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Portable Clean Room Device Breaks the Design Mold Using Polyurethane Reaction Injection Molding

Bayer MaterialScience AG : 03 July, 2001  (Company News)
Industrial designer Kurt Benthin broke the design mold when he created the ErgoAire
The device's nine, soft- edged housing and structural components are produced using the reaction injection molding (RIM) process with a structural foam polyurethane RIM material manufactured by Bayer Corporation.

With the RIM process, the manufacturer, Airex, Inc., of Bellevue, Wash., benefits from lower tooling costs, highly finished parts with an injection-molded appearance, structural integrity without a steel internal frame, light weight, fewer parts, concealment of almost all fasteners, and other cost savings despite a low initial production volume. RIM molder and toolmaker Rimnetics, of Mountain View, Calif., created tooling for the parts and molds and finishes the partsfor Airex.

'The ErgoAire 100 is carefully designed to deliver Class 100 air to any work surface in the industrial or commercial setting,' said Benthin. A sister device, the MedicAire 100, is formed to operate in the medical/ patient care surroundings. 'We're trying to change the design paradigm for ultra clean air appliances, moving away from the typical box appearance so prevalent today. This design provides a clean and attractive outer shell that adapts well to both environments,' he explained.

The nine components of the devices are molded with the Baydur« 726 IBS (interactive blowing system) structural foam polyurethane RIM system from Bayer's Polyurethanes Division. The Baydur 726 IBS RIM system is a high-density polyurethane structural foam material offering strength, excellent surface finish and large-part capability. It has an UL94 flammability rating of V-0/5A and is used for applications in the electronic, medical and applia nce markets. The Baydur 726 system can be molded in a wide range of wall thicknesses, allowing for deep reinforcing ribs, molded-in components and assembly hardware and extensive design freedom.

Structural Integrity of RIM
Benthin, who had previously designed medical equipment housings with polyurethane RIM materials, said he developed the ErgoAire 100 with the RIM process in mind. In fact, the Baydur 726 RIM system is practically the only structural material in the entire 160- pound device. 'I wanted the RIM material to do almost everything in the ErgoAire 100. There is no internal metal frame. Instead, I used a combination of thick reinforcing ribs and thick wall sections that are hidden within the parts,' Benthin said.

The only structural metal part in the device is a _-inch steel plate on the base that provides a low center of gravity and a connection point for the four caster wheels.

According to Benthin, wall thickness in the RIM parts varies from as little as _ inch to as much as 2 inches. The blower motor is attached to one of the thick wall sections of Baydur material, eliminating the need for a sheet metal piece.

Benthin also optimized the ErgoAire device's assembly and maintenance by exploiting the ability to mold inserts and special features into RIM materials. Rimnetics molds approximately 40 brass inserts into the Baydur material of the nine components. Guide tracks to carry wiring, a guide track for the adjustable tower and openings for four halogen lights also are molded-in. Remarkably, Benthin and Rimnetics even designed a way to attach the control panel without fasteners.

Aided by Rimnetics and computer-aided design (CAD) software from SolidWorks« Corporation, Benthin said he was literally able to go directly from his design files to cut tooling rapidly and without ever meeting with Rimnetics. 'The cost and time saved, as well asthe improved accuracy of the tooling, was incredible,' he said.

'I've been very happy with the molding quality and with Bayer's Baydur material,' Benthin said. 'There is little or no distortion in the parts, and we could not have produced this aggressive a design with another plastic at such a low investment.'

'RIM is the most cost-effective way to create a limited production product like the ErgoAire,' said Bill Hasslebacher, President of Airex. 'I know of no other process that would have been this cost-effective in rendering our part designs.'

Hasslebacher added that the Baydur 726 IBS system's UL rating 'immensely simplified' Airex's UL certification application for the ErgoAire 100 and its sister product.

His peers recognized Benthin's designs in April, when the RIM components of the ErgoAire 100 system won the medical category in the annual design competition at the Structural Plastics 2001 conference in Atlanta. Judges from the Structural Plastics Division of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) selected the ErgoAire and 12 other products from among 66 new products as outstanding examples of plastics in structural design.

The MedicAire device has found applications in several disciplines including medical clinics, outpatient surgery, biomedicine, pharmacology, microbiology, pathology and toxicology. The ErgoAire unit functions effectively in the high technology industrial research laboratory, such as those found in aerospace, electronics, biological sciences, chemistry, optics, food preparation, radiology and micro-miniature manufacturing. 'These highly mobile devices can be wheeled to any site requiring directable, ultra- clean air,' said Hasselbacher.
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