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Design Engineering

Taking a Shine to Prototype Lights

New technology helps Urgent Plastic reduce the manufacturing time of vehicle prototype lighting lenses.

For some time, Rochester Hills, MI-based Urgent Plastic Services has been working with automakers to provide prototype lighting components for new models and concept cars, SUVs and trucks.
Now, according to Jeffrey Peterson, general manager, UPS is able to render the lenses with actual, production-quality reflex tooling inserts in one-quarter the normal time and at a fraction of the costs associated with production tooling.
This capability allows vehicle stylists and engineers the time and economics to thoroughly review and modify, if necessary, designs prior to making long-term, high-cost mold and tooling commitments.
UPS specializes in rapid prototyping of injection-molded components. Its list of capabilities includes a fully-equipped in-house mold and pattern shop, a carbide machining and grinding center for the production of EDM tooling, an array of ram type die-sink and wire EDM systems, plus CNC and manual machining centers and milling machines. The prototype facility also has its own injection molding department, with machine capacities from75 tons to 1,500 tons.

Simulating the Look

“In the past we’ve simulated the reflex pattern — those areas of the lenses that reflect outside light sources — using a multi-axis drilling pointing process when making the injection molds,” says
Peterson. “This approximated the cosmetic ‘look’ of the lens, but not the reflectivity required.
“Making the reflex tooling insert is a long and labor-intensive process, taking anywhere from 16 to 18 weeks to complete. Now working with a reflex tooling specialist, we’re getting these inserts — real reflex optical patterns — in about six weeks. The time savings also results in substantial cost reductions that make prototype styling reviews possible and promote ‘healthy’ production tool manufacturing.”

Making the Insert

Steve Kelly, senior sales engineer, explains the process of making a reflex insert for the injection molding process:
The insert begins as hundreds of individual pins, the ends of which are ground to the required geometric shape, nickel plated and diamond polished to a mirror finish. The pins are then assembled into bundles, creating a “positive” image of the size, shape and surface contour of the reflex area. Once completed, the bundle is
used in an electroforming process, where an alloy deposition builds up on the bundle form until it is the required thickness. When removed from the pin bundle, the deposited alloy piece is machined to fit in the injection mold and the reflex is made.
“The machining of the pins, the assembly of the bundle and the quality of surface finishes for the prototype tools are the same as for production tools,” claims Kelly. “Our time savings is generated during the electroforming step.”
While the specialty house is creating the reflex inserts, UPS is designing the balance of the required tooling based on the customer’s CAD data file, building the molds and injection molding the parts — lenses, housings and, if required, any styling overlays.
Thus far, the company has produced several tail lamp assemblies and rear window brake light packages, while head lamp systems are currently underway. The completed projects, in both acrylic and polycarbonate materials, have included wraparound side light designs and multi-color inlay lenses to differentiate brake, turn signal and backup lighting.
“Government regulations dictate what level of reflectivity and visibility is on cars,” Kelly says. “As designers and stylists come up with new and exciting concepts for vehicles, it’s becoming more important that they know — before expensive tooling is made — that their designs follow those reflective requirements. Real reflex inserts and rapid prototype processes are helping to eliminate long delays, high risk costs and to assure safety guidelines are met.”

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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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