It seems there are a lot of classes and programs available that you can earn the title of ‘expert’ in a few short weeks or months.  While that may work for a some jobs, a mold designer needs to have a substantially more experience to earn the reputation on an expert.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get to become an expert mold designer, here’s the background on mold designers and how they get to an elite level:

What Does a Mold Designer Do?

Mold designers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create plastic molds for manufacturing processes such as injection molding.  The position entails designing molds using computer design software such as AutoCAD, Unigraphics, Pro-Engineer (Pro-E), and Solidworks.  Once the molds are created the designer should visit the manufacturing facilities to participate in the mold trials to ensure they produce parts and products as designed.  Expert mold designers also have the skill and experience of mold makers.  They should understand the intricacies of making molds for plastics and have expert skills on how the injection molding process works.

How to Become a Mold Designer

A mold designer doesn’t necessarily need a high-level degree to get started in the field.  Employers will require at least a high school diploma, but a post secondary certificate or associate degree in plastics engineering technology, manufacturing technology, or mold design is a great option to jump start a new career.   Some of that knowledge may also come from a work-study program or apprenticeship programs with a big commitment for on-the-job training.  Being a mold designer may include using CNC machines, so having additional training and knowledge on setting up and running a production run using this type of automated equipment is an added benefit.  A large portion of your work as a mold designer will be computer based using a design software.  The business you work for may have a specific program for design, such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or Unigraphics.  Having knowledge of that software will be fundamental as a designer, and some employers may provide on-the-job training to entry-level designers or send them to an external program to learn the software basics.

What Skills Do Expert Mold Designers Have?

If you’re looking to hire an expert in mold design, you may be looking for certain skills or keywords on resumes to indicate their level of proficiency in the field.  An expert level designer should have at minimum five years of proficient design experience, at least 5 years of experience in injection molding, and a minimum of 10 years in a manufacturing and molding environment.  Beyond those years of experience, they should have some of these skills included in their experience:

1)Problem solving – You can expect that every design will have a problem, whether that is something small or large enough to require a complete redesign.  The expert level designer will have the experience to minimize the risks on every design and find a solution to every problem as it arises.

2)Plastic part design – Molding plastic is similar to molding other materials, but it does have unique characteristics that make it a challenge for some designs to mold easily.  An expert in plastic mold design will know what changes to suggest for smaller and higher tolerance parts, or for products based on industry standards.  An expert will be able to design for automotive products, overlay products, or for the medical industry without the need to restudy standards and criteria to achieve certification.

3)Software design – There are a handful of design software that will create molds.  AutoCAD, Unigraphics, SolidWorks, and Pro-E are the dominant software packages used, and all are similar in their function.  An expert may have knowledge of all mentioned, but will most likely be very fluent in the software used frequently.  Most designers learn on one or two of the software packages and then hone their skills using each repetitively in day to day activities.  Designers should also be able to create a replacement part database for maintenance teams to keep the molds in service and quickly repair as needed.  That may be a list in a spreadsheet with 2D drawings as a guide, or separate parts designed in the same software for the mold.

4)New product development – Mold design is just part of a product lifecycle.  Every part starts as an idea, then moves to a 3D design, and then into the physical mold creation.  The designer should participate in the mold creation to ensure their design is translated to the mold and their concept will actually work in trials and production.  The development cycle is more than just watching parts come out of a mold.  It’s investing in what does and doesn’t work, then correcting and improving for the future.

5)CNC knowledge and setup – Most molds are created via Computer Numerical Control (CNC) software and machines.  While having a deep knowledge of programming CNC machines and cut paths isn’t required, understanding the basics of software to generate them should be a standard requirement.  Expert mod designers should be able to understand the concepts, speak the language, and help the tool creators turn the design into a physical mold.

6)Mold Flow Analysis – An expert mold designer should be able to assist or complete a flow analysis on their design to determine how well it will produce parts.  These analyses will attribute to faster cycle times due to optimized molding processes, reduce the overall mold test cycles, and reduce your delivery time for parts.  While it can be an added cost to the development process, the designer can complete the analysis quickly and offer suggestions to increase capability and productivity that will benefit the mold and product in the future.

7)ISO Standards – An expert mold designer should be up to date on the latest International Standards Organization (ISO) guidelines that the part design and production facility is incorporated under.  The product may be required to undergo testing per ISO standards to prove compliant for overseas distribution.  In that case, the designer may need to adjust the part or mold design to incorporate extra features to support testing and documentation for verification.

8)Knowledge of GD&T – General Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) outlines tolerances on a given part and product that are not specifically noted.  The criteria for the tolerance is set under a general set of rules based on the industry the part is designed for or a governing set of guidelines such as Mid-America Machining engineering standards, ASME 14.5 GD&T, ANSI 14.5M, or ANSYS standards. An expert mold designer should know basics of GD&T and be able to investigate any additional requirements for a given industry or product design.

9)Knowledge of CMM – A Coordinate Measurement Machine (CMM) is able to measure parts based on a set of datum coordinates or points for verification of size.  CMM machines are commonly used in the development of the molds to verify parts meet the design and tolerances, and then on a certain frequency during production of the product.  An expert designer will have the basic understanding of the CMM machines and how it is utilized for verification, plus be able to help coordinate and design checking fixtures for the product or part the mold produce.