Most of the updates previously were focused on electronics, motherboard and glass. It's time to share something different today, our first hard tooling!
In this post:
Types of tooling and why we picked injection molding
How Spectrum Black tooling is made
First round of housings along with the first round of improvements
Since the start of the project we have explored various design directions, eventually locking current design as final.
Quick refresher on design directions explored originally below:
Big Box Concept
While you have seen quite some prototypes to date, they were all made using "soft" tools, once motherboard size and design, thermals and other internal parts are set in stone it was time to start finalizing "hard" tooling.
One of the key steps in creating the sleek and premium design of Spectrum Black is injection molding, which we use to form the back cover and other parts.
Before we delve into why we chose injection molding, let's take a moment to understand some of the other common manufacturing methods:
CNC Machining: CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining is a subtractive process where material is removed from a solid block (known as the workpiece or blank) using a variety of cutting tools to shape the part.
Pros: High precision, suitable for many different materials, good for low volume production.
Cons: Expensive for high volume production, a lot of material is wasted, takes long time to build each piece.
Die Casting: Die casting is a process where molten metal is forced into a mold cavity under high pressure. It's typically used for making parts from non-ferrous metals, like aluminum or zinc.
Pros: Good for high volume production, with higher durability requirements.
Cons: Limited to metals, limited selections of finishes which typically feel rough and "cheap" to touch, hold lines are hard to remove and lots of small defects are present
Injection Molding: This involves creating a mold (or 'tool') of the desired shape, into which molten plastic is injected. Once the plastic cools and solidifies, we're left with a high-quality, highly detailed part.
Pros: Ideal for high volume, high precision production, low per-unit cost, high repeatability, a lot of paint and finish options.
Cons: very high initial cost for the mold, not suitable for low volume production, limited to plastics primarily.
Soft vs. Hard tooling:
In the world tooling, there are two main types of tools - soft tooling and hard tooling.
Soft Tooling: Soft tooling, also known as prototype tooling, is typically made from softer materials like aluminum. It's a cost-effective and quicker way to produce a small number of parts, perfect for prototyping and testing designs. The molds wear out faster, limiting the number of parts that can be produced.
Hard Tooling: Hard tooling, on the other hand, is made from harder materials like steel. It's more durable and can withstand the injection molding or die casting for example process for a larger number of cycles, making it suitable for mass production.
For Spectrum Black, we used soft tooling during the design and testing phase to ensure everything is just right. Once we got mechanical design locked down, we moved on to hard tooling for mass production.
Please note these housings are unpainted so the final product will have premium soft-touch finish
After around 2 month since tooling kickoff we were able to use it for the first time! Tooling creation process takes a lot of time as very hard materials are used and precision has to be at the highest level.
Housing is created using transparent and black ABS plastic pellets (the ones seen below). They are loaded into the injection molding machine and under high temperature and pressure, final housing comes out!
Bag of ABS plastic pellets
Pellets used to create Spectrum Black housing
Below you can see some of the first housings coming out of the injection molding machine. While overall we were satisfied with the results for the first time you can see circled in white some of the minor defects tooling had. Mainly first housings suffered from uneven surface marks, dents and small cuts in few places
Cuts in the housing
Smudges and other defects
Thankfully defects were quite minor and some subtle tooling polishing was required
Smooth surface, without defects
New, improved housing samples
More housings prepared for DVT assembly stage
That's it for today. Thanks!