SMC lightweight composite materials are being used in many applications, as they can be easily molded into unique shapes and have a capability to be made with high dimensional accuracy. The process of converting new design ideas into real parts and the scale-up to full commercial production can be challenging yet very exciting at the same time, as is explained by Matteo Cortesi and Erica Murello of component manufacturer GSI.
SMC brings durability, strength, beauty, and much more. Consequently, SMC is the material system of choice for making components in a broad range of applications. Class A body parts in SMC are used for passenger cars, trucks and agricultural equipment. Enclosures and fixtures in SMC are key components in electrical and lighting assemblies, while increasingly the SMC technology is applied for novel end-uses like home interior components and furniture.
The SMC manufacturing process is highly suitable for making production series of 500-200,000 parts per year. Compared to alternative composite transformation processes like RTM and Hand Lay-up, SMC molding cycles are much faster, dimensional accuracy is close to metal, while part performance consistency can be more easily controlled. Compared to technologies based on steel, SMC is in most cases more cost-effective at these series sizes, and brings the additional benefit of lightweight.
“Many of the OEMs and end-customers that we are dealing with, know very well the benefits of SMC”, explains Matteo Cortesi, Group Technical Director at GSI. “They approach us with clear ideas on part design, and invite us early in the process to discuss how to scale up their designs to real-life manufacturing. We know that taking care of the details early on helps to ensure that the final production can run in a smooth manner, making parts with consistent quality and predictable shape.”
FROM IDEA TO PROJECT PROPOSAL
After receiving initial information on new projects from the customer, a GSI team will gather to understand full list of customer requirements. Through evaluation of 3D models and by exchanging technical data on the design, the team will discuss the practicalities of high volume manufacturing (including available technical solutions, rough process lay-out, anticipated challenges and risks).
“When a customer sends us an official request for quotation as a result, we really get into the detail”, adds Matteo Cortesi. “Based on our knowledge of materials we propose the appropriate SMC material system. We also define the investments required for tooling and process automation, and then calculate anticipated part cost based on the quality requirements of the customer, anticipated cycle times, and basic assumptions on waste and components finishing. Meanwhile we define a detailed project plan for design fine-tuning and pre-production activities, taking into account product and process design uncertainties and risks.”
“After the customer accepts our proposal, we form a joint team that will be responsible for scale-up”, comments Erica Murello, Marketing & Communication Coordinator at GSI. “In line with key project milestones, we finalize detailed part design, order tooling and equipment, and define the full supply chain (purchasing of raw materials, parts processing and finishing, logistics, quality management procedures). Also in this phase we make prototypes with the customer and ensure critical tests are performed prior to production start.”
When completed, GSI will start production of the SMC components in line with customer volume planning, typically for a part life time of three to five years. OEMs and end-customer will assemble the components and make a finished product for the end-user or consumer. GSI has a great track record of manufacturing quality parts in SMC. The company is proud to serve companies like Automobili Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi (high end passenger cars), Claas, Caterpillar (agricultural equipment), CNHi (CNH tractors and IVECO trucks) and ABB Sace (electrical).
During the 1st edition of the SMC BMC Design Award in 2017, Ruben Silva was one of the finalists presenting his innovative Cork table design to the audience at the Composite Europe trade show. Since then, Ruben was able to greatly enhance his design and make it ready for commercialization with the support of the European Alliance for SMC BMC.