How To Speed Up Custom Masking Validation Process

Custom Masking

New technology is popping up all over. If you're looking to make an impact, you need to find ways of innovating old school methods and practices.  One area that is behind the times in manufacturing is the art of industrial masking.

The masking process is the part we forget just how much time, energy, and resources need to be put towards it to get it right.  Not only do you need to ensure it works, you are also wanting to make sure it is optimized to your manufacturing line's flow (i.e. How fast can you install and remove them? How hard is it to apply to the part?).

In this post, we're going to address the major concerns powder coaters and e-coaters have when it comes to talking to masking suppliers and what has changed recently to significantly speed up your masking validation process.

Biggest Concerns for Custom Masking

No one likes thinking about the having to potentially investing in tooling and parts for an MRO application (i.e. something that the customer won't even see or use).  So, if you're concerned about investing in custom masking, you're not alone!

Last On The To-Do List

One of the last portions of the manufacturing line is typically the paintline. Unfortunately, this also means that masking is the LAST few items of the to-do list for launching a new product.  Because of this, we both know that there is not much time we're going to have to dedicate towards developing a custom masking solution that works.

Current Global Supply Chain Delays

On a positive note, over the past few months, more lockdowns have been lifted and the demand for products has skyrocketed! Unfortunately, this has caused massive disruptions resulting in manufacturers not being able to produce as they used to pre-pandemic due to lack of raw materials and shortage of workers.  This disruption has caused bottlenecks across the board in the United States.

Not only have there been issues with shortage of supplies, but freight rates have climbed drastically and a shortage of truck drivers has resulted in issues with getting products to their destination.

What If It At First It Doesn't Succeed?

As the saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".  Well, that's a great saying when it comes to perseverance, but not so much when it comes to hitting deadlines. In the manufacturing world, hitting deadlines gets more complex when you have to factor in tooling and revisions.

When it comes to mass production lines that have a complex component masking geometry, chances are that it's going to be difficult to get it right on the first attempt.  We've seen it where the mask may work well, but it was too difficult to install or remove so you request a revision. Or you're attempting to seal out e-coat, but just a little bit is able to seep into the area that needs to be clear of paint.

Tooling Concerns

High-production silicone masking is most likely going to require tooling. The concern from paint lines here is what happens if they invest thousands of dollars into it just for the mask to not work and they have to revert back to hand masking (either via tape or manually clearing off powder)?

So, there is obviously a handful of VALID concerns that can easily hold you back from integrating a custom silicone mask. We get that, which is why new rapid prototyping technology has been developed to make the decision-making process a little easier for you...


Brand New Rapid Prototyping for High-Temp Custom Silicone Masking

More and more resources need to be put towards developing innovating ideas and manufacturing methods in order to keep up and make a mark in an industry. With the majority of all custom masking requiring long lead times, Echo decided to develop a method of molding actual silicone masking components in-house.

Echo's Rapid Prototyping vs. Traditional Prototyping

Echo's Silicone Rapid Prototyping

Echo MaskingEcho Masking
  • Molded here in Indianapolis, IN
  • 3D printed molds are done in hours for a fraction of the price of machined molds
  • Parts will typically take only 5-7 business days to get in hand for testing
  • Not recommended for high-end precision tolerances, which is typically not an issue for validating masking solutions

Traditional Silicone Prototyping

compression molding toolcompression molding tool
  • Typically molded overseas, resulting in extra transportation costs and at risk of current international supply chain delays
  • Mold is more expensive, more difficult to make, and takes longer to machine
  • Parts will typically take 4-6 weeks to get in hand
  • Capable of achieving higher-end surface finishing tolerances

Echo's NEW Rapid Prototyping vs. Previous Proprietary Prototyping

NEW Silicone Rapid Prototyping

  • Capable of producing more samples than our previous form of rapid prototyping
  • Uses production-grade silicone, giving you the ability to test the material out just like you would with traditional prototypes
  • Higher durability and tensile strength

Previous Silicone Rapid Prototyping

  • Limited to 3-5 sample pieces in most scenarios
  • Limitations with tensile strength (i.e. They are easier to rip with pulled/stretched)

How It Works

Step 1: Design / Request for Quote

The first step in the rapid prototype process is either going to be submitting the part you want to be quoted or requesting a custom design for the part you want masked (this is more common, as our engineers specialize in designing industrial masking solutions).

In order to speed help speed up the validation process, this step is all about information. The more information our engineers receive, the faster they're able to get a design in place for you to sign off on.


Step 2: Mold Design and Prototype Kickoff 

Once a purchase order is submitted, our team of engineers will design and develop the rapid silicone prototype compression mold that factors in the part's design, size, and quantity requested.

The new technology we have at Echo has led to a drastic decrease in time spent producing a mold that can withstand the temperature and pressure caused by the compression molding process.  This step is the biggest advantage you'll have over going down the path of traditional CNC machined tools that require much more time to complete.


Step 3: Compression Molding the Parts

Once the mold is completed and reviewed for quality assurance, our team will then set it up with our compression molding machine at our Indianapolis facility.  After it is set up, we add production-grade silicone gum blocks to the cavities and begin the compression molding process.

After the masking parts are cured, we remove them from the mold and remove any excess flash.  Once complete, our engineers review the parts prior to shipping them out.


Step 4: Testing and Validation

As soon as the parts are have passed inspection, our team is able to ship them to you (typically via 2-day shipment method). Once you have the parts in hand, your paint line will then be able to test them out to ensure that:

  • You're able to correctly install the mask
  • The park effectively seals and masks what you're needing it to mask
  • The part is able to withstand your paint lines process (such as temperature and pressure)
  • You're able to mask to achieve the needed finish you're looking for
silicone maskingsilicone masking

Mini Case Studies: Impact of New Silicone Rapid Prototypes

"Rapid prototyping" has become a huge trend and is often used by companies as a common buzzword.  The majority of those times, they're either talking about a simple 3D printed plastic piece that now even people at home can do or they're talking about traditional prototypes that will still require weeks to get in your hands.

The issue we have with how other use "rapid prototypes" is that it lacks the ability to validate and produce a meaningful impact.  We don't want you to just have a part that you can hold in your hand. We want you to have a part that you can literally test on your powder coating (or e-coating) lines AND have time to make the small adjustments you feel would make a huge impact for your company, customer, and the people on your manufacturing line.

Case Study #1: Complex Automotive E-Coating Project

Customer needed a complex silicone e-coat mask to cover a hitch that would be placed on the new Jeep Wagoneers. The mask was a new design that had not been validated, which is they requested prototypes first.

Due to the complexities of this mask, the customer ended up making 6 revisions. If they had gone down the traditional prototyping route, this would have taken nearly an entire year to complete.

With our rapid prototyping technologies, they were able to test out 6 revisions and sign off on the final design within only a month!

Case Study #2: Brake Caliper with a Tight Deadline

A brake caliper metal finisher wanted to achieve precise feathered paint lines, BUT they had a very short timeline for production.  To get this, you typically need to test and validate several designs in order to get the end result they desired.

So, our engineers worked with them by using our rapid prototyping system and, as expected, we went through several design changes to get perfect the feathered paint lines they wanted before launching production tools. 

Without our new rapid prototyping technologies, this customer would not have had time to modify the production tool if masking failed.  And if the masking failed, they would've had to dedicate countless time and resources towards secondary ops, which kills morale and a metal finisher's bottom line.

Connect with our team of pros!

We'd love to help you solve your company's biggest production challenges.

Let us know what project you're working on and how our team can help you create the best solution!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, masking on high production lines is a MASSIVE time suck when you don't get it right.  We've literally worked with automotive manufacturers that, at one point, had upwards of a 40% reject rate solely because of a rushed ineffective masking design.

Masking may be one of the last items on your to-do list, but it doesn't have to be your biggest pain point.  Be sure to contact us today if you're in a time crunch and need to optimize your masking operations. Our engineers have designed and implemented thousands upon thousands of custom masking solutions over the past few years, and chances are they've seen the issue you're having with masking.

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