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The most challenging and expensive part of bringing an electronics product to market, is finding companies that can manufacture prototypes as well as final production parts. We've come up with a list of links of engineering service providers, and prototype makers and contract manufacturers, which are listed in alphabetical order. Since Daycounter is based in Utah, many of the sources are also located in Utah.
If you need sheet metal, plastic parts, packaging, or enclosures designed, then you need to talk to industrial designers.
Chineese Manufacturing Outsourcing
Membrane Switches and Printed Resistors
PCB Board Manufacturers
EDM: Wire and Plunger
EDM is useful for creating complex injection mold shapes.
Etching is a more affordable way to make small flat metal parts that are typically stamped. Setup costs are a couple hundred dolars.
Laser Cutting and Marking
Metal Plating and Plating Supplies
Try PCB supply houses to get plating supplies. The only problem is that you have to buy chemicals in 5 gallon drums.
Another great way of getting a part plated is to take it to a local PCB manufacturer. They can sell you smaller quantities of the plating chemicals or plate the parts directly. Most can do nickel, tin, silver and gold immersion plating of any metallic part. When plating gold always pre-plate with a hard metal such as nickel to avoid dispersion of the gold into a base metal such as copper. ;
Metal Foundries and Casting
You may need small custom metal parts such as battery leads. Typically these are made by companies that do metal stampings. ;;
Machine Shop Supplies
Sheet Metal Fabrication
Springs are often needed for battery contacts, or door assemblies in electronics prototypes. p;
Structural Aluminum Systems
Structural aluminum systems are slotted extruded bars of aluminum, which allow the rapid prototyping of machine frames.s.
Plastics and Rubber Fabrication
3D printer Filament
Extrusions - Plastic Profile
Laser Cutting - Plastics
Pololu, Nevada - Affordable with only a $25.00 minimum order.
Low Pressure Injection Over-Molding
Perhaps you need a water tight circuit board, rather than potting the board, it can be encapsulated in either plastic or rubber.
Injection Molding Machine Suppliers
Polishing stones are soft enough that they form into the region that you are polishing. They can also be ground down to complex shapes. Start with the lower grit and move upward toward 600 to 1000. Then use a felt pad with polish and a rotory tool.
Another trick is to run your CNC machine with a felt pad and polishing compond over the complex surface. Ultrasonic tools can also speed the process.
Injection Molding Resin Suppliers
Finding small quantities of resin can be difficult, because most manufacturers and destributors want to sell you a truck load.
Injection Molding Resin Compounders and Color Suppliers
Injection molding plastic comes in two colors natural white and black. If you want something different you need to add a colorant. You can purchase colorant pellets that you add, but there's no guarantee that you'll get the right color. Thus, you may want to get pre-colored pellets from a compounder. The problem with this approach is that for small batches, it doubles the cost.
Compounding of plastic to get a non standard color is expensive if you are using compounders, and they don't like doing low volume orders. You can buy colored pellets but they can cause streaking, and the binder will change the plastic properties. The best solution, and unknown to many people is that you can directly add concentrated colorant to your plastic. Compounding companies wont tell you about this because compounding is so much more lucrative for them.
The concentrated powdered colorants come in 10 pound buckets, and a teaspoon will color 20 pounds of plastic. To mix the plastic, put the plastic in a sealed container with the powdered colorant, and use a small cement mixer to mix it up uniformly. The powder will stick to the outside of each pellet. When melted the color will be uniform, unlike using colored pellets.
The most common color system is Pantone. The interesting thing about pantone is that the Pantone Formula Book, tells you the weight of the primary colors so that you can mix your own colors exactly using a scale. You can get the Pantone GP1301XR Formula Guide Solid Coated and Solid Uncoated from amazon for about $90.
Low Volume Plastic Prototypes
Finding inexpensive plastic manufacturers or companies that can do low volume production runs is quite a challenge. Here are some we've found.
Vacuum forming is where a sheet of hot plastic wraps around a form, creating a cavity or protrusion. Is is cheep and fast. There are many companies listed on the internet here are just a few samples.
Often the step of product design which is put off until last is the product packaging. We list here companies that specialize in providing product packaging and packaging design services. There are several types of packaging
Blister packaging is where your product is placed into a clear plastic tray and then sealed to a printed promotional card, allowing both the product, and card to be seen from the front through the plastic. It's advantage is that it is cheap, protective, tamper proof, has good product visibility, and is durable.
Clam shell packaging consists of 2 clear plastic halves that are folded together along a hinge, around the product, and promotional card.
Plastics, Resins and Silicon Suppliers for Casting Molds
Silicone for Liquid Injection MoldingSilicone rubber keypads are made using a low pressure liquid injection molding LIM method. The 2 part silicone is low viscosity and room temperature when it enters the mold cavity. The mold cavity is heated which vulcanizes the rubber. This is the opposite traditional injection molding of plastics where the plastic is heated, and then cooled before being ejected.
Here are several liquid silicone materials that are appropriate for keypads, which are typically Shore A 60:
It was nearly impossible to find out pricing and where to buy the GE products. It appears that they were acquired by Momentive Performance Materials. When calling this company, no one could give me the name of a distributor, sales rep, or even pricing. I called numerous numbers, and couldn't get a straight answer of how to buy their stuf. I don't see how they can sell products when, no one knows what's going on.
Wacker seemed to have better customer service, but I still couldn't get a straight answer on pricing.
The easiest to use web site was xiameter, because you could just get pricing off of the site, and actually order product. They still forced you to fill out a paper credit application, even if you wanted to use a credit card. I found this ridiculous. I wonder how these big global companies sell anything, when they make it so hard to buy. You can also buy Xiameter products through distributors/sales reps, but they always seem to be ignorant when you call, and have to call the main company.
The other huge problem is that you have to purchase giant buckets of this stuff that way 32Kg or more. The so called distributors are worthless in that they don't break up the giant pails into something smaller, and more affordable. The Xiameter product has a 32Kg minimum, which comes to about $430 minimum, which makes it hard to do small production runs.
Rubber Silicone KeypadsRubber silicone keypads are made using liquid injection molding, and they typically use conductive carbon pills to make contact on the PCB. Since a different process than plastic injection molding is used, a company that does plastic injection molding will often have to outsource your project to another company. This drives up costs, since they will be acting as a middle man. It's better to find a company that specializes in liquid injection molding (LIM).
We recently had several companies bid on the same rubber silicone keypad part. It was fairly simple with just 5 keys with carbon pills. The keys where contained in a 3cm diameter circle. There was a huge variance in the quotes we got back. With the least expensive quote being nearly 9 times less than the most expensive. The quote was for 1000 units. It should be noted that most of the companies listed below do their actual manufacturing in Asia, despite having a US presence.
Steel Rule Dies
Steal rule dies are essentially very sharp cookie cutters. They can cust plastic, paper, fabric, cardboard, carpet, and even metal. They can be purchased ready made, or the rule can be purchased and you can make your own dies, by attatching them to a board or other substrate. A die maker can make them for under a hundred dollars, read to go, or you can purchase the rule for about $0.50/foot. The dies can cut up to a million times. The rule is essentially a very long razer blade, which comes in coils or segments. You can also purchase a die making tool which as various bending attatchments. You will need a die press, with a rubber mat on the bottom, to press the die into the item you are cutting. Foam pads are used on the die to eject the cut out once the die is released.
Wagner Die Supply - Distributor of die supplies. Sell Steel rules and die making tools.
Hemold - Manufacturer of steel rule. Minimum order of $100.
Ace Steel Rule Dies - Steel rule die maker. I asked for a bid on a 4x10 rectangular die and they quoted $85.
Pad PrintingPad printing allows you to print on unusual or non-flat shapes such as pens keypads, or coffee mugs. There are lots of videos on www.youtube.com which demonstrate the process. Pad printing offers an affordable alternative to creating custom labels, which have high setup costs.
For prototypes and small run production, a manual pad printer is ideal and very affordable. The artwork plates are typically only $35.00. Photo etching systems can also be purchased, but there is a bit of a learning curve. There are a couple of manual pad printers that are $1500 or less. My recommendation is the SPC-100 from tampoprinters.com, which we were able to acquire for under $1000.
Vacuum Forming Plastic
Clam shell packaging is formed from rolled PET plastic. R-PET is recycled PET and is suitable for product packaging. A typical thickness is 12 mils for packaging. A-Pet is antistatic. The plastic comes on 3" rolls by 20" or more wide and typically weighs about 500 pounds, and costs about $1 per pound. What's great about PET is that it's cost is just a few pennies.
While vacuum forming is a very easy do it yourself process, and the machines for it are easy to build, it's tough to get small quantities of the PET. Some companies will give you samples, but it's hard to get quantities that are less than 500 pounds, for small runs of product or prototypes.
It's also possible to use off the shelf clam shells for product packaging.Blister packaging consists of a thin film PET vacummed to a cardboard backing.
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