Steel or Aluminum? Finding Your Proper Mold Material
When developing a new injection mold, choosing the right material for the job is one of the most critical steps. There is no one right option for all jobs and all situations – the right material is going to depend on the specifics of the task at hand. Only when all of the various factors are considered can the right decision be made with confidence.
Two of the most commonly used options available today are steel and aluminum. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other, as each can be a perfect solution in the right situation. However, how do you know when to use which? Let’s take a closer look.
Cost of Getting Started
One of the most significant concerns at the start of any project is the upfront cost of getting production underway. In this area, it is aluminum that is going to be the leading contender. The price of creating a mold is typically going to be lower when you opt for aluminum as compared to steel. When working with a tight startup project for a new and unproven product, it might be necessary to go with aluminum to stay within budgetary constraints.
Of course, lower upfront costs are not always the same thing as lower overall costs, so there is more to consider than just how much you’ll have to spend to get started. If choosing to go with aluminum is going to cost you more money when all is said and done, it might be worth spending more now to enjoy those savings later. We will see later in the article how this option could end up being more expensive in the long run.
Time to Production
Again, here, aluminum is going to have an edge. As a general rule of thumb, it will take longer to get a tool up and running when it is made from steel rather than aluminum. So, if your main priority is to begin production as soon as possible, opting for aluminum is going to be an appealing choice.
So far, things are looking pretty good for aluminum. However, this next point is where the debate swings back toward steel. If you intend to use a given tool for an extended period of time – perhaps into the hundreds of thousands, or millions, of shots – it’s almost certain that you will need to choose steel in the end. The durability of steel means you can continue producing quality parts even as quantities soar. That is something that usually isn’t going to happen with an aluminum tool.
At this point, you can see exactly why this is going to be a difficult decision in some cases. The aluminum option gives you the benefit of getting up and running quickly, and it will also help you save money early in the project. However, you are going to sacrifice durability, which may be important if you anticipate a long production run.
So, where is the tipping point? At what point does it make sense to switch from aluminum to steel, knowing that the additional upfront investment (or both time and money) will be repaid in the form of longevity? Unfortunately, each project is different. It can’t be said that exactly ‘x’ number of units will mean that steel is better than aluminum since there are so many variables in play. A careful analysis will be required before a final decision can be made.
A Hybrid Approach
The matter of choosing a material for a mold does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It may be that in the end, a hybrid approach is the best way to achieve the desired results. This may not be the first option you consider when getting started, but the process of developing the tool may reveal that using a combination of materials is the best way to produce the desired outcome.
Working with the Right Partner
At the end of the day, perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is working with the right partner. If you choose to work with New Berlin Plastics on your upcoming projects, you will know that a wealth of knowledge and experience is on your side. Whether you have worked with these kinds of projects before or this is your first time, our team will be happy to support you. We have decades of experience behind us and a rock-solid reputation in this industry. Please contact us right away to learn more about what New Berlin Plastics can do for your business.