In February of 2014, our team at American Precision Prototyping was presented with a unique challenge. POWERADE® needed 150 cast urethane POWERADE® bottle carriers to use as promotional materials for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The carriers needed to be redesigned, prototyped, cast, decorated, packed, and shipped to the World Cup stadiums in Brazil, where they would be combined with other promotional products. All of this needed to be done in less than 30 days. Could we do it?
DESIGN and 3D CAD
At the start of this project, the team at APP was supplied with two earlier POWERADE® carrier designs. The first was a carrier from the 2012 UEFA European Championship, and the second was a carrier from a U.S. tournament. The client's goal for the design of the new World Cup carrier was to combine the ergonomics of the US carrier's design with the overall size and shape of the UEFA carrier. This meant we would have to start a new design from scratch.
APP's design team began to construct 3D CAD models in Solid Works to meet this goal. Because of the four week time frame for the project, the design phase could only take up a week of the project's schedule. This included getting approval of the concept from POWERADE®. In addition, they wanted the design to be split in half – in other words, one half of the carrier needed to be used to make both sides.
Our design team quickly came up with a concept that met the client's standards for size, ergonomics, and construction. Our six-bottle carrier concept used two identical halves that could easily be snapped and screwed together to make one sturdy carrier.
Before moving on to casting, we constructed a half-scale model of the carrier using the Stereolithography (SLA®) process originally developed by 3D Systems. This model was used as a proof-of-concept and for general fit checks in the tp-4050-urethane-carrier-2 design. We chose SLA® to complete this stage for several reasons. First, SLA® allows for high precision in the design, with tolerances usually within .005 inches. Second, SLA® offers a good mix of speed and accuracy, meaning we could complete the initial design prototypes quickly and get them approved faster.
For the initial half-scale models, our team used our in-house 3D Systems' iPro™8000 to "grow" the parts in Accura® Xtreme SL resin. The iPro™8000 is a versatile production 3D printing system known for its high precision, making it perfect for both initial prototypes and mold making. We used the half-scale carrier models to check the pieces for fit and for client approval of the design. In the end, we were able to send this design to POWERADE® for approval in just days.
Marketing executives from The Coca-Cola Company reviewed the half-scale model and made minor changes, which we were able to input directly into the 3D CAD file. We then proceeded to make full-scale SLA® parts out of the same Accura® XTreme SL resin to use as final fit check parts and as mold masters for the silicone molding and casting process.
MOLDING and CASTING
Most plastic parts are made using injection molding, a manufacturing technique where melted plastic is injected into a metal mold in the shape of the desired part. Because each part must be ready to use, the molds must be machined very precisely. This is a time-consuming and involved process. It is also expensive, making it impractical for short production runs.
Instead of injection molding, APP's build team used RTV silicone molding to create the parts. Silicone molding is similar in concept to traditional injection molding, but instead of a painstakingly-tooled metal mold, it uses a flexible silicone mold to produce parts. These molds are much faster to manufacture and still produce great results for short product runs. And because the silicone tools are flexible, they also allow us to produce undercuts and more difficult geometries than a traditional injection mold.
For the parts themselves, the APP team used InnoTuf® TP-4050 Impact Resistant Polyurethane to simulate the feel of injection-molded plastic. This material, supplied by Innovative Polymers, was recommended by their technician Bill Molitor for its excellent impact resistance, flexural strength, and ease of use. The final results speak for themselves, and we're extremely pleased with the way the material performed under our tight deadlines.
Before making the silicone tools, we prepped the SLA resin master parts by sanding and finishing them to achieve a finish and texture similar to an injection-molded part. This allowed us to simulate the look and feel of a mass-produced product without sacrificing build time. It also allowed us to build a product that would not need any additional painting or finishing, and would be tough enough for the World Cup teams to use throughout the tournament.
The American Precision team produced six silicone tools that would allow us to create the 300 necessary carrier halves, which would ultimately be assembled into the 150 beverage carriers. Each tool would need to produce 50 high-quality parts, and they had to be perfect-looking and ready to assemble straight from the mold.
ART and ASSEMBLY
With about two weeks left of the four, we began to cast and assemble the 300 parts into finished carriers. Because of the accuracy of our initial SLA® designs, we were able to produce cast urethane parts that needed only minimal post-processing, mostly removing the vents, gates, and flash from the parts. After finishing, the parts were ready to be snapped and screwed together, then decorated, packed, and shipped.
The APP team worked in dedicated round-the-clock shifts to produce and finish 40 to 50 castings per day. Finally, we moved on to the final stage: decoration.
Each carrier was decorated with a set of pre-designed vinyl decals displaying the POWERADE® brand name and a dedicated 2014 World Cup hashtag. Because we had 150 carriers to decorate, it took a considerable amount of effort to get every decal applied properly. Due to the dedication of our team, we were able to get every carrier completed, packaged, and shipped within the deadline. They can now be seen in the hands of World Cup teams from around the globe as they compete in Brazil.