Category Archives: product overview

Materials Selection and Management Solutions

The development and commercialization of sustainable products can be realized by integrating a framework of sustainability across the following high-level product development steps:

  • Customer Needs Assessment
  • Sustainable Product Design Principles
  • Materials Selection
  • Sustainable Manufacturing
  • Product Packaging
  • Product Use
  • End-of-Life Product Disposition

product stweardship

No two products are exactly the same. All of the steps noted are important to producing a high-quality product. The right selection and efficient management of materials is essential to providing custom engineered product solutions to customers. The materials used in the manufacturing process, and as embedded in the final physical form define the ultimate price, performance, quality, longevity, and sustainability of  a product.


Harbec works to provide solutions to customers to achieve sustainable product innovation and commercialization goals. For example, Harbec’s Sustainable Design Guide is a useful reference for understanding key principles of sustainable engineering to incorporate into the design of new products. In addition, as a manufacturer of custom tightly toleranced parts, Harbec differentiates itself by offering materials solutions to its customers. Harbec has developed an expertise of materials and internal controls and processes that support the wise and efficient use and management of materials.


As a result, Harbec’s materials solutions integrate intimate knowledge of materials with customer needs and goals across the entire materials value-chain: product design, materials selection, custom manufacturing, materials management, and product use-phase, end-use, and life-cycle considerations for managing product stewardship requirements.


Advancements in materials science research are contributing to the availability of new commercially available materials that provide unique properties. Increasingly, Harbec is being asked by customers about biopolymer options for injection molding, particularly as a means to support their goals for sustainable product innovation, and in advance of new product labeling requirements. As companies increase competition related to sustainable products, materials from bio-based origins, including biopolymers, are being looked to as possible solutions. In response, Harbec has updated its online Biopolymer Information Center as a resource to learn about the diverse range of options for molding biopolymers. The website also identifies a sample of the biopolymers Harbec has had experience molding for a diversity of customers and toward their specifications for high quality tightly toleranced parts.


This month Harbec has also launched its Biopolymer Partners Program. Through the Biopolymer Partners Program Harbec is working to connect the dots between sustainable design and manufacturing and materials development and management. Harbec is working with customers who are looking for unique bio-based polymer solutions which can enable their products to reduce or eliminate petroleum-and-carbon based feedstocks within their product portfolio. Harbec is also working with a diversity of biopolymer and bio-origin polymer companies to sample, validate, and assess the vitality of their material within the production parameters and tolerances demanded by customers.


To round out its total solutions offering for customers choosing to design, prototype, and manufacture sustainable products, Harbec offers carbon-neutrality at no additional cost. Since 2013 Harbec has been a carbon-neutral manufacturing facility. Harbec’s investment in operational excellence, adoption and certification of  ISO 50001/SEP, on-site renewable and combined heat and power (CHP) energy solutions, and integration of sustainable manufacturing tools, systems, and processes allows us to be a high-value partner for the manufacture of sustainable products.


The Advantages of Aluminum

Over the years, there have been discussions in the industry about using aluminum molds for tooling. Are they right for volume production? What is their lifespan? Are they tough enough to withstand high-volume, long-term runs? It may surprise many that the answer to these questions is yes, and that their benefits are beyond numerous.

Aluminum molds provide the advantages of faster cycles, lower costs, fast turnaround times, and very often, higher quality for injection molded plastic parts.  In fact, a 5-year International Business Machines study in the 1990’s proved that, compared to comparable steel molds, aluminum molds cost 50% less, resulted in higher quality, and reduced cycle times by 25-40%. It also showed that these molds were still in production after two million cycles.

Furthermore, because of the lower part pricing and faster cycle times, aluminum molds use less energy, and are therefore more environmentally-friendly. And as aluminum has gone through major advances over the years, today’s high-strength aluminum has made its use for molds that much better.

Our use of Alcoa QC-10 aluminum has proven to be the true material of choice, machining 8-10 times faster than steel, while reducing finishing costs and lead times by up to 30%. It also conducts heat five times faster than steel, which shortens production cycle times by up to 40%.

As a lighter metal, aluminum is easier to cut and faster to machine, as well as easier and less expensive to handle and transport.  It helps mold users meet the demanding needs of production and delivery through lower costs and shorter lead and cycle times, while allowing them to expand their design options, all the while creating a process of true efficiency.

In the demanding, competitive business world, a material that cuts costs, lasts longer, increases efficiency, and raises quality is the best case scenario.


Fiction and Facts about Direct Metal Laser Sintering

Laser sintering is hot. Better known by the popular name the media has attached to the overall technology, 3D printing, you can’t look at a news roundup these days without running into a slew of articles on the supposedly “new” industrial process.IMG_3187

But the technology actually has been around for quite a while, going back to the 1980s when the first articles on stereolithography and fused deposition modeling began showing up in technical journals. Advances came quickly in the 1990s with the development of new techniques using different substances – such as thermoplastics, ceramics and metal powders – as the fabrication material for creating rapid prototypes with lasers. By the 2000s, enough progress had been made for the technology to graduate beyond mere prototyping and into the production process itself, where it is now referred to as rapid manufacturing (or additive manufacturing). The two most advanced forms of creating products with the technology now are: select laser sintering (SLS), which uses plastics; and   (DMLS), which works with metal powders (see our previous blog entry “Harbec Explains DMLS Technology”). So laser sintering has really come a long way in the last few decades and today is a fairly mature applied science.DMLS_Epcot

Still, there are many misconceptions about DMLS, in particular, that have lingered in the public imagination. To dispel some of these, we offer a brief FAQ on the facts of DMLS.

Q: Some people say that DMLS is only for prototyping and not for real manufacturing. True?

A: DMLS is one of the few additive manufacturing technologies being used in production, especially for limited production (and just-in-time) runs. (Please see the article “Cyclists Take Industrial 3D Printing for a Spin” about one of our clients who used our services to create customized components for his mountain-bike parts.) Obviously, DMLS doesn’t fill the bill for everything. It doesn’t lend itself to all manufacturing as far as cost savings. DMLS excels at highly complex parts that typically would require multiple operations or electric discharge machining; however, simple easily CNC machined parts are usually not cost effective. DMLS has many benefits over traditional manufacturing in general, and chief among these is speed (which leads to reduced costs). DMLS will always turn around parts more quickly.

Q: Is DMLS more expensive than traditional machining or casting?

A: Using a build plate of 250 mm by 250 mm by 325 mm, we can lay out a variety of parts. We can fit numerous parts on this plate, so we can reduce per unit cost in this way.  If you were machining these, you would normally make just one part at a time. But we can put as many parts as possible in that volume on the plate to reduce the set up and process costs. The more parts you can put in per build, the less each part will cost.

Q: Aren’t traditional metal parts stronger than DMLS parts?DMLS3

A: As far as being able to make a series of parts, the metals that we use are 100 percent dense and are able to be machined and welded and can be coated, plated and treated the same as parts machined from a solid billet of material. Plus, they can be hardened. These parts have good mechanical properties, such as strength and durability, that are comparable to cast or forged parts from the same kind of metal.

So there you have the FAQs of the matter, as we see it. For a similar take on the topic, please see the articles “A Short Look at Direct Metal Laser Sintering Technology” and “You’re Wrong: 5 Common Misconceptions about DMLS.” Or contact one of our sales representatives for further information on DMLS manufacturing.


Harbec Explains DMLS Technology

In recent years, additive manufacturing has become a mainstream method for producing prototypes and production parts. Harbec has offered DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) and SLS (select laser sintering) services since 2000, providing customers with accurate plastic and metal prototypes.  Additive manufacturing offers many benefits over conventional machined prototypes. The typical lead time for additive prototypes is significantly less than other methods; lead times are measured in days not weeks.Direct Metal Laser Sintering DMLS

DMLS technology is a method of part manufacture that uses metal powder that is sintered using a powerful laser.  The process uses cross sectional layers at a thickness of .0007” to provide the best surface finish possible. The end result is a 100% dense metal part that is accurate within +-.002” per inch with the capability to create features as small as .007”.  The DMLS process provides engineers with part geometry options that were previously unavailable with conventional prototyping methods.  Current DMLS materials available at Harbec are:  stainless steel (17-4), maraging steel (similar to H13), and Ti64 titanium.

The SLS process is similar to the DMLS process using the same cross sectional layer method of sintering with a laser.  The major difference between the SLS and DMLS process is the medium used. SLS uses plastic powders to create durable sintered parts.  Accuracy of the SLS process is +-.01” per inch, and the process is capable of building features as small as .02”.  Current SLS materials available at Harbec: PA2200(nylon polyamide), TPE210(thermo plastic elastomer, available in a variety of durometers), Alumide(aluminum filled nylon polyamide), FR106(V0 flame retardant nylon polyamide), and  PA614-GS(40% glass filled polyamide).

DMLS/SLS comparison to conventional CNC



Conventional CNC

Complex Part Geometries

Single operation
(less expensive)

Multiple operations

Lead Times

3 – 5 days

1 – 2 weeks

Small Features

No added cost

Added cost



Conventional CNC

Undercuts and Trapped Geometries


Not Possible

Cooling Lines


(more efficient)

Straight only

(less efficient)