With the consumer market changing faster and faster, the focus of electronic products has been gradually shifting from computing speeds and functionalities to design of the appearances, especially in an age where smartphones and tablet PCs are storming the market and becoming an integral part of many people's life. The fashion-factor of product appearance is now an important consideration when consumers decide whether they will make a purchase or not.
The conventional injection molding technology that is commonly used in the production of many components can only control the mold at temperatures around a preset level. The result is, when removed from the mold after being formed, the finished product's glossiness is rather unsatisfactory. Its welding lines are also rather obvious. Against this backdrop, many companies have started investing in the more advanced Rapid Heat Cycle Molding (RHCM) process, hoping to reduce the time needed for post-molding processing, to minimize the damage to the environment, and to raise the efficiency of the production lines.
Among the many companies, Taiwan-based Mitac Precision Technology Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Getac Technology Corporation, stands out with the most mature technology and has earned recognition from many domestic first-tier OEM/ODM players. Of all IT industry players, it boasts the most mature RHCM technology and widest range of applications.
Dr. Peter Chu, Senior Manager of Mitac Precision Technology's Core Technology Development Center, pointed out: "RHCM is a temperature controllable molding technology. It can control the mold temperature at a high level and then inject plastic materials into the mold cavity. And then in an extremely short time, it can reduce the mold temperature to a preset low level before the product is removed. The technology can not only improve plastic products' surface gloss, but also solve the welding line problem. Compared to conventional injection molding, the technology can do better in completely transferring the pattern from the surface of the mold."
The RHCM process can apply to both crystalline plastics and amorphous plastic materials. It can improve molding cycle times as well as avoiding the post-molding shrinkage problem. It is not just ready for mass production, but also able to produce parts with attractive appearances, ideal toughness and temperature resistance. It is ideal particularly for products whose plastic materials contain glass fiber. There will be no filler exposure on the surface and coating quality can also be improved. So far the technology has been mostly applied to parts for such products as notebooks, tablet PCs and LCD TVs. An example is the popular chiclet keyboard.
Mitac Precision Technology: The industry leader with years of RHCM experience
Mitac Precision Technology has accumulated seven years of experience in RHCM. The company has been in the industry for 12 years since its establishment in 1999. It was merged with Getac Technology in 2007. The company is one of the few chassis component specialists in the industry with world-class design and manufacturing capabilities. It has extensive experience in servicing global first-tier clients including well-known brand customers and first-tier OEM/ODM players worldwide. The company's major businesses currently are chassis component prototype, mold designing, tooling, plastic injection, metal stamping, painting, printing and back-end assembly. It is able to provide turnkey solutions covering processes from initial molding to volume production. Product applications cover all 4C categories - consumer electronics products, computer products, communications products and car electronics products. Depending on clients' demand, the company can produce comprehensive customized products enabled by its complete design strengths, rapid manufacturing capabilities and efficient services.
Although many companies have started adopting RHCM processes, both their yield rates and quality still lag far behind Mitac Precision Technology's. The key factor is that the RHCM process is very complex. Apart from the ability to manufacture tooling, a company must also be able to acquire materials needed for the process. It must also own controllers that can precisely control the high and low temperatures, which along with the use of heating technology, can complete the production of notebook or smartphone chassis within a few seconds in order to satisfy demand from the consumer market.
Dr. Chu added: "The RHCM process has many different heating methods to choose from, such as electric heating. To implement our environmentally friendly goal, our product manufacturing uses steam heating, which has the least impact to the environment and is reusable."
The crucial factor allowing Mitac Precision Technology to lead its fellow competitors is the early establishment of an advanced technology development center focusing on research and development of advanced technology that can be adopted by its production lines. It has allowed the company to accumulate a rich and extensive experience with product quality far superior than that of its peers.
To strengthen Mitac Precision Technology's leadership in RHCM, the company's advanced technology development center has close partnerships with material suppliers. They jointly research and develop materials that are most suitable for RHCM in terms of raising production yield rates and product quality. The center has also started researching bio-based materials for RHCM. It is developing PLA materials extracted from plants and PA materials mixed with high proportions of fiberglass. These can effectively reduce the use of oil and allow the company to fulfill its corporate responsibility of protecting the environment.
Commitment to environmental protection: R&D on bio-based materials
Mitac Precision Technology has been developing two types of bio-based material, one of them being Bio-Sourced Material Polylactic Acid (PLA), a material derived from nature and at the same time an environmentally friendly plastic material that can naturally decompose. Since PLA is mainly derived from plants, it can gradually reduce the industry's dependence on petrochemical plastics, and achieve carbon neutral to fulfill the corporate responsibility for carbon reductions. Through appropriate modification processes, PLA can reach UL-94 V-0 and become heat resistant, and highly rigid. With Mitac Precision Technology's RHCM technology, the material will allow a large number of plastic products to be also environmentally friendly.
The other type is Polyamide (PA), one of the most commonly used industrial plastic materials. It has a good balance of properties and good processability. It has a high softening temperature, a low friction coefficient and good chemical resistance. Compared to other plastic materials, PA can be mixed with high proportions of glass fiber to make thinner and tougher products, and reduce the use of plastic to achieve carbon reduction. With the RHCM process, the problem of fiber exposure can be completely solved, making it particularly good for manufacturing chassis for such products as notebooks.
Lastly, Dr. Chu stressed: "Combing the RHCM process technology with bio-based materials will allow a company to produce parts with higher added values. They are more environmentally friendly and without the need of spray painting, they already have high-gloss and smooth surfaces. Furthermore, the use of plastic materials can be reduced." Therefore, in terms of breakthroughs both in the RHCM process and research and development of bio-based materials, Mitac Precision Technology is far ahead of its fellow competitors and is also exemplary to other Taiwan players in the quest for technological differentiations and innovations.
An automotive air-con system panel made using RHCM etching
An RHCM keyboard with a high-gloss surface
The RHCM process
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