Polymer Application to Metal Substrates


Industry: Pet Products/Home & Kitchen Products/Medical Products
End Users: Consumers/Medical
Solution: An effective process of applying a polymer to irregular metal substrates on a mass scale

PROBLEM:
A pet products manufacturer was challenged with inconsistencies in its process of applying a non-slip rubber/polymer to the bottom of its pet food bowls. The process involved manual application overseas, but by the time the product arrived, a high percentage of the polymer add-ons had fallen off the bowls, creating waste, loss of time and loss of profit. The challenge came in two forms:

1. The bowls themselves included their own inconsistencies – variations in the size and shape – thus causing each bowl to require its own version of the polymer add-on.
2. Because the application process was done by hand, each application was slightly different, which also lead to the polymer detaching from the bowl during shipping.

CONSIDERATIONS:
The Vallmar Engineering team evaluated these challenges and uncovered several opportunities that could both improve quality and decrease cost. The team began by measuring and defining the variations across thousands of bowls to gain an understanding of the minute differences between each. The consideration process also included an in-depth analysis of the polymer materials used and how best to adhere the polymer to the metal substrate (in this case, the pet bowl).

Once these variables were taken into consideration, the production process was evaluated and options were laid out in order to create the most efficient and consistent machine to get the job done.

Cost Analysis - evaluated various options and the cost of each.

Materials Handling - considered the need for the metal substrate to be as clean as possible prior to polymer application; thus, a “scrub station” was included in the final machine.

Ideal Temperature - another consideration involved the optimal temperature under which the most effective application of the polymer would take place to ensure adhesion; thus, a “pre-heat station” was included in the final machine.

Curing Station - in order to ensure consistent and lasting adhesion, a vulcanized polymer was used, which is ultraviolet cured to prevent fraying of the edges.

Flow Analysis - the Vallmar Engineering team was able to utilize virtual prototyping to see how the polymer would flow through the machine under different scenarios, and then optimize design to ensure the precise amount of material was used for each application.

Flexible Design - consideration was given to the many variables in substrate sizes and shapes, which led to the inclusion of a collapsible core and articulated cavity in the “application station,” allowing for variation and flexibility

SOLUTION(S):
The solution was an automated over-molding system assembly that offered the flexibility to address multiple size variations but also ensured consistency throughout the application process. A collapsible core design was integrated in order to accommodate the variations in the substrate size; and an articulated cavity was included to accommodate the inconsistencies of the substrate itself. Ultimately, this technology provides a solution to diversified industries that need to fuse various polymers to metal substrates.

RESULTS:
- Profit margin increased
- Quality improved
- A provisional patent was filed for the process
- Automated system was created, removing the need for a manual application process
- Eliminated the need for overseas outsourcing while maintaining competitiveness on a global scale