about a company it is rare that the company would see a spike in their traffic because obviously you can't click on a traditional print newspaper and fewer young people subscribe to the newspaper.

The article looked like a traditional newspaper article:

But had the added benefits of being interactive so they had a slideshow of our materials and could link out to our site and videos.

The Daily cost is 99 cents a week or $39 a year. There is so much free content on the web so it will be interesting to see how they differentiate and earn that 99 cents each week. Maybe this model will be the foundation that funds a new generation of journalists or maybe it will be an iteration that leads to a new model. Only time will tell but it feels like we are living in the future now that newspapers are delivered to electronic screens. Maybe instead of getting a paper route as a kid you'll become a programmer and hack together an iPad app.

Temperature Sensitive Polyester Fabric - Orange to Yellow

Material of the Day - Decorative Mesh Overlay

Another brand new one on Inventables, this is a very open mesh rubbery feeling wire-like material. It can be creatively sewn, tacked or adhered as a decorative overlay for apparel, footwear, displays and other applications.

Heat Shielding Gel Demonstration

If a picture is worth a thousand words a video is worth a million.

At Inventables we are always working on making R&D inspiring and easy to do. Last year we launched the innovator's hardware store. Our goal over the next year is to build tools eliminate complexity from the process. Big companies have big budgets, experts, a network of suppliers, and equipment. We hope to be able to provide an online experience for everyone else that makes it just as easy for a small lean team to work on building a prototype.

Today we posted a prototype demonstration video. We invest in making our product pictures tell a story so you can look at the page quickly and understand how it works rather than requiring the visitor to already know the product or read lots of text to figure it out. Even with a picture sometimes it is still hard to fully understand. For example in this picture of the Heat Shielding Gel we got a blow torch and a plastic bottle. Someone looking at the picture gets the idea but you don't really know what happens next. Does the bottle melt? If you trust us that the gel protects the bottle, how long does it last?

Enter video. Matt Binns over at Giant Globes was inspired by Inventables and decided to put together this demonstration video for us. It's about a minute long and shows the heat shielding gel in action in his workshop. Take a look and tell us what you think.

Material of the day - Light Reflective Film

Ever wonder why some light fixtures are brighter than others with the same bulb? Some surfaces reflect light better than others. This light reflective film reflects 97% of the light that hits it.

Material of the day - Grip Tape

Inventables has just added this new material to our online store. It's got a cool embossed texture that provides a grippy quality.