When it comes to brand reputation, quality is paramount. This is especially true when product performance is expected even under harsh conditions and in stressful situations. Standards and regulations, such as ISO 9001 and those involving ITAR and the U.S. Department of Defense, create even more urgency to optimize for precision quality and reliability and meet the most stringent requirements.
To that end, the total quality of a product is the sum of its parts. The materials and methods used to make parts, along with the equipment and personnel involved and quality control processes employed, are essential to ensuring a high-quality end product.
Metal injection molding (MIM), a process in which granulated metal powder is mixed with a binder to form feedstock that is shaped and solidified, has played an important role in manufacturing cutting-edge products in a range of industries since its development in the 1980s. MIM technology is unique in its ability to produce complex, precision-shaped parts for significantly less cost than machining or investment casting. What’s more, these MIM parts can be as strong and reliable as machined or cast parts.
The quality of MIM parts, however, depends on the particulars of the manufacturing process, such as molds, materials, equipment and inspection protocols. Because MIM tooling requires significant investment, manufacturers often rely on vendors with MIM capabilities to manufacture these parts. But how can manufacturers be certain their supplier will deliver high-quality parts? Below are a few critical considerations when choosing a MIM supplier.
Years of experience and a thorough understanding of MIM manufacturing processes and materials are among the most important factors in selecting a reliable supplier. An experienced MIM supplier should be able to show it has used its applied knowledge with demonstrable results. Such in-depth experience minimizes risk and increases the likelihood the supplier is able to produce components that meet the most stringent specifications.
Engineering and Design Collaboration
High-quality MIM suppliers work closely with their customers to identify the required specifications, such as dimensional tolerances and strength. Doing so enables the supplier to select the appropriate feedstock and develop the most effective process parameters for the specific project.
Ideally, MIM companies have experienced engineers who will begin collaboration at the concept stage, potentially reducing the overall part size and weight by consolidating multiple components into a single design. Furthermore, experienced MIM suppliers that design parts specifically for the MIM process can optimize manufacturability, possibly reducing production costs and providing components with these advantages:
- Excellent surface finish
- Superior corrosion resistance
- High strength
- Complex metal geometries
Collaboration in Action: Experienced engineers help ensure even the most challenging MIM part meets stringent specifications. In a recent example, a manufacturer brought several designs for MIM components to a relatively inexperienced MIM supplier. After unsatisfactory results, the manufacturer turned to Phillips-Medisize and its experienced team of engineers, who worked closely with their new customer to revise the designs and optimize for manufacturability. The resulting designs helped ensure the integrity of the MIM components to successfully meet the customer’s requirements, well into the future.
State-of-the-Art Manufacturing and Quality Control
Suppliers’ MIM quality will be defined, in part, by their equipment. This starts with the creation of molds, and the smaller the part sizes, the more challenging this becomes. Molds for miniaturized components require specialized equipment and techniques.
Furthermore, machinery such as state-of-the-art presses can result in stronger MIM components. And continuous furnaces offer competitive advantages for larger quantities by combining binding and sintering.
MIM suppliers that offer automated manufacturing and inspection processes can produce at high volumes and ensure thorough quality control. Additionally, automation capabilities replicate precision, contributing to quality management by ensuring exact specifications are duplicated for all parts. A high-quality MIM supplier also offers thorough in-house testing and analysis, while providing complete visibility and traceability from initial inspection through final delivery.
Ability to Deliver Precision
Typical tolerances for MIM components are within .5% of the feature size or ±.05mm (± .0015”), and most parts are sintered to their final dimensions. Even tighter tolerances might call for secondary machining operations.
A reliable MIM supplier offers finishing capabilities for MIM components with secondary operations completed in house or with approved external suppliers. Secondary operations may include CNC machining, heat treatment, calibration, and various processes of surface finishing.
Precision Realized: Accuracy is essential in the firearms industry. This problem was clear when a firearms company brought a new backup sights project to Phillips-Medisize, following concerns from a previous supplier. To avoid the possibility of quality issues stemming from inadequate precision, the customer turned to Phillips-Medisize to build the components to exacting specifications. Several Phillips-Medisize MIM capabilities contributed to this successful program:
- Superior process controls, particularly with molding
- Automation, which avoids the errors that may occur in manual processes
- Custom sintering capabilities to ensure tight tolerances
- Exceptional machining capabilities that further contribute to meeting tight tolerances
The Phillips-Medisize Advantage
With more than 45 years of experience in MIM technology, Phillips-Medisize, a Molex company, takes an innovative, collaborative approach to every project, earning a reputation for producing complex, high-quality parts within an accelerated timeframe.
Complete end-to-end services and engineers kick off customer engagement in the very early design phase set Phillips-Medisize apart. And its comprehensive MIM facilities include in-house metrology lab testing and measurement. This provides material characterization and testing services, including microstructure analysis, carbon analysis, and tensile, fatigue, hardness, density, and corrosion testing. Full geometric inspection with statistical process control is also available for all components.
Additionally, to meet the toughest demands for high-quality finished MIM components, Phillips-Medisize provides a comprehensive offering of secondary operations completed either in-house or through approved external suppliers.
These capabilities allow Phillips-Medisize to maintain tight control of all aspects of the MIM process while providing the following advantages:
- Delivery of quality components
- Tooling expertise with domestic and global options
- Capability flexibility to meet unique customer requirements
- Automation for consistency and cost-effectiveness
Get started on procuring superior MIM components today with the MIM Technology Planning Document