Changing the “status quo” of manufacturing can be hard to do without a manufacturer that is willing to work with you and listen. This was a situation a client of ours found themselves in, looking to develop silicone band manufacturing in China.
They already had a small manufacturing line in the UK, but this was not cost effective for larger batches. The smaller manufacturing provided a great opportunity to test and prototype using their own silicone. They also confirmed that it was possible to use compression moulding with this silicone, but they were now looking for a more substantial production line.
With a project like this you are attempting to change the “status quo” production method as their method differed from the norm. This means that you need to be working with a Chinese manufacturer that has a few different, but key, abilities. You also need a factory who is willing to listen and take advice (which is harder to find that you might think!). Most importantly, you need trusted staff on the ground to oversee the project and to feedback any problems or issues. We can then correct, resolve or side step these issues by drawing on our own knowledge and working directly with the factory.
This project was not easy as it needed constant oversight. We initially arrange to ship a small amount of trial silicone to the factory in China so they could test it and see how it would behave on their machines. Later, as part of our service, we organised the shipping of the whole batch of necessary silicone to China. As part of the project, this meant we needed to arrange a licence of import into the country. It was during the trial phase that we worked with the factory to develop a method for using the silicone that fit with their technology. Although it had been done on a smaller scale in the UK, this particular product had not been produced on the scale we were now attempting.
Our first discovery was that each batch of silicone behaved in a slightly different way. This meant that before we could begin production, we would have to calibrate the equipment to produce the best results. We had to find the best temperature for the silicone to be pressed at and the amount of time it needed to be compressed. The factory experimented with numerous different times and temperatures before deciding on the best one.
Furthermore, the purpose of the silicone was to hold scent. On this occasion, it was a very expensive perfume so there could be no degradation or contamination of the scent by the manufacturing process.
Most mass produced silicone products made in China use a silicone which is set by an acid catalyst. Then, during the compression, the heat, pressure and catalyst vulcanise (or ‘set’) the material into the form you see in most silicone objects like kitchen utensils and TV remote buttons.
However, in this case, for the scent to be preserved, we needed to remove the acid catalyst from the process which left us with Silicone A and Silicone B which would need to be milled together. These are both semi-solid blocks of silicone so they needed to be milled several times to ensure the two parts were comprehensively mixed.
With this Silicone, once it was milled, you only had 8 hours before it became useless. To top it off, all the equipment used in the factory had to be cleaned between batches to make sure the acid catalysis from previous products did not contaminate the scent.
The only way to ensure all these measures were met and the factory understood what we required was to write a manufacturing guideline. We then sent a member of our staff to the factory to ensure this was followed to the letter!
The result was staggering. We can’t claim credit for all the success (as most of this is due to the technology used to make the silicone) but, by putting a procedure with checks and measures in place, we manufactured the customer’s scented blocks and wrist bands without any contamination of the scent.
For all the effort put in, this was a difficult project. Ultimately it was a successful one as we can say, without hesitation, that (over 12 months after the first sample batch was produced!) the samples still smell as perfect as they did leaving the factory.