In February of 2001, a design engineer contacted Prime Laminating to discuss his need for outer enclosure doors as part of their new products development. The customer had a size and shape in mind based on their existing product, but needed improvements in some of the characteristics and functionality of the existing door.
The existing door product measured roughly 42" x 72" tall and was manufactured from cold rolled steel that was later painted to the customer's specified custom color and texture. The door was designed with a convex shape that set it apart from the flat, box type, sheet metal weldments of its competition. The enclosure was made up of four of these doors.
The customer was open to new designs but it was clear that they were excited about the shape and style of the enclosure that existed. They still had several areas of concern with the existing product that they wanted to tackle during the new product development and they asked for Prime Laminating to suggest some improvements. One area of concern was the current weight of the parts. The steel enclosure doors weighed over 70 pounds each. Another concern was the door mounting hardware. The doors were bolted in place as a threaded insert protruded from the top of the door and inserted thru a hole in a bracket on the frame. The customer also wanted to investigate a change to a plastic outer surface to improve the wear and appearance of the doors. These issues were apparent when the machine needed service. Maintenance required three technicians to remove the doors from the machine because of the weight and removal process. This became a costly endeavor for what should have been a routine operation. Also, as the doors were removed from the machine and set aside, the steel doors would become dented, scratched and the paint would get chipped. With the steel exposed, the doors were subject to corrosion. These three areas of concern needed to be addressed while keeping the doors within budget.
Prime Laminating met with the customer and discussed the project. It was obvious from our discussions that changes in material were necessary as the weight and corrosive nature of the steel was at the base of the problems. Our original thought was that a plastic outer shell was ideal to take the abuses and remain aesthetically pleasing. The plastic retains color thru the sheet so scratches are less noticeable. Because the door needed to be rigid and functional over the life of the product, plastic alone was not an option. A more rigid material needed to be bonded to the plastic in order to give the part strength. The part also needed to retain the shape of the original product. In order to keep the shape, a core product was necessary to sandwich between the skins. The core material needed to be lightweight and machinable to size and shape. And in order to solve the mounting hardware problem, research was done on other types of mounting and pivoting hinges and it was decided that Prime Laminating could develop and produce a pivot hinge that could function without fastening the door with nut/bolt hardware. With the framework for the design in place, the real challenge came in accomplishing these goals without drastically increasing cost compared to the steel fabricated door. Prime Laminating was up to the challenge.
Prime Laminating used the customer's blueprint for the steel door to obtain dimensions and other requirements. It was determined that the materials used needed to be thin gauge aluminum for the inner shell and a thermoformable plastic, made to the customers custom color, for the outer shell. The aluminum would be the structural component and all mounting hardware and details would be incorporated into it. The plastic would need to follow the shape of the core material to obtain the convex shape. The plastic could also be thin gauge as a functional aspect as well as for cost savings. In order to considerably reduce the weight of the part while also maintaining cost, Prime Laminating decided on Expanded Polystyrene foam as the core material. The core was easily machined to the contour of the door, was cost effective and extremely lightweight. Lastly, a custom spring-loaded pin hinge was designed to assemble inside the door and removed the need for fastening hardware such as nuts and bolts. The skins were bonded to the foam core under pressure and the door was complete.
All of the design challenges had been met and the customer received a prototype part built to their current door dimensions. The door was weighed at 29 pounds, over 40 pound reduction, and had the same aesthetically pleasing look and shape of a brand new steel door and would now resist the scratching and corrosion issues of the steel door. The new spring-loaded hinge allowed a single technician to unlatch the door and carry it away in order to maintain the machine. The part was received with rave reviews from the customer in engineering, design, marketing and executive management. Soon after, Prime Laminating was contracted to provide these doors to the customer for the new product. And the project was such a success that the customer began purchasing these doors to replace their current product as well.
The project proved to be a huge success for both customer and Prime Laminating. The doors proved to be aesthetically pleasing, fully functional while significantly reducing the weight and provided the customer with great value for their product. Prime Laminating has worked on several projects like this with customers to assist in the design and development of their new products or to redesign an existing product. Prime Laminating offers free design consultation and would be happy to discuss your project with you.