Beyond Proof of Concept: How HARBEC Brings Design, Engineering and Manufacturing Value to Every Part and Project

In September, HARBEC, Inc. proudly celebrates its 39th year in business. We begin by thanking our employees, some who have been with us since day one, for continually evolving, and building a better business and better future in our community. We also graciously thank our customers, suppliers, and service providers who have been mutual partners in HARBEC’s evolution.

For a company that began as a tool and die shop, a great deal has changed in nearly four decades of service. HARBEC’s business resiliency has been enabled by its founder, Bob Bechtold, and the code of conduct for continuous improvement he’s instilled within the business culture. In forty years of business, HARBEC has remained agile, competitive and innovative as it has evolved to serve the needs of its customers, new and old.

Today, HARBEC, Inc. has three principle business units including CNC Machining, Custom Injection Molding, and Rapid Prototyping. Since its inception HARBEC was a trusted precision manufacturer, earning a reputation for paying very close attention to detail, and providing high value service, quality, and superior prototypes and parts. Further, HARBEC was viewed by its customers as a “solutions provider,” a partner that proactively pursued ways to do things faster, better, and at lower cost.That commitment is alive today, particularly as the digital revolution transforms the foundation by which products are designed, developed, and manufactured.

According to Mr. David Anderson, author of “Design for Manufacturability: How to Use Concurrent Engineering to Rapidly Develop Low-Cost, High-Quality Products for Lean Production”,  Design for manufacturability (DFM) is “the process of proactively designing products to (1) optimize all the manufacturing functions: fabrication, assembly, test, procurement, shipping, delivery, service, and repair, and (2) assure the best cost, quality, reliability, regulatory compliance, safety, time-to-market, and customer satisfaction.” Further, Mr. Anderson defines Concurrent Engineering as “the practice of concurrently developing products and their manufacturing processes. If existing processes are to be utilized, then the product must be designed for these processes. If new processes are to be utilized, then the product and the process must be developed concurrently.”

Here at HARBEC, we’ve been practicing DFM and concurrent engineering for decades. Under our own branded nomenclature, Quick Manufacturing Solutions (QMS). Before the ‘maker movement’ became en vogue, characterized by the next generation of industrial designers and inventors, HARBEC was actively servicing its customers as an innovation, DFM, and production house. Like the agile maker movement, HARBEC has embraced digital and software tools, 3D printing, machine learning, and robotics into our operations. What’s more, HARBEC has continuously moved the ticker on innovation, working to improve every process, from design through manufacturing, by integrating our knowledge and experience gathered from forty years of manufacturing excellence.

Over the years HARBEC has developed and implemented new manufacturing processes, and integrated new software, technology, and manufacturing capabilities that allow our designers, engineers, project managers, and operators the ability to design, prototype, sample, and scale products with exemplary attention to precision, speed, quality, and cost.

While HARBEC does a great deal of mid-to-high volume parts manufacturing of custom injection molded and precision machined parts, we’ve invested in and created a specialty for in-house design and rapid prototyping services. Whether your need is one or millions of parts, HARBEC’s team can support your product design, development and manufacturing needs, and deliver upon your goals through a full range of manufacturing capabilities.


Design/Engineering Support

Prototype/Production Capabilities

Systems-Level Integration

 3D CAD: SolidWorks 2016

Injection Molding Simulation: SolidWorks Plastics 2016(Flow, Pack, and Warp Analysis)

FEA Software: SolidWorks Simulation

CAM: Mastercam 2017

3D Printing: Materialise Magics

Additive Manufacturing

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • Fused Disposition Modeling (FDM)

Quick Molding Solutions (QMS)

  • Aluminum molds using standard bases
  • Dedicated sampling technicians and presses


  • High-speed 3 to 5 axis vertical mills
  • Horizontal lathes
  • EDM & Grinding
Carbon-Neutral and Water-Neutral Manufacturing Facility

Robotics and automation

Full in-house capabilities from design through manufacturing, secondary operations and support

  • Product design, prototyping, and manufacturing have each gone digital. The lines between these once disparate silos of product development have been blurred by rapid advancements in digital manufacturing technologies. As the worlds of software and hardware have converged, designers have now become manufacturers, and machine operators have become code writers. This fundamental change is reshaping the future of manufacturing for businesses like HARBEC, and for small and large manufacturers throughout the world.
  • More rapid development and integration of digital manufacturing technologies are reducing, and in some cases eliminating, traditional barriers for transforming an idea into a physical product. Digital manufacturing bridges the technical and communication gaps between designers and manufacturers. As such, entrepreneurs and mature businesses can design and produce functional prototypes in less time than it takes to watch your favorite movie.  With relatively low cost of entry, the makers’ movement has become mainstream, captivating the minds of do-it-yourselfers and professional industrial and product designers.
  • Although having more options for quick design, prototype, and production is all good, scaling up production is an entirely different skill set. Having the right software and equipment can get someone started in rapid prototyping, however, making the leap from printing one dimensionally correct part to manufacturing thousands of precision parts that need to be validated and integrated into a complex product system, requires far greater knowledge and capability.
  • For over 20 years HARBEC has been working with additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, and has also explored ways to envelop AM not only as a capability, but as an integrated manufacturing strategy and process.
  • Our recent work, for example, to incorporate principles of biomimicry into 3D printed injection molds demonstrates how we’ve leveraged prior knowledge, with state-of-the-art AM capabilities, toward enhancing the performance of new-age custom injection molding tools and manufacturing processes.inj_mold_copy_tall_did_you_know_tall_normal
  • Whether the need is for one, hundreds, thousands, or millions of parts – HARBEC’s team evaluates how it can bring unique solutions and value to the customer. By using DFM principles, software tools, and QMS approaches in early-stage product design and prototyping, HARBEC helps customers get their product to market quicker, with less risk and greater value.
  • For additional information, check out HARBEC’s Design Guides related to Additive Manufacturing, Sustainable Product Design, and Injection Molding Part Design and by visiting

The Future is NOW!

Frequently called upon for manufacturing solutions to challenging projects, HARBEC serves the most discerning customers within the aerospace/defense and security, medical device, electronics, automotive/transportation, and consumer product markets.

HARBEC takes great pride in delivering high performance precision parts to ALL of its customers. “Value indicators” such as speed, quality, performance and cost are top priority to HARBEC’s design, engineering, project management, quality, manufacturing, logistics and marketing teams’ members. In doing so, HARBEC views its role not just as a supply chain vendor – but as an integral member of our customers’ teams, converging capabilities to achieve better products and solutions.

From Robots to Racing

HARBEC never compromises on its integrity or value. Whether our customers are launching rockets to space, exploring the vastness of the deep-sea, or transporting goods across the interstate, HARBEC’s manufactured solutions are delivering unparalleled performance.

HARBEC extends this ethic to the “NOW Generation” – high school, college and university, and trade program students who represent America’s future innovators, engineers, and technologists.

In the past year HARBEC proudly served students of three regional technology design and development teams just as we would any customer: with 100% commitment to quality, performance and satisfaction. These included:

  • TAN[X], Canandaigua’s FIRST Robotics Team
  • Rensselaer Motorsport, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s (RPI) Formula SAE Team
  • RIT Clean Snowmobile, Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) SAE Clean Snowmobile Team
Rensselaer Motorsport
 Competition_Team_Photo  Roll_Out_Top_View
RIT Clean Snowmobile Team
5 20160601_151655
 2016 Robotics Team Photo A2_Med  Harbec 3D Wheels_Med

In each instance the student-led teams sought out HARBEC for its ability to provide high-value technical expertise, precision manufacturing, agile innovation support, and very fast turnaround time.

For example, RIT’s SAE Clean Snowmobile Team sought a way to redesign their air intake system which would eliminate flow restrictions and improve overall engine performance. Project Manager Anthony NaDell shared his experience:  “From the moment we contacted HARBEC about potentially helping us out, everyone was very helpful. They guided us with things like figuring out the best way to make our product and what material we should use to handle the rigorous operating conditions.  HARBEC’s customer service was excellent and we would love to work with the company again in the future.​ For a single part prototype the small lead time was very impressive.”

TAN[X] designs and builds robots to meet demanding challenges established by the FIRST Robotics competition each year. Launched in 2008, TAN[X] teams’ now average about 35 students per year representing grades 9-12. Further, TAN[X] has brought together dozens of local sponsors and team mentors to support their annual challenges. HARBEC supported the team with quick turnaround parts, as they managed frequent modifications depending upon the needs of each design challenge. Specifically, TAN[X] had complications with their robot’s tank treads falling off. In response, the team designed a new pulley using CAD that was cogged with teeth, enabling the treaded track to stay in place. HARBEC 3D-printed the pulley for TAN[X]. Steve Schlegel, one of the mentors of TAN[X] stated, “HARBEC’s ability to quickly respond with a 3D printed part made a HUGE difference, and took our team up a couple notches in how well we could compete.”

Each year more than 30 student members of Rensselaer Motorsport, the official name of RPI’s Formula SAE team, design and build an open-wheeled formula race car from the ground up. The competition is regarded as one of the world’s largest intercollegiate design series. The experience enables students to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world hands-on high-technology applications. The process expands upon students’ knowledge and continued development of career-critical skills including team building and communication, engineering and systems design, data analytics and problem-solving.

HARBEC has supported Rensselaer Motorsport for many years of competition, particularly in the areas of 3-D design and analysis, materials evaluation, and production of custom precision parts.

Nicholas Debono of Rensselaer Motorsport reflects, “Rensselaer Motorsport depends on the generosity of sponsor donations to complete our yearly goal. For years, HARBEC has been one of the teams most generous and critical sponsors.  Working with HARBEC has always been a great experience. Parts are always provided with the shortest possible lead times, and professionals are always willing to help our students when advice is needed. Simply put, without HARBEC, Rensselaer Motorsport would not be able to achieve our design goals.”

For example, HARBEC supported RPI’s team with their intake assembly. Formula SAE rules require that the engine’s design teams, like Rensselaer Motorsport intake pull air through a circular restrictor 20mm in diameter. This design constraint greatly affected the power and performance of the engine. In order to compensate for the restrictor, RPI FSAE has, over the years, developed the intake assembly pictured below. It is one of the most developed systems on their racecar, earning them valuable design points during competition.


Figure 1: Solidworks Rendering of Intake Assembly


Figure 2: Sectioned View of Intake Assembly

Prior to working with HARBEC, leveraging its in-house 3-D design and printing capabilities, RPI’s SAE Formula Team relied upon much simpler designs, limiting the range of materials and performance of the intake. Many of the features of RPI’s current design were not able to be used with the older carbon design. For example, the rifling seen in figure 3, and the spike in the center of figure 4, would be almost impossible to recreate without 3D printing technology.


Figure 3: Section view Throttle Body


Figure 4: View of Runners

Because the intake is exposed to very harsh environments, material selection is also crucial. Fuel is continuously injected into the intake assembly, requiring materials to be chemically resistant. Further, the intake assembly needed to be strong, compliant, and heat resistant to ensure high performance in a combustion environment.  HARBEC engineers worked with RPI’s designers to select a glass filled polyamide material that performed extremely well in their unique application. The end result was an extremely efficient, lightweight intake assembly that added technical performance on the track and brought unique design points from the judges.

Why investing in the NOW Generation is So Critical to Business Success

The future is NOW. And in HARBEC’s experience, investing in students is critical to business sustainability and success. Just like the three examples described, every customer of HARBEC comes to us with unique technical requirements, design, engineering and manufacturing challenges. In our experience, overcoming technical challenges requires teamwork, problem-solving, and ingenuity.

It’s been a pleasure for HARBEC to have been a part of these three student design and competition teams. The students are the NOW Generation, focused, eager, competitive, creative, and willing to learn. They displayed technical prowess and grace under pressure as they functioned as a team, and collaborated professionally with mentors and technical solutions providers.  The individuals of these teams represent the future of design, engineering, product development, and innovation for HARBEC as well as our global customers in the aerospace, defense, security, automotive and transportation, medical device, consumer products and goods industries.

We congratulate TAN[X], Rensselaer Motorsport, and RIT Clean Snowmobile on their accomplishments, and stand ready to serve them and all of our customers with continued excellence.

Timeline of Innovation

History of Innovation in Manufacturing Spans Nearly 40 Years

We Embrace the Future . . . Today

HARBEC Plastics Inc. was established in 1977 as a contract Tool and Die/general machine shop. Its founder, Bob Bechtold, understood that opportunities existed in that market for innovative solutions and problem solving.

Initially these solutions were primarily implemented through the application of CNC and CAD/CAM technologies. Today these capabilities are enhanced with the state-of-the-art high-speed CNC, multi-axis CNC milling, and solids-based modeling and programming.

Also, many leading edge technologies are employed to allow HARBEC to offer the best and most contemporary capabilities to their customers. This evolution of potentials, especially as they apply to the field of plastic part injection molding, enables HARBEC to offer a complete solution in one location.

From initial design and concept modeling stages, through advanced production tooling requirements, to low or high volume production injection molding and secondary processes, HARBEC takes full responsibility for meeting our customer’s requirements.

Endless Possibilities

Since its inception, HARBEC has always been found at the forefront of innovation and trends in injection molding. If it’s being done, we’re doing it here. If it’s not, we’ll be the first.

Bob Bechtold was the first dealer in the Rochester area to sell CAD/CAM and, as a result, he taught the competition how to be successful. He knew that, in time, the toolmaker would embrace CAD/CAM for mold making.

While many in the industry initially considered the advent of CNC to be the death of the toolmaker, HARBEC realized immediately that it was a powerful extension of the toolmaker. Now, one-of-a-kind, complex shapes and forms were possible and HARBEC could achieve end-product results that were previously unimaginable.

This passion for innovation continues today with HARBEC’s:


Delivering Value to the Toughest Customers Requires Trust, Ingenuity, and Teamwork

The aerospace/defense and medical industries have very discerning requirements. Customers in these sectors value precision engineering, and manufacturing. With that comes adherence to very tight part tolerances, superior performance, speed, agility, efficiency, and for many, 100% inspection. HARBEC has manufactured precision parts for customers in these fields, meeting the most stringent customer requirements and demanding applications.

In the medical sector HARBEC manufactures parts for:

  • spinal implantsblood-pressure
  • MRI and imaging components
  • surgical robots
  • dialysis and IV components
  • medication disbursement devices
  • reagent closures
  • blood pressure
  • surgical head lamps
  • blood and DNA collection and analysis devices
  • a diverse array of other components used in surgical, emergency, laboratory or clinical office applications

In the aerospace/defense sector HARBEC manufactures components such as:24589505473_74c0268b7e_o

  • electronic and battery housings
  • measurement devices
  • lenses
  • precision poppets
  • valve housings and covers
  • heat sinks, display modules
  • robotics, engineered solutions for thermal management
  • additional applications spanning space, sea, terrestrial, and soldier-readiness applications

These examples represent a small sample of the hundreds of critical end-uses that HARBEC’s parts have been entrusted to support. Although the application demands and part features between the aerospace/defense and medical sectors are different, there are some similarities with regard to the attention to detail they demand of manufacturers.

Often, customers in medical and aerospace/defense specify difficult to mold or machine materials including engineered polymers, titanium and magnesium. They also request full traceability for our parts, requiring us to have a disciplined project management and documentation process. Commitment and adherence to production and quality processes have been instrumental in keeping HARBEC a trusted partner for all customers, including aerospace/defense and medical customers.

As our customers have come to trust in HARBEC’s core competencies (quality, speed, performance, and value?) and capabilities (customer injection molding, prototypes, 3D printing, CNC machining) they’ve also realized they can obtain better results by extending their relationship with us. Here are two examples, one in medical and the other in aerospace/defense, where customers are realizing the full potential of HARBEC.

Aerospace/Defense Customer Example

For an aerospace/defense customerHARBEC is providing 3D printed components that are part of a valve assembly. The components, grown in HARBEC’s ESO 290 machine,are made out of stainless steel andwill be used in space-flight applications.3D printing provides tremendous design and manufacturing flexibility that simply is not available from other traditional manufacturing processes. But, as this particular customer has realized, 3D printing is not the be-all end-all solution for every part. In many cases, 3D printed parts need further processing, whether it’s precision machining, cleaning, over molding, heat treating, and so on.

While many customers (this one included) are attracted to HARBEC for one solution (in this case 3D printing), they are typically very pleased to discover that HARBEC’s expertise in CNC Machining, Custom Injection Molding, and Prototyping can complement and provide additional value to their part and the relationship they have with HARBEC.

Once completed, the component that was 3D printing for this aerospace/defense customer was inspected and shipped. The customer would then open the shipped part, conduct their own in-house inspection, and then proceed to a series of additional manufacturing steps including machining, cleaning, and assembly. This was adding expense and prolonging the completion of their final component. Once we were aware that these operations were occurring after we shipped the parts, it was proposed that we could reduce valuable time, cost, and materials from the process.

Medical Customer Example

A longstanding medical customer of HARBEC had a need for cleanroom molding of custom prototype parts. HARBEC worked with the customer on a design for manufacturing strategy that included mold making, implementation of a self-contained cleanroom manufacturing cell, integration of an automated labeling fixture, and hourly air monitoring to ensure particle count was well within the desired threshold.Achieving project delivery success for this multifaceted project required collaboration, coordination, and commitment from a multi-faceted team comprised of representative from project management, sales, engineering, plastics, models, quality, and maintenance.

In manufacturing it’s easy to get fixated on “the part.” The final and physical form of the “part” after all, is the culmination of hours of engineering time, creativity, teamwork and focus. The part is the embodiment of value. But the value does not end with the part. Where the part goes next, whether it has additional manufacturing operations, how it will be assembled and integrated into a system, and what happens in-service and at end-of-life, these are each critical points of value-creation for manufacturers. As cutting edge additive manufacturing technologies like 3D printing continue to expand, other capabilities like machining will not go away. Rather, a complement of manufacturing tools, capabilities and integrated processes are increasingly necessary to meet the stringent needs of aerospace/defense and medical customers. By focusing on the total solution, and not just the part, manufacturers can assess and determine how best to derive the greatest value for win-win supplier relationships.

Delivering on Quality for High-Performance Parts

With the school year in full swing, we are reminded that, even as adults, we are always learning, sharing and growing. We are also challenged, tested, evaluated, even praised and rewarded for our efforts. Sometimes the reward is the sheer accomplishment and successful achievement due to the skills acquired and challenges overcome. One example is a medical device project that HARBEC ran since 2013 with 100% inspection.

Due to the tight tolerances for the medical product, the typical method of verifying the process could not be used. This endeavor took a great deal of teamwork (internally and with the customer), and lot of dedication. New inspection methods were created and verified, employees were trained, space was dedicated, and new machines purchased. In the medical world, mistakes are unacceptable. This requires an experienced team and companywide dedication.

As shown in the infographic, this project produced over 30 different medical parts for a total of 140,000+ machined pieces.

Quality InfoGraphic

All these parts required 100% inspection and with an average of 30 dimensions per part. That is over 4,200,000 inspection points taken. A very daunting task indeed and with most dimensions having a tolerance of +/-.002” and some dimensions as tight as +/-.0005” the precision and processes of the toolmakers had to be spot on. Every part needed to be 100% inspected visually, and there could be no burrs, cutter marks and anodizing flaws. Quality manager Kevin Ralg reflects, “at times this seemed like it might be difficult, but at HARBEC we do not back down from challenges, we welcome them and figure out how to get it done. By purchasing the right inspection equipment, along with the correct software to record the results, we were not only delivering quality parts, we were also meeting the production requirements on time.”

With so much inspection needed on these parts, both dimensionally and visually, and tolerances being so tight, there would also be a greater risk for returned parts. Not only did HARBEC do a 100% inspection both dimensionally and visually but the customer was affirming the same task. “That’s quite an accomplishment. HARBEC shined bright on this project and it took a total team effort to make this happen” says Ralg. From kick off to send off, quality is the priority throughout the company.

To learn more about HARBEC’s Quality Department,  visit our website.

Creating a More Sustainable World in 3D

Do you see your world in 3D…Where the dimensions of economy (profit), environment (planet), and society (people) are equally considered in the realization of your manufactured product? Traditional approaches to manufacturing have relied far too heavily on resource intensive processes that don’t always balance the needs of society with the profit goals of the enterprise or the environmental protection that is required for the earth to maintain a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.

Manufacturing enterprises have become substantially more resource efficient and operationally intelligent in the past Century. Compared to the way Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing can enable, there hasn’t been as dramatic an opportunity for industry to realize transformational shifts in resource utilization, since the invention of the steam engine.

Additive manufacturing (AM) takes advantage of various processes used to make three-dimensional objects in which successive layers of materials are laid down under computer control. The objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. AM technologies and processes are now used in a wide-range of industries and to design, engineer, and manufacture higher-performance products. AM technologies and approaches include stereolighography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).

Recent advances in topology optimization can, when blended with AM, provide the means for producing a new generation of engineered parts and products. A few  years ago, AM and 3D printing were widely viewed as prototype-exclusive tools due to their relative high cost, limited material and finishing capabilities.

TOPOLOGY:  the way in which consistent parts are interrelated or arranged.

Today, AM and 3D printing tools and equipment can, when integrated with software for topology optimization, revolutionize the way in which products are designed, prototyped, and manufactured. AM and 3D printing provide unparalleled opportunities and freedom to product designers. AM and 3D printing are near a convergence point in assimilating a suite of software, materials, techniques, and finishing options that can springboard this novel technology into the forefront of sustainable product design and manufacturing.

As AM and 3D printing integrate science and technology into superior manufacturing capabilities, the only limiting factor will be our imagination. AM and 3D printing allow for the design, development, and manufacturing of more complex shapes and topographies which result in customized products at faster manufacturing cycle times.


The flexible design and production freedom of AM can enable sustainable design and manufacture of products. AM offers a new way to achieve competitive advantages in product design and manufacturing by addressing:

  • Design freedom – Due to the wide-ranging potential of AM technologies, design opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination. Traditional manufacturing methods play a large role in the range of options that can be achieved for product designers. In the old world of manufacturing, equipment and machines drove design and product realization based upon the capabilities of the manufacturing equipment. In contrast, the AM world liberates design and provides the means to manufacture parts that would never have been conceivable (at least cost-effectively) with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Part optimization – AM can, when aligned with the right software, design tools, and material selections, allow designers to achieve optimum part design and performance according to characteristics and requirements that they establish. If a designer wants to optimize their part for materials utilization, production speed, or a variety of other factors related to topology, they can now do so. The latest capabilities of AM and 3D printing provide designers with tools and capabilities that can result in higher performance parts that use less material, energy, and natural resources to develop, manufacture, and use.
  • Materials availability and scarcity – As a manufacturing process, AM only uses the material(s) necessary to realize the part geometry, scale, and size specified by digital design files. Because AM processes grow a shape by depositing layer upon layer of material, this approach is significantly less material intensive than other manufacturing approaches. An example would be the design and development of an injection mold using AM (growing the injection mold with only the right amount of material necessary) versus traditional methods of CNC machining (extracting material from a large block).
  • Process and energy efficiency – When used as an integrated component of a “total manufacturing solution,” AM can be instrumental in reducing total energy consumption per part. For example, the potential of AM can allow for the development of custom injection molds/tools that more efficiently direct water or other forms of cooling to the mold, therefore reducing the time it takes to injection mold and cool a part. This achieves lower total energy for injection molders, and in addition, faster cycle times. AM can be a stand-alone manufacturing process/tool, or strategically included into a total manufacturing solution that helps manufacturers deliver high quality and performance products at every stage of the product life-cycle: design, prototype, tool making, production, and so on.
  • De-materialization of products –AM offers potential to redesign existing or new parts that perform the same or better function, and which use less material. AM parts can be designed to be lighter weight, stronger, and with greater utility than parts manufactured from other processes. As such, AM parts are becoming a preferred solution for the medical device, transportation, aerospace, and defense industries as an opportunity to integrate stronger, lighter, and longer-lasting parts into their products. These industries are attracted by many benefits of AM, however the option to dematerialize a part can have dramatic impact on total product weight, energy use, performance and longevity. For example, in the aerospace industry, companies like GE, Boeing, Airbus, and Lockheed Martin seek to reduce the weight of aircraft to achieve fuel savings, higher performance (faster aircraft), lower weight and more space. The result is a next generation of aircraft that can carry more people and cargo, longer distances, at faster speed, while using less fuel, materials, and resources.
  • Speed-to-market – With AM you can produce a part in hours, not the days or even weeks that may be required with other manufacturing methods. As a result, AM has become the process of choice for many design companies who want quick turn-around on precision prototypes at reasonable cost. In the consumer product sector, the life-cycle of many products is becoming shorter and shorter, in part because of ongoing advances in electronics and technology which make products obsolete in 18-to-24 month business cycles. As a result, many consumer product companies want a more flexible manufacturing opportunity, which balances speed-to-market with shorter-run manufacturing cycles. AM provides this kind of opportunity to cost-effectively bring new products to market quickly, and also enable a manufacturing volume that aligns with the fickleness of the marketplace.

AM delivers the means for designers, manufacturers, and society to visualize, advance, and accelerate the realization of manufactured products across three dimensions (people, planet, and profit). As shown in the visual, the opportunity and scale of sustainability potential and impacts is magnified as AM and 3D printing are used from the onset, and across the product development life-cycle.


Do you see your world in 3D


Ultimately, the use of AM results in competitive advantages related to operational efficiency (i.e., achieving lower cost of manufactured goods) and development of products that achieve a differentiated and sustainable product performance advantage (i.e., products that are stronger, faster, lighter, use less energy, use less materials, etc.). Finally, the unique capabilities of AM can support a circular economy, one which is restorative, less depletive, and leverages the elegant capabilities of AM to support or enable sustainable design, sustainable manufacturing, sustainable product realization, and product remanufacturing.

From Difficult to Differentiated: Creating Customer Solutions for Hard to Manufacture Materials

For many industries, high-intensity and high-value jobs require precision instruments that are made from high-performance materials. The medical, aerospace, defense, energy, and transportation industries are a few of the sectors that design and manufacture their parts, products, and integrated systems with materials such as titanium, magnesium, carbon steel, and others because of the unique performance properties these materials provide.

There are many challenges in using high-performance materials that add complexity and difficulty to the design and manufacture of high-performance products. For example:

  • Material Cost – High-performance materials typically have higher costs. As such, it is important that the use of these materials be optimized in all phases of the material life-cycle: design, manufacture, use, and end-of-life disposition. There are ways to reduce material waste in manufacturing by looking at a diversity of options for part design, manufacturing technique/process, and other factors. Check out HARBEC’s Sustainable Design Guide as an example of how design can impact the more efficient utilization of high-value materials.
  • Material Availability – The availability of high-performance materials can also be a challenge. Many high-performance materials are mined from specific regions of the world. The availability of materials is impacted by economic, geographic, supply, demand, regulatory, environmental, and other factors. The availability of materials also impacts its price, supply, and use.
  • Material Tracking and Regulatory Compliance – Understanding point of origin and supply chain relationships for materials has become a business necessity. Accounting (traceability) for ‘conflict minerals’ within the supply chain has, since Congress approved the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, been a requirement for U.S. based manufacturers. Check with your suppliers to see if they have a Conflict Minerals policy in place, like this example from HARBEC.
  • Manufacturing Capability – The use of high-performance materials requires high-performance manufacturing capabilities that either reside in-house or among suppliers. The handling and manufacturing of high-performance materials can require specialized equipment, certifications, technical know-how, and process sophistication. Hard to machine metals, for example, require machine operators and toolmakers that have built, through years of experience, insight and knowledge of how materials perform  under a diversity of manufacturing operations.
  • Material Handling –Some high-performance materials are also a challenge to work with because they require special handling requirements. The safe and environmentally responsible storage, handling, and disposal of materials can add cost, time, and complexity to already tight time schedules. As such, it pays to work with material handlers, suppliers, and manufacturers that are experienced in the specific material handling requirements. Often there are very specific and specialized regulatory, environmental, safety, recycling, and disposal requirements for high-performance materials.

HARBEC sample parts injection molded in a variety of engineering resins and metal.

Although there are challenges in working with high-performance materials, the benefits are tremendous. High-performance materials can differentiate products in their weight, design, performance, tolerance holding, utility, and sustainability. By working with material vendors and manufacturing partners that have depth of knowledge, experience, and capability, you can hedge yourself on any downside “difficulties,” and optimize your potential to “differentiate” your high-performance product.

Since 1977 HARBEC has earned a reputation and grown its business by solving tough manufacturing challenges. HARBEC’s origins stem from working with difficult to machine and mold materials. With nearly four decades of experience, HARBEC is well positioned to take on the most challenging of materials. HARBEC regularly machines magnesium, titanium, and hardened steels to very tight tolerances for a diversity of customers spanning aerospace, defense, medical, and research organizations.

HARBEC operates over 44 vertical mills, 6 horizontal lathes, and multiple EDM centers on three shifts, producing small to medium volumes of high precision parts for customers worldwide.  Our team readily works with customers to improve the manufacturability of prototypes and production parts, always striving for the best balance of function, cost and delivery. HARBEC has dedicated milling centers for difficult to machine metals such as titanium with a .01” diameter end mill.

HARBEC has earned a reputation as a custom injection molder and custom CNC machining company because it does not shy away from challenging materials, complex part geometries, tight tolerances, or demanding schedules. HARBEC works hard to support its customers by providing strategy and insight from its four decades of know-how and experience, to create custom solutions that often exceed time, cost, and performance requirements. HARBEC prides itself on being an extension of its customer’s teams, working with its own in-house engineers, tool makers, and machinists to provide exemplary levels of service and detail to every job, every customer, and every day.