James provided a fantastic overview of some of the machinery at the AV Plastics plant, demonstrating the control panels and machine set ups. On top of this, James also offered an insight into the business and commercial aspects of running a smaller injection moulding plant, discussing some of the advantages, such as their suitability to handle lower run projects, which are more financially viable for companies to source within the UK.
Despite difficult economic times, AV Plastics have found that work is returning to the UK, due to the long lead times required for overseas projects and communication issues. The huge market for injection moulded components for the automotive (with the average car containing 2500 mouldings) and medical industries is also boosting the UK industry. Peter also believes that some of this return is down to the competitive tooling prices within the UK, due to the exchange rate.
An interesting insight into the different materials suited to injection moulding and different applications of these was given. James and Peter spoke about the pre-processing of the materials, such as sourcing and matching of colours for addition to the master batch and other substances that can be added to alter the visual or physical properties of the material.
With a background in tool making, Peter was able to talk with the students about how designs can be adapted to optimise design for manufacture. Considerations such as wall thickness (influential upon cooling time and thus the time the machinery is none operational), gate points and tool balancing were all covered.
The students pitched a variety of questions to James and Peter, particularly regarding the issue of sustainability. This opened up an interesting discussion about the use of regrind and virgin materials, and what how the product designer can help to ensure that the plastic has a good resale value at the end of its life by taking certain steps such as maintaining the natural colouring. This lead to an interesting debate about the use and potential future of bioplastics, with some arguing that producing products from recyclable plastics such as polypropylene, ABS, polycarbonate and HDPE may be more beneficial than using a biodegradable material which cannot be recycled.